Thursday, April 29, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour: Redux

In my blog tour post from Tuesday, I brought up the whole question of the Keeper and Auralia's identities in the Auralia's Thread series. Are they allegories for the Father and Son? The Church and average (or above average) Christians? What?

Rachel Starr Thompson posted a few questions in response:

I think as Christians we come to "Christian fantasy" with a lot of unfair expectations. Interestingly, Jeff himself has been saying (in interviews and FB updates and such like places) ever since Auralia's Colors that this isn't an allegory, and that anyone who tries to pigeonhole the Keeper and Auralia as allegories for God the Father and Jesus is going to get a surprise. So yup -- we did!

As for "what makes these books Christian" -- I've been asking myself similar questions for a while, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm coming to believe that we do art a disservice when we expect everything "Christian" to do the same job (give the gospel). Can a book not be "Christian" just because it discusses lies and religion and beauty from a Christian perspective? Did every story Jesus ever told cover the whole gospel, or is it all right to tackle parts of the truth, taking time to go into them deeply? I wonder. Any thoughts on this?
So let's see here. Do I expect every Christian fantasy to have allegory? No. Not at all. As a matter of fact, if all Christian fantasies were an x=y type of allegory, I'd probably grow sick and tired of the genre really quickly.

And I also appreciate Rachel's point about how every book doesn't need to present the Gospel. I wholeheartedly agree with this. As a matter of fact, I actually think this is a weakness of Christian fiction in general. Authors seem to forget who their primary audience is, namely, Christians. Not pre-Christians or seekers or whatever the current "in" term is for those outside the faith but those who are already in. I think a lot of Christian authors do a disservice to their readers when they insist on the bread-and-butter "here's how you get saved" message being a part of every book. Does it have its place? Sure. But I've come to discover that I actually appreciate the books that go beyond the "pure spiritual milk" of the Gospel and into the "solid food" of Christian living. There's a reason why the author of Hebrews goes after his readers in Hebrews 5:11-14 and I think we often forget that. That's part of the reason why I've appreciated the work of such authors as Sharon Hinck, Karen Hancock, and yes, even Jeffrey Overstreet; they do go beyond the simple Gospel and challenge the way we look at things. And it's great to delve into these topics from a Christian worldview.

So if Overstreet is trying to challenge us with Auralia, all well and good. Like I said yesterday, I really appreciated Krawg's story of the tricksters. I think his stinging critique of the Bel Amicans and their selfish attitude, fostered by moon spirits, is great and necessary, especially for American Christians who tend to drift in that direction.

At the same time, though, I have . . . well, not "worries" or "concerns." Those words are too strong. Perhaps the better way to put it is that I'm flummoxed by the Keeper and Auralia for this reason: they bear just enough allegorical marks to confuse the situation. Like I said in Tuesday's post, we see Cal Raven and Rescue praying to the Keeper; that's the only way to describe it. And the Auralia cult seemed to resonate strongly with Cal Raven because, I suspect, he harbored such Messianic feelings about her too.

I haven't seen the interviews with Overstreet to know what he says about such allegorical identifications; I've only heard them second hand. My flummox-ation comes from the fact that on the one hand, he insists that Auralia is not a Christ-figure and that the Keeper doesn't stand in for God. And then, in every book, he certainly seems to be dressing them up as such, only to turn around and loudly insist that he's not.

Ultimately I suspect that the problem is with me, not him. I'm perhaps missing some piece to the puzzle that will make this a bit more clear. I just wish I wasn't so flummoxed, that's all.


Linda said...

I agree...not every book has to have a blatant evangelical message. The story is the message in and of itself. It doesn't have to preach. Good article.

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

Hey, thanks for going into my questions so deeply! I think what you're saying is fair -- this series does smell an awful lot like allegory, so it can be confusing. I think I read an interview before I even started reading the books, so I just told myself they weren't allegory and happily larked on from there :). But that is part of the reason I asked Jeff in my interview with him if he was avoiding allegory completely or if most Christian readers had just latched on to the wrong one -- the allegorical signals are there.

Overall, though, I feel as I think you do. There's richness and complexity to this story that will teach us a lot about ourselves (and maybe even about God) if we just let it speak. Thanks again for your answers!

Jeffrey Overstreet said...


Thank you for your thoughtful responses and questions about the story.

I don't know if this will help clear things up, or make things more confusing. But here goes...

Others will disagree with me, but it is my opinion that this series is not "Christian fiction" ... at least, by the normal definition of the term.

I not writing for an audience of Christians. I am writing for people who read literature. That's a pretty big audience.

Am I a Christian? Yes. Is WaterBrook a religious publishing company? Yes.

But I wrote these stories (rough drafts, anyway) before I ever talked with anyone at any particular publisher.

I wrote them for a general audience, meaning to write an epic fantasy in the style of the stories that I loved growing up. I am striving not to preach a message or craft an allegory, but to invent interesting characters, turn them loose, and see what kind of story results. I want to find a new story that feels like it "works." It's my job to write the story, not to decide ahead of time what it means.

Andrew Stanton is a Christian. Was "WALL-E" a Christian movie? No. Do its themes correspond with what Christians believe? Sure, in many ways. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory. Tolkien disliked allegory (and so do I). He also disliked The Chronicles of Narnia (and I've never been very fond of them myself). You can see reflections of Christ in the choices of many of Tolkien's characters, but it is a history and a story all its own.

In my view, insofar as a story is beautiful, then it "harmonizes" with God's truth. Some writers fashion a story specifically for a Christian audience. I don't. Some try to persuade readers of the veracity of the Gospel through a story that teaches a lesson. That is not my conscious intent, although I do believe that beauty does draw people toward God.

If a work of art is beautiful, then it will offer many glimpses of truth and beauty... not just a "message." It will lead us to questions as much as answers; sometimes more so. I write stories because they help me explore questions in ways that no other process can. I often end up with more questions than when I started. I like that. It feels like a journey.

I'm striving to write something beautiful, because I wouldn't want to offer readers anything less. If, by God's grace, I achieve that at all (and I certainly cannot say)... that is for readers to decide over time.

So... no, Auralia is not Jesus. Not as much as I understand her. But she is an artist, and artists have a prophetic role in culture. So of course, she has moments of Christ-like humility and sacrifice... like many brave visionaries in human history.

The Keeper... well, you'll just have to wait and see.

Thanks again for your thoughtful response.