The art form of the novel is quite different from what it started out to be. Storytelling isn’t new. Since the first, human beings sat around crackling fires in the evening and passed on a good yarn. It was fun. That’s what a novel is—fun. The first novels to entertain the masses were long poems packed with adventure, myth and a fair number of nasty situations you wouldn’t want your children reading. The novel as we know it emerged between the late 1500’s to the 1700’s. Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott in the 18th century shaped our romantic notions of what a novel should be.
I’ve always devoured books. And I’m talking fiction here, which is in addition to my reading the Scriptures and Christian teaching books just so no one is confused. As a Christian writer I value the teaching tool of a Christian novel. But a topic that comes up often within my writer’s groups is, ‘what makes a Christian novel, Christian’.
Some say it can’t be a Christian novel unless the gospel is clearly laid out and at least one of the characters believes in Christ as savior by the last chapter. Others say, a Christian novel can tell a story within the point of view of a Christian and show how they learn to trust the Lord with their circumstances. I’ve been moved to tears when a character from a book has grown on me, and in a natural way shows me an element of faith that strikes a chord in my own life.
Growing up, I didn’t just read Christian novels though. I loved fantasy, gothic and suspenseful romances. I’m a big fan of the Dragon Riders of Pern series. My husband and I read the Lord of the Rings together, and CS Lewis’s space trilogy after we were married. These two Christian authors wrote books that didn’t always spell out the Christian message. The message was there, but it was painted with broad brush strokes. The only problem was a lot of people I knew who were not Christians, didn’t pick up on the significance of the symbols and metaphors because they didn’t know the Biblical clues. But who’s to say one book has to answer all questions. That's why God gave us the Bible.
In literature, a clear brush stroke of truth can go here, another can go there. I thought the other day, that my own infinitesimally small literary work is like placing silver headed pins, one by one, on a large backdrop of black velvet. If Christian writers put up enough little pins of truth we could create a similitude of the galaxy. My 10 years of learning to write fiction, finishing 2 manuscripts, and my 3 or 4 years of blogging has been just that. Each week I put up a little pin in the atmosphere, hoping someone will find an element of truth that will point them to God.
I believe there’s a place in the world for all kinds of stories written by Christians, whether they come right out and explain the gospel of salvation through Christ or they use the tools of symbolism. It’s like the old parable—some furrow the ground, some plant the seed, some water.
I read a book this past month that was one of those painted with broad, bold brushstrokes. I say ‘broad’ because the author didn’t spell out the gospel, but it was there in the daily life of her medieval characters in Cornwall 1353. I use the word ‘bold’ because the author spun a gossamer thread of fantasy into her otherwise realistic novel.
We must always remember to suspend our belief while reading a story while at the same time be ready to catch the grains of truth. A Christian author finally did what I was looking for. Deb Kinnard took one of my favorite story-telling devices—time travel—and wove it into a Christian novel 'Seasons in the Mist'. No one is saying, time travel is real; that’s where the suspension of belief comes in. At the same time though, Deb Kinnard had me thinking, He is a great God. Maybe at the end of all we know, and the beginning of all that’s new, He will send us on journeys through time. But that wasn’t really the grain of truth that glistened at the bottom of the story when all else was washed away.
The character, Bethany Lindstrom, a graduate student in medieval history, mysteriously steps through a time portal to King Edward’s court. I was entertained listening to the modern day voice of a young woman trying to adjust to wearing--not jeans and t-shirt--but surcoats and veils, eating with a knife, walking on rushes on the floor, and doing without coffee, Aspirin, and a million other conveniences. Then Bethany falls in love with a Christian man from that time. But does God want them together? Did God bring her to this time and place to marry this man who loves her as deeply as she loves him? Or is she supposed to go back to her own time and never see him again?
Bethany asks the same questions of her God that any committed Christian should ask today. So, while going along for the fantasical ride through a time portal, I found the truth resonating within me---prayerfully surrender to the Creator of the universe in real time, and ask the God who is all-powerful what He would have me do.
Psalm 37:3-4 "Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart."
Here's a picture of Deb Kinnard.