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.)
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?
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!)
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.
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.
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!
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.