Hello bloggy friends,
First of all, if I know anything, you are probably wondering what I mean by that title. We'll get there, I promise. :)
As some of you have probably noticed, right now there is a big subject going around the blogosphere that has really brought up arguments on writing “Christian Fiction”… the topic has been known mainly as “Why Christian Fiction Doesn’t Work”, and as it is, I’ve already written two blog posts on the subject myself.
What I find most interesting about this subject is how controversial it is. One person believes one thing, another person believes another thing, and everyone wants their side of the story to be heard so they all start debating the point. No outright fights, of course… we are all too civilized for that. J But every one of us, me included, has entered the debate at one point or another to try and make a statement on our beliefs concerning the subject.
Now, let me make something crystal clear: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ENTERING THIS DEBATE!!! In fact, I find it admirable. I see nothing wrong with writers – especially Christian writers – defending their writing and their belief systems. And besides, this blog post was not written to be condescending, or to point fingers. What was stated above was merely an interesting observation I had made that I wished to point out. :D
With that said, however, I would like to continue the discussion going on here at the P&P on why I think “Christian Fiction”, as it is being defined in today’s world, doesn’t work… or actually, why it often isn’t working now. This isn’t a discussion about why it never works, because goodness knows, I’ve read some pretty AWESOME books in the Christian Speculative Genres, and I don't plan to stop reading those genres anytime soon… but then again, I’ve also read some pretty uninteresting and mediocre books in those genres as well. And that’s when you have to stop and ask yourself why those books aren’t working? Why are they falling flat?
First of all, one must ask oneself, what exactly is Christian Fiction? The way we often define it in today’s world, Christian Fiction is fiction being written from a Christian World View. Ok, ok... I get that, no problem. For many writers, this means that Christian elements should be obvious – sometimes blatantly so (sometimes even right smack up in your face) – within the writing and story itself. It is my experience that in some cases, Christian writers try to make their writing appear Christian with the use of prayer within the story, a single creator entity that usually represents God, belief systems similar to modern day Christianity, and even the use of a sacrificial someone that usually represents Christ... symbols within the story referring towards the Christian belief.
Now, there is nothing wrong with the use of these symbolic elements. Where we go wrong, I believe, is when we start to believe that the use of these elements alone is what makes a book “Christian”. But the truth of the matter is that these symbolic elements, when placed in a story without conviction and the leading of the Holy Spirit, don’t reveal truth, but cloud it instead.
For instance, prayer alone, without conviction, is useless… it’s like repeating random words over and over again, but never meaning them, or perhaps never even knowing what it is you’re saying. Even Christianity itself is meaningless without the conviction of what it stands for and what we believe in – truly believe in – as Christ’s followers. The truth behind what we stand for, what we believe, and what that in itself represents, is what gives purpose to the word.
I mean, no one can try to force God into a story. God was not meant to be shoved in a box, or into a story… He can’t be controlled just because someone wants him to be. And Just because the symbolism is used, doesn’t mean that the truth is evident, or that it’s even there. Without the conviction and passion for Christ that should be evident in such symbolism because of the conviction in the story’s writer, the whole story will fall flat. It’s as simple as that.
The real truth of the matter is that it all comes down to a person’s walk with Christ. As Christians, our love for God and His Truth should be evident in everything we write, and not just because we use symbols that are pertinent to the Christian faith. It should be that even if we took those symbols out of our stories completely – even if our stories were never stamped with a “Christian” label, and even if we weren't even trying to write the book from a Christian perspective – elements of Christ would still be evident to our readers, and witness to the fact that we are Lovers and Followers of Christ.
Yes, I said even if those symbols were taken out of our stories completely. I meant it too.
If an artist’s walk with God is strong, it will be visible in her painting no matter what that painting is. If a singer’s walk with God is strong, it will be heard in her song and her choice of songs. And if a writer’s walk with God is strong, it will be read in her stories... with or without the symbolism that is so visible in so many Christian Fiction stories of today.
One of my favorite quotes ever on this subject was written by C.S. Lewis. He said, “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christian’s on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.”
You might think this is an interesting quote coming from the man who basically wrote the definition on what modern Christian Speculative Fiction is. After all, he is most famous for his creation of The Chronicles of Narnia, children’s fantasy books that not only took over the market when they were first released in the 1950’s, but that are continuing to do so now.
However, I want you to take a moment and think about the Chronicles of Narnia. Oh, Lewis used the symbolism… or at least some of it. But in truth, his books never seemed to scream at the reader, “I am Christian fantasy! I have an important Christian message that you must listen to!” as I’ve seen other books under the Christian Fantasy label do. They aren’t blatant about their message. In fact, I only remember two points in the book that actually referenced prayer at all – the first in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Lucy called to Aslan while they were lost in Dark Island, and the second in The Last Battle when Tirrian called out to Aslan to send him Narnia’s Helpers from beyond the end of the world. And those instances only lasted a few seconds. And the two biggest symbolic events referencing Christianity within the entire series are when Alsan sacrificed himself for Edmund’s sake in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and in The Last Battle when the world ended.
In truth, many kids don’t even pay attention to the symbolism to begin with – at least not the first time around. They read Lewis’ books because they are fun to read, never mind the fact that the author wrote them from a Christian perspective.
No. C.S. Lewis originally wrote his books as a fairy tale, and the symbolism just sort of fell into place. I read once in an article by Douglass Gresham, Lewis’ step son, that Lewis wasn’t even aware of Aslan’s presence in the story until the great lion just showed up; apparently Lewis had been dreaming about lions a lot at the time, and from those dreams sprung the figure of Aslan. And, as some of you might care to recall, Lewis’ books weren’t originally labeled as Christian Speculative Fiction, and that wasn’t necessarily their original market either.
For that matter, Tolkien’s famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, was never actually meant to be allegorical from the author’s own confession. And yet just look at all the Christian symbolism within his books!
The choices within the story don’t have to be cut-and-dried. The symbolism doesn’t have to be blatant. It never had to be.
The truth is that it shouldn’t matter what the story is, or how it is written, or what it is labeled as. If the author’s walk with Christ is where it should be, the story itself will witness to the reader. If the author’s walk with Christ is where it should be, the symbolism will fall into place unintentionally as it is inspired by God and the Holy Spirit, and not because the writer feels the need to use symbolism in order to get his or her point across. If the story is inspired and led by God, then it won’t fall flat, the symbolism won’t feel forced, and God won’t be shoved into a box simply so that the story can be labeled “Christian”. It won’t matter if the book is in the Christian market or in the Secular market, because if the story is truly inspired by God, it will witness to its readers of the author’s walk with Christ and the Truth of God’s love without being blatant and without the aid of a Christian label… much as Lewis’ and Tolkien’s books did.
Because when we are walking straight with God, we don’t have to be intentional or right… we simply have to write. God does the rest.
(Just a heads up to you guys, I'm working on another post on the subject of World Building and Character Choices within Christian Spec-fic. J Hope to see you there!)