Thursday, March 01, 2007

Qualities of Good Literature

As I write this brief blog, please know that I do not in any way fancy myself a literature expert, and for good reason. I aspire to be a professional historian, but I cannot claim any great understanding of literature. I do, however, know what I enjoy, and so I offer these thoughts as just that: my thoughts.

Good Christian literature will tell a good story. Too often, Christian authors over-spiritualize and over-allegorize their stories. They think that in order to be faithful to God in their writing, every character, place, and conversation has to harken back to something biblical. This is just not so. There is nothing that would lead us to think this in the Bible. Instead, Christian authors should focus on making a really interesting story, with compelling characters, an absorbing plot, and elegant prose that brings the first two characteristics to life. Lewis and Tolkien achieve all three of these goals in Lord of the Rings and Narnia. Their books are books of great imagination and beauty, such that people of all dispositions and backgrounds can appreciate them. Christian authors should emulate these men in their writing. Again, literature is not good simply if it's Christian. It's good, well, if it's good.

Which leads us to my second thought: good Christian literature connects the reader with the Christian worldview. Christian literature will hopefully be good literature in and of itself, but it is not simply seeking to be good. It is distinctly Christian. It should be written out of Christian principles and speak, whether strongly or softly, to Christian truth. If done well, it will point people to consider greater and higher things, as realities are expressed in words and stories that carry the transcendent within them. This is essential to the work of writing good Christian literature. It will never be done agnostically or unspiritually. It will always be written out of a heart that is captive to God and seeking to express the beauty of that captivity. This will not result in one type of literature with one type of plot. It will express itself in many ways through diverse characters and plotlines and angles and subtleties. In the end, though, good Christian literature will transport the reader from the everyday and unspiritual and will, through imagination, introduce truth to a mind otherwise closed off from it.


Anonymous Ben said...

Hey Owen,

I'm definitely curious to see where you'll go with this series. I love literature.

One thing I was thinking about was the idea that Christian literature must be transcendent, in the sense that it should call us to higher and deeper thoughts about God and his world. One thinks of the writings of G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, or of course Tolkien and Lewis. Didn't Lewis comment on this in his book Pilgrim's Regress?

Also, all this talk has me wishing for a reinstatement of the Inklings!

Thanks again for your thoughtful posts.


5:40 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Just a follow-up note... there's a book that discusses this very topic. I don't own it, but it's on my wish list. :-)

It's by Leland Ryken, and it's called The Christian Imagination.

11:05 PM  

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