Tag: religious themes (Page 1 of 5)

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace (American classic, Biblical)

“In first century Judaea, Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur is betrayed by his childhood friend Messala and sentenced to life as a Roman slave. When, during a pirate attack in the Aegean, Ben-Hur saves the life of a galley commander, his fortunes improve and he returns to Galilee a free man. There, his quest for vengeance turns into insurrection, but his life is transformed when he witnesses Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist.”


Ben-Hur 1959

When I was a child, one of the three big television networks in the U.S. ran the film Ben-Hur [1959] every year around Easter. In those days, the only way to watch a motion picture was to see it in a theater when it came out or watch it on network television. There was no streaming. There were no DVDs. There was no cable TV. There weren’t even video cassettes! When one of the networks broadcast a major motion picture like Ben-Hur, it was a big deal. Families like mine made arrangements to watch it, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t get the chance to see it again for another year.

Because of that, the movie Ben-Hur not only became a part of my Easter tradition, it became ingrained in my consciousness. I loved this film as a child, and I still love it as an adult. It should be no surprise, then, that shortly after I became a part of the Great Books Group, I suggested that we read Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Imagine my own surprise at the time when, after reading a good part of the book, I realized that I didn’t care for it enough to even finish it.

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Is Fiction Marketed to Latter-day Saints “Christian Fiction”?

To answer that question, it’s important to understand what Christian fiction is. Depending on who you ask, you may get one of these answers:

  • Fiction with a lot of talk about God
  • Fiction with very little, if any, sexual content, graphic violence, and foul language
  • Fiction that promotes traditional values and practices such as chastity, integrity, and repentance
  • Fiction written by practicing Christians for practicing Christians about practicing Christians
  • Fiction that explores religious themes in a way that testifies of Jesus Christ and glorifies Him
  • Fiction that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ
  • Stories that would fall apart if the religious element were removed
  • Fiction that contains universal Christian themes and content that will appeal to Christians from a wide variety of denominations
  • A broad genre that contains works from all Christian denominations
  • A narrow genre that only contains books published by specific companies and imprints marketing to a conservative Protestant audience or by independent authors that meet the standards of these companies and imprints

Every single one of these descriptions is accurate. Not every work of Christian fiction, however, can be defined by every single description on this list.

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Cranford and Democracy in America, Volume 2

Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell (English classic)

“The formidable Miss Deborah Jenkyns and the kindly Miss Matty live in a village where women rule and men usually tend to get in the way. Their days revolve around card games, tea, thriftiness, friendship and an endless appetite for scandal (from the alarming sight of a cow in flannel pyjamas to the shocking news of the titled lady who marries a surgeon). But, like it or not, change is coming into their world—whether it is the new ideas of Captain Brown, a bank collapse, rumours of burglars or the unexpected return of someone from the past.”

My Lady Ludlow, by Elizabeth Gaskell (English classic)

“Lady Ludlow is absolute mistress of Hanbury Court and a resolute opponent of anything that might disturb the class system into which she was born. . . . The vicar, Mr. Gray, wishes to start a Sunday school for religious reasons; Mr. Horner wants to educate the citizens for economic reasons. But Lady Ludlow is not as rigid as one may think.

Mr. Harrison’s Confessions, by Elizabeth Gaskell (English classic)

“The story revolves around the arrival in the town of a young doctor and the attempts of the ladies of the town to place his status within their society and of course to find him a suitable wife.”

Democracy in America, Volume 2by Alexis de Tocqueville, translated by Henry Reeve (French classic, American classic)

“From America’s call for a free press to its embrace of the capitalist system Democracy in America enlightens, entertains, and endures as a brilliant study of our national government and character.”


Cranford

Cranford

I’ll admit that the little novel Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell, didn’t impress me much at first or even engage me.  The story is told by a young woman who writes about her experiences in Cranford as if she’s writing in her journal, which makes for a whole lot of telling and not a lot of showing. That, combined with the episodic nature of the plot, results in a lack of strong narrative drive. I kept reading because the style of writing, sense of place, and quaint characters relaxed me. I felt as if I had stepped into a world that didn’t exist anymore, and that, while not always happy or comfortable, was more self-sacrificing and less frenetic than our own.

Cranford gave me such a pleasant feeling that I went on to read two other stories by Elizabeth Gaskell that are similar to it: My Lady Ludlow and Mr. Harrison’s Confessions. It wasn’t until I had finished reading all three stories that I realized they dramatize some of what Alexis de Tocqueville describes—in philosophical and political terms—in Democracy in America, Volume 2. Tocqueville details the differences between aristocratic and democratic ages in great depth, and Gaskell breathes life into those differences as she looks back at the diminishing agricultural, aristocratic age of the generation that came before hers and gently carries her characters—and readers—into a more industrialized democratic world. Tocqueville observes: Continue reading

The Austin Family Chronicles

The Austin Family Chronicles, by Madeleine L’Engle (juv/YA fiction)

“In this award-winning young adult series from Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, Vicky Austin experiences the difficulties and joys of growing up.”


A Ring of Endless Light

A Ring of Endless Light

I found A Ring of Endless Light, the fourth book in The Austin Family Chronicles, at a thrift store earlier in the year and immediately fell in love with it. It reminded me of the higher-quality books I read as a girl and gave me quite a feeling of nostalgia. I loved the beach setting, and I felt at home with Vicky and her family—so much so that I read the other four novels in the series: Meet the Austins, The Moon by Night, The Young Unicorns, and Troubling a Star.

In The Young Unicorns, Chapter 17, Canon Tallis makes this observation about the Austin family: Continue reading

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin A. Abbott (English classic)

“Narrated by A. Square, Flatland is Edwin A. Abbott’s delightful mathematical fantasy about life in a two-dimensional world. All existence is limited to length and breadth in Flatland, its inhabitants unable even to imagine a third dimension. Abbott’s amiable narrator provides an overview of this fantastic world-its physics and metaphysics, its history, customs, and religious beliefs. But when a strange visitor mysteriously appears and transports the incredulous Flatlander to the Land of Three Dimensions, his worldview is forever shattered.”


We read this clever little novella in my book group. I was initially intrigued by the premise, but I’ll confess that I didn’t care for it at first. What sounded like a science fiction story appeared to really be a math puzzle. I like science fiction, but my brain rebels against math puzzles. As I continued to read, however, I realized that it was both science fiction and a math puzzle and, to my astonishment, religious fiction. I shouldn’t have been surprised, however, because the title page of the Project Gutenberg edition I read identifies Edwin A. Abbott as an English scholar, theologian, and writer. Continue reading

That Hideous Strength

That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis

“The third novel in the science-fiction trilogy by C.S. Lewis. This final story is set on Earth, and tells of a terrifying conspiracy against humanity. The story surrounds Mark and Jane Studdock, a newly married couple. Mark is a Sociologist who is enticed to join an organisation called N.I.C.E. which aims to control all human life. His wife, meanwhile, has bizarre prophetic dreams about a decapitated scientist, Alcasan.”


Of the three novels in the Space Trilogy, I think That Hideous Strength has the most compelling plot and the more interesting themes. I especially like the way Lewis dramatizes the scriptural comparison between sin and sleep: Continue reading

Perelandra

Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis

“The second novel in Lewis’s science fiction trilogy tells of Dr Ransom’s voyage to the planet of Perelandra (Venus). Dr Ransom is sent by the Elida to Perelandra (Venus) to battle against evil incarnate and preserve a second Eden from the evil forces present in the possessed body of his enemy, Weston.”


In this novel, Dr. Ransom’s “battle against evil incarnate” is both philosophical and physical. The philosophical struggle adds meaning to the physical conflict and raises the stakes. Because the stakes are so high, the resolution of the story arc between Ransom and Weston satisfied me more that it would have had it come at the end of Out of the Silent Planet. Dr. Ransom’s battle is also fantastical, so much so that I wasn’t disturbed by the fact that the novel contains, at its core, a view of the “fall of man” that is very different from my own. Reading this book, in fact, inspired me to ponder these matters in a way that I hadn’t in a while. I particularly like this conversation between Ransom and Tinidril from chapter 9: Continue reading

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