For a long time I wouldn’t read Christian novels. Just nonfiction and classical fiction. Much of that was by Christians. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, Jane Austen, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsksy, the Bronte sisters, and Flannery O’Connor.
That last writer taught me that Catholics can understand grace too. My Protestant school told me they couldn’t, but were too focused on performing good deeds to get to Heaven.
Legalism is not confined to Catholics. Nor even religious people. There was a lot of it in the Evangelical subculture where I grew up.
This subculture encouraged me to confine my reading to “good Christian” romance novels. Tolkien was okay. But we girls should confine our minds to sweet, nice. little books that didn’t tax them too much.
Let me make it clear, no one told me, “Rachel if you read high fantasy or science fiction you’ll burn in Hell.” I was twelve at the time and eager to please. It was not my father, nor any men, but a bunch of older church ladies who got me hooked on the stuff. They did it because I let them do it.
I felt abnormal and weird. Not feminine enough somehow. I read Christian romances, worried about my hair/skin/clothes and dieted all the time in the hopeless endeavor of becoming attractive (less than 100 pounds in those anorexic eighties) and girly.
Here are the kind of books I read. Mostly between ages 12 and 20.
The covers were all pink, powder blue, lavender, lemon, and white. With a slender, doe-eyed girl of 18 or 19 in a pretty dress and picture hat. Her figure was closer to Kate Moss’s than Raquel Welsh’s. Curves are unsightly and unholy.
Prairie romances by Janette Oke and western/”contemporary” romances by Grace Livingston Hill primarily. What the oeuvres lacked in quality they tried to compensate for in quantity.
They had mostly the same plot. A girl no older than 18 or 19 sets out to find her place in the big, bad world.
She meets a bad man or two with nefarious–but understated–erotic evil on his mind. Sometimes he would allude to wanting her. Sans clergy. Bwoohahaha.
What is a pure-minded ingenue to do? Clutch her pearls and swoon away. Then Mr. Badman would depart. Stopping only to kick a puppy on the way out.
Sometimes Mr. Badman would want to marry her under the proviso that she do something horrible. Like send her siblings away to an orphanage, desert her aging parents, or wear lipstick and rouge. Sometimes she would agree to marry him, but then catch him smoking a cigar while drinking and swearing as he played cards.
Then she’d meet Mr. Goodman. As handsome and noble as a cardboard cut-out. Usually he’d save her from Badman. On rare occasions the ingenue had to rely on her own devices–like arranging a wedding on the sly so her snobby mother couldn’t interfere with her marriage to the hero.
These books were typically 200 pages long. The heroin was nice but unsaved on page 1. Sometimes a little worldly. (She never did anything too dissolute though. Like wear lipstick.)
By page 100 she’d fall under conviction of her sinfulness. Usually from hearing Mr. Goodman say something spiritually profound. Such as, “I don’t drink.”
By page 150 someone would lead her through the Sinner’s Prayer. By page 175 Mr. Goodman would propose out of the blue, with no sign beforehand that he returned her love.
Pages 190-200 were dedicated to descriptions of the Wedding.
The guests would go away under conviction due to the absence of drinking and dancing at the reception.
These books taught me valuable life lessons. Such as:
- If you pray, don’t drink/smoke/chew, and eat your veggies God will send Mr. Right into your life by the time you turn 21.
- Purity will automatically turn you into a slender blonde goddess all men will chase after.
- Following Jesus is a means to the end of finding Mr. Perfect and establishing a middle class home in suburbia.
- The only thing God wants for all women is marriage and motherhood. If you’re a virgin all your life (like Corrie ten Boom, Gladys Aylward, Amy Carmichael) you’re a failure as a Christian and God can’t use you. The Cross is not enough. You need to put a ring on it and pop out lots of babies.
Nowhere do you find these morals in the Bible. In fact the Bible itself contains spicy, problematic stories those little, old ladies who taught Sunday school never actually read. Just skimmed over in the KJV to avoid mental images of stories like Dinah’s angry brothers tricking the men of Shechem or how the resourceful but morally ambiguous Tamar obtained her widow’s pension.
Bad art often reflects narrow mindedness which kills creativity. And if you’re going to slap the Christian label on a book as a marketing strategy shouldn’t you try to ensure a higher quality since it will reflect on Christ after all?