A recent article on the dystopian film trend starts: “Before your film can dominate the global box office, it needs ideally to have been a word-of-mouth bookshelf smash. And unless your name is John Green or JK Rowling, your best option is to write a piece of bestselling YA dystopian fiction or fantasy.”
There’s no shortage of dystopian fiction right now, and theories about why we can’t seem to get enough of reading and watching it. I think I know why there’s so much of it being written: it is easy.
Writing a great book is probably never easy, but it is easy for most of us to think of ways the world could go wrong – the news is full of examples every night – and creating suspense and tension through the simple means of putting freedom, lives, and basic rights at risk is a bit of a shortcut. Wallowing in this kind of dark fantasy is easy for us, like imagining what people would say at your funeral in the “they’ll regret this when I’m gone” way of a dramatic teenager.*
I’m seeing some things pop up in the wider online Paganism that remind me of this. People talking a lot about bones and poisons, about using desecrated items from other religions, and about demons and curses. People reclaiming our connections to the occult and to Satanism. People talking about the dark and awful sides of our gods.
They aren’t wrong. We shouldn’t shy away from our history or from knowing about the ugliest, bloodiest, hardest parts of ourselves and of nature. To only talk about the bounty and beauty is false, but so much of what I see that is standing against the “white light”/”fluffy bunny” approach feels like just a dark fantasy version of the same thing.
Of course, if you genuinely believe that the world is dark and that nature is red is tooth and claw, your religious practices will and should reflect that. And if you genuinely believe that the universe is love and the gods are divine parents, your practices will and should look very different. But my concern is that in disparaging the latter as being childish and naive, we have made the former into the intelligent and realistic option (we do love our binaries), and I have seen as many Pagans burn out from the “darker-than-thou” competition as from getting tired of the pressure to throw positive thoughts at all problems.
My Paganism is a faith that tries to participate in and reflect reality, and edginess is not the same as realism. If others prefer their religion mixed with fantasy, that’s really nothing to me, but I don’t think it’s fair to look down on bright fantasy while elevating dark. Escapism is the same whether cloaked in flowers and white light or in bones and shadows.