Wednesday, June 25, 2008

CSFF Blog Tour: Vanished Day Three

Yesterday I mentioned the hurting, believable characters in Vanished. The day before, I talked about the action-packed plot. Today I want to talk about something that was conspicuously absent from the story. Or at least, something that I noticed was missing: a moral to the story.

A lot of Christian fiction is usually built around a central message. The author has a theme or an idea they want to share about the faith and they do their best to weave it into the plot. Sometimes they're successful and the message can be seen as an organic outgrowth of the plot. Other times, they're not so successful and it feels like you're being bludgeoned with the blunt end of the premise.

Vanished is a bit different. It follows a trend I've noticed in Christian fiction lately where the Christian elements are a bit more subtle and muted. Some of the characters are Christian. Yes, there's a Christian foundation to the plot. But there's no preachiness involved. And if there's a "lesson" about the faith to be had, I'm afraid I have to admit that I missed it.

That's not a bad thing. I've always thought that there were two different kinds of Christian fiction. There's what I call "propoganda." And then there's "FTHTBC" (pronounced fith-ta-bic).

Propoganda is easy to spot. It's blatant in its Christianity. It's produced by and for the Christian community with some sort of lesson for its readers to learn. Outsiders will probably not touch propoganda unless it generates a lot of publicity (i.e. the Left Behind series), it's recommended to them by someone inside the community, or it's written by an author they know and like.

FTHTBC, on the other hand, is "fiction that happens to be Christian." It's very different from propoganda in that the Christian content is more subtle. It's there, it's foundational, but it's not entirely central to the theme. There might not even be a central Christian message. It's simply fiction that stems from a Christian worldview. A great example of this is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. While Tolkien was a devout Christian, he despised allegory and symbolism in literature and, inspite of what many people claim now, never intended his trilogy to have any sort of Christian theme or message. But because of his strong faith, the Christian elements bled through.

Both kinds are fine. I'm not judging one over the other. The propoganda has its place. So does the FTHTBC. Both can be equally good, so long as the author focuses on his or her craft and writes the best story possible.

I'm not entirely sure how to classify Mackel's Vanished. In some ways, the book is definitely FTHTBC. While there are Christian elements to the book, they're not very blatant. The characters are Christian. They rely on their faith in the wake of the bomb blast. But I was left scratching my head for a moral to the story. Part of my confusion might stem from the fact that the story isn't over yet. The plot will continue in the next book, and so there might be more of a theme and/or message then, enought to nudge this into the propoganda camp.

For now, though, Vanished can be pretty properly identified as FTHTBC. The Christianity is there but it's not as blatant as some. It's a foundation that you don't necessarily have to notice.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Go and see if the other blog tour participants have a different opinion:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Terri Main
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Deena Peterson
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Chawna Schroeder
Stuart Stockton
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Linda Wichman
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


Steve said...

The problem I have with FTHTBC is that I'd rather get the "h" out of there. I don't "happen" to be Christian; it results from a choice. If Christ is central in my life, he will be central in my writing as well.

That doesn't mean propaganda is the only alternative. I generally pursue "literary lifestyle evangelism": I have Christian characters who discuss their faith and its implications realistically--thus they don't need to launch into a presentation of the Steps to Salvation for the benefit of unsaved readers.

From this standpoint, I would say that Vanished is LLE.

Beth Goddard said...

What a thought-provoking post. Thanks!


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Great post, John.

I think Steve has a good point. I think if a book has Christian characters, they ought to act like Christians. Not perfect Christians, because we aren't. But struggling Christians, who hurt each other or disobey God and have to ask for forgiveness when under the conviction of sin. Not easy to write but much more powerful than propaganda.

I think there's another kind of Christian fiction, though. I'll call it "theme based" Christian fiction. It may not be readily apparent, as most themes must be mined, but it's there for the reader willing to pull out the pick axe and go to work.