Previous Entry | Next Entry

Book Book Book
I was interested to see Betsy Bird's comments on her Fuse #8 blog today about a new graphic novel called Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (warning: autoplay video at source). Among other things, the novel includes lots of information about Orthodox Judaism, which caused Betsy to comment:
Think about children’s fantasy novels and religion for a moment. Religion in fantasies for kids tends to skew one of three ways. You can incorporate it and make it the entire point of the novel (Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series which is technically science fiction anyway). You can make up an entirely new religion of your own (as in the novels of Frances Hardinge, Tamora Pierce, Megan Whalen Turner, etc.). Or you just sorta forget about it...
And then she goes on to talk about Hereville as something different, where the religion is very much an integral part of the book's atmosphere and sensibility but it's not the whole focus of the plot, which is more of a hero's quest story.

Which had the desired effect of really making me want to read Hereville, but also made me wonder: for those of you who've read Wayfarer, do you think it falls into the first category (religion is the entire point), or the fourth (it's part of the worldbuilding, but not the main story)? Either one is fine, I'm just curious. Since it's definitely not the second or the third...

And can you think of any other books you've read where religion is handled in a way similar to Hereville, as an integral part of the MC's background and culture but not necessarily the obvious point of the story?

***

That being said, it may take me a while to respond to your (doubtless very interesting) comments on the subject of how religion does or can fit into children's books. After my two appearances in Guelph and Waterloo this weekend, I'm heading off to the Fortress of Solitude to overcome my SHERLOCK obsession work on Arrow revisions, and won't be back online until Friday.

Don't burn down the Internet while I'm away, kids!

Comments

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
dichroic
Aug. 14th, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
Where religion is an integral part: Rebecca Brammer's YA book The Year of Plenty. I know Rebecca from an LM Montgomery discussion list, so I know she's a devout CHristian. So are her characters, not too surprising since the book (first of a series) is based on her grandmother's childhood. What lets me, as a non-Christian, enjoy the book is that the religion is a large and essential part of the characters' lives and upbringing, but never preached at the reader.
rj_anderson
Aug. 14th, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that rec! It sounds like an interesting book.

So that raises another question in my mind: where would you say the dividing line is between representing a religion as part of the characters' lives and thinking in a non-preachy way, and coming across as preachy? Do you think the dividing line is different for different people, or is there an objective measurement for this kind of thing?
dichroic
Aug. 14th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
It's absolutely different for different people. Learning that the Narnia books were intended as allegory didn't really change my reaction to the books: for some people it does (which way generally depends on their own views and their tolerance for stories with a moral).

For me it has to do with the naturalness of it all. Even in real life I have a lot more tolerance for people who just seem to live their faith than for those who talk about it all the time (I'm not talking about LJ introspection or respectful discussion of people's views on religion, I'm talking about telling your coworkers "I'll pray for you" whether they want you to or not.) In a book about kids growing up in a religious family there has to be some discussion of religion, just as I'm sure you talk to your boys about it. But there's a difference between a character going to her mother with a question and having it answered in a way that fits the family's beliefs and a diatribe that seems to be aimed at the reader rather than the character.

Some of this is just good writing too. Having good things happen to religious people and bad things happen to ones with bad morals is bad writing as well as annoyingly preachy; having bad things happen to religious characters who use their faith to get through it seems reasonable to me.
jryson
Aug. 14th, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
It's where the preachy point is what determines the outcome of the story. He wins because he is a, frex, Baptist.

Or the antagonist loses because he doesn't obey the moral teachings of the writer.

Or one or more characters keep repeating a point over and over.

It gets interesting when the character actually struggles with the rightness of what she's doing.


.
kiwiria
Aug. 14th, 2010 08:01 pm (UTC)
I second the recommendation! It's a lovely, cozy book much in the style of "Little House"... Definitely a comfort book :)

I don't think the Mitford books fall into the trap of being preachy, but they definitely are more "in your face" about Christianity. I'm trying to think of others where it's as subtle as The Year of Plenty, and I know they're out there, but they've skipped my memory for now. Possibly Christy and Julie by Catherine Marshall? It's been too long since I've read those last.

Oh! The Sweetgum Ladies by Beth Pattillo. Can't believe I forgot that one.

Perhaps Leaning on a Spider's Web by Jennifer Rees-Lacombe? Again, it's been too long since I've read that last... which is a shame as it's an AMAZING book.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 14th, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
I've read both Faery Rebels and Wayfarer.

As I was reading them, I felt like Faery Rebels definitely incorporated Christian values, but was very subtle in its execution. I'd probably put that in the fourth category.

With Wayfarer the Christian themes did feel more prominent, as though instead of looking for them, they were there tapping me on the shoulder and saying "Hello there!" (but that's still a far cry from hitting me over the head). I would say that Wayfarer is leaning toward the first category, but I still felt that your first goal was probably to tell an enjoyable story (as opposed to how some authors seem to be asking, "How can I force this worldview or these values down readers' throats? Hmmm.")

Another fantasy that does this well is Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux. The Christian themes are presented as allegory, so they're there if you want to see them, but readers can focus on other themes as well.

And on the realistic side, I think Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson also does a great job of having strong Christian themes that avoid being overwhelming.

A great question to think about!

Shel (thehungryreaders.com)
rj_anderson
Aug. 14th, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your insights, Shel, and for the recommendations.

I've read Despereaux and can't say that it struck me as a Christian allegory at all, so that's interesting to me. And I hadn't known about Locomotion -- that makes me want to pick up some Woodson and check it out.
cytowolf
Oct. 1st, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
The movie struck me as the opposite
The movie had the classic hallmarks of a story that can lead people away from Christianity. Rebellion against authority is good. Parents don't know what's best. You're more enlightened than everyone else. You'll be validated in the end.
newport2newport
Aug. 14th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
I think I'll hang back and listen to what others have to say, but may I first recommend this article on Spiritual Themes in Young Adult Boooks. It's not new by any means (published by ALAN in 1996), and the book lists are somewhat dated. Still, I think it's worth the read, if only because I believe authors should think carefully--and speak honestly-- about their intentions, when it comes to writing religion into their stories.*

Sneak peek:

"Because young adults are immersed in the psychosocial crisis of identity definition and are beginning to decide for themselves what they will ultimately believe in terms of spirituality, young adulthood is an opportune time to explore spirituality. It is an opportune time to learn about the myriad belief systems operating in our world, the young adult quest for spiritual knowledge, and the young adult process of identity definition in relation to spirituality. Many young adult books can provide the spiritual information young adults need to assuage the loneliness of their passage; some of the possibilities are presented here."

http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/spring96/mendt.html

*ETA: I'm not by any means pointing a finger of accusation here...just making an observation.

Edited at 2010-08-14 01:54 pm (UTC)
mary_j_59
Aug. 14th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
I do tend to see Wayfarer as being of the first type, but then I am not sure that I fully understand the distinction between the first type and the second. For example, it isn't clear to me how Christianity is "the whole point" of A Wrinkle in Time, which shows no one practicing any faith and never even mentions God. I mean yes, certainly there is a strong Christian ethos in the book, but I would have thought it was presented in a way that made it pretty ecumenical.

But here's the other thing: won't a sincere Jew - or Christian, or Muslim, or member of the Native American Church, or whatever - who is setting off on a quest to become a heroine just naturally express her values through her actions? That's why I can't really see a clear distinction between type one and type two.

Just my two cents.
grav_ity
Aug. 14th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
I would not have put Madeleine L'Engle in the first category, but I would put Wayfarer in the fourth for sure.

*adds another book to the booklist*
mary_j_59
Aug. 14th, 2010 02:12 pm (UTC)
Sorry - I guess I mean the first type (the "religion" is the whole point of the books) and the fourth (it's there in the characters' background).

BTW, I also think the distinctions, in general, are not as clear cut as all that. If you are making up the religion but dealing with ethical/moral issues in your story, your own beliefs, whatever they are, are likely to shine through. This is what Tolkien does in LOTR - admittedly not a children's book, but certainly beloved by many teens.
hooton
Aug. 14th, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
for those of you who've read Wayfarer, do you think it falls into the first category (religion is the entire point), or the fourth (it's part of the worldbuilding, but not the main story)?

(I'm going to have to go by the UK titles so apologies). In Knife, the religion is part of the worldbuilding and I really enjoyed the Great Gardener metaphor and the way it's worked in.

In Rebel, I interpreted religion (particularly religious doubt -v- religious faith) as being the whole point of the story and in the interests of full disclosure, it's probably why I didn't enjoy it so much as Knife.

That's not because I have an issue with religion as being the or a main element of the story (I enjoy Lewis and Pullman, for example), but because I'd been hoping/expecting more of a fantasy adventure with religion in the background so wasn't ready for something else.

That obviously speaks more to my own prejudices and having read Rebel and now been prepared for religion coming more front and centre, I'm interested in seeing what you do with Arrow when it's released in the UK.
areth_lovejoy
Aug. 14th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
Knife is fourth, whereas Wayfarer sort of straddles first/fourth because religion (mostly faith vs. doubt) is as much a part of Linden and Timothy's backgrounds as it is a part of their goals and development in this journey.

As for books that have religion in them without allowing it to choke the story to death (and keep in mind these may be 'too religious' for some and most have some Catholic characters):

The Letzenstein Chronicles by Meriol Trevor.
I read these and loved them when I was younger and I still think they are just good stories. The story is set in a tiny European country in the 19th century, so many of the characters have a strong Catholic faith, but the focus of each and every book is the characters and their adventures. Their faith is part of who they are, but not really the focus of any of the stories.

The Snow White and Rose Red Trilogy by Regina Doman
Three classic fairytales are retold in the present through the lives of two sisters and two brothers. I really enjoyed these stories, though the religious elements and allegory are stronger throughout than in Trevor's books. It is an integral part of the girl's lives and the world they live in, but not quite (for me) moving into the territory of their faith being the point of the story. More so a facet of their journey.

Enemy Brothers by Constance Savery
Religion is part of characters background/life, but not ever the main focus which is that Dymory's youngest brother was abducted as a child by a German woman and during WW II Dymory meets a young boy whom he believes to be his brother. For Toby, the young German boy taken in (against his wishes but by the will of the authorities)by this horrible British family, it is a very genuine look at how he comes to terms with his past and determines his future. Written before the outcome of WW II.

Um, if you would want more, just ask.

And dividing line for preachy vs. non-preachy is definitely different for different people.
mary_j_59
Aug. 16th, 2010 03:03 am (UTC)
I have to read that Meriol Trevor book - I really like her! And that's one I haven't read. So thanks!
areth_lovejoy
Aug. 16th, 2010 03:34 am (UTC)
If you like Trevor's books, I think you will really enjoy these. The fourth book, The Rose & Crown, is my least favorite, as it has a different tone, but the first three are lovely.
snickelish
Aug. 15th, 2010 01:36 am (UTC)
It is not obvious to me that option 2 (make up your own religion) and option 4 (make it part of the background worldbuilding) are incompatible. I'd say Turner did both in her Thief books.

I'll try to think of some "religion as background" books - I know I've read some, but I can't just now think what they were.
checkers65477
Aug. 15th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)
Funny, I was just thinking of this topic recently after reading some YA realistic fiction, which I hardly ever read. Themes of religion were completely absent from the book, which dealt with the death of the main character's parents. And it just seemed like, realistically, religion should be there, somehow, when a teen is dealing with the death of both his parents. Wouldn't he at least question the role of religion and an afterlife, even if he hadn't been raised to believe? Anyway, it started me thinking.

According to Wikipedia (ok, take it with a grain of salt, but still), 80% of Americans believe in God and in 2004 the US Census Bureau reported that 13% of Americans did not identify themselves as a member of any religion, which means that--bear with me here, I'm a librarian, not a mathematician--87% did. So, maybe the question should be why don't more books--YA, fantasy, adult, whatever--include religions themes, or characters who attend church or who at least ponder questions of a higher power.
etlhoy
Aug. 15th, 2010 03:14 am (UTC)
I come to this from a rather different perspective, as I was raised in a household that I would describe as evangelically atheistic. I would put Wayfarer firmly in the fourth category, because you *could* take the religious aspect out entirely and have the plot go essentially the same way, because it was an aspect of character rather than a force of plot. When it comes to the first category, it depends how it's handled. Narnia doesn't bother me at all, because it's all allegory, and it's designed to be possible to miss. In Pullman's books on the other hand, at least the later ones, the religion is impossible to miss, and though it's more anti-religion than anything it got a touch preachy about it, which was a negative. I think you avoided most all of the possible pitfalls, though, because Timothy's religious thought is really an exploration of doubt, and it wasn't so much that there was an answer at the end as that he resolved the contradiction that bothered him to his own satisfaction. If there was a message at all, it was that doubt is healthy and good for religion, and that was a very nice message to see.
skyewishes
Aug. 15th, 2010 08:34 am (UTC)
This is a really interesting topic, I have read and loved a lot of christian fiction (including Narnia and L'Engle etc.) however I am not myself Christian, and so it's always a delicate line for me.

I feel that when it is worked subtly in to the story and does not preach or try to push a religious message, it can be fully enjoyed by a member of any faith because of the mythic quality it lends to a story. An author who has a passionate faith in the themes of their work, whether these tie in to their religion or not, has a very powerful voice.

I think Rebel falls in to the same category as Hereville (although I haven't read the latter) in that it is a crucial element of the story, and basically the entire theme of one MC's character arc. To be honest, I did not enjoy Rebel as much as Knife because of this. The more overt references sort of ejected me from the story temporarily, which was a pity because I really enjoyed the way you were developing the world in Rebel and Linden is my favourite Faery so far.

So, yes, I think religious themes when worked subtly in to a story can give it power, but when it is too obvious or specific it can alienate readers who do not share the same faith.
elvenjaneite
Aug. 21st, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
Not fantasy, but Sidney Taylor's "All-of-a-Kind Family" books are in that category. The family are observant Orthodox (I think?) Jews, so the story includes their different observances. But it's really about the family itself and the children growing up.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )