All this next could be questioned if even one commentator, or even better, a Christian speculative publisher, can prove the word “weird” is market-tested. If hordes of readers are thrilled at the thought of getting their hands on “weird” Christian fiction, my dislike of this term may prove only personal.
Yet I do dislike it — the word weird, when applied to Christian speculative fiction.
By no means am I picking on publishers or authors who use the term! Yet I also wonder if, by stressing this word, we’re needlessly limiting the genre and its potential growth.
Here we have two potential motivations for reading a Christian speculative story:
- I like Christian spec-fiction because it’s Weird. In the morning I get up and want stories You Probably Haven’t Heard Of. Part of me also wants to “stick it” to stories that “normal” people enjoy. You can have your modern dramatic fiction without magical worlds, and straight-up histories instead of alternate-history steampunk craziness! Give me weird any day! The weirder, the better!
- I like Christian speculative stories because they, unlike other genres, most closely match the wonders of the true-life Story, the Bible, and show us the nature of the Author, His truths, fantastic wonders, and love. In the morning I get up and wonder (or should wonder!): “How can I learn about and love this Author more today?” I’ve tried other genres. While they have their place, it is speculative stories that draw me closer to Him. Magic, alternate histories, science fiction, horror, paranormal, even “weirdness” — they’re all only means to the greatest End.
Sure, I’ve simplified things a bit. I may have also strongly implied that I wholly agree with number 2 and detest number 1. That’s not true. Maybe we all have a little “hipster” in us. Maybe we all would like to beat the other reader to a popular story, or out-Weird another person in our reading preferences, or have our own private revolutions against admittedly tame and artificially “safe” Christian fiction. I know I often act like this.
But I also don’t want to stay there. Battles for “unsafe” stories, that push limits and may show the world as it really is, are means to a greater chief End. So is freedom to explore worlds where people and rules aren’t exactly the same as they are here. So is weirdness.
So why market Christian speculative books based solely on the fact that they’re Weird?
Here are three reasons why we should at least make that argument secondary to others:
1. Speculative stories aren’t really “weird” anyway.
When we’re trying to “sell” reluctant Christian friends on the merits of a speculative novel, taking a reactionary position (Christian fiction today is just too safe!) or else an “indie,” hipster appeal (you’ve probably never heard of it) just doesn’t cut it.
This is not a theological objection. Those come in a moment. It’s a marketing one.
A better case could be made like this. I’ve seen this work at least to provoke curiosity in people who would otherwise not touch a “weird” novel, or be swayed by that term.
Speculative stories may sound strange and subversive. You may like that presentation of them. Others may not. But for either set: consider the highest-grossing films of all time. (Becky’s 2006 top-ten list is here; an updated list is here.) Of the top 20 films, only two — Titanic and The Passion of the Christ — could be considered non-speculative. But they’re still fantasy-esque (especially Titanic), and epic in scope.
In Christian circles, the most popular fiction authors perennially prove to be C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Are they Weird? At first, perhaps. But now they are mainstream.
Are all these stories Weird? Not at all. Instead they prove that speculative stories are the dominant, perhaps default, genre of fiction. I don’t call that weird. Rather, I’d have to conclude that those who feel this genre is weird are themselves strange characters.
2. The Bible itself is epic, miraculous, fantastic, even “speculative.”
Those who avoid speculative stories because they are Weird, and those who agree but push those stories because they consider Weirdness a plus, might want to ponder this.
The Bible is the most incredible Book ever, full of incredible stories and themes: battles, miracles, the nastiness of sin, rising nations, fantastic creatures, and the central Story of God’s creation of man, man’s fall, and God’s plan to save His creation. Over all of that is the Story’s infinite Author and Hero. He’s infinite, incredible, creative, loving, and holy.
So I would ask why many Christian stories don’t better reflect these themes. At present, most Christian novels are from non-speculative genres that include God as a supporting character. That’s not evil, of course. But they do tend to be detached from the greatest Story of the Bible — the Gospel. They may be fun to read, but how do they help us in our fantastic reality, in which this incredible God is always working, even in small ways, to save sinners and redeem His creation? How do they remind us of the true Story?
If we avoid stories that echo the great Story, that’s what’s truly Weird. Even “escapist.”
3. The “weird” term may limit readerships only to Christians with fringe interests.
Do we want this genre to grow, to be “mainstream” as it should have been all along?
Or do we want to keep focusing on a narrow readership: Christians, who have already been persuaded that speculative stories are “weird” and that they should like them that way, that Weird by itself is good, and that stories need no benefit beyond being Weird?
These may be more oversimplifications. I also don’t mean to imply that speculative fans should, say, disregard all the delightful, quirky, even “indie” types of readers, in favor of acquiring only garden-variety wholesome middle-class Christian moms with suburban homes, flower-print-covered Bibles, and 2.2 children in the backseat of the minivan.
But is it too much to ask for both?
Why emphasize only the rarity of this genre, instead of joyously proclaiming: these stories honor God and His Story even better, and have been doing this for generations?
Then we could have both the “weird for its own sake” readers, and those who sincerely want to glorify God in their reading choices but have for years, by default, acted as if speculative stories are “that weird stuff,” maybe harmless, but of little spiritual benefit.
Someone may ask: what about nonbelievers who prefer “weird” fiction, who may dislike spiritually based appeals to read books? I suggest that catering only to those potential readers would reduce readerships even more. If they really only want weird stuff, the presence of “it’s a weird novel! and even weirder because it’s Christian!” appeals won’t be sufficiently Weird. A pagan will always be able to out-Weird us, and more effectively — because unlike the Christian authors, pagan authors don’t question your Weirdest sins.
Christianity does not, and should not, succeed because it’s Weird, but because it’s true.
Our speculative stories should have a similar mission. Sure, weirdness can be fun. Yet weirdness is only a means to our Chief End: glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.