Last week, E. Stephen Burnett posted on why there seems to be a lack of Christian fantasy.
Besides digging into an ongoing debate for which there seems no resolution, the post got me thinking. We have Christian readers and Christian writers, the majority of which are found in the glowing lands of sunshine, bonnets, romance, and “feel-good” stories.
Not nearly as much love is given to the genres that lurk on the edges of acceptability with things such as aliens, zombies, or—gasp and perish the thought—magic outside Narnia and Middle-earth. In Christian spec-fic circles, this divide has been discussed as thoroughly as our favorite fandoms, with the recurring theme, “Why doesn’t Christian fantasy, sci-fi, or anything else ‘weird’ sell with the overwhelming success of bonnet-and-buggy stories?
Do we blame the publishers? The stores? The authors or readers? How about all of them?
As Stephen aptly put it:
Our faith is supernatural, fantastical, even “magical.” It’s about a divine/human Hero, Jesus, come to slay the dragon of sin, save His Church, punish evildoers, and redeem the whole world. Given all this awesome, why opt for another (Adjective) Romance novel?
Such tales are brimming with potential to share the most profound, meaningful truths about reality in intriguing, compelling ways. With a few exceptions, Christian spec-fic has done a virtual belly-flop in the CBA pool. The “why,” as I said earlier, has been examined nearly to death. There’s no denying the fact that for whatever reason, Christian readers don’t flock to fantastical stories as readily as do secular readers.
We can debate all day long the causes and trends. The question going forward is, “What will the fate of Christian spec-fic be?”
Here are what I think are the three most likely outcomes.
Scenario 1 – Continued Obscurity
Life in the land of Christian spec-fic will go on as it has—neither vaulted into wild success nor slowly buried by a lack of interest. Authors will continue to write for a small but loyal niche.
Christian spec-fic will remain relegated to a backwoods pond, thrilling those who appreciate what it offers and seeking to transition to the broader ocean of CBA readers.
Scenario 2 – Growing Popularity
I’m in my mid-twenties, and almost all of my reading friends around my age range from interested in spec-fic to obsessed. I know plenty of young writers who prefer science fiction or fantasy over romance or other powerhouse Christian genres.
If there’s going to be a major change in the CBA, this is where it will happen. Speaking generally, Christian millennials hunger for the excitement and otherness provided by spec-fic. They want stories that capture their imaginations. They want to read about superheroes, hostile planets, and daring adventures through castle-dotted lands.
Eventually, they’ll grow up to become editors, agents, and publishers, in addition to writers. They’ll be avid readers and raise their kids to appreciate the delights found not only in classics like Narnia and Lord of the Rings, but in the quality books produced today.
The old guard, readers of romance and all things Amish (except when combined with vampires in space), will slowly give way to the younger generation. A generation that doesn’t see magic as automatically taboo and fantastical stories as useless because they aren’t grounded in reality. A generation that will shine the spotlight on Christian spec-fic.
Scenario 3 – A Shift in Approach
We know “Christian fiction” as a term is a misnomer. There is fiction for Christians and fiction by Christians. This is an important distinction, because it means—enter Captain Obvious—Christians can write stories aimed at the general market. Stories that subtly reveal their worldview instead of blaring it from a megaphone.
If Christian readers continue to snub spec-fic, authors will turn elsewhere to find a readership. It’s not impossible for a Christian to do well in the ABA. In fact, in some cases it’s probably easier. Fantasy and science fiction, while still an undersized slice of the ABA pie, have an avid–and much larger—following in the general market.
Why not turn there?
And in a strange sort of way, I think some ABA readers are more open to “Christian-esque” content than Christians are to “non-Christian” content (language, magic and so forth). Christian authors will try to make inroads in the ABA.
It doesn’t matter who’s to blame in the end for the lack of success, spec-fic stories targeted at Christian readers will slowly fade out of existence. The category known as Christian spec-fic will become legend.
Authors, wanting a readership that, but for a small segment continues to ignore them, will grow frustrated and weary. Publishers won’t take any risks, despite the presence of excellent books, care first and foremost about their bottom line. Publishing is a business. If people won’t pay, you can’t fault the publishers for catering to consumer demands. In order to find the newest release by a favorite Christian fantasy writer, readers will have to look in the general SF/F section of the bookstore.
As a reader or writer (or both) of Christian spec-fic, what outcome do you think is most likely?