To wrap this mini-series up, I decided to highlight a few depressing things I’ve read that have actually blessed me, things that I believe have worth even though they don’t end happily.
I know I’ve already reviewed Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but it fits perfectly in this discussion. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but let’s just say that this book by Robert Louis Stevenson isn’t exactly a pick-me-up. However, it powerfully portrays human nature and what happens when we let our depraved flesh take control. There’s a Mr. Hyde in each of us, and seeing that so graphically depicted made me all the more grateful for salvation. It is a convicting book, frankly, because I realize how much am I like the villain. Being confronted with the reality of our sin may not be exactly appealing, but it’s important. Sometimes depressing books can remind us of our brokenness and, lest we think too highly of ourselves, give us the right perspective of who we truly are.
Then there are Sophocles’ plays, which I mentioned in the first post. Oedipus is cursed by the gods to kill his father and marry his mother, and while he tries his hardest to avert this fate, he unwittingly fulfills it. What worth is there in that? There are many reasons, but the one that first comes to mind is that it makes me thankful that it’s not true. There’s such a stark contrast between these gods and my God. The gods force people to do wrong and yet punish them for it. Humans are subject to their caprices and whims, and no matter how hard they try or how virtuous they may be, the gods’ fickle and petty wills rule all. They are just as foolish, selfish, and evil as humans. My God, the one true God, is quite the opposite. He is all the good we aren’t, and He is none of the evil we are. He is perfect and holy and frankly incomprehensible, because He is so gloriously beyond us, so transcendent.
And this illustrates a point I forgot previously. Depressing things highlight the hope we have better than hope-filled things, many times. You can’t see the stars during the sunny day — you have to wait for darkness to see their glory. It’s the same way with many tragic stories. Some stories do make me feel hopeless, but many do the exact opposite: They remind me of the hope I have, of the salvation I’ve been given, of the joy that has been promised me. They provide a beautifully stark contrast between the world of the depressing story and the world I live in, which, while broken, is filled with His beauty.
The last book I want to touch on is by an author near and dear to my heart: J. R. R. Tolkien. His short tale, The Children of Hurin, is horribly depressing. I read the whole thing in an afternoon, anxiously waiting for it to get better. Instead, it kept getting worse. I finished it wondering what exactly to think. I mean, it was awful — I can’t really explain more, for fear of spoiling it, but trust me, it’s quite dark. And yet, through it all, there was this strange sense of beauty. I really don’t have a deep analysis of this book, because I’m still trying to figure out what exactly attracts me to it. It’s tragic and heart-breaking, but something about it stirs my heart. Perhaps it’s the beautiful, if tragic, brother-sister relationship, or valiant, if futile, attempts to defy Melkor.
Another thought is that it’s relatable. I’m not just talking about the fact that we’ve all felt hearbroken and desperate before, although that’s true. I mean the fact that we’re all facing an enemy that seems to be winning. Every time I turn on the news or read a magazine, I feel despair creeping upon me. Our enemy is too strong, he has too great of a control in this world — and the depression rises. The same feeling echoes through Tolkien’s story. And yet, his story is not the whole story. It is but a small part in a tale that ends by proving this truth: “The Shadow is but a small and passing thing; there is light and high beauty for ever beyond it’s reach” (Return of the King). The same is true for real life — the darkness we see now is but a small part of the grand tale that will end in triumph.
Now I’d love to hear from you. What are some depressing things you’ve read that you’ve enjoyed, that actually blessed you? Do you agree with the ones I’ve pointed out? Any concluding thoughts?