Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fiction and Religion

Religion is something that is so integral to a society, that most fantasy author's find themselves confronted with the topic at some point in their story. Some authors I find deal with it on a superficial level- it's there, but not significant. And others really take the time to make it convincing and use it to move the plot forward. It's the authors who really use the idea of faith that interest me. It's not that I am particularly religious, I'm not, but I love to read stories that include religion as a subtext to their story. I feel it gives it more depth and realism. One of my favorite series' that uses religion so well is The Book of Words trilogy by J. V. Jones.

 In fact, one of my favorite characters is Tavalisk, the Archbishop of Roan. What makes Tavalisk so great is that he is unrepentantly greedy. He's not a man of religion, but rather someone who has used the church to further his own ambitions. Maybe I'll go to Hell for enjoying the character so much. But we know from our own history than many church leaders often ignore the rules of the church for their own benefit. For example, Pope Alexander VI had eleven illegitimate children, even going so far as to throw an opulent wedding for one of his daughters at the Vatican Palace.

 Tavalisk, in my opinion, is like an open window into the mind of the morally corrupt. What makes the character even more entertaining is that he enjoys his debauchery and Jones seems to have fun with the character. Jones, like most authors, creates her own church and religion. Some authors really go into detail, outlining a whole pantheon of Gods. David Eddings uses the idea of multiple Gods quite a bit in his novels. His God's often take a direct hand in the affairs of man, kind of like the Greek myths many of us are familiar with. Lynn Flewelling is another favorite author of mine. She also has a religion that is her own construct in her Nightrunner and Tamir trilogies. Flewelling tends to let the Gods be an abstract part of the story and instead uses religion as the goad it so often is in war. A central point in her story is a prophesy made by an oracle who speaks for a particular God. For the true believers, it's gospel, for non-believers it is fodder for conflict. The story isn't one of religion though; it's more about man's response to it.

 Sara Douglass uses religion much more literally in her Crucible series. I have to admit I haven't finished the series though. I found her main character Thomas Neville to be completely insufferable. The story is set in 1377 and Thomas is a Dominican Friar. The character is written as sort of an early Born Again Christian. Once he's discovered God, he's so convinced of his moral superiority that he cannot help but sermonize at every opportunity. I'm sure Douglass intended the character to be as insufferable as I found him to be so that there could be an opportunity to show the character's growth. But it's hard to read a book when you can't identify with the main character. Douglass does make an interesting choice though. She uses the established Roman Catholic church as her foundation. She does employ fantasy elements by bringing demons and angels into the story as actual characters. These are the kind of plot elements I like and enjoy when authors use them. But I do tend to prefer a more subtle approach to building a character. Usually I like Douglass, but I found Thomas to be a heavy handed personality.

Anne Bishop is an author who really turns religion on its head. In her Black Jewels trilogy, she uses Satan as an actual character in the story, and not an evil one at that. In fact, her books are not particularly religious at all. Mostly she uses names that we are familiar with, such as Lucifer (changed to Luciver) and Hell as a framework for her story. Perhaps her intention is to simply get the reader to think about what the Hell mythos means. Maybe she is suggesting that our whole system of belief is based on real events that were later recast as larger and more meaningful than they really were. Personally, I think she was just inspired by the idea of Hell to create a very imaginative story. But then, I don't tend to be terribly superstitious.

 I don't look at Harry Potter as evil; as I mentioned in an earlier post some do. In fact I think trying to tie Harry Potter to religion is specious at best. Witchcraft and wizardry are not offered as a religion in the Harry Potter books. It is merely presented as an ability. I think most fantasy authors get that religion can be good and bad depending on how it's perceived by any individual. I like that it's a subject that is constantly explored in fiction (and non-fiction). I didn't even get into one the biggest and most controversial books dealing with religion in this post, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. But for now I am going to stick with fantasy novels. (Though many might feel Brown's book fits into this category)If there are any books that deal with religion in a way you like, please let me know. I'd like to read them.


Paloma Negra said...

I love reading science fiction that carries the theme of spiritality and how it's evolved..yada yada. You probably have but if not, try the "Mists of Avalon" and its related books such as "Lady of the Lake" etc., and in conjuction with that "The Chalice and Blade" gives a good historical perspective on the topic.

SQT said...

I may have to try The Mists of Avalon again. I have to admit the character of Gwenhwyfar didn't appeal to me much. If I remember correctly, she was rather weak. But I find as I get older my taste changes, and I do still have the book.

And if the book has a good spiritual side to it, I would probably enjoy it more now.
Thanks for the recommendations.

Paloma Negra said...

Yeah Gwenyfar was a sick puppy. But I think it was because she was scared stiff by the Christian perspective imposed on her of good vs. evil. it screwed her up which what made the druids so cool. They gained strength from being connected to nature. They resisted Christianity, which I geuss I have a bias for. No offense intended if that is your faith. To each her own.

Thanks about the tats. Cat's are intuitive. Sometimes I use these blogs like a personal journal, which sometimes feels good and other times leaves me feeling too vulnerable. I think "Antonio" was looking out for me. Then again my cat's are seeming to be progressively more needy. We have transitioned to apartment living and my days are long. I can't even piss without one of them in my lap!Poor little ones. They weren't meant to be couped up all day inside.

The Kanji or Japanese character says "bravery".

I like how the tats turned out and the artist was a major hottie! ;) I might have to go soon for that dragon I've been wanting...eheheheh

SQT said...

I like your perspective on The Mists of Avalon. I don't have any particular loyalty to Christianity. I think it's good to look at religion critically, which is why I like it when author's explore the subject.

I actually went to school in Japan, though with so many Kanji, there was little chance I'd recognize the one for bravery. The one's we learned in school were the more basic ones. The only one's I remember are the characters for Japan, book and tree. Not much for conversations sake....

Crunchy Carpets said...

Steven Brust wrote a great book called To Reign in Hell....it was great. Does not make the Angels look very clever.

I also love how Dan Simmons handles religion in the Hyperion novels.

And of course, Gaimans Sandman books tackle heaven is the best in my books !

While the Da Vinci Code was crap IMO I do like books about the mysticism behind religion and Christianity.

SQT said...

I actually think I have one of Gaiman's Sandman books on my bookshelf, but haven't read it yet. I must do that. I haven't read anything by Steven Brust, so I apprecite the recommendation.

OJ said...

you should really have the His Dark Materials trilogy in here....an amazing series by Phillip Pullman.
the way the Church fits into society in the book is very interesting...makes you think...
its not quite approved by christians but who cares its awesome :D