What kind of stories does Wiseblood Books want to publish? It is a complex question, but I submit that any complete answer must include the term “grotesque.” We want to accentuate the grotesque, not for the sake of its own absurdity, pain, or senselessness, but because beneath its superficial surface a specific grace is at work for the good, the true, and the beautiful. I do not say that this is the most comprehensive description of our ethos at Wiseblood; but for me it is the most obvious place to begin.
There are many excellent stories that help explain my meaning, but I will choose just two well-worn examples. In Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, we follow the adventures of a Catholic priest in 1930’s Mexico. His religion has been outlawed by the government, and the army is determined to locate and eliminate this last remaining cleric. But this particular priest struggles with severe alcoholism and, contrary to his vows of celibacy, he has fathered a daughter that--to amplify his shame--he is unable to adequately support. Whatever the Catholic priesthood ought to mean, this man is a horribly distorted example of it. But within his brokenness there is an undeserved grace at work. He is still capable of authentic service and offers real aid to the grateful people he meets in his travels, even when he does so while drunk or hungover. He comes to a gruesome end, but Greene suggests enough that we can reasonably hope that the priest makes the right choice at the critical moment.
In a brief aside, Greene describes a small child reading a sweet and pious story about a gentle martyr saint. But the child is too jaded to find the story inspiring or even interesting. In a way, this child represents mankind, especially mankind in our modern world; immovable when faced with the simply sweet and pious. Now this is not to say that it is wrong for a publishing house to to aim for sweetness or piety, and many do so.
But we, the four editors that comprise Wiseblood Books, are too much like that child. Surely we each would wish to be innocent enough to be moved by mere sweetness. But our attention is arrested by the grotesque, for within the grotesque are fresh epiphanies of truth and goodness, working towards astonishing and unpredictable ends.
Consider The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is sublime when it comes to the pure and the hallowed, but he also plunges us into inhuman depravity. I for one cannot read much about orcs or orc-speech without feeling their selfishness and cruelty to be a mirror of my own bad behavior. Even the hobbits, delightful as they are, still have that terrible gift of free will that makes them capable of wickedness, as we read in "The Scouring of the Shire." But throughout the long telling of the story, we gradually realize that unseen forces are indeed at work for the good.
In The Two Towers, a band of orcs kidnap Merry and Pippin and carry them like despised luggage across the plains of Rohan to the edges of Fangorn forest. It is only because of the orcs’ painful unrelenting speed that the two young hobbits, basically insignificant so far, are suddenly--unexpectedly--poised to make a massive contribution; arguably their greatest practical assistance to the war effort is sparked by their unlikely friendship with Treebeard. None save Gandalf (not even Aragorn, which I find slightly scandalous) has the wisdom to immediately perceive that some mysterious good is at work, though even the wizard is incapable of predicting how it will unfold. Aragorn is weary from the chase and reproaching himself bitterly for allowing the hobbits to be abducted. But Gandalf encourages him that: “Our enemies have contrived only to bring Merry and Pippin with marvelous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all!”
This is the paradox of grace at work, not despite, but within and through the grotesque. It is an authentic path to hope through the landscape of despair; it means that meaning is deeper than pain, that ugly is as ugly does, and that absurdity is only skin deep. It arrests our attention, though we naturally flinch in the face of it, for it is an uncanny thing; a thing from which men turn away. It is central to Wiseblood Books because it is central to every person’s life, each in their own way, in their own circumstances. All healthy people keenly feel themselves to be grotesque creatures from time to time. But healthy people also know themselves to be redeemable. Whether one accepts or rejects this good from outside is the tension in every life story, and it is the tension we are on mission to feature in the books we publish.