The Christian Ghetto

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In our recent discussion of aesthetics, Zippy referred to the ghettoization of Christian children concomitant with carefully reviewing and monitoring their intake of popular culture. I'm not sure I am articulating his point, but the way I interpreted it, at least in part, is that "Christian" anything is at last partially a ghetto, something apart from the mainstream, and hence not truly "popular culture." My reaction to that was that it was the responsibility of Christians to patronize, critique, and nurture Christian voices that could join the mainstream and alter it.

At one point in time all of the Christian fiction in the market place had a single name--Frank Peretti. I remember reading This Present Darkness and thinking how appalling the state of Christian Fiction that this was the best they could trumpet forth. Peretti's style and handling of material has become much more dexterous, however, it still isn't "mainstream" fiction. One is left to wonder where are the O'Conoors, the Greenes, the Waughs, and the Percys of modern fiction? Are we stuck with the supposedly religious Updike--whose theology seems to be lost in a wash of bodily fluids in ever book?

I have been delighted to discover that Christian Fiction is becoming more prominent, even to the point of clawing its way out of the ghetto. This started with Augusta Trobaugh, whose Resting in the Bosom of the Lamb and Praise Jerusalem! came out under the imprint of a religious book publisher, but whose subsequent work was picked up by mainstream publishing. The remarkable thing about Trobaugh is the way in which religious identity and religion permeate and inform the books without ever being an overt in-your-faith fall on your knees every second paragraph faith. Belief is understood to be part of the world she makes in her fiction and it need not be teased out and present á la LaHaye and Jenkins.

Speaking of that duo, they are probably responsible for religious publishers being willing to take a chance on fiction. Despite being rather poorly written and sometimes utterly indigestible, LaHaye and Jenkins seized the popular imagination with their Left Behind series and created the first breakthrough blockbuster series. This broke the dam that unleashed the flood of Christian Fiction that can currently be found even in such stores as Borders and Barnes and Noble.

Recently I discovered the quiet and beautiful fiction of Charles Martin whose The Dead Don't Dance and Maggie are two books describing a terrible calamity during the birth of a child and recovery from it. The prose is masterful, restrained, and very quiet and hopeful.

Yesterday, while perusing the "Christian Fiction" shelves, I happen on Karen Valentine's The Haunted Rectory. The previous Valentines I have read have been set in a small New England town and did for the Catholic Church what Jan Karon did for the Episcopalian Church in her Mitford series. The Haunted Rectory is another in the series and features the St Francis Xavier Hookers (of rugs, that is) along with the eponymous Rectory.

Also of recent date, I've stumbled upon the blogs of a number of Christian writers, struggling away to produce SF in a Christian vein. Mainstream SF already lays claim to Tim Powers, Gene Wolfe, Stephen Lawhead (whose Byzantium should be read by all and sundry) and other great Christian writers. But there are more, if not quite legions, ready and willing to join these powerhouses in producing entertainment appropriate for a Christian audience (and for all audiences), and one hope to eventually produce the next Narnia or Lord of the Rings.

We owe it to ourselves to be aware of such writers and to support such writers--to seek them out and nurture them and to reward them with our hard-earned money with the hope that they may be promoted out of the backstore racks of "Christian Ficiton" and onto the mainstream racks where their fiction can influence the hearts and minds of readers who are perhaps totally ignorant of Christian reality. We have a certain duty to support the Christian presses that are taking a big chance by publishing authors who are relatively unknown and who have a "reduced fan base" to start with because they will be, at least initially, relegated to the back of the store. (Interestingly, I stumbled upon what appeared to be a very nicely written series of Dragon books--I'll try to supply author and title when I get home, I don't have them with me--on the Three-for-the-price-of-two table right at the front of the store. Only the first book was there--when I went to find the rest, they were solidly immured with the Christian titles at the back of the store.) We owe it to authors who self-identify as Christian authors to let them know that they can rely upon a solid readership--produce readable fiction and you will have an audience, even if we have to go out of our way to find you. Rather than break out of the Christian Ghetto, we should work to expand the ghetto to encompass as much of the publishing world as our buying dollars can make possible.

In short, I'd far prefer the subtext and hidden message of a Charles Martin or a Karen Valentine to that of a Dan Brown or, more insidiously, a Philip Pullman.

(If you want to visit some of these up-and-coming writers--just look left and scroll down my blogroll until you come to the entries labeled SF-something. Each of these in turn will take you to others--a wonderful network of lively, intelligent, fun, and interesting people.)

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Dear Steven,

I found Father Elijah by Michael D. O'Brien a good read.


Dear Joshua,

I, too, thought it was a very fine book; however, I have such grave reservations about the mindset and pernicious infection that stem from Mr. O'Brien's opinions that I am hard-pressed to recommend him lest people also fall into the agenda-driven nonsense that is Landcaspe with Dragons. Enjoy the fiction eschew the diatribe; Mr. O'Brien truly doesn't understand fiction or the workings of fiction in theory--in practice he seems to do just fine.

Thanks for the comment.



Are the Dragon books you found by Bryan Davis?

Oh, and in the mainstream fiction by a Christian writer category: Marilynne Robinson's Gilead gets five stars from me.

Dear Elliot:

(1) No, Donna K. Paul
(2) I've had trouble getting into Gilead, I've started it three times now and can seem to get over some form of invisible hump--mostly that nothing much happens. But I keep trying on the advice of trusted commenters. And I'll try again. I tend to be a very "moody" reader.



Jon Hassler is another Catholic writer whose religion is the undergirding of much of what he writes, though it is not always the point of the book, if you know what I mean.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 5, 2006 9:01 AM.

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