I have managed to get a new perspective on writing since February 13th. No, there wasn't something intentional about seeking said perspective. And no, I haven't gained this insight due to doing any writing. February 13th was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season that leads to Easter (for Catholics and Protestants at least; our Orthodox brethren follow the Julian calendar and so their Lent begins this coming Monday, their Easter being May 5th). As I try to do every year, I made a point--for the entirety of Lent-- to give up something that normally I want/need/enjoy regularly. This year I decided to sacrifice two things. The first was peanut butter and, except for a couple of initial withdrawal tremors, that has gone without a hitch. The other thing I gave up was writing or editing any of my books. No new ventures, no corrections of old stuff. Take a break cold turkey.
The lack of writing my fiction has opened up more time for me to enjoy reading, so I've been filling my time with general fiction (like my wife's copy of Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love) but especially mysteries. As I've shared before, I have a staggering affinity for crime fiction and murder mysteries, so I've stocked up over the past month, and police procedurals and classic whodunits are adorning my bedside table yet again.
Ah yes, back to this new perspective. It really begins with an old perspective that comes from the faith tradition in which I live. It is that of viewing human history as an interweaving series of meaningful events through the movements of creation, ruin (which many call "the Fall into sin"), and redemption. I would also add "restoration" to the end point, but for the coming days I want to focus on the first three, because I re-discovered just how embedded these elements are in much of fiction. Hence, today I want to talk about creation in story.
This is not to get into the evolution-creation debate, or to talk about the age of the earth (I don't think the Bible concerns itself with that latter issue). Rather, it's important to note what the consensus Christian tradition has said about creation. Namely, it is God's joyous, special work to craft a world that reflects Him and bears His imprint. The Artist constructs the ultimate art gallery. It is a space--to quote Gerald Manley Hopkins--"charged with the grandeur of God." And the ultimate evaluation comes from the Maker Himself. At the end of each orchestral movement, each creative act, God pronounces that what He has put in place is "good". Each time, that is, until he creates humans, which he designates as "very good."
It is a world as the Author meant it to be. It is normal existence as the Architect desired. And somehow this has come together recently as I've read through several books of note:
Francinc Rivers, Reedeming Love: Even though much of the book depicts the prostitution of a woman named Angel and her resistance to Michael Hosea's love, the book begins with Angel's earlier years as Sarah, a beautiful, sweet girl in New England holding on to whatever innocence she can.
P.D. James, The Murder Room: Despite the dysfunctionality of the Dupayne family, the setting of the very unique Dupayne Museum of the inter-war years gives the reader a sense of normalcy and human creativity.
L.B. Graham, The Binding of the Blade series: Prologues, hints and flashbacks show us that the land of Kirthanin was originally a place of hope and happiness, created by Allfather and under the wise rule of the Titans.
M.C. Beaton, anything in her Hamish Macbeth mysteries: The idyllic village of Lochdubh (pronounced loch-DOO), with its picturesque lake and bucolic environs, is the picture of contentment until the plot thickens.
And perhaps the best two examples:
C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: Even before the White Witch, King Miraz, the Green Lady, Rabadash, and others can work evil, Aslan sings a wholesome world of Narnia into existence in The Magician's Nephew.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Is there any more memorable fictional world than Middle Earth? Yet many of us forget that Tolkien's universe began with music from the Ainur spirits created by Eru Illuvatar, with a plan to make a beautiful musical score of Illuvatar's design.
My point is that fiction--even if not imitating life--can function in a way that reflects the movements of our history. That history has a beginning, a good beginning, and even around us--broken though this world may be--we can still see traces of a good creation that bears its Maker's heartbeat. Good fiction introduces the reader to a world that bears a sense of good function and form and where the reader wants to find himself or herself.
But nothing lasts forever. Including a good beginning. But that's a post for next time.