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Pullman the Preacher

It’s always nice to know that you’re not imagining things. (Particularly when you spend a lot of time doing just that–on purpose.) I read through Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series because I wanted to be fair. Pullman’s atheism felt heavy-handed, and I wondered whether he was really more didactic than Lewis, or whether I was just uncomfortable with didacticism from an opposing point of view.

PSo when I found this article in The Atlantic, I was greatly comforted. It isn’t just me. There’s a reason that lots of people–even Christians–read through Narnia without noticing the Christian elements. I’ve never heard of someone reading Pullman without realizing that he is an atheist. Yes, atheists get preachy, too. And it’s a shame, because Pullman really is a good writer. He could have done a lot with the His Dark Materials books if he hadn’t gotten caught up in trying to prove that atheism can be an emotionally satisfying worldview.

From the article:

…An appropriate response to this irritation would have been to write an “atheist’s Narnia” in which the polemic is less abrasive – and therefore more effective, perhaps – than Lewis’s Christian sallies sometimes are. More myth, in other words, and less message; more Middle-Earth, perhaps, and less Narnia. Instead, Pullman seems to have set out to take the things he hated about Lewis’ writing and recreate them, but at a heightened, more hectoring pitch.

There are other children’s fantasies by atheists that offer an alternative to Narnia. I’m thinking, in particular, of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” series. Cooper‘s world is rather dualistic–which is not atheistic enough, perhaps, for Pullman–but she wrote a compelling series that doesn’t preach.

I enjoy books that struggle toward what their authors see as the truth. Some authors do this successfully–Flannery O’Connor, and C.S. Lewis much of the time. Others–Ayn Rand, for instance–get so caught up in trying to demonstrate the truth of their viewpoints that they end up sacrificing their artistry.

All art is didactic in some sense. Even if you really don’t care what conclusions someone else might draw from it, you have beliefs, and those beliefs shape the way you write. Like it or not. So ranting against didacticism isn’t the answer. But the good of the story has to come first. If the story isn’t improved by adding something, don’t add it. Even if it proves that your viewpoint is eternally right. Just don’t do it. Preachy stories are annoying. Period.

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Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Fantasy

 

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When an Anti-War Novel Isn’t

I never thought about how postmodernism would affect an anti-war novel before I read Slaughterhouse-Five. I’ve read a few other pieces of anti-war fiction–Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Mark Twain’s short story “The War Prayer”–but this was an entirely different experience.

All Quiet on the Western Front and “The War Prayer” have disparities beyond the fact that one is long and the other is short. Remarque wrote a bloody novel about the horrors of war. Twain’s story was a satirical look at how Christians, supposedly serving the Prince of Peace, can glorify the destruction of their enemies, ignoring Christ’s command to love them. Yet both stories share a common theme–people often hold unrealistic and even evil attitudes toward armed conflict, but they shouldn’t. They certainly don’t have to.

It’s hard to write a novel where the characters do not have free will. Flannery O’Connor, in fact, considered it nearly impossible: “I don’t think any genuine novelist is interested in writing about a world of people who are mostly determined. Even if he writes about characters who are mostly unfree, it is the sudden free action, the open possibility, which he knows is the only thing capable of illuminating the picture and giving it life.”

O’Connor died five years before Kurt Vonnegut published Slaughterhouse-Five. I wonder what she would have thought of it—an anti-war novel, now considered a sci-fi classic, in which none of the characters really have free will. For those who haven’t read the book, an American prisoner of war named Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck” in time and jumps back and forth from Nazi Germany to a planet called Tralfamadore (where he is put in the zoo) to his post-war days as an optometrist. In fact, he hops through time all the way to his murder as an old man, and then back to Nazi Germany, where he is imprisoned with the man who is going to kill him.

The Tralfamadorians, Billy discovers, see a fourth dimension—time. They see their own lives, and others’ lives, all at once. To a Tralfamadorian, death is an unfortunate moment in a person’s life, not a linear end. It isn’t a tragedy. The Tralfamadorian response to death is the phrase, “So it goes.” They also try to focus on the happy spots in their lives. But, to them, all time exists at once, so free will isn’t even something that they understand. Billy Pilgrim adopts their peculiar blend of apathetic happiness and applies it to everything, from his own death to the American firebombing of Dresden, the city where he was held prisoner.

After reading the book, George Will evidently accused Vonnegut of trivializing the Holocaust. Vonnegut returned the favor by calling Will an “owlish nitwit.” Vonnegut said he had intended no such thing; rather, he was expressing shock at the aftermath of the Dresden bombing, which he had witnessed. The Holocaust, contended Vonnegut, was about man’s inhumanity to man. Dresden was about the inhumanity of man’s inventions to man.

Thus the accusations by others that Vonnegut advocates quietism–simple resigned acceptance to the status quo. “So it goes.” Does Vonnagut himself take the same position as the one held by the Tralfamadorians and by Billy? I doubt it, given Vonnegut’s strident opposition to the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Postmodern works are, by their very nature, difficult to pin down. But maybe that is the problem.

Slaughterhouse-Five stands apart from earlier anti-war writings. It succeeded in bringing attention to the injustice of the Dresden firebombing. In that sense, it was successfully anti-war. But another thing is clear. Where the characters do not have–or apparently do not have–free will, there can be no ringing condemnation of anything. To Billy Pilgrim, if not to Vonnegut himself, Dresden was regrettable, but unavoidable. It was horrible and unnecessary, but no one was to blame. I have begun to ask myself, Is it possible to write a postmodern novel that actually condemns unjust warfare?

I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know that if “So it goes” is what people mean when they say that good and evil are not black and white, then I want no part of it. We are responsible for our actions. We are even responsible for our machines.

 

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Science Fiction

 

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What’s with All the Stupid Fantasy?

I recently picked up a book about why manners are important. That may have been the title; I can’t remember now. It was sold in a shopping complex where about the only thing I could afford was a sandwich. Which was all I wanted, fortunately. But I did page through the book. It was exactly what it said, and I could appreciate most of it, even though etiquette was always my sister’s hobby, not mine. But one section gave me pause.

The author evidently loves novels of manners because she likes realistic characters who have to work through their flaws and mature. So far, so good. But she finds the current taste for fantasy disturbing. Imagine, she says, a fourteen-year-old girl who reads fantasy exclusively. Most of the time she reads stupid, caricatured descriptions of people who like to swing swords around. What little good fantasy she reads involves black and white moral dilemmas with characters so elevated that they are unrelatable and teach little about how to live in the real world. (I can only assume the author was thinking of Tolkien.)

I sympathize with some of the author’s complaints. Although I consider fantasy my favorite genre of literature, I actually do not read it very often. I don’t like the stupid characters, either. Especially the warrior elf queens who feel like they were invented to prove that women can be tough. And there are other problems with fantasy stories beyond those that might irritate a Jane Austen fan.

C.S. Lewis complained about people who wrote “science fiction” stories with perfectly ordinary plots—spy-stories, romances, and so forth—which have nothing to distinguish them as fantastic but the unusual setting. There are still a lot of stories like that. Whatever fantastic elements are there feel arbitrary. The wonder and sense of strangeness are missing. If you read fantasy for “otherness,” then the pickings are very slim.

I’m not going to comment on the author’s shallow interpretation of Tolkien except to say that if she thinks Boromir, Denathor, and Saruman fit neatly into black-and-white categories, she hasn’t been reading carefully. And The Silmarillion includes characters even more complex than those in The Lord of the Rings—if complex is what she really wants. (Sometimes I think that what people mean when they object to “black and white” characterization is that they don’t like reading about a world where a clear good and a clear evil exist, even if both are complex. But I would say, with Tolkien, that the real world is like that. Good and evil may be complex, but no one will be talking about shades of gray at the Last Judgment.) As for relatable, I think that in some ways Tolkien’s characters are more relatable than “realistic” ones. Frodo is an Everyman—as is Gollum. Archetypes are relatable precisely because they are archetypes. And archetypes can be complex.

The truth, I think, is less that fantasy characters are not relatable and more that the author could not relate well to fantasy characters. Well—that’s fine. Everyone has a favorite genre. I would rather relate to Frodo, or Faramir, than to Elizabeth Bennett. (In the past, I have even tried to deal with difficult people by trying to imagine them as Gollums, who, if evil, are also pathetic and in need of compassion.) It’s a personal preference. People who like good fantasy (scarce as that is) are not inferior to people who like good novels of manners (and I’m sure there are bad ones). It’s a difference in kind of taste, not necessarily quality.

But I recently re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories,” and it brought another problem into view. Tolkien believed that fairy stories were the hardest form of literature in which to write. To produce something that attempts to show what reality is really like, while simultaneously rearranging that reality, is extremely difficult. Thus, someone attempting a novel of manners has an immediate advantage over someone attempting a fantasy. In Tolkien’s words:

Fantasy has also an essential drawback: it is difficult to achieve. Fantasy may be, as I think, not less but more sub-creative; but at any rate it is found in practice that “the inner consistency of reality” is more difficult to produce, the more unlike are the images and the rearrangements of primary material to the actual arrangements of the Primary World. It is easier to produce this kind of “reality” with more “sober” material. Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped; it is and has been used frivolously, or only half-seriously, or merely for decoration: it remains merely “fanciful.” Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough—though it may already be a more potent thing than many a “thumbnail sketch” or “transcript of life” that receives literary praise.

To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.

Another potential misunderstanding comes because, over the course of the last century, literature has grown more and more like drama. “Show, don’t tell” is the instruction I was given when I took a creative writing course in college. It works well—for realistic fiction. In fantasy, things don’t work quite the same way. My English professor warned our class, “Showing is not always superior to telling.” She was right. Of course, a fantasy can tell too much, but the point is this—realistic fiction and drama may be able to grow together, but drama and fantasy have no such luck. Even modern fantasy movies, with all their special effects, cannot exactly reproduce the feeling of “otherness” that a good fantasy story creates. I like The Lord of the Rings films, with a few reservations, but I don’t go to them for “otherness.” To fully appreciate the Elves, and Lothlorien in particular, you need the books.

Fantasy is hard to write. Flannery O’Connor once remarked that so many people had learned to write a “competent” short story, that the short story was in danger of dying of competence. Fantasy has no such problem. And your creative writing class may not help you—“show, don’t tell” injunctions only go so far.

If you love novels of manners, then go read them—by all means. Beyond reading a few fantasy classics, most works in the genre aren’t worth your time. But don’t blast the genre. Competent fantasy is harder to write than competent realistic fiction. Keep fourteen-year-olds away from the warrior elf queens, please. But introduce them to the good modern authors of imaginative fiction: Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engel, Ray Bradbury. And if they run out, try going back in time to Beowulf. Or The Kalevala. Or The Niebelungenlied.

Jane Austen would be okay, too.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Fantasy

 

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Letter Writing: Another Side of Flannery O’Connor

“I hope,” wrote Flannery O’Connor in one of her letters, “you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.”

Letters can be delightful things. Despite the length of The Habit of Being, the collection of O’Connor’s letters (some 600 pages), it is worth the read. For one thing, it doesn’t demand to be read all at once. Try spreading out a novel of that length over a year or two, and you’ll have forgotten half the characters. But a volume of letters can be digested more slowly. It took me about that length of time to read The Habit of Being, and I don’t feel any worse for reading it slowly.

Second? Flannery O’Connor is hilarious. (Her spelling is, too.) Coping with lupus didn’t dull her sense of humor in the least, nor did it distract her from focusing on her friends. Her last letter, written a few days before her death, barely mentions her health problems–instead, she was concerned about a friend who had received a threatening phone call.

Flannery’s letters offer an example of how to handle a church hierarchy that drives you nuts. It’s popular today to be “spiritual but not religious” because “the church is full of hypocrites.” Flannery would have agreed about the church being full of hypocrites, but she understood two things: 1) the church is necessary for spiritual balance, and 2) some sincere people come across as hypocrites for reasons that are not entirely their own fault. Told by a somewhat liberal Protestant that he had met a girl who complained about how dishonest Catholic nuns were, she offered this response:

I doubt that she has seen any “lying” nuns. What she is probably talking about is “intellectual honesty” and she is forgetting that in order to be intellectually honest, you have to have an intellect in the first place.

Bluntly put. But O’Connor made an effort to understand people who were unlike her–her mother, for one. Flannery called her mother “Regina” (no offense intended–she had done so since childhood), and, despite mutual good intentions, they frequently drove one another crazy. Regina was a fairly normal Georgia lady. Flannery wasn’t. And that is why her letters are so delightful–they offer a perspective scarcely seen elsewhere.

Instead of putting in a stunning paragraph at the end of this post, I think I’ll save the space for a few more quotes of Flannery’s. They are more than worth it–for a variety of reasons.

Almost any spiritual writer ought to wear thin for you. It’s like reading criticism of poetry all the time and not reading the poetry. Spiritual writers have a limited purpose and can be very dangerous, I suppose.

When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.

There’s probably a little witch-doctoring left in the teaching profession, that has managed to stay out of the education textbooks. I had 3 education courses in college. Pure Wasted Time.

(Flannery had an undergraduate degree in social science, and she claimed that she had been saved from it by “total non-retention.”)

You are erecting this truth into supreme position whereas it merely has its proper place in a hierarchy of truths. If you insist upon doing this, you will become that most unfeminine of creatures—the crank. It is strictly a male prerogative to be a crank.

Whatever else she may have been–her relatives’ confusion notwithstanding–Flannery O’Connor was far from being a crank.

 

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Letters

 

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Dostoevsky: When Mystery Takes Over

Someone told me about listening to an author discuss a book she had written some years before. The book was fairly well-received, but the author hasn’t written another one since. The reason: she based so much of the book on people and events from her life that she found herself bereft of anything more to write about.

I have some opinions on what that explanation suggests, although I’ll keep them to myself. In any case, the relationship of an author’s work to events in his own life is an interesting one. Some critics have made too much of the relationship–their evaluations of books are more like a detective’s evaluation of a crime scene than of a response to the book itself. The New Criticism sprung up in the middle decades of the twentieth century in an effort to oppose this tendency. New Critics emphasized that works of fiction are not authorial biographies. While some authors may put some of their own experiences into a book, others will not.

Flannery O’Connor, who was sympathetic to the New Criticism, is a prime example of why it can be dangerous to assume that an author’s works reflect something about his background. To read O’Connor’s stories, one might be tempted to think that she had suffered a violent childhood or something of the sort. She didn’t. Her life was not easy, but she did not usually build stories around real-life experiences. In fact, she became quite irritated when people sent her letters insisting that Georgia wasn’t filled with violent convicts that massacred innocent travelers. She hadn’t been insinuating that it was. All the letter writers had really told her was that they misunderstood her point.

480px-Vasily_Perov_-_Портрет_Ф.М.Достоевского_-_Google_Art_ProjectFyodor Dostoevsky is a different story, however, as I found after finishing The Idiot and Dostoevsky’s Wikipedia article. His novels aren’t autobiographical, but certain themes from his life keep showing up. Like Dostoevsky, the main character, Myshkin, suffers from epilepsy. A major character in The Idiot (as well as another character in Crime and Punishment) dies of consumption. So did Dostoevsky’s mother. Myshkin talks about a man condemned to death whose sentence was commuted to imprisonment just minutes before his execution. Dostoevsky–who had a taste for socialism in his younger years–went through that same experience.

Fortunately, Dostoevsky never crammed all his life experiences into one novel and subsequently lost his ability to write. But, however different his writing was from Flannery O’Connor’s, they both shared an important characteristic–a respect for mystery. In Dostoevsky’s case, that respect includes an understanding that, to quote The Idiot, “the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”

Myshkin attempts to save Nastasya Filippovna, a woman that most people view as fallen. The church, he later notes, might forgive her, but society will not. But Myshkin’s innocent nature works against him. In his attempts to redeem her, he not only underestimates the volatility of her own nature, he fails to take into consideration another man who wants Nastasya Filippovna, no matter the cost to any of them. In trying to redeem Nastasya, Myshkin destroys himself.

“Beauty will save the world,” Myshkin asserts, to the bemusement of those around him. Myshkin is certainly better at seeing beauty than is the Russian society in which he finds himself. Yet his end is anything but beautiful. “For a long time,” wrote Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “it used to seem to me that this was a mere phrase. Just how could such a thing be possible? When had it ever happened in the bloodthirsty course of history that beauty had saved anyone from anything?”

Solzhenitsyn concluded that beauty might reach people who had rejected truth and goodness, the other two members of that old trinity. And something does reach out through the pages of The Idiot. There is a strange beauty in the mystery of Myshkin’s existence–however it ends. We are left with a conviction that he was more right than anyone around him understood. Whatever the problems that entangled him, Myshkin recognized the reality of transcendence. He was surrounded not only by bodies, but by souls. And he strove to value them.

Dostoevsky–epileptic or not–was not Myshkin. He made a number of mistakes in his personal life, and they were not caused by innocence. But perhaps he, like Solzhenitsyn, viewed Myshkin’s words as a prophecy. The ugliness of our best efforts may yet be turned around by mysteries beyond our ability to understand. We walk by faith, not by sight.

 

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Ted Dekker: Rejecting Religion?

Some months ago I read a Goodreads interview with author Ted Dekker. It answered some questions left in my mind after reading other interviews (such as, how can you write about some of the things you do without suffering spiritual damage). It also repeated something that Dekker has alluded to in other interviews I have read—namely, his distaste for conventional Christianity. He told Goodreads that he is surprised people classify him as a Christian author, since much of what he writes is “against religion.”

In one sense, Dekker reminds me of a typical youngish postmodernist who prefers spirituality to “religion,” except that Dekker is more specific about what constitutes genuine “spirituality.” (His definition: searching for the true God, not simply feeling emotional about spiritual issues.) In another sense, he is a typical exponent of the “not a religion, a relationship” mantra—albeit that he takes that idea farther than most evangelicals.

Individualism is not an entirely bad thing. In The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton traces increased emphasis on the individual back to the first Christmas, when Christ was born as an outcast. “There is in that alone the touch of a revolution, as of the world turned upside down…. Individuals became important, in a sense in which no instruments can be important. A man could not be a means to an end, at any rate to any other man’s end.” Christianity certainly upholds the importance of the individual.

But the individualism of Christianity is quite different from the individualism (sometimes better termed “self-centeredness,” and in fact quite destructive of the older individualism) that now permeates American culture.  While Dekker’s books (I’ve read something like eleven) do not espouse that sort of individualism, his conception of religion is extremely individualistic—in the American sense of the word. The individualism isn’t so much a matter of the individual being free to choose between Christian religious traditions as that of being free to follow Christ while simultaneously ignoring all Christian religious traditions.

But what if religion is the problem? We have all known Christians who were self-absorbed, or lied often, or spread gossip, or wielded their faith (which they misunderstood) like a sword. Is breaking free from them the solution?

In one sense, Dekker is quite right—Christ did not come to earth to found a religion. At least, the word appears nowhere in the New Testament. What Christ did found set Christianity apart from every other system of belief. Christ founded a church—the Church. And the Church’s existence marks Christianity as distinct from other belief systems. It may be called a religion for the sake of convenience, but, more fundamentally, it is a Church. No other belief system of my acquaintance so emphasizes unity for its own sake. We are Christ’s body—“organs of one another.” We are Christ’s building, “fitly framed together.” We are His bride. I do not believe that Dekker would necessarily deny any of the Biblical doctrines about the Church. But I believe he undervalues them.

Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor was the one who really brought my attention to exactly what it means for the Church to be Christ’s Body. The Church was not exactly a comfortable place for her, since she was, as she said, “peculiarly possessed of the modern consciousness.” (I sympathize, although I suffer more from “pre-modern consciousness.”) O’Connor at any rate did not dump “religion” in favor of an isolated spirituality.  She wrote to a friend, “I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed.”

In a country where self-centeredness runs rampant, disguised as individualism or success, we cannot afford to sidestep the Church in our desire to be authentically Christian. According to the New Testament, it is impossible to find the authenticity we seek without the Church. As C. S. Lewis wrote in his essay “Membership”:

The Christian is not called to individualism but to membership in the mystical body….. We are all constantly teaching and learning, forgiving and being forgiven, representing Christ to man when we intercede, and man to Christ when others intercede for us. The sacrifice of selfish privacy which is daily demanded of us is daily repaid a hundredfold in the true growth of personality which the life of the Body encourages. Those who are members of one another become as diverse as the hand and the ear. That is why the worldlings are so monotonously alike compared with the almost fantastic variety of the saints. Obedience is the road to freedom, humility the road to pleasure, unity the road to personality.

That isn’t to say that if your local church situation is toxic, that you should stay—although leaving, even when necessary, should be a matter for serious prayer. You aren’t switching hairdressers, after all. And the Church isn’t a beauty parlor. It’s more like a building under construction. Sometimes the insulation sticks out, and the loose electrical wires can be dangerous. But the builder tells us that it will be finished some day. And I’ve heard a rumor that it may become a temple.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Young Adult Fiction

 

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On Culture and Calling: Flannery O’Connor’s Essays

I bought Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners in high school without realizing what I was getting into. At the time I considered myself a Civil War buff, and I had seen the book on a list. A book of the Georgian author’s essays and recorded speeches, it supposedly would help me understand Southern culture.

Now I probably buff my shoes more often than I do any war, although my mother would deny that statement. She has given me some wonderful lectures on my need to polish my shoes right away. But, Civil War buff or no, Mystery and Manners remains one of my most valued books. The wear on the cover shows it.

“What is a writer going to take his ‘country’ to be?” O’Connor asks, annoyed with a Life editorial that complained no gifted writers truly spoke for America. At least, they did not speak for the America of the statisticians; and O’Connor contended that expecting them to do so was ridiculous. O’Connor continued:

“[The word ‘country] suggests everything from the actual countryside that the novelist describes, on to and through the peculiar characteristics of his region and his nation, and on, through, and under all of these to his true country, which the writer with Christian convictions will consider to be what is eternal and absolute. This covers considerable territory, and if one were talking of any other kind of writing than the writing of fiction, one would perhaps have to say ‘countries,’ but it is the peculiar burden of the fiction writer that he has to make one country do for all and that he has to evoke that one country through the concrete particulars of a life that he can make believable.”

Mystery and Manners includes a number of differing essays, including a humorous one on O’Connor’s peacocks and another on the memoir of a little girl that died of cancer. But the overarching focus of the collection is how she, as a writer, managed that synthesizing process. “What is a writer going to take his ‘country’ to be?” The countryside in his story. His region—for O’Connor, the Deep South. His nation. And ultimately his conception of what is lasting. Somehow, a writer has to find where all of those places are for him. And then he has to find the place where all those things can unite. (For some writers, including, I think, O’Connor, the place where those things unite may well be a battleground. But, then, some battles are worth fighting.)

O’Connor’s point was that whatever an author’s chosen genre, he cannot afford to ignore what exists around him. For authors of realistic fiction, that should be obvious—you may not write about the people you grew up with (although some writers do), but you must write about people you understand. Ignoring your own background is no way to achieve that understanding.

On fantasy, O’Connor was just as emphatic. “Even when one writes a fantasy, reality is the proper basis of it. A thing is fantastic because it is so real, so real that it is fantastic.” Any story needs verisimilitude—lifelikeness—if it is to be believed. Even metafiction and satire have to have some basis in a believable reality for readers to take them seriously.

“I would even go so far as to say,” O’Connor continues, “that the person writing a fantasy has to be even more strictly attentive to the concrete detail than someone writing in a naturalistic vein—because the greater the story’s strain on credulity, the more convincing the properties in it have to be.”

For me, probably the most important aspect of the book are the sections where the Catholic O’Connor discusses the relationship between belief and writing. What should a Christian do about objectionable elements without going to the extreme of ignoring them or the opposite extreme of using them for their own sake? How can a writer describe a person’s encounter with God in a society that does not believe in Him? What view of writing should a Christian take? Is it personal expression, a vehicle for ministry, or something else?

O’Connor’s answers to these questions are not easy, and any individual writer will have to work out their real-world application for himself. But for young Christian writers who are struggling to understand the practical aspects of their calling, Mystery and Manners is invaluable.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Essay Collections

 

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