/ / Articles

Stories With Romance Or Stories With Love?

Could it be that our current Christian speculative fiction has focused so much on the kind of love the world recognizes that we are neglecting the kind of love the Bible extols?
| Apr 20, 2015 | 9 comments |

romance-858610-mI’ve heard from any number of pastors that the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written had three words for love: eros, phileo, and agape. In short, the first specifies romantic love, the second brotherly love, and the third Godly love.

I’m not a Greek scholar and I certainly didn’t do an exhaustive search of the New Testament, but I could only find examples of the use of phileo and agape. No use of eros, although I suspect if Song of Solomon had been written in Greek, eros would have appeared frequently.

About phileo, Vine’s Dictionary says,

Phileo more nearly represents “tender affection.” It conveys the thought of cherishing the object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration.

Then there is agape which seems to show up most often. Again from Vine’s:

“Agape and agapao are used in the NT
(a) to describe the attitude of God toward His Son, Jhn 17:26; the human race, generally, Jhn 3:16; Rom 5:8; and to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly, Jhn 14:21;

(b) to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude one toward another, Jhn 13:34, and toward all men, 1Th 3:12; 1Cr 16:14; 2Pe 1:7;

(c) to express the essential nature of God, 1Jo 4:8 . . .

It is an unselfish “love,” ready to serve.

Much of fiction, to the dismay of some and the delight of others, incorporates romance, or eros. Even Harry Potter managed a little teen romance. In Christian speculative fiction the male-female love relationship is a factor in such books as Patrick Carr’s The Staff & The Sword Trilogy, Karen Hancock’s The Legend Of The Guardian-King tetralogy, Donita Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles, and Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Tales Of Goldstone Wood series.

Classic fantasist J. R. R. Tolkien insinuated romance in The Lord Of The Rings in several places. Éowyn, the niece of King Théoden, believed herself in love with Aragorn, but he was betrothed to Arwen who he later married. When Éowyn, wounded in the battle for Gondor, was recovering in the House of Healing, she did fall in love with Faramir.

Brotherly love also shows up frequently in speculative literature. Again Harry Potter serves as an example, incorporating this kind of familial, devoted loyalty, one character for another, in Harry’s relationship with Ron and Hermione. Classic fantasy is replete with examples of phileo. Bilbo experienced this emotional response to the twelve dwarfs in The Hobbit—not at first, but increasingly so. Frodo felt the same affection for Bilbo, for Sam, for Gandalf, for Aragorn.

Agape in fiction isn’t as easy to identify. Perhaps this is the heart attitude Gimli felt for Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlórien in The Lord Of The Rings and what Reepicheep felt for King Caspian in The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader. Aslan in the Narnia series, of course, would seem like the most likely example of agape. Certainly by his actions he demonstrated the kind of love that serves others, but I’m hard pressed to think of any lines or scenes in which he expressed love for those he watched over.

romance_2In the end, I’m wondering if contemporary speculative fiction, including Christian speculative fiction, hasn’t paid more attention to eros—to romantic relationships—than to the other types of love. Because conflict is such an important component in fiction, have we infused the relationships of our characters with the seeds of betrayal or deceit or anger instead of loyalty and devotion and faithfulness? I mean, where is the tension in a loyal subject behaving loyally?

Tolkien, of course, found a way to create just such tension when he depicted Samwise Gamgee’s relationship with Frodo. Consequently, Sam may be the most loved character of the trilogy. Frodo we like and understand and respect, but Sam induces a warm fondness as well as admiration.

Could it be that our current Christian speculative fiction has focused so much on the kind of love the world recognizes that we are neglecting the kind of love the Bible extols?

I’m curious what you think.

Also what books have you read that include romantic love? Brotherly love? A love reminiscent of Christ’s love for the Church?

And if you’d like to read more on the subject of love in speculative fiction, I recommend a series of Spec Faith posts published in 2011 by then columnist Fred Warren: Speculative Love, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
Leah Burchfiel
Leah Burchfiel

Obligatory nerd rage, redux: There are four Greek words that correlate to “love.” The fourth is storge, which CS Lewis equates more with a fondness for familiar things, like one’s home or community or suchlike. (The Four Loves is pretty edifying.)

Now for blarg about the historical contexts of your examples of agape in Gimli/Galadriel and Reepicheep/Caspian:

I’ve always heard that the Gimli/Galadriel thing was an example of courtly love, which I think is way too messy to neatly categorize according to this (Christianized) Greek vocabulary. It’s not always that far removed from eros, since it often took place between young, unmarried men and young women who were married to old guys who actually had the land, money, and/or titles to afford marriage. I feel like I need to go dig through my British anthology to find some Norman lais, to cite some specific passages that give a sense of hanky-panky. But Gimli/Galadriel specifically is a lot more platonic and….Tennyson-ish interpretation, which makes it seem more towards the agape end of the spectrum than eros. So it’s not that I disagree, it’s just that I have a lot of footnotes to attach to my general acquiescence.

Also, I’m going to have a moment of sads for how they ruined book-Faramir with movie-Faramir.

As for Reepicheep/Caspian, that falls more under fealty, which I think is too political a notion to neatly classify it in what Greek we’re working with. Reepicheep is certainly a highly romanticized courtier-knight, but the very chivalry and politeness demanded by the title would prevent much familiarity due to concerns of rank. I’m trying to remember if he even calls anyone by name instead of title. Too much respectfulness to be loving, if that makes sense (I’m not sure it does).

P.S.: It’s certainly easier to write romance than a stable love (I’m stealing that from a reviewer named Ursa, I think). Built-in tension and drama in the will-they-or-won’t-they.

Michelle R. Wood

Also, I’m going to have a moment of sads for how they ruined book-Faramir with movie-Faramir.

On that we can both agree: I originally said to a friend that he should sue for character defamation. So much good out of that trilogy, and yet so much ugh.

Good to know about the fourth term; hadn’t heard that one.

As per Becky’s questions: I whole-heartedly agree, we do focus on one form of love more than the other, but I think more so for women than men. Men often have both friends and love interests. Women, alas, usually only have love interests (or potential love interests, plural).

That’s what made the recent Agent Carter series so amazing: here was a fully realized female character who a) didn’t have a love interest and b) actually had friends (male and female). It’s sad that such a low hurdle is such a major accomplishment, but there you have it. All to often the women in stories are pitted against each other, rather than working with each other. That’s why I gave Jupiter’s Wind (link feature in comment box not working: http://www.lorehaven.com/library/jupiter-winds/) such a relatively high rating, despite its structural weaknesses: I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the author’s dedication in depicting multiple female characters, many of whom were in supportive, lasting relationships.

Sorry, that’s a bit of digression, but I think it’s a contributing factor to the emphasis on romance. It’s no longer acceptable to write obvious male-dominated stories, in the sense that we have placed social obligations on most fiction to include female characters to some degree. That’s great; unfortunately, what we usually get is one woman per story who inevitably must enter into a relationship with one of the male characters as nearly her entire purpose for inclusion in the plot. It’s an easy way to tack on a female character, and one that while having merit has become overused.

That’s not to say I object to romance per se: some of my favorite tales include couples. But I prefer ones that have a full partnership that involves more than just the “will they won’t they” stuff mentioned earlier. That gets very old after a while, and has no room for growth. Far more interesting to me is a couple like Cimorene and Mendanbar of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, who share a whole book of the series happily married and fighting side-by-side.

Tamra Wilson
Tamra Wilson

I think that yes, modern Christian spec-fic does go a bit romance heavy, because that’s what they think will attract the female readers. I’m not interested in a lot of “mush”, though romance is attractive to me, I’m attracted to  a well thought out and executed romance, where the couple takes the time to get to know each other before getting all lovey dovey. The best modern example I can think of is The Bride of Stone by Thomas Williams http://www.amazon.com/The-Bride-Stone-A-Novel/dp/0800758617 were the main couples get to know one another before getting married, also including loving sacrifice as a bonus. I won’t do spoilers!

In my stories, I focus on friendship before love and the love the people bear for their monarchs, rather than romance alone. I feel that this is a more realistic picture of how romance actually works.

R. L. Copple

I recommend C. S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves” for a fuller understanding. Eros, for instance, is much broader than just romantic love. Rather it is a love based upon our passions and needs, and is a love that motivates us to act. Many of the Early Church Fathers used eros to describe our love for God, for example.


Though it is in the context of infidelity, I wrote an article on the four loves in defining what true love is, Am I in Love?



One point I make in there is that human love tends to have overlaps between all four of these types of love. It is rare that love is purely eros, phileo, agape, or storge. Usually it is a mixture of them, which can make for more complex character development. A good romance plot or sub-plot will do good to take that into account.

Leah Burchfiel
Leah Burchfiel

Imma hafta quibble with you, Copple, purely on semantic grounds, though I totally agree that any or most specific examples we can think of fall somewhere on a spectrum than neatly into a single category (see: my giant wall of text).

What I’m quibbling with is the use of the phrase “true love,” especially in the context of these four categories. There are things that would fall easily under eros (or storge) that most of us would hesitate to call “true love” even though it’s “true” eros or storge.

Tangent: Dang, those quotes I compulsively put around true make me think that we need to discover if there are four Greek words for true, so we can distinguish between factually true, literally true, metaphorically true, and so forth.

R. L. Copple

Yes, that term has loaded context based upon experience to just toss it out there, though I explain more what I mean in the article.


True love = the fullness of love, which of necessity is agape. If “love” doesn’t have self-sacrifice as its foundation, it is not the fullness of love. If a love is all or nearly all eros, or phileo, or storge, it is a shadow of love, but not “true love.”


A good Christian romance, friendship, or other relationship should show that, in at least some of the main characters. If a romance is depicted as all eros, it is showing a false love and is one-dimensional character. The other loves need to be present in some form to make it real or true love.


Leah Burchfiel
Leah Burchfiel

Ah, I getcha, you’re using agape as your “true love.” I feel like I need to learn first-century Greek and encounter agape “in the wild” to gain a feel for where its denotations and connotations begin and end before I feel totally comfortable (with other people) using it.

And that’s not even getting into the possible pitfallen connotations of “self-sacrificial love.”

Mark Carver

I’m sorry, but the first thing I thought of when I saw the title of the article was that scene in Down with Love where Rene Zellwegger’s character talks about forsaking love but not sex, and one of the dimwitted board members casually replies, “But isn’t that the same thing?”

Julie D

I’m tempted to go back to “Speculative Love” series we had a while ago, but I don’t know if anyone else would be interested