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Klavan On The Culture

Young Adult Fiction and The Imp of the Perverse

November 5th, 2013 - 5:52 am


I have a new young adult thriller  novel out — an adventure story and ghost story combined — Nightmare City. I seriously hope you’ll consider getting a copy or two to read  secretly before giving them to the young adults in your life.

Meanwhile, here are some brief thoughts on writing stories for the youth market.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story called The Imp of the Perverse. The imp was that demon inside all of us that pushes us to do the wrong thing, the thing that is certain to harm ourselves and others. You feel the imp inside you when you stand on a precipice and have the urge to throw yourself off. Maybe it’s just another name for the devil, or maybe it’s a personification of that sinful nature that, to paraphrase St. Paul, makes us do what we would not while being unable to do what we would.

Nowhere is the Imp of the Perverse more active today than in the stories and images we give to our young people. The imp is in the beckoning toward self-degradation and self-destruction that underlies so many songs and movies and books, in the blithe romanticization of promiscuity, drugs and foul language, in the strutting pride in transgression not of outdated social mores but of one’s own inner conviction of what is noble and good. There are plenty of wonderful songs and stories out there, but there really does seem an aggressive movement in parts of the entertainment industry to sell behavior to young people that, simply put, will make their lives not better but worse. I don’t have to name the garbage. You know what it is.

Criticize the selling of self-destructive behavior to the young and you’re “puritanical,” or “slut-shaming,” or being “unrealistic about the modern world.” But in fact, this effort to normalize the degraded is itself perverse in the extreme. It’s the incarnation of that imp within who urges us to do ill to what we love the best: ourselves and our children. The people who peddle this trash curse those who dare to criticize them so loudly precisely because they know they are doing wrong and can’t stop themselves. Believe me: the person who accuses you of “slut-shaming,” is herself deeply ashamed.

When Thomas Nelson publishers, a Christian house, first asked me if I’d be interested in writing young adult fiction, I told them, “I don’t preach to anyone. It’s obnoxious and makes for bad storytelling.” They responded that they didn’t want a preacher. They just wanted me to tell great stories from my point of view.

So that’s what I do. My stories don’t lecture anyone about what sex life to have or what drugs to take or what language to use. I simply tell stories that take place in the world as I understand it and that represent the things I know to be true. We live in a moral universe. That doesn’t mean that good guys win and bad guys lose. That doesn’t mean that God sends you down, down, down if you do wrong and up, up to happy-land if you’re very, very good. It simply means that there’s a price you pay for everything — not always in the world of the flesh, but in your spirit where it matters; where it matters whether there’s a life beyond this one or not. The price you pay for cruelty, deception and self-degradation is paid in shame and rationalization and a slow strangling of your capacity for both truth and happiness. The rewards can be pleasures of great intensity. They don’t last but then, in this life, nothing does. The price for moral integrity is paid in effort of will, a sharp awareness of your own failings, and an occasional denial of those same intense and immediate pleasures. The rewards are a priceless clarity of heart, a heightened ability to love, and a steadily blossoming sense of joy in the fact of life and the gift of life. As the old saying goes: you pays your money and you takes your choice.

To represent a world that works otherwise — a world where treating the human being like a hunk of meat with a chemistry set inside is all good fun — a world where your deepest sense of right and wrong, honor and shame, good and evil are only illusions foisted on you by a finger-wagging society — that’s lying to your audience plain and simple. That’s giving free rein to the imp of the perverse.

Lying is fine for journalists and academics; it’s what they do. But I’m a novelist. You can’t make good fiction out of lies.

Again, Nightmare City, is on sale now. I hope you’ll give it a try.


Cross-posted at PJ Lifestyle

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All Comments   (8)
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You write you face abuse from those in your industry who peddle self-destructive habits to young people, because you do not do as they do.

That made me wonder, why would Satan target young people that way? I assume the key is that voice you describe, which urges the young person to hurt himself. You note Poe called it Imp, and that it might be part of being human.

I call it demon. I cannot accept that He would design someone with something inside which drives the person to self-destruction. I cannot accept He designs someone with a capacity to hate himself. That self-hatred must be taught.

So demons tell some young people directly to destroy themselves, and also have their words pushing self-destruction shown by willing writers.

Using what you sparked with your column, here is the key as to why Satan uses this method to attack young people, assuming I am correct. A young person has not spent years being led by demons. He is not used to it. He might realize these thoughts are not his own, but instead are spoken by an angel standing next to him. If he realizes he is being spoken to, and rebukes the one speaking, he might sense it comes from an angel. And then Satan has a problem. Because that young person will become livid he is being targeted. He might then pray for a way to counter it, and then the demons are in trouble. For then you have a Christian with youthful courage who hates Satan.

If Satan can persuade young people to do self-destructive acts, there is not just guilt. Those acts go against how He designed them. Again, no human is designed by Him to want to harm himself. That must be taught. So Satan can put young people into turmoil if he can persuade them to hurt themselves.

Why would the writers Satan employs to persuade young people to be self-destructive attack writers like you who don’t participate? I could be wrong, but I assume it is because what those writers face. Realize they receive insight and ideas, but most of all flattery, from the angels (demons) controlling them. The moment they deviate from what those demons want them to do, those demons make their lives hell. That is why you see them rage against you and other non-participants. Demons are not propping up their decrepit, sordid careers out of benevolence. They do it since they use those writers. Part of that use is the writers must rage against who the demons demand they rage against. They have to keep the demons they rely on content.

Why would young people be open to an incredibly sick campaign that they destroy themselves? I assume it is because young people crave acceptance. They fear being excluded. So if all their peers, and their pop-star role models, do self-destructive acts, they are pressured to do the same or face ostracism.

I will close this comment with this: perhaps the most self-destructive act a young person can do is anorexia. It is hard to surpass choosing to literally waste your body away. I wrote to an expert on anorexia who had survived it, begging she consider some cases could be demonically inspired. She ignored me. I had hoped she would like my take and then help me by referring me to someone who would enable Americans to support our soldiers in this War. Instead, I would gladly send that ignored email to you if you want it. Thank you for wanting young people not to destroy themselves, even though you face wrath from its proponents in your industry.

If prayer says to post this, I will.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here, here.
Well said. And I look forward to a good (as usual) read.

But why is it when you say "The Imp of the Perverse' I see the image of the current occupant of the Oval Office? Is he the Imp? Or the logical result of listening to the Imp?
(the old Leninists were right about ONE thing. everything is political.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You know the actions urged by the imp are self-destructive, but you have the urge to do them anyway. That doesn't really fit the current occupant of the WH--I think most of the people who voted for him did so because they felt it was the right thing to do ("felt", not "thought").
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
>>Maybe it’s just another name for the devil, or maybe it’s a personification of that sinful nature that, to paraphrase St. Paul, makes us do what we would not while being unable to do what we would.
This is why the bible must be dised, if it just a bunch of sanctimonious feel goodism it can be ignored. But if it is a tale of people who wanted to do good, failed but kept trying that is dangerous stuff, they would council us to give up.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm reading it now. Good stuff. And great sermon there, Bro. Andrew. No, seriously, we need people who can make a nice, clean, deep incision through all the skin, fat and muscle of what we think is reality and get right down to the essence of what we are, what reality is, and how we should live if we wish to be healthy, wealthy and wise. Well, I'm healthy and wise. Two out of three ain't bad. Now, if I could only get my thirteen year-old daughter to read these books. This is a huge problem. I know several parents who are big readers, and their kids won't be bothered with the printed word. So here's hoping some of your YA stories get filmed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Read it to her, that is what I'm planning to do with my own children. That way discussion is born for the whole family. One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is the atmospherics and the sounds, both lend themselves well to reading out loud.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I went to see the movie "Ender's Game" this weekend, it did not ruin the story from the book, it was pretty good, but. The studios were hoping it would appeal to a "young adult" audience because Ender and his buddies are something like early teens. Well, the story was never written as a young adult story, and the audiences actually seeing the film seem to be averaging 40 years old or more, etc. So, my point (if indeed I have one) is that it struck me as odd that there was no sex beyond a little smiling and hand-holding. OK there was none in the book, but the book and story were more parable than reality, plus were written just long enough ago (original story 1977) to partake of a very different environment than today's. The film was short of time already and an romance or sex would warp the story and distract from the main lines - and yet, especially in a movie, don't we expect - something? For that matter everyone was wearing long pants and turtlenecks except for a few all-male shower scenes.

The fix for this is to make the film *more* parable and *less* realistic, if you ask me, but Hollywood doesn't do that anymore.

Just some random thoughts.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sometimes, making a comment on a review is a simple as a Thank you! So, thank you for this very insightful review.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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