13 Comments

The Art of Sacrifice

My kindle recommends lots of stories. I’ll try new authors from those recommendations sometimes. Most write well with expansive worldbuilding and intriguing story-lines. I must have tried eight or nine samples recently.

I’ve bought none.

My most recent attempt was so promising. The fantastical elements of the world were unique. The plotline drew me in right away.

The problem?

I hated the morally ambiguous heroes.

There’s a scene early on where one hero, the son of the recently assassinated emperor, is in a bar on a pier. As they leave the bar, a detonation goes off. The hero rushes back in to see if he can save anyone. He finds a poor barmaid pinned to the ground, and by the time he breaks her loose, the building is about to collapse into the sea.

He carries her to the entrance, which is now a giant leap away due to teetering building, where his partner (another protag) awaits. He knows he can’t make the jump with the barmaid. He might not make it without her. So, how do we solve this dilemma?

His partner throws a dagger into the barmaid’s throat to save the hero from a sacrificial decision.

Sacrifice

Yah. That’s my beef.

We laud modern fantasies because the characters are gritty and real. Life is sloppy. Selfish. Morally ambiguous. Heroic fantasy is unrealistic.

Please tell that to every fireman who rushes into the building to save life knowing he or she might not come out. Or to the single mom who works her tail off to put her kids through sports and school. Those who give up their lives so….

Others.Can.Live.

That’s real. Not this make believe moral ambiguity that makes people feel better about their own selfish shortcomings.

Oh yes. I do NOT like Grimdark stories. It makes a mockery of all those who sacrifice by devaluing their choice for the selfish one. And ultimately, it mocks the cross of my Savior.

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8. 

I didn’t plan this post to fall on Veterans Day, but it’s appropriate. Thank you to all our servicemen and women for your sacrifice, both past and present, so that we might enjoy free lives. I hope my art portrays heroes that are worthy to honor your sacrifice.

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About Will Ramirez

Will Ramirez grew up with a love for God's Word and fantastical worlds. The first passion led him to pastor Calvary Chapel Lighthouse for the the last 17 years. The second led him to create the world of Adme, the setting for his coming debut novel, an epic fantasy titled Soul Yearning. He lives in Central Florida with his bride of seventeen years and their four children. Since 2010, he's been a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and serves on the leadership team of Word Weavers of Orlando. He is currently working on the second book of the Godslayer series as well as The Unspoken, book one of a dark fantasy trilogy. In the land of Adme, powerful beings rule as deities and compete with one another for followers. But when a young priest is revealed as the prophesied godslayer, the pantheon unites to destroy him.

13 comments on “The Art of Sacrifice

  1. Grimdark. Hey, can I borrow that name for a character’s last name? Or is it already a genre, character or series name? 😉

    Of course, that scene MIGHT have worked if the hero reacted to his partner’s action like any hero willing to make such a choice would make if he were pre-empted so… or if, so long as we’re talking about Totally Carnal Grimdark Stuff, he threw that wretched dagger back at him. 😛

    I’d really hate reading a story scene like that too. Morally ambiguous, that pre-emption? Uh, no. Just plain wrong. I’d only use it dramatically if I really wanted to bring out what my protagonist would do if he were faced with such incredible heartlessness. But then, I’d be wanting to show another side of heroism if I used it.

    Thoughts?

    • Another thought: what you describe is a classic example of logical judgment overruling value judgment. It might be the best way to “win the game”. But would it be morally right? We see that scenario presented all the time in fiction, sometimes well, sometimes badly.

      What if the protagonist has both the willingness and the ability to outmaneuver the cold logic of such a “game” by his values-driven self-sacrifice? It might seem totally stupid to his partner, but his partner might underestimate the Cartoon Physics-like power over “the game” that the hero has. In fact, that’s exactly what my protag plays around with… hey, wait a minute, that sounds like another Protag I know. 😀 (And that is no accident. 😉 )

      • “It might be the best way to “win the game”. But would it be morally right?”

        This.

        I wouldn’t be able to live with myself had I been in this character’s shoes. I certainly wouldn’t be able to continue partnering with someone who’s a murderer and feels no remorse for it.

  2. Great post. Thanks, Will, for taking a stand. Moral ambiguity, such as in the book you mention, lessens our humanity, slice by slice. So many have sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Am grateful each day for God’s Son, our Savior Jesus.

  3. On the one hand, I sort of object to your example, because it sounds like the hero’s desire to save the barmaid WAS sacrificial enough that it required his partner to short-circuit that choice. On the other hand, I see your point, and it’s not worth quibbling over details, especially since I didn’t read the story and don’t know the context.

    I think you hit a crucial point: As children of the Light, I do believe it’s part of our nature, our calling and (hopefully) our desire to illustrate His ways rather than just portray the darkness all around us. And, like you pointed out, the folks who object to the portrayal of True Heroes because “they don’t exist” and it’s too “pie in the sky” are actually stuck in a cynical, pessimistic non-reality of their own. Because True Heroes that lay down their lives for others DO exist, as you very nicely illustrated.

    Nonetheless… may I say this? Instead of drawing up the lines as if our version of reality is better (even though it is), perhaps we could acknowledge that the reason “Grimdark” fiction exists and is preferred is because people have lost hope. They see only brokenness and shades of grey in everyone around them — and in themselves. The ones who should have loved and protected them betrayed or molested them. The ones they hoped would heal them also ended up twisting the knife that was already in their hearts and adding to their pain. When they try to be better than that — and some of them really do try — it only leads to more pain.

    I do not condemn nor disdain the “Grimdark”, myself, but tend to see it as a reflection of the hunger and desperation of those who write and read it. What else can one do when one has concluded that Light and Goodness either do not exist or are outside their reach? It is but left to bitterly celebrate what little comfort there is in a dark existence, and to try to disabuse others of their flights of fancy so they can “wake up” and see that their hopes are empty.

    What if we could find a way to write something that resonates with those lost in the Grimdark world, something which slips in a glimmering seed of truth that burns within them and rekindles lost hope? It is possible that such a story would look dark indeed to the children of Light but still require sunglasses for those lost in darkness. I do not think many of us are in a position to do such a thing… but I admit, it is on my heart to try.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response Teddi 🙂 One of the dangers of a blog post is that if it’s too long, people don’t read, but if it’s short, things get generalized. Grimdark is a super-broad phrase and depends on the individual’s definition to be honest. Some think it means there’s graphic sex scenes and foul language. Then I know folks who think Tolkien wrote dark fantasy because it has evil in it, hehe.

      But, I think in general it is way more than that. It’s a feel to the story.

      Joe Abercombie is considered by many to be the one who spearheaded this form of the fantasy genre. He says this about Grimdark (beware, there be much profanity in this link).

      http://www.joeabercrombie.com/2013/02/25/the-value-of-grit/

      I just don’t think we have have morally ambiguous characters to be honest or real. He sort of admits that in get-go, but then never returns to it.

      I define Grimdark as one that presents it’s heroes with impossible choices. I don’t believe there are ever impossible choices. There’s right and wrong. The problem with “gritty” characters is that sacrifice is devalued because the ultimate endgame is survival. Living, not a life well-lived. Too often that’s a reflection of our culture.

      Great example of this is the show The Blacklist. Red is the protag, even though he’s a selfish murderer. Yeah, he has pain. And that pain is what’s sent him down a path of evil. But even his hope and longing for peace and good (“I want to sleep one night like when I was a little boy again”) is selfish, not sacrificial.

      I loved your last paragraph. I think there are people writing those stories. Stephen James writes thrillers where his protag is a good man who struggles with the darkness within. There’s lots of evil, blood, and horror. But the protag always has a righteous choice in front of him, rather than two evil ones.

      I don’t want (nor do I write) sanitized characters. I don’t mind characters that make evil decisions. That’s real because we all do it sometimes. But if good isn’t even presented as a choice, I’m gonna put that book down. I made a choice two elections ago that I’d never vote for the lesser of two evils again. I’m certainly not going to spend my leisure time reading about a world that glorifies it.

      • Sorry for the long reply hehe. I’ve given way too much thought to this topic to really lay it out in a blog post or reply effectively.

        • As you can see, I’m not shy about leaving long comments, so no apology necessary. I enjoy the exchange of meaningful thought, however long it takes (well, when I have the time!).

          Good way to illustrate the difference, I think — what you said about stories where the protagonist has an option to make a right choice, rather than only evil ones. Where good is at least an option. I don’t mind a story where at first it seems that there is no good option (often life can appear that way), as long as one is found at some point.

          I think deep down, we humans know that stories are there as examples, as ways to practice decision-making in a virtual way, to experience something that hasn’t happened and to be informed by that experience. There have been some non-fiction books out recently in that regard (“Wired for Story” by Lisa Cron). Sometimes we’re just reading for “enjoyment”, and that’s fine, but I think we’re wired this way because it’s a benefit to us.

          That said, and if that is true, then the responsibility (and opportunity) of storytellers is all the bigger. We either reinforce a negative, twisted view of the world or we introduce and/or reinforce something closer to God’s view of it. Our voices, colored with our experience of knowing Him and His ways, are that salt and light needed. Speaking forth only what we see is not following the example of our Father. As we’re told in the book of Romans (and elsewhere), He calls things that are not as though they (already) are. We are to walk by faith and not by sight. To operate in the realm of the eternal, invisible things and not just these temporary things that we see all around us.

          Someday, despair and death, bitterness and betrayal, pain and sorrow will all cease to be. Someday, it will be all life and healing, hope and joy, peace and exhilarating glory. Someday, the sacrifices made here will be converted into tangible rewards there, and those who consistently laid down their lives will be exalted and enjoy the fruits of their diligence. That’s good news. That’s a beautiful picture.

          But even better is the good news that such diligence and loyalty to righteousness translates into abundant life right here on earth. Our lives are richer for our having lived to love like He loves. And telling THAT story is what the world needs to hear. I pray He gives us words to say it that will reach people… but as soon as I type that I remember that it’s not so much our words as it is the Holy Spirit opening the reader’s heart to hear the Voice inside our words that will truly reach them.

          Thanks for the great conversation, Will. I’m pumped all over again about why I write. *grin*

  4. Interesting post. Made me think about fantasy and reality in one setting. It leaves me where it often does. Not finding emotional enjoyment in fantasy always ending up as the “happily ever after” scenario. Even in real life Hero’s “happily ever after” often comes with heartfelt sadness. And the hero isn’t always riding off into the sunset with a beautiful and helpless woman. On the other hand, the story mentioned above seriously bothers me. The hero runs into the building and comes out with a barmaid. Nice of him. Honorable to be sure as with our human and animal heros . But to be sure I would be angry that my partner or protagonist here would take it upon himself or herself, to save his Partner by killing the very one his partner set out to save. It would be one thing if both partners agreed on that outcome. Even so, I’d be inclined to cry out to God for His answer and allow the “Red Sea” part. But to not even as partners not talk about what was morally and Godly right would upset me.
    Anyway- enjoyed the post and the thoughts of everyone.
    Blessings yisraela

    • Yeah, that’s what bothered me too. He finally makes the jump alone and escapes. But there’s no angst on what his partner did. No long discussion about right and wrong. About the nobility of sacrifice.

      I love happily-ever-afters, but the books that have usually impacted me the most are the one’s that don’t end that way. It’s when someone gives their life for something bigger than themselves – for others – that really sticks with me.

      “Greater love has no man than this that that he lay down his life for his friends.”

      Thanks for replying Yisraela 🙂

  5. Enjoyed reading this. Agreed, a hero with no morals, no sense of right or wrong, is no hero. Writing such people into starring roles does not improve them. Coldly doing whatever necessary for self survival is no plot I want to read, and it’s sad that authors who write this way are showing their own flawed worldview.

    • My occasional collaborator Jason Ward (of Barbados) and I have played with protagonists who prefer logical judgment (as he does) vis-a-vis those who prefer value judgment (as I do). Now there’s nothing wrong with either preference – God hard-wired the one as He hard-wired the other. But what we see in this hero’s partner reminds me of Jason’s villains, who likewise prefer logical judgment. What makes them villains is that they use their logic to suppress their values, ruthlessly – just as this hero’s partner does.

      Jason’s heroes are at least willing, if not always enthusiastically, to consider that maybe logic isn’t the answer to everything. My chief protagonist, though one who prefers value-based judgment, knows logic and values must both be considered in balance, and both sometimes have to be overridden by the will to serve a higher, even self-sacrificing goal.

      Consider, if you will, this citation I gave from something Jason and I wrote, which relates to this topic:

      https://newauthors.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/character-spotlight-alain-harper/

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