Same Umbrella, Different Factions
Violence aside, I would gladly welcome the dystopian sci-fi novel Divergent into our “faction” here at Visionary Fiction Alliance. Veronica Roth deserves her New York Times Bestselling Author status. She deserves her book’s 13,561 Amazon reviews (9,733 of which are five stars). She deserves her book sales of over eleven million. All these accolades are merited because Divergent is fast-paced, well told, and pumps out enough what-ifs and why-nots to satisfy the “Erudite” in all of us. In other words, Divergent is a fantastic read. The reason I cannot claim Divergent as visionary fiction is twofold:
- It does not explore the paranormal.
- It bypasses the spiritual.
Divergent is Devoid of the Paranormal
According to Hal Zina Bennett, publisher, writer, and expert on the genre of visionary fiction:
- “…good visionary fiction takes us deep into the realm of mystery beyond the boundaries of our five senses.”
- “The best characters in these (visionary) novels serve as mediators between the physical world we’re familiar with and the less familiar world of dreamtime—what C.G. Jung called the collective consciousness.”
As dystopian sci-fi, Divergent is categorized under the same speculative fiction umbrella as visionary fiction, but it differs from VF in that it does not include the paranormal, magical, or fantastic. Set in a futuristic Chicago, Divergent is played out in a world that has the same physical and biological rules as our own. The miracles that occur in Divergent are miracles of science, specifically computer and neuroscience, used in technologically-advanced—incredible, terrible—ways to control and manipulate faction members. Workings of the mind apply to the stimulation, rewiring, and control of the brain, including syringes with long needles plunged into the necks of “Dauntless” faction initiates to send mind-controlling serums and tracking devices into their veins. Tris, the protagonist, is always moving and choosing between worst-case scenarios, surviving via her two greatest talents: the ability to control her thoughts and the ability to forget about self—admirable qualities, but hardly paranormal. She spends no time connecting to anything even closely resembling the “collective consciousness” and only goes into “dreamtime” when forced to artificially by mind-controlling serums. Her survival depends on constantly purging her mind of doubt and fear. Either she’s telling herself, “This isn’t real” and “This is not about me,” or she’s not allowing herself to think at all. Everything about Divergent lies within the realm of the five senses and the scientifically possible (though in all hopes not probable) in the not-so-distant future.
Divergent Bypasses the Spiritual
Although God is mentioned four times by “Abnegation” faction members and Tris thinks fleetingly about God when she’s certain she’s going to die, no intelligent life-principle or transcendent intelligence is manifested, trusted, or relied upon in Divergent. The protagonist depends solely on their own wits, bravery, and power to fight human evil. If anything spiritual is going on, besides maybe Tris’s discovery that love and selflessness is all that matters, it’s never mentioned or referred to in this first novel of the Divergent trilogy. Even when in fear for her life (which happens a lot in the story), Tris does not resort to prayer or recognize an indwelling spirit operating through, for, or against her. Neither is she old enough or educated enough (leaning new things and trying to understand how everything works is the function of the “Erudite” faction) to reach deep within herself philosophically. Instead, she lets go of all thought and surrenders to pure instinct. Visionary fiction provides the kind of hope shouldered, at least in part, by a spiritual presence. Divergent, in contrast, provides little hope; and the little hope it does provide rests on the shoulders of a young and fragile protagonist one gunshot away from extinction. The futileness and emptiness of depending solely upon humans to save our world is summed up in the words of Tris’s mother, “Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before bad creeps back in and poisons us again.” Yes, individual confidence, determination, and bravery are commendable attributes, but there’s a lot to be said for supplementing what we know—or think we know—with the mystical and esoteric knowledge of those who trekked the path before us. Wisdom of the ancients can add depth to our “modern” spiritual journey, a spiritual depth lacking in Divergent. That old knowledge is sacrificed for the new in the Divergent world is hinted at by Tris’s observation when visiting the main “Erudite” factor building, which, of course, is a library. “Bookcases seem to be decorative more than anything, because computers occupy the tables in the center of the room, and no one is reading. They stare at screens with tense eyes, focused.”
Beyond Physical Vision and Human Intellect
Don’t get me wrong, Divergent has much to say, especially about love and selflessness. As Tobias, Tris’s instructor and love interest, says:
- “…it’s when you’re acting selflessly that you are at your bravest.”
- “I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different. All your life you’ve been training to forget yourself, so when you’re in danger, it becomes your first instinct.”
However, from my perspective as a visionary fiction writer, one of the most important gifts we can give our readers comes from a world beyond physical vision and human intellect, a world that acknowledges and accepts the manifestation of some kind of unifying presence (be it omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent, or otherwise) in the lives of our characters. Besides telling a good story, VF enlightens and encourages readers to expand their awareness of greater possibilities. It helps them see the world in a new light and recognize dimensions of reality they commonly ignore. In the words of visionary fiction writer, Jodine Turner: Often relegated to the genre of Fantasy, Inspiration, or Spirituality, it (visionary fiction) contains elements of all three. But the story line is generally more concerned with the protagonist’s internal experiences, where non-logical methods – such as visions, dreams, psychic phenomena, past life remembrances, or forays into uncharted planes of existence – are the unique catalysts for radical shifts in perception. Characters explore alternative dimensions, sometimes willingly and sometimes not. They break from our everyday conditioned reality to glimpse a more enlightened doorway into unconventional perspectives. In a world riddled with fear, misunderstanding and lost hope, I believe there are people prepared to transcend the boundaries of their five senses and open to new thoughts and ideas. In other words, I believe the audience is ready for fiction that heals, empowers, and bridges differences.
By now you might be wondering which faction you would belong to: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, or Erudite. Why not take the faction quiz here to find out? According to my test results, the faction I have the greatest aptitude for is “Amity,” with “Erudite” coming in a close second. But would “Amity” be the faction I’d choose to enter for the rest of my life? Would I prioritize music, the arts, and happiness (Amity) over learning new things and understanding how everything works (Erudite)? Fortunately, that’s a question I’m not forced to answer. In this world, anyway.