As wickedness blackens the world around us, many good people struggle to reach for the light. They know that it is there, but it they don’t know where to find it.
As I writer in the 21 st Century, I have realized that overt references to Christ and his Atonement are not welcome in the present market. Yet, people do have the Light of Christ within them, and can recognize when redemptive principles are taught.
In fact, though there are many who seek darkness and horror, many are still drawn to the uplifting. According to Michael Ballam, LDS opera singer, Les Miserables is the most popular musical in history. Its tale of redemption and its allegory of Christ’s sacrifice were so beautifully presented that viewers couldn’t help but be moved and uplifted.
At the present, there is an ongoing revival of English Victorian writers with redemptive themes (Elizabeth Gaskill: North and South, Wives and Daughters, and Cranford ; Charles Dickens: Bleak House ) whose works are being rediscovered and depicted by the BBC.
With a surfeit of grim reality shows on U.S. television, works by Jane Austen are more popular than ever. Modern authors are writing “sequels” to her books, and the BBC is reviving old renditions along with new ones for Masterpiece Theatre. The recent movie Becoming Jane fueled the Austen frenzy. Jane Eyre also received a do-over in a recent BBC production. People are hungry for stories of redemption.
In my own work, I have had the chance to review the King Arthur legend, which has endured over hundreds of years, never losing its appeal. What makes the story of Arthur so entrancing?
In my recent book, a professor of Celtic studies, Anthony Jones, is hoping to uncover a manuscript that would prove Arthur was real. He is looking for a new standard of morality. He has the following conversation with my heroine and two men from British C.I.D.
“So what draws you to Arthur, Jones?” D.S. Cole asked, his elegant long fingers clasped before him on the table …
“I’m a bit pedantic on the subject, I’m afraid, but I really do feel that we need his vision today,” the professor answered, an eager light in his eyes. Their odd gold color gleamed even in the dimness of the restaurant. “I have a theory you see. Not new. But I feel that each of us has a divine void within us. Philosophers call it different things.”
“Existential darkness,” Cole remarked.
“It all depends on your point of view,” Jones said. “I prefer to see it as an absence that can only be filled by selflessness. Mother Theresa was a good example. But everyone feels the absence and everyone fills it with something. Drugs, pornography, alcohol …”
“And you’d fill it with good works?” There was the vestige of a sneer in the sergeant’s voice.
“That’s where Arthur comes in. Why do you suppose his legend is so powerful? Because he wasn’t dissuaded by the forces of darkness and disbelief of the barbarians. He started where we all need to start – with the soul of the individual warrior. He believed in the persuasiveness of enlightenment … “
“Jones is Welsh, isn’t it?” Maren inquired, feeling impatience stir within her at his ability to be so abstract about the matter. It seemed to her that he had forgotten Rachael and Claire completely.
“Yes, yes of course it is. A derivation of John’s men. King John, more’s the pity. But they did come from Wales . That’s their saving grace.”
“That explains your Romanticism,” Maren said. “This is the real world, Professor. Ugly things happen. Ugly things like kidnapping and murder.”
His eyes deepened with that same well of fellow-feeling she had noted that morning, but he didn’t apologize for his enthusiasm. “I share in at least part of your loss, Maren. But I know I can scarcely imagine how black the world must seem to you right now.” He looked past her, seeing something in his inner vision. “What keeps me going is that, of all people, your sister viewed Arthur’s values as our only hope. You see, barbarism is nothing more than ignorance, in most cases. But more dangerous than barbarism, even, is the prevalent attitude that all is well. All, as you so powerfully demonstrate, is not well.”
Maren could see him, poised at his college lectern, emphasizing points with the stem of his pipe.
“We have succumbed to the comforts of plenty,” he continued. “We’re filling our void with things that just don’t work. People are pursuing excess now in an attempt to feel. They don’t realize that the things that sustain our civilization are personal commitment to the light, to the good. Arthur’s creed.”
“So you believe a new Dark Age is upon us?” Cole inquired. . .
“I do,” the professor stated flatly. “In 1940, we got up the moral gumption to fight it off. We came out of our pre-war excesses and became Arthurian to the core. Right makes might. I don’t think we’re the same nation anymore.”
“So what solution do you propose?” the chief inspector asked as his lamb chops were placed before him. “Another war?”
“A popular philosophical revolution,” Dr. Anthony Jones said. “What draws people to Arthur is what used to draw them to church – a sense that there is, somewhere, an absolute good. This manuscript is just what we need to bring Arthur’s values back to the public consciousness.” His eyes sparked with enthusiasm. “We must have a nucleus of people who are committed to putting off the natural man. Who are willing to embrace ideas that extend beyond their own personal comfort. A new Battle for Britain , if you will.”
“Led by whom?” asked Cole, idly spearing a French fry. “You?”
“By ideals. Not one person in particular. We have no modern Arthur, so we must depend on his legend. That is why this work we’re doing is so important.”
“So you worship Arthur, then?” Maren asked.
“No. I merely hold him up as a type. He was a dedicated Christian, you know. But this seems to be the age of the metaphor. Look at the popularity of Lord of the Rings , for example. People grasp at the spectacular, while being blind to the essence.”
We can see the wheat being divided from the chaff by the sort of things people are pursuing for entertainment. As Latter-day Saints, we must be committed to producing and supporting the good. We must believe in the intrinsic good of our brothers and sisters who also voted for Christ’s plan in the pre-existence. If we must use types and metaphors to get our message across, then so be it. There are others successfully waging this battle. Witness the recent productions by Walden Films of Amazing Grace and The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe.