More Religious Characters, Please

I concur with most everything said here, especially Katie’s note about 21st century literature. As I read, I strained my memory for “books [with religious/Christian characters] other than just The Shack and weird Amish-romances.”

The books or authors that most immediately come to mind when I think of good Christian fiction (whether they feature practicing Christians or not) are either Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien), Catholic literary revivalists (Waugh, Percy, Greene, O’Connor), or somewhat-adjacent folk (Sayers), all publishing ca. 1920-1980. And, you know, I’ll go on recommending the Lord Peter books, The End of the Affair, Brideshead Revisited, or the Cosmic Trilogy until my mind dissolves. I’ll commend anything by L’Engle even if it’s technically 20th century writing and I still have yet to read most of it.

But as Katie says, it’s harder to find representation in contemporary books. The field seems ripe for some solid idea-wrestling – what does it look like to be Orthodox in 2019?  What tension exists between you, the culture at large, and individuals around you when you’re a Calvinist?  How does your Catholicism manifest, and how do you reconcile confessing “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” with the abuses wrought by some priests and hidden by others? – all of which is to say, maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. Perhaps, as with stories about contentedly single women, I’d have to write it myself.

Some possibilities that occur:

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell. 1996, set in 2019/2060. Features Jesuits, Judaism, and agnosticism, in the context of interstellar travel.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson. 2004, set 1956. A Congregationalist minister’s theological and philosophical struggles as he looks back on his life and his family history.

Flavia de Luce series, Alan Bradley. 2009-2019, set in 1950. Not about faith so much as it’s about crime-solving via chemistry, but it at least depicts Catholics and Anglicans going about their lives.

The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera. 2013, set…well, sometime after 1970. Depicts a woman entering a community in the style of the Benedict Option.

I’d also like to mention Luci Shaw again. She’s a poet, not a novelist, so insofar as her work discusses faith, it does so directly rather than mediated through a character. She’s been publishing since the 1970s.

Edited to add:  Krysta of Pages Unbound has talked about this on multiple occasions, and one of the Pages Unbound readers has assembled this list of titles which feature POF, ie, People of Faith.

What books do you know of that represent Christianity in any depth?

What books do you know that represent Judaism, Islam, or other religions with nuance?

Never Not Reading

Today I’m going to talk about something that a lot of people are going to disagree with me about. This is something that has been quietly bothering me for some time, but came to a head in recent months, and I hope you’ll give me a chance to have my say.

There’s a lot of talk about representation in literature. Most often in 2019 we talk about diversity in terms of race/ethnicity and sexuality, however there is a growing movement calling for positive representation of mental health and people with disabilities. You don’t hear much about diversity in terms of religion. And if you do, you expect to hear about Muslim characters.

However, I am here to tell you, friends, that in 21st century literature, religious characters are highly underrepresented.


View original post 616 more words

6 thoughts on “More Religious Characters, Please

  1. Great post. May I recommend Michael D. O’Brien, a Catholic novelist, who publishes through Ignatius Press. His books include Father Elijah, where the title character is an ethnic Jew turned Catholic priest who lived through the Holocaust, and Theophilus, a fictional autobiography of the man to whom St. Luke dedicated his gospel, set in the first century. Both are doorstops (400+ pages I think?) and thoroughly researched. In both, the protagonists struggle mightily with the problem of evil, almost feeling overwhelmed and washed away by it at points. O’Brien does a really good job of getting us into the heads of characters at these moments.

    Another recommendation: Andrew Klavan writes thrillers. Some are just hard-boiled crime, others include supernatural elements. Often his protagonists are Christians or sympathetic to Christianity. Empire of Lies, for example, features a Christian protagonist who in his younger days used to be into sadomasochism. His past catches up with him, and the book asks the question, How much has he really changed? How durable is his salvation? I also highly recommend Identity Man, in which a man’s struggle to rise above his rough life is expressed in very eloquent, simple, blue-collar language.

    • I love that you mention O’Brien, since he’s one of two names I learned in the course of writing this (the other being Anne Redmon). Definitely adding these to my TBR list!

  2. Gene Wolfe? Leans SF/Fantasy, and there are not always explicitly Christian characters and themes, but I’d say his deep Catholicism influenced his work in perceptible ways. He’s not still writing since he died just a couple months ago, but I think he may fit your criteria.

Leave a Reply to Terpsichore Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s