I know that many of my fellow Christians are so convinced that J.K. Rowling is a servant of Satan that they won’t be persuaded by anything as insignificant as… oh… the author’s own words about her faith.

But I’m encouraged that the conversation about Rowling’s perspective and beliefs is still moving. Maybe eventually it will persuade a few souls to stop protesting and start listening. Maybe it will inspire others to stop and try to count just how many young people the stories have actually led into lives of witchcraft, as opposed to those who have benefitted from an imaginative tale about growing up and discovering our place in a scary and complicated world.

And… I know, I may sound like a stuck record here… this just makes me want to raise the question again:¬†What is this Christian Fiction category I keep reading about… and why doesn’t Harry Potter qualify for it?

  • The Potter books are written by a churchgoing believer (albeit one who admits to having doubts and questions and struggles.)
  • They echo scripture rather directly.
  • They give us reflections of Christ’s own teaching frequently.
  • And they’re worth taking seriously as mythmaking of spiritual relevance, as Alan Jacobs demonstrates in the latest issue of Books and Culture.

And speaking of “Christian fiction,” why aren’t the websites devoted to such a genre celebrating that Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl is a finalist for the National Book Award? Sara doesn’t flinch from talking about her Christian faith, and her book is so truthful that it’ll make some readers squirm.

In a recent blog interview, Sara was asked: “Your book has underage sex, curse words, etc., but it is also very much about forgiveness and redemption. I know that you are Christian — did you worry at all that more conservative religious people might automatically (unfairly!) label Story of a Girl as a “teen smut” novel?”

She responded:

I didn’t worry. Participating in AS IF and hearing stories from the trenches made me realize that books get unfairly categorized and branded all the time, and for the most ridiculous reasons. Reactionary people without critical thinking skills aren’t really my target audience. My family, my friends, my church have all been very supportive. There’s actually a pretty large and growing contingent of Christians out there who embrace all kinds of art and its capacity for delving into the gray areas that make up most of our lives. Anyway, I’m not really about making other Christians happy by being inoffensive. Life is offensive. If we, of all people — Christians, who claim to be offering some kind of hope for mankind, in Jesus — can’t grapple with that, then the claims of hope are pretty much empty. If we can’t deal honestly and authentically with the smaller heartbreaks of family and identity and friendship, how can we even open a newspaper? Christians who seek a squeaky-clean, inoffensive version of life are, in a way, denying that we might possibly need help with some of this, thereby rendering faith, well, pointless. That said, I do think there is a place for the good and beautiful and uplifting and clean, as long as it’s not sentimentalized and does not replace an at least occasional head-on stare into the world as it is.

So, what makes a book “Christian fiction”?

  • Being written by a Christian?
  • Telling the truth?
  • Or is Christian fiction distinguished by the fact that its characters engage in obvious religious activity?

According to Borders, Auralia’s Colors is Christian fiction. According to Barnes and Noble, it’s Science Fiction. I’m not sure what separates my approach to writing Auralia’s Colors from Rowling’s approach to writing Harry Potter.

But I’m not here to talk about Auralia’s Colors. I just don’t like the confounding ways in which Christians (and others) categorize art. And these two examples speak to the reasons why.

Christians are writing truthful stories all the time, but many of them avoid using the buzzwords and cliches and allegories and moralizing that often characterizes books published under that banner. I have yet to see a definition or defense of the category that makes much sense.

 

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