If you love Star Wars, either casually or intensely, you have a favorite character especially from the prequel films, right? Surely that favorite would be Anakin Skywalker, eight years old, from Episode I: The Phantom Menace. That childlike innocence and free spirit just gets to you every time, doesn’t it? Powerful Darth Vader (as an adult) or roguish, shoot-first Han Solo? Pfshhh. You’ll take that blond-headed “now-this-is-pod-racing” waif any day.
Or switch Star universes. You think all those adults on the starship Enterprise, Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock — or Captain Picard, Cmdr. Data, First Officer Riker and the rest — can don red shirts and head off on away missions. On any stardate you’d much prefer hanging out with (or being) Wesley Crusher in that trim little gray shirt with the rainbow stripes.
Such desires do not belong to most readers from planet Earth.
In that case, why do so many (not all) Christian novels keep presenting only kid-Anakin or Wesley Crusher, instead of Han Solo or Captain Picard, and expect readers to like them?
Alas, this applies to some Christian speculative novels, including one that I read months ago. (No, I won’t give the title here. Anyway, this applies to more than one author or novel.)
In such novels, I keep wanting to meet and empathize with characters who are, for lack of a better adjective, heroic Christians. A Christian Han Solo or a Christian Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Or for that matter, someone of the robust personality, ambitions, and deep suffering of the Apostle Paul. Someone who despite his faults is committed to Christ and has been for years. Someone to whom I can look up, rather than looking down at or even across to him.
Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t desire only such “tough” good-guy characters. Any story needs to have a protégé, a trainee or newcomer. This is especially true in fantasy universes full of strangeness: you need someone who is “normal,” an audience access-point or avatar.
But I am referring to stories whose “Christian” access-point characters are only ever naïve, silly, simplistic, “folk theologians,” and/or dairy factories of spiritual milk (Heb. 5: 12-13).
And note that when I refer to “Christians” in this column, and throughout this new serial, I also cover any fantasy-universe equivalents. People of the Path, the king’s mages, Light-Bearers, White Knights, resistance movements, Forces of Truth, Greater Galactic Guilds, Followers of the Eternal Flame, whichever — I cover them all by the term “Christian.”
In these novels, rather than an appealing ensemble cast of accomplished heroes along with newcomers, I meet only kid-Anakin or Wesley Crusher, without even the redemptive arc for Anakin in the original Wars films or the maturity and better storylines for Wesley in later TNG seasons. Rather than questers, I meet jesters. Instead of Jedi knights, I meet naïve little children — or worse, Jar Jar Binks — along for the mission mainly to cause difficulties.
Here’s what I mean. In one novel set in the real world, one character was a non-Christian. Of the Christian characters he meets on his journey, all are one or more of the following:
- Spiritual-milk generators or “folk theologians,”
Furthermore, it’s the non-Christian lead who is the most empathetic of the whole bunch. He’s more balanced, has a steady and professional job, and time enough for a long Jedi-like quest. Meanwhile, the Christians are simple farm boys who never leave the farm. And yet one of the novel’s themes is how he should become more like them. What’s all this?
Here lies some legitimacy behind the (often-wrongly persistent) claim that Christian fiction is lame. These stories don’t introduce non-Christians to Christian heroes. Instead they’re asked to watch an Invasion of the Child-People. Then they’re told it’s best to be assimilated.
Meanwhile I, as a real-life Christian who would prefer meeting more people whose heroism and accomplishments I should want to imitate, instead meet dumbed-down folk “heroes.”
That doesn’t help me as a reader. It doesn’t challenge me. It’s not even fun. I don’t feel at home. Such stories, even the contemporary ones with speculative elements, instead have bizarre, otherworldly glows. Their skies are green and purple even on planet Earth. And I don’t know these people. Even the actual “folk theologian” heroes I know in reality have profound depth. They’re not silly like Jar Jar Binks. They’re not annoying like kid-Anakin.
So I can only conclude one thing: such stories’ characters are not even from planet Earth. They are — queue echoic retro 1950s Republic Pictures sci-fi serial announcer — creatures from beyond reality! They are: Fiction Christians from Another Planet!
We must explore this alien culture and its odd beliefs. That’s what I hope to do in this serial.