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Setting the Record Straight

Stained Glass North Yorkshire, Caryl Hallett

I’m about to discuss a topic that I never thought would be considered controversial, but here we are. The subject is whether or not my writing counts as religious fiction purely because I include mentions of angels and demons, the Bible, and church ceremonies in my books.

In the last few years, I’ve received some criticism for writing “Christian fiction that isn’t Christian enough,” as well as for writing “Christian fiction that makes use of magic and fairies.” On the other side of the coin, I’ve also gotten negative reviews based on the fact I wrote “fantasy that mentions Christianity.” All of these remarks really rankle me, for different reasons — but also for one very big, very important, common factor: None of them are correct.

And here’s why: I don’t write Christian fiction. I’ve never marketed or branded myself as a specifically Christian author. My religious and spiritual beliefs do fall under the Judeo-Christian umbrella; I was more or less raised Catholic, and that influence has stayed with me strongly as an adult. But I’ve always intended my writing to focus on the plot and the characters and their story. I don’t have an agenda; there are no hidden messages in my work.

I simply write mostly clean fiction because: A) Many people I’m related to read my work, and the idea of my children/parents/aunts and uncles reading lots of swearing and love scenes that I penned makes me feel very weird; and B) I don’t prefer that sort of thing in my own reading. I tend to select other authors’ titles with a PG-13-ish rating. I’m not one for censorship, but I’m also allowed my personal preferences.

And the major reason I included mentions of the characters’ religion or their families’ religious backgrounds is purely because it’s part of life. An estimated 85% of the world’s population subscribes to some sort of religion, whether in traditions and rituals, an active spiritual faith, or a combination thereof. So the idea of ALL fiction characters EVER just not being religious in some capacity simply due to it not presently being “politically correct” is moronic.

In the case of my fantasy series, most of the characters come from Jewish or Catholic or Protestant ancestors, so that’s their frame of reference for morals, traditions, holidays, and the like. They don’t discuss their personal beliefs or speculate on theological matters, because that’s not part of the plot. I consciously made that decision before I started drafting. I wanted to tell the tale of a family who runs a warehouse of magical artifacts for a secret organization that keeps humans safe from dangerous otherworldly creatures. Period.

My readers tend to range from admittedly religious to not-at-all-but-clean-fiction-preferring. I’ve received praise from teenagers to senior citizens. I have readers who love fantasy in many forms, and those who are new to the genre. All of them either appreciate that I don’t shy away from the fact an Anglo-Saxon family living in Ohio would — demographically alone — most likely have a Christian-ish background, and that I include references to Jewish holy texts (because my secret organization was founded in ancient Israel); or they don’t seem to take offense to it.

The fact that I’ve been called either “too Christian” or “not Christian enough” by a few critics — on both sides of the “fantasy should/should not include religion” debate — indicates to me it isn’t my work that’s the issue; it’s the gatekeeping of literary genres based on human-led schools of thought.

My work can’t be easily pigeonholed when it comes to the evangelicals, since I don’t outright bring up God, in a specific or non-specific format. The same could be said for the apparent atheists who feel fantasy doesn’t need to be “spoiled” with mentions of (gasp!) a church holding a funeral.

When it comes to my sales, I’ll be very blunt: I would much rather sell to readers looking for a fun fantasy than to people who will only buy a title based on the author’s religious affiliation. I do know some of my readers greatly appreciate I’m not afraid to bring in references to the Bible or the Torah, in the same book as faeries and magic. And I’m not afraid to mix the two; I really feel it doesn’t constitute a crisis of faith or church practices, as traditional teachings warn against humans getting too involved in cosmic powers they can’t understand or control, and all the magic-users in my series are non-human creatures, or hybrids that are only half-mortal. JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis broke the mold, and set the standard for mixing religion and fantasy, long before I came along. They were facing the same questions, and nowadays are considered sin-free, “Christian fantasy” authors.

However, like Tolkien, I’d prefer to be known as a fantasy writer first.

3 thoughts on “Setting the Record Straight”

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