Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Christian Romance

I don't think I've ever written a blog post at 5:00 in the morning before. The rather pathetic reason is that I couldn't sleep, and spent so much of the last half hour formulating paragraphs for this post that I finally decided to just get up in write in, in hopes that my brain would then let me go back to sleep. So we'll see how that works.

I was recently loaned two books that would fall under the category of "Christian Romance." And while they have a narrative drive that is so strong I could hardly put them down (most Christian Romance does have a strong narrative drive. That's how they manage to sell copies) the romance was so poorly written that I finally gave up on the second book.

Or rather, I gave up because the romance was poorly written, but also the driving force of the book. There wasn't much else to it besides the romance stories.

Whoa. Wait. What am I saying? Don't I love romance? Isn't that what I want to write?

Oh yes. But not the poor quality stuff that seems to permanate bookstores these days. Stuff that focuses more on lust than love. (Believe me, Twilight looks amazing next to these books). And while the authors try to work in redeeming messages, they are either irrelevant, or overshadowed by the emotion-driven unrealistic shallow and poorly written romances. Romances that spend a great deal of time writing things like "He's so cute...with those eyes and those shoulders...stop it (heroine's name)! He's not for you!" Bleh!

(I am dead serious. Twilight is way better than this stuff.)

That's not to say that females don't have those thoughts, but they do NOT need to be the focus of the book! My bookshelves are full of well-told stories that are both Christain written and romance dirven - that are not female soft porn.

I started my reading career with fiction like the "Mandie" mysteries and "Elsie Dinsmore." Which while not always amazing writing, at least had interesting plots, well sketched characters (however perfect Elsie was) and strong morals. (And nothing inappropriate in the way of romance!)

My first real introduction to the the world of Christian Romance was through the writings of Jannette Oke. And now that I see what the rest of that world is like, I can really appreciate Oke for what she did in writing sweet, clean romances that did actually have more of a plot to them than the romance itself. While not anything that's going to go down as a classic, her books are certainly (and have already) going to be passed down to future generations as worthy Christian fiction for young females.

It is at this point that I have to stop and be thankful for having a mother who had a fairly decent taste in Christian fiction. The books that I've received from her, while not always well-written, at least were not horrible romances. (They weren't always amazing, but they were at least more believable than the cheesy stuff I'm ranting against here. Yes. I admit it. I'm ranting. Hopefully somewhat coherently). It was my mother who introduced me to an author who I still consider to be one of the best (if not the best) Christian writers out there: Bodie Thoene.

Someday I need to sit down and write proper reviews of Thoene's books because they are amazing. The Zion Covenant series which was the first one I read, still remains my favorite and is definentely the strongest of her series. With her husband on hand to make sure that her historical research is faultless (or at least as close as human work can be) and with Bodie's own strong sense of plot, human nature, and love of Christ (though not of being preachy) there is no chance that her books could be mere "romances." They have amazing love stories, but they really are about deep and lasting love and never come across as cheesy, cheap, or lustful (unless that is clearly the point!).

At this point I start feeling a bit spoiled, because having already been introduced to such a marvelous author as Bodie Thoene, it doesn't seem right that I should also make acquaintance with the works of Liz Curtis Higgs. While heavier on the romance than Thoene, Higgs writes it so masterfully that it becomes an example of what Christian Romance should be. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's the very best out there, but it is definitely a role model for those who which to write something that would fall under the line of "Christian Romance." Having just written a review of Thorn in My Heart I don't think I need to praise her virtues further here.

Though I haven't read nearly as much of her writings as the other authors I've mentioned, Francine Rivers deserves a place on this list as well. Her "Mark of the Lion" Trilogy, though mature, definetely falls into the catagory of "Excellent Christian Romance."

And then there is Regina Doman, whose works also belong on this list. Some of the sweetest love stories I've ever read lie within the pages of her books, as well as four of my favorite characters. Heartwrenchingly real, the love stories ring true, while not taking over the mystery and action that makes her books so much more than mere romance.

And while I'm at it, I might as well round out the list with those Christian ladies who have gone before us. Jane Austen, daughter of a preacher, was certainly a Christian, and her worldview and faith shines through her writing. This clearly shows us that Christianity has deep roots in the romance field. (A good book that looks at Christianity and romance in Austen from a practical perspective is "Dating Mr. Darcy" by Sarah Arthur).

Even more explicitely Christian is Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre." Jane is an intensely Christian heroine, a fact that is made extremely obvious in Bronte's use of the first person, which gives us direct access to our heroine's exact thoughts. (We don't get quite this measure of privilege with Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood.)

And lastly I'd like to mention Catherine Marshall's works "Christy" and "Julie" which have already stood the test of time and stand out as an example of convaying not only a strong Christian worldview, but also a strong Christian message that impacts the reader without being overly preachy. And certainly nothing cheesy or lustful here.

So. Yes. I have extremely high expectations for Christian romance. All these women have set wonderful examples in their particular niche of the genre (whether they technically are categorized in that genre or not) and I think there is little excuse for putting out the sort of book that I began this post with.

It's important to note that the real fault lies not with the authors, but with the publishing houses. Not that the authors shouldn't be working to write better stuff, but if the publishers accept their work without insisting on higher standards, the authors will never have an incentive to improve their work. The publishing bar is currently so low that really horrible stuff can get in. I mean, I've known teenagers to write better stories than some of what has come out in the last decade or so. It's sad. And Christians, of all people, should be setting a example of excellence.

There we go. Post finished. That only took...let's hour to write? Hmm. Hope it was worth it. (Meaning that either a) I'll be able to sleep now b) it'll make an impact on someone or c) both).

Good morning. :)


max said...

I really liked that post...and I think we need to set higher standards. Especially for Christians! I look at Christian music (my area of interest :) ) and there is so much poor music in that genre.
Then Christian films are generally laughed at...but its still a fairly young area.
Books are the only place where Christians have really come before many secular works, but then the bar is so low that poor quality writing makes it in...
Well, at least the poor quality books being published gives young writers hope they will get published haha

Rosa said...


I have had similar thoughts on Christian romance for a long time. While I have found some real gems (Redeeming Love, The Fairy Tale Novels, etc) I have been so disappointed in so much of the stuff being marketed to Christian girls; most are either overly preachy, predictable or corny.

I'm going to have to read some of your recommendations!

-Rosa "The Lady of the Red Violin"

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Five o'clock in the morning, even interior spell check may fail ... welcome to my world for back then (hope it was not too often)!

How do you like Chronicle of Susan Pevensie - the chapters I wrote so far that is?

If your husband is a reader, let him take a look too!