How to Fit Spiritual Themes in Stories (Part 3)

(Part 3 of 4, based on a workshop on fitting faith-based themes or symbols in mainstream stories. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 for those who missed it).

Method 3: Include spiritual themes/symbols along with other themes/symbols in the story.

Grant Morrison’s graphic novel Arkham Asylum provides a great example of how to do this.

For those who haven’t read it, here’s a synopsis: Batman receives word that the inmates have rioted at Arkham Asylum. They’ve taken hostages, made a list of demands, and their last demand is they want Batman. Batman goes into the asylum w/ no backup, no Batmobile or Robin.

The doors close behind him, and Joker says, “We’ll give you an hour’s head start.”

Morrison uses many kinds of symbols in Arkham Asylum (including some I wouldn’t recoemmend, such as Tarot Card symbols)

Putting the occult references aside though, here are some of great symbols in Arkham Asylum:

Christianity

The first panel of Arkham Asylum is a picture of a table covered in nails, next to a diagram of a cross-shaped building and word which read “The Passion Play as It is Played Today.”

Picture1

A Passion Play is a play about the Passion of Christ (Christ’s last twelve hours, from entering Jerusalem to his death). So, Arkham Asylum is some sort of a passion play, centering on Batman. Like Christ, Batman is going to go through his darkest hour (and hopefully, rise again at the end).

Once Batman’s inside the asylum, something traumatic flashbacks about his parents and he starts to have a breakdown.

Batman knows it’s not the time to panic, so he breaks a nearby mirror and pierces his own hand with a glass shard, the pain shocking himself back to reality.

This shock helps Batman continue his mission but also showcases him taking on one of Christ’s wounds: his hand is pierced. So, Batman is starting to undergo his symbolic crucifixion.

Later, having defeated the person who started the riot, he takes an axe and breaks down the barricaded asylum door. One panicking inmate looks at Joker and says, “You shouldn’t have let him in here. He’s too dangerous.”

Here’s how Morrison describes this scene in Arkham Asylum’s script, reprinted for the 25th-anniversary edition:

“The images here are designed to recall Christ’s clearing the temple and even more importantly, the Harrowing of Hell. This event has no scriptural basis but formed a powerful port of the religious imagery of medieval Christianity. In the story of Hell’s Harrowing, Christ descends into Hell, has a confrontation with the Devil and his minions and then, at the climactic moment, tears down the Gates of Hell and sets free the tormented souls within.”

So, Batman is symbolically breaking down the doors of Hell.

He’s gone through his crucifixion, now he’s defeating death and the Devil (Joker being the devil figure in this case).

Alice and Wonderland

Like Alice, Batman’s entering a weird, nonsensical world where very little makes sense.

The Alice imagery is especially clear when Batman goes into one room and meets the Mad Hatter, sitting on a mushroom smoking a hookah (like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland).

Picture4

The Mad Hatter says part of the original Mad Hatter’s poem from the tea party: “How I wonder what you’re at!”

Another character emulates Alice later. Arkham Asylum’s doctors have given Two-Face cards instead of his lucky coin to make decisions. Two-Face retrieves his coin, then looks at cards which he’s made into a castle on a nearby table. He says Alice’s famous line to the King and Queen of Hearts, “Who cares for you? You’re just a deck of cards.”

World mythology

In one scene, Batman fights Killer Croc and grabs a spear from a statue mounted on the asylum’s roof.

Picture5

As they fight, the spear pierces Croc’s shoulder at first. Then Croc leans over, and the spear’s other end breaks into Batman’s waist. His side is pierced.

The captions in these panels read as follow: “What wounds are these? I am Attis on the pine. Christ on the cedar. Odin on the world-ash.”

In Greek mythology, Attis goes crazy and kills himself under a pine tree, although the gods later resurrect him.

In the New Testament, Christ dies on a cross, and a centurion pierces his side with a spear to make sure he’s dead.

In Norse mythology, Odin hangs on a tree with a spear through his side for 3 days and nights, to gain wisdom.

In this one scene, Morrison compares a single action to Christianity and two world mythologies.

The point I’m trying to make here is Arkham Asylum contains some very explicitly Christian themes and symbols, but readers accept them because they’re told cleverly and just one of several ideas referenced throughout.

Present Christian themes or symbols as something you’re using along with themes and symbols from other respected sources and secular people will accept them better

(Check out Part 4 here)

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3 thoughts on “How to Fit Spiritual Themes in Stories (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: How to Fit Spiritual Themes in Stories Part 2 – G. Connor Salter

  2. Pingback: How to Fit Spiritual Themes in Stories (Part 4) – G. Connor Salter

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