Friday, April 13, 2012

Tall Tales: The Book Made Me Do It

Welcome, my friends, to the second in my Tall Tales series, in which we explore one of the most common conundrums of the bibliophile. Namely, can a book 'make' you do something?
Let me explain.

Especially in the area of romance (for a more in-depth dealing with that topic, check out my series on Is Love a Fancy or a Feeling?) I have often read the comment "if these romance novels are making you fantasize over young men, then you need to throw them away." Statements like these, though made by writers I highly respect, always raise the question mark in my mind. Not that we shouldn't throw away questionable material.

But can a book 'make' me do something?

Perhaps it seems as if I'm straining at a point here. However, the question itself gives rise to an important foundation of the Christian faith. So welcome to Tall Tales: The Book Made Me Do It. Though I used the example of a romance novel above, this series is not about the romance genre, but includes genres of all different descriptions.

And to begin, I'd like to tell you two different stories, and draw a few parallels to the Christian faith.

Story # 1
Once upon a time, the friend of a brilliant scientist watched with concern as this doctor formed an association with a certain Edward Hyde. Hyde was cruel, evil,  and totally unfit for the company of a man like kind and compassionate Jekyll. But Jekyll didn't seem to be bothered by the man, and the acquaintance continued until a maid witnessed the evil Hyde murder a member of Parliament. Then Doctor Jekyll swore to break off the friendship. This friend, Utterson, comes to his house to visit him and finds the study door locked. With the help of the butler, he breaks in and finds the dead body of Hyde, the victim of suicide. And just beside the Hyde's body, they find Jekyll's written confession: He is Hyde. All this time he had been switching back and forth between his two personalities, by the drinking of a potion. Tragically, Jekyll found that the more he changed into Hyde, the more hold Hyde's personality had on him, until it didn't require even the drinking of a potion to change into this monster of a man. And terrified at what he had done, he committed suicide rather than live in Hyde's personality for the rest of his life.

Story #2
Another scientist, Doctor Victor Frankenstien, also produced a monster of his own making, but this monster came about quite differently. Due to the details, I'll omit them, but suffice to say that this monster was large, hideous, and much like humans in make-up. Dr. Frankenstien ran away, horrified at his creation, and saw nothing more of it until the murder of his seven-year old brother two years later. A woman is unjustly accused, but he knows in his heart that it is his monster that has done it,  and in a desperate sojourn away from his home, he meets the creature face-to-face. The creature tells him a tragic tale of being shunned by mankind, trying to show kindness to people, in spite of their loathing. And he finishes his tale by saying that since someone repaid a great kindness of his by evil, he has sworn vengeance on mankind. Dr. Frankenstien is faced with the further tragedies of his creation bent on vengeance.

One of these stories is based on the Christian worldview, according to J.F. Baldwin in The Deadliest Monster. It's The Mysterious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You see, Jekyll realized that his evil was already inside of him; he just had to bring it out. Frankenstein's monster believed that his evil was based on his circumstances--people's treatment of him. And it's only when we realize that the evil is already inside us--we are already capable without any encouragement--that we are ready to understand an important concept of the literary world.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
-Romans 5:12

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
-Jeremiah 17:9

How This Ties Together
You might be asking what this has to do with my original point--can a book 'make' us do something?

-Can a dashing hero make me fantasize about my perfect husband?
-Can a book make me turn away from Christ, or make me turn towards him?
-Can a book make me have a crush on someone at church?
-Can a book make me wish that my life wasn't so boring?

Simplistically, and based upon the above concepts, no it can't. Mr. Darcy can't warp our perception of men. We do it. No author can turn us away from Christ, and no human author can turn us towards him. Only we can choose to reject God's free gift, or accept it. No book can make us have a crush. (Poor Jane Austen didn't even know who Johnny was two hundred years ago!) We twist and warp the concepts of the book to encourage our own fleshly desires. And no book can 'make' us content or discontent with our situation. It's our own personal choice.
You see, the phrase 'the book made me do it' is an abdication of our responsibility to take our thoughts and actions and conform them to the image of Christ. It started right back in the Garden, when Adam said "The woman" and the woman said "The serpent". We like passing the blame on our circumstances. Then nobody can hold us to blame.
While this concept is challenging, it should also be encouraging to us. The book can't make us do wrong. And while this means we have to take responsibility, it also means that we can rest in the assurance that the pages don't hold some magical power over our ethics and morality. They cannot turn us to evil against our will.

You already have questions. I can see them. Does that mean we should pick up just anything? Shouldn't we call the limit at some point? After all, we may make the choice, but we still need to be careful with the influences we're feeding our minds with.

Excellent points. Come back for part two, in which I shall address them. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Photo #1 courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN from Not intended to imply an endorsement of all his work. Please use discretion if you follow the link, which was provided due to website requirements.


  1. Dear Lady B,
    Excellent post! I would like to remind you that you are copying stories out of a book that other members of our family are reading! :)

  2. Incredible Post!

    (And I love that you picked to old Horror Novels to explain your post..I love old Horrors!)

  3. Schuyler,
    I have been reading The Deadliest Monster and found the two stories you mentioned to be helpful analogies to understanding worldviews. In this understanding it has amazed me how often I find Christians (including myself) unknowingly blaming things on their circumstances rather than taking responsibility. When I think about the statement "the book made me do it" I think of the one book that should make us do it: The Bible God's written word.
    Thanks for this excellent post. I look forward to your next post.
    Your loving father

  4. I love this post in all kinds of ways!


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