Flannery O’Connor suffered from lupus. C.S. Lewis lost his young wife to cancer after only 4 years of marriage. There is a theory that G.K. Chesterton suffered from developmental coordination disorder. J.R.R. Tolkien contracted trench fever while serving in World War I, and continued to have bouts of illness throughout his writing of The Lord of the Rings. And it is well known that Charles Dickens suffered much as a child laborer after his father was thrown into debtor’s prison—a scenario used repeatedly in his writings. Even J.K. Rowling lived in poverty while writing the Harry Potter series. So, my question is, can suffering be an inspiration?
It seems to me that some of the greatest writers of all time endured immense suffering. And for some of them, those times became the moments when they wrote their best works. Often their own suffering bled into their written characters’ lives.
I believe that the anguish and hardship that these great authors endure aids in inspiring more meaningful stories, whereby suffering becomes a means to redemption. Because this is what every human heart knows: There simply must be a happy ending after this life of pain. Where would Middle Earth be, if Frodo had not trekked the long road to Mordor? Or Narnia, if Aslan had not been slain on the Stone Table? Or would David Copperfield have learned how to grow into a better man without a life of loss?
In my adventures with my own writing, I have noticed that my best work seems to come from that wounded part of my soul. I have to dig into that sphere of suffering and then my writing becomes believable. It suddenly speaks to the human heart… the human experience. As painful as that can sometimes be, it is also liberating. Why? Because it speaks to that part of me that knows there is redemption after this life.
Every writer (if they are any good… ) is naturally drawn to a sort of Christian realism. Flannery O’Connor once said, “The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism… when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.” She was a woman who really captured the darkness of fallen humanity—the reality. In my opinion, many reviewers see her as ‘grotesque’ simply because they see a reflection of their own misery in her work, but refuse to acknowledge it. Any good story must have darkness, in some sense, in order to make the light shine more brightly. After all, the greatest story of all time has torture and even death, but… then came the Resurrection!