Last week I explored some issues connected with writers knowing their audience, specifically whether or not writing to the “typical reader” of a particular kind of story locks an author into writing only that type of book. The common term for this is “branding.”
Now I’m wondering, who are these “typical readers” of Christian speculative fiction?
I’m thinking about Donita Paul’s books — Dragons of the Valley, The Vanishing Sculptor, and the DragonKeeper Chronicles. During the recent CSFF Blog Tour one of the participants coined the phrase “cozy fantasy” as a way of communicating what Donita’s stories are like. It’s a good term, I think. Clearly someone who prefers dystopian fantasy would likely not be apt to pick up a Donita Paul “cozy fantasy.” Someone looking for gritty realism in their fantasy (isn’t that an oxymoron?) probably will look elsewhere. But someone who wants to experience an imaginative world with an adventure tale that ends happily, and who wants to discover Biblical truth woven into the fabric of a story will be a huge fan.
But what about that last part, the “Biblical truth woven into the fabric of a story” part? If a story integrates Truth as the Christian knows it, does this automatically narrow the readership to those who understand Truth in the same way?
I’m thinking about this in particular because of the last two books I’ve read. One was Dragons of the Valley , a fantasy with allegorical elements. “Wulder” is clearly a representation of God and much of the story is about characters learning to know Him and trust Him. The other is general Christian fiction, Another Dawn by Kathryn Cushman. This latter book is about Christians and some real-life struggles. When I finished, I thought, This is why Christian publishers exist. The book is well written, realistic, engaging, compelling, but it’s about Christians. Would a non-Christian want to read that book? (And consequently, would a general market press consider publishing it?) It’s possible because of the central story question, but the greater internal conflict that the main character experiences is all about spiritual matters. How would someone who doesn’t know Christ relate?
So I wonder, in our science fiction, our urban fantasy, our epic fantasy, who gets the “take away”? In other words, can speculative fiction transcend the divide between those who believe the Bible to be True and those who don’t?
We know, certainly, that C. S. Lewis’s children’s fantasy has done so. But how about his science fiction? How about his fantasy treatises, The Great Divorce and Screwtape Letters? J. R. R. Tolkien would seem to have transcended the divide, though some Christians deny that The Lord of the Rings is in fact “Christian.”
Must Christians have our own peculiar brand of literature because we are a peculiar (used in the best sense of the word) people? Or can speculative fiction do what editors at writers’ conferences tell us not to do — reach everyone.
I have this idea that there are things about us humans that we hold in common. We have eternity in our hearts. We have the need for security (love), the need for significance (purpose), we are relational, communicative, creative, sinful. So my idea is, there might be stories that touch the core issues we all share — those of us who are sinful and saved and those who are sinful and lost. But maybe those stories have to be speculative fiction so that Christians and non-Christians alike feel at home.