20 Comments

  1. Thanks for these thoughtful essays, which call to mind chapter 4 of Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy, called “The Ethics of Elfland.” Many don’t read Chesterton these days, especially that one because it sounds ew Catholic. He has some chewy things to say about faith and fiction.

    • Oh, that Chesterton, such an ew Catholic. Hee! But yes, he does have some wonderful essays, and even when I don’t agree with him he’s such an entertaining essayist to read.

      And if anybody hasn’t read his novel The Man Who Was Thursday, they are in for a treat! The Father Brown mysteries, too.

  2. thank you!

    Great topic, Melodye, and I liked the thoughtful responses of Rebecca and Saundra. Thank you, all, and also your responder above pointing to Chesterton, who I know Tolkien often quoted, and Gregory Maguire, too. One more to add to my list. Lots of rich summer reading here!

  3. Thanks for the essays, folks! This is an issue I’m interested to hear more about — I appreciate the inclusion of religious characters and spiritual elements in fiction (whether fantasy or not) and it’s interesting to hear what folks from various background have to say about it. I particularly like the C. S. Lewis quote R. J. references.

    I have to admit I’ve occasionally considered writing about a main character who is religious (whether real-world or within some fictional religion in a fantasy world) but I have avoided it, in part because of fears that I couldn’t pull it off. These essays make me think perhaps I need to get over that fear and give it a try.

    • I think that no matter how you approach it, there will always be someone who feels you haven’t pulled it off right — either because you’ve said too much, or too little, or the “wrong” thing in their opinion. It’s inevitable.

      But smart beta-readers are always good for telling you if you really have gone too far (or not far enough). *winks*

      • The idea I’ve been playing with for my next project (after CG2, assuming I don’t do CG3) has a religious or at least spiritual component to the world/mc that I’d been (as I said) kind of uncertain about. But you’re right. And I think I will attempt to get past my fears. Though honestly, I think I’ve just now recognized that part of my fear is related to the fact that to do what I’m toying with doing, I’d have to think a lot more intensively and deeply about religion and faith. Which would be a good and welcome thing- it’s something I have done in the past, but recently not-so-much.

  4. Nice essays, both. And I can really relate to Rebecca’s, having been raised equally on a diet of Bible stories and fairy tales. I don’t think authors can help writing about things that are important to them–if you have strong religious feelings, that will come through somehow, even if the book doesn’t mention God by name. If you belong to no particular church but respect the beliefs of others, that will come through, too. The only times I find the whole faith-in-fiction thing not working is either when someone tries to drop a Sunday school lesson in the middle of something unrelated, or when someone writes a character’s faith as merely a quaint character trait. The last one seems to happen an awful lot in historical fiction, and it just feels fake. When I see it done well, therefore, like in Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Crossing to Paradise/Gatty’s Tale, it really stands out.

  5. Great post. Growing up in homeschooling, where there was a constant conglomeration of experimental new age beliefs and conservative Christianity…well, I was exposed to some fascinating ideas about religion and spirituality (and a lot of clashes). (It’s probably no wonder I despise confrontation…)

    But I do love discussion. One thing I really love about the kidlit community is that I feel there are a lot of beliefs here and not much conflict. It’s really helped me to learn about different faiths.

  6. “In other words, deeper meanings should emerge from the storytelling process in an organic way, not be forced onto the story in order to lecture the reader.”
    I have always felt this, about any theme. And also that our spirituality is not an “extra” slapped onto us, but something we express by the way we live (and write), as in, “I’m naturally going to raise questions and issues that are significant to me, and I’m going to treat them in a way that’s consistent with my worldview.”

  7. Saundra – You make such a wonderful point in talking about being honest about faith in a book. Taking it out just because you might offend someone who doesn’t want to even see God mentioned in a book or that people attend a house of worship would be equally wrong as adding something in faith-wise to a culture or community where it doesn’t exist.

    R.J.- I so believe that you can be a “___________” (fill in the blank) who is a Christian and be more effective than to be always seen as a Christian “_________” (fill in the blank). I could never understand that if God was so amazing and great then why was Christian music or Christian books often so poor in quality (not always but unfortunately there seems to be poor quality control out there). When I think of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien or Stephen Lawhead (a personal fave) I think of authors who wrote/write amazing stories and they happened to be Christians but whose stories appealed and touched so many.

    Thanks for doing this…two great authors and one great post.

  8. Thank you for these essays. Faith (or the lack of it) is an essential issue in our lives, and I think a lot of books avoid it simply because it’s uncomfortable: how do you talk about faith without risking offending someone? Or, more significantly, exposing your own faith (or lack of it)? It’s especially easy in fantasy to avoid it all together, because there’s so much else going on to ask readers to believe in, you can forget about religious issues in the midst of an exciting story.

    Melodye, here’s a link to the interview with Orson Scott Card I mentioned, about religion in fantasy…and really in literature in general: http://absolutewrite.com/novels/orson_scott_card.htm

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