All this talk of The Hunger Games has led me to consider some of the other works of fiction that I’ve valued during my life. Not merely those like Suzanne Collins’ book that have theological implications, but pieces of writing that have struck me to the core.
There’s a lot I haven’t read (for instance, The Brothers Karamazov or anything by Frederick Buechner). However, the following short list represents 5 works of fiction that I’d encourage all believers to consider reading. They’ve spoken in the midst of my faith, and I hope they have something to say to yours.
5. Gilead byMarilynne Robinson. An elegy to a modern-day country pastor reflecting on his life and family history. The book is written as a letter from an old man to his very young son. Powerful, insightful, and touching. A must read for any in the ministry.
4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Like the lyrics of U2, Steinbeck’s work is beautifully poetic and borrows heavily from the vocabulary and rich imagery of the Christian faith. Perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than here. As a story located in middle America during the Great Depression, it is a profoundly realistic yet apocalyptic piece oriented in some way around the idea of the kingdom of God. It could even be seen as an extended reflection on the Beatitudes. See also U2’s cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ.”
3. The Singer by Calvin Miller: The Singer reinterprets the life of Jesus in poetic form. Christ appears here as a great Troubadour, and his message takes the form of the Ancient Starsong. Situating the story in the midst of a medieval ballad or epic poem, Miller’s insights are beautiful and revealing. He stands with both Tolkien (The Silmarillion) and Lewis (The Magician’s Nephew) as he ties the story of Creation/Fall to music. Harmony and discord, indeed.
2. Perelandra by C. S. Lewis: The second book in Lewis’s so-called “Space Trilogy,” and in my mind the best. His is the story of one Edwin Ransom, a human being sent to another planet to intervene in a cosmic struggle. The planet’s name is Perelandra and it, like Earth before, exists in a pre-Fall state of Paradise. The forces of the Devil have also sent a representative to try and muck things up. Ransom’s experiences on this Edenic world and his reflections on beauty, truth, life, and the idea of sin make this a powerful read. It is as awe-inspiring in its depiction of Perelandra as it is disconcerting in its revelation of how much our world has disordered and ruined what was originally intended for good.
1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell: You’re going to have to trust me on this one. Yes, The Sparrow is about Jesuits in space. But it is also probably the best book I’ve read in the past decade (and trust me, I’ve read A LOT). Not for the light-hearted, Russell’s tale is devastating and beautiful all at once. It captures the trials of faith even as it does the question of God’s presence in the midst of His very real absence. Her main character Father Emilio Sandoz is a tragic figure whose story and spiritual journey unfold slowly throughout the novel, daring us to read on. I challenge you to read this book and not be moved to consider more deeply the questions of faith.
How about you? What fictional works fire your faith?