Encore Une Autre Raison D’Etre Pour Fiction

Excuse the French title, dear readers, but this article is related to another rather popular article on this site titled Fiction’s Raison D’Etre. The title was proofed by the former French teacher who resides next door to my room, so you may be assured of its grammatically correct nature. (It’s so nice living next to a former French teacher. I’ll have to try my best to benefit from this propinquity in order to master French before he leaves us next semester.) Beginning to watch Hell Girl again and reading George MacDonald’s Weighted and Wanting have prompted me to write this article. Both works have certain Christian themes—especially this novel of George MacDonald, who was also a great influence on C. S. Lewis—which helped to highlight the other reason to read fiction: repentance.

First, I shall summarize the basic premise of Hell Girl, the eponymous young heroine of which is also known as Enma Ai. Enma Ai was cursed with the eternal duty of aiding those who were seeking revenge by dragging their tormentors to hell. The sufferers contact her through a certain website called the Hell Link, at midnight—merely typing in the name of their tormentor. She appears to them holding a doll with a red string, pulling which string seals this contract: she’ll send their tormentor to hell with the catch that the person who initiates the contract must also go to hell upon their death. (A surprisingly large number of people agree to such terms.)

You wouldn’t have guessed, but this girl was one of the most eager to pull the red string.

This premise provides us with some great scenarios for character study, a favorite genre of the Japanese. As I mentioned in the prior article on fiction, character study aids us in understanding other people. On the other hand, it is a more useful tool in bringing us to understand ourselves—especially in cases where we cannot see our faults. How can we repent unless our shortcomings are present to us?

That’s unrepentant for you.

Hell Girl excels at bringing to light various faults, particularly since all the episodes employ modern settings with commonplace situations. This makes it highly probable that we shall find ourselves in one of the antagonists. (As I did in episode ten of the second season. Despite its edifying nature, watching how Tetsuro Megoro’s lack of constancy led to his demise was rather painful to watch.) People often possess faults of which they are unaware or faults in which they have justified and excused themselves for so long as to produce hardness of heart, i.e. they no longer see a need to change. By holding fictional characters with the same faults before our eyes, our identification with them will hopefully reveal how we have gone wrong and the necessity of our repentance. Otherwise, we shall be like the tormentors in Hell Girl, claiming our innocence despite the heinousness of our offenses and dying with final impenitence on our souls. (From which, may God preserve us!)

So says the detective who used his position to stalk and harass a high school girl, attempt to murder her, actually murder his partner, critically wound the girl’s father, and is presently attempting to finish the job.

It is interesting to note that all the antagonists are offered the opportunity to own up to their guilt: final impenitence in grave sin—at least, according to the Catholic Faith—is the only way to be damned. Perhaps, Ai would be unable to fulfill the contract should the sinner admit his guilt. One imagines God intervening on behalf of the repentant lest such a one be eternally damned. We never know if such would be the case, because no one ever repents in the show at that point; though, I do remember a few rather inoffensive people being condemned—perhaps to cast doubt on Ai’s role as the savior of the oppressed.

The last thing they see before falling headlong into perdition: flowers.

Weighted and Wanting so far is less drastic in the consequences for people’s faults, which tend to be various forms of worldliness and vanity. But, the fault of mine with which I am reminded in this work recalls part of a lecture given at my old Alma Mater by the renowned Dr. Justin J. Jackson (if you care to hear give a beautiful convocation speech, click here):

“And how do we treat our families?”  When no one ventured to give an opinion, he replied for us: “Horribly!”

Needless to remark, no one gainsaid this opinion. But, does this shock any of my dear readers? Is there not a tendency to fear offending our families less than offending our friends, because forgiveness is so readily available? Instead, we ought to be less inclined to offend our family members due to their readiness to forgive us.

n.b. this is George MacDonald, not my former English Professor.

George MacDonald portrays the elder brother in the Raymount family, Cornelius, as suffering from this defect in regard to every member of his family save his father, who governs how his children shall inherit his property. Cornelius enjoys deriding his sister Hester at most every opportunity, though Hester isn’t perfectly innocent of this defect herself, and, on the whole, treats his friends and business associates better than his family. Yet, Cornelius is rather intelligent in a way: if we treated our friends the same way as we treated our family, we should only have the latter left to us. However, one cannot be too hard on oneself: the members of our families often take our good will for granted, increasing the chances of us sinning through impatience or wrath itself!

Illustration from one of his works. MacDonald was most famous for his fantasies.

So, one walks into the confessional with more offenses against one’s family than against one’s friends. But, cognizant of this fault and with the help of God’s grace, we can work to overcome it. Having been patient with the defects of my friends and associates, we can attempt to apply the same patience to the defects of my family members. Depending on the vision of George MacDonald, Cornelius’s lack of respect for his family and inability to consider this a fault may lead to his downfall.

Therefore, the next time one feels moved to deride another person or even a fictional character for their faults, one ought to first consider how oneself may be guilty of the same fault.

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10 comments on “Encore Une Autre Raison D’Etre Pour Fiction

  1. TWWK says:

    This reminds me precisely of marriage, and in fact, we discussed some of this in great detail at our small group meeting last week. Many of us (myself definitely included) have a tendency to see ourselves as “less of a sinner” than our spouse, at least when we argue – thus flows the idea that we need to “teach our spouse a lesson” or emphasize that they need to change. Understanding the gravity of one’s sin helps that person to understand the need for grace and forgiveness.

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    • Exactly. It all comes down to that insidious vice called pride, which limits our ability to see our own faults and makes us think that we deserve more credit than we really do. Keeping the spotlight on ourselves and our faults is really difficult to do, especially when people are constantly offending us–no matter how slightly. So, we begin to focus on making someone else change rather than the more difficult course of changing ourselves, which inevitably leads to more conflicts with that person and us becoming more proud.

      But, being understanding and forgiving others their offenses is the key to producing continuous repentance in our own souls. As Publius Syrus said: “Ignoscito sæpe alter, nunquam tibi.” (“Forgive others often, oneself never.”)

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  2. […] Medieval Otaku uses Hell Girl to help point out how fictional works can help us see our own sin. [Medieval Otaku] […]

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  3. […] Medieval Otaku uses Hell Girl to help point out how fictional works can help us see our own sin. [Medieval Otaku] […]

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  4. sweetpea616 says:

    Hrm. Missed this post earlier. While it’s belated, my one episode in the first season that I feel goes beyond sin and into…iffiness (for lack of a better term)… is the one where the woman is about to be murdered by her mother-in-law (? I realize I might have this detail wrong, but there’s a woman standing over her with an axe). This particular episode in many ways doesn’t fit in with the rest of them – she’s about to give up the doll, but then pulls the string in an act of desperate self-preservation. Can many people on this earth say that they would act differently? Was she even acting in sin? Since it’s been hotly debated that ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ is really ‘Thou Shalt Not Murder’, it could be argued that she was perfectly within the (Biblical) right to defend herself in a moment of absolute desperation and no time to really think her action through. Yet her soul is still damned due to the contract.

    Many Christians use that ‘kill/murder’ argument to justify being in the army and keeping guns in the house for self-protection. So which side of the coin does that woman’s actions fall?

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    • The interesting thing about the scenario with someone being practically forced to pull the red string is often repeated in seasons one and two. If one were able to think rationally at the time, they would say that any fate is better than going to hell, and even permit themselves to be killed. (Of course, for that very reason they ought not to have considered such a contact in the first place.) But, defending oneself by any other means would surely have been justified by the threat to her life.

      Then, the interesting thing about such a case is that pulling the red string would fall into the category of being a venial sin (it was done under duress) and therefore of itself would not condemn one to hell. But, the act of trying to usurp a divine perogative (condemning to hell) must be a grave matter; so even if done under duress, this particular defense would still be sinful.

      So, she did sin because she used the wrong means to achieve a lawful end; but this was not gravely sinful because it was done under duress–that’s the best I can figure. Concerning the contract, if this was the real world, a priest can always absolve any such agreement–but, that would really hurt the impact of the show!

      The exact meaning of the fifth commandment must mean “Thou shalt not murder”; otherwise, the capital punishment and commands to wipe out certain tribes or offenders against God’s law which we find in Scripture would make no sense. So, owning weapons or studying martial arts in order to facilitate self defense or serving in the military must be okay.

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  5. […] MacDonald loved to repeat.  Speaking of George MacDonald, he penned this interesting phrase in Weighted and Wanting: “The pride of despair and the despair of pride.”  Despair can only come from pride […]

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  6. […] Encore Une Autre Raison D’Etre Pour Fiction […]

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  7. […] Here’s some stuff I’ve written about his influence and I have mentioned him here, here, and […]

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