June 12, 2011

Slice of PIE – When Did Fiction Splinter?

I know this isn’t my WRITING ADVICE Sunday, but the impetus for my Slice of PIE was sparked by a discussion that’s been going on over at Mike Duran’s blog, deCOMPOSE regarding Christian views on Christian Fiction. If you want to read the post and the accompanying brouhaha, the first post was here: http://mikeduran.com/?p=12734 the second (just yesterday) post is here: http://mikeduran.com/?p=12994.

I have no doubt that I have nothing to add to this particular discussion that hasn’t been said already. It is a heated debate and while I am sure it is important to have, I confess that after today, I'm not going to be part of it.

Long ago, I decided that while I am a Christian and some of the characters in my fiction will BE Christians, I am in no way, shape or form interested in being a “Christian Fiction writer”. Part of this is practical: the majority of evangelical (and non-evangelical Christians as well) consider the idea of alien life heretical. If not that, they tend to consider extraterrestrials pure hokum and “obviously” outside of the realm of Christian belief. The other part is missional: if I’m going to reach outsiders in the speculative fiction community, I have to do so from inside that community. (For a discussion of my mission calling, go here: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2011/03/possibly-irritating-essays-reaching_29.html and here http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2010/10/possibly-irritating-essays-grist-for.html)

Mike Duran’s “sparked discussion” led me to wonder when exactly did what is Christian Fiction even BECOME an issue?

Finally, I got to the ground level of my pondering and framed my question: When did fiction splinter into genres?

The discovery was illuminating for me and I can summarize my data in a nutshell:


2200 BC

The Epic of Gilgamesh

A Sumerian Writer


1740 AD


Samuel Richardson



A Pretty Little Pocket Book

John Newbery




William Beckford



Swiss Family Robinson

Johan David Wyss




Mary Shelley



The Pioneers

James Fenimore Cooper



The Rector of Veilbye

Steen Steensen Blicher (in Danish)



The Chatauqua Idyle

Grace Livingston Hill

While I am sure that fiction could easily have been splintered earlier in the history of the written word, my Wikipedia source seems to set out a reasonable timeline (These were NOT cut and pasted from a single article! I read the entry for each one by typing “History of _____ fiction” – which I invite you to do!)

This leads me to the conclusion that the argument regarding Christian fiction is recent, because it has only existed as a separate entity for 125 years or so.

There can be no doubt that before that, Christians wrote fiction and told stories by…well, at least by lamplight, lantern and firelight! The importance of witnessing for Christ through the written and fictional word has existed since the beginning of the Christian church. While I can’t give you evidence, I am guessing that Christians after 1887 were not the FIRST who wanted to share the Good News in a dramatic way, surrounded by imaginary situations that point back to the love of God for all humanity.

While we love to believe that our OWN culture is the apex of civilization, I have my doubts. Cultures much older than ours likely considered theirs to be the apex of the surrounding civilizations. Considering the debate about what constitutes Christian Fiction and what does not has only been POSSIBLE for 120 years, I conclude that given the advent of Christianity 2000 years ago…that as far as I can see, it just ain’t all that important, thank you very much.

Given the level of heat in this firestorm, I'm going to excuse myself from the discussion from now on, take my writing output back to the unChristian novel I’m currently working on and leave the rest of the members of this most recent genre to argue among themselves.

Image: http://media-2.web.britannica.com/eb-media/80/79580-004-D6DE0F0C.jpg


Jill said...

Some of those dates are wrong, especially the one you're giving for sci-fi and fantasy, but I won't argue with you over that. People have been debating what fiction is and what is appropriate subject matter for fiction since the advent of the novel (as we know it today). And, yes, even Christians and preachers got into the debates during the Enlightenment years--is fiction supposed to teach morals or entertain or do something else entirely? That's the crux of the argument. Oh, and the same arguments were made over stage plays. Through the debates, cycles of moralistic books would come out (Pamela would be one of those), which would make people gag. And then the the cycle would swing around until stories were so debauched they make me blush and cringe today (think Fanny Hill), and so on and so forth.

So, while I agree w/ what you're saying, even unChristian novelists must ask themselves the same questions and have been doing so for about 300 years. What is the purpose of my work? What is it supposed to be doing?

GuyStewart said...

Of COURSE the SF/F dates are disagreeable! As far as I could tell, your date depends on a) your definition of SF/F; b) whether you take them as one field or two; c) whether you consider short stories or novels; and d) some undefined quality I didn't quite get from my (admittedly superficial) skim through the "SF Origins" discussion. So as far as I can tell, my date is no more wrong or right that someone else's date.

My point is that the discussion seems to have gotten out of hand in that you have Christ-followers flaming each other, putting each other down and out-and-out hating on each other because their definitions aren't the same and someone, somewhere seems to be insisting that there a) IS a universal definition and b) ALL Christians must agree with it to be considered "Christian Fiction" writers...

And I don't agree with that, so from now on I'll be staying out of the argument.

Jill said...

True, your dates are no more wrong than anyone else's, but that's a fun debate to have--what defines the speculative genre. I always meant to write a blog post about it. It's such a big subject.

Agreed. Read what you enjoy/write what you enjoy and give God glory while doing it.

GuyStewart said...

Amen to that! And as far as the speculative genre -- when you write that article, I WANT TO READ IT! (Especially if you point out there are those who consider the Bible as speculative fiction (and not very good writing at that...))