Over at WhereTheMapEnds a couple of days ago, I read an interesting interview with the godfather of Christian supernatural thrillers, Frank Peretti. Here’s the part that caught my attention:
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Frank Peretti: Not much. I suppose I could complain—or perhaps just chuckle—about the built-in expectations of this industry and its readership. I and other authors have exchanged many an anecdote about what so-called Christian readers expect and/or demand from Christian fiction: humor is still pretty rare, moral dilemmas have to be cut and dry and easily resolved, profanity is not allowed—we’ve noticed that it’s allowable for a character to kill, stab, or shoot someone as long as he keeps all his clothes on and doesn’t swear while he’s doing it.
There’s a lot to talk about in there, but let’s concentrate on the bit I’ve highlighted in bold. We seem to be doing little by way of our fiction to alter the image of Christians as humorless bluenoses, whose First Commandment is, “Thou Shalt Have No Fun.”
It’s understandable. Writing Christian speculative fiction feels like serious business. We’ve got souls to save, demons to battle, and apocalypses to forecast. There’s simply no time for idle banter or frivolity. The Bible seems to take a dim view of jocularity–Ecclesiastes repeatedly inveighs against the mindless merriment of fools, and there’s also that bit from Paul about the dangers of coarse jesting. Maybe it’s best not to go there.
But then, we also find this in the Psalms:
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
Joy is a singular quality of God’s people. He’s done great things for us–we have a lot to be happy about, and when people see that joy, they know something is different about us. They want a piece of it, and God is glorified. This being the case, I would expect to see more lightheartedness in our creative endeavors.
Sure, there are occasional chuckles, often as comic relief between passages of bloody mayhem, or as part of an awkward romantic overture, but there just aren’t very many stories in the Christian spec-fic world where humor is front-and-center, not just an item on the Writer’s Checklist of Supporting Literary Elements. I’m not talking about strings of one-liners or a stand-up comedy show; I mean a joyful attitude in the writing. We have plenty of Stephen King equivalents, but where are our Terry Pratchetts, Piers Anthonys, and Douglas Adamses?
I can think of a few candidates, and I’m sure our readers will suggest some of their own. These folks do good work, but we need more:
Frank Creed – If you think lighthearted, dystopian, and cyberpunk don’t belong in the same sentence, you’ve never read Frank Creed’s Underground series. His end-times Christians are powered by an infectious joy that lights up each page. I like to think that a future persecuted Church might look something like this, even without Creed’s technological bells and whistles kicking the action up a few notches.
Karina Fabian – Catholic author Karina Fabian gives us spacefaring nuns, a wisecracking dragon detective with a soul under construction, and zombie hunters who moonlight on reality shows to make ends meet. Fun stories with a nugget of spiritual truth at their core.
Matt Mikalatos – His Imaginary Jesus is a globetrotting, time-traveling romp laced with laughs, a parable writ large and a disarming narrative of one pilgrim’s progress as he reexamines the foundation of his faith. Coming this fall: Night of the Living Dead Christians.
Bottom line, there’s nothing wrong with being serious, but I propose that the message still gets through, sometimes even better, when we lighten up, just a little.