Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christian worldview and the English novel

I recently wrote a long post on sex - which see below, if you are interested. This was an attempt to apply a Christian worldview to an area where it tends not to give its deliberate, reflective scrutiny.

On the bethinking website, "Chronicles of Heaven Unshackled", the lightly edited version of a doctoral thesis is being posted. Only the introduction is available so far; more is to be posted, though. In many novels, authors confine themselves to purely materialistic cause and effect - with any "divine" input being at a pretty deistic level. This is not inherent in the nature of the novel - it is quite possible to write a novel using a different set of assumptions about the nature of reality. Of course, there is no guarantee that a story written with a Christian worldview would be of good quality, any more than there would be that one written with a materialistic worldview would be. But C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, in choosing to write from a perspective that is theologically more complex than the average novel, provide us with particularly satisfying stories, that break out of the narrative "flatlands" into a more solid world. This thesis explores some of the implications of the theological worldview of Tolkien and Lewis in their work.

This is an interesting area for consideration. What, for example, is the theological framework of (say) an epic poem like Beowulf? Are there other examples of writers whose novels reflect a worldview in which the supernatural is active? Are some particular genres more amenable to such approach than others?

I would argue that the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, by Philip Pullman, is another example of a non-flatland novel - which is one of the reasons that the stories are so powerful. Pullman has stated that his books are about "killing God" - and yet, in order for him to be able to do away with the Judeo-Christian God, he needs to provide a transcendental being to take its place. Pullman's dust has many of the properties that Christians would associate with their God - transcendence, a preference for moral virtues, an idea of destiny, an ability (albeit limited) to communicate with conscious beings, and being essential to the sustaining of life. The only way in which Pullman can use his novels to write about getting rid of God is by providing an alternative.