Christian cringe is real.
As Lorehaven’s Fantastical Truth podcast explored in episode 126, Christian fiction shares plenty of campy conversion scenes, bad parodies, and simplistic Christ-figures to poke fun of.
There’s a reason many of these tropes come off as cringy: they don’t feel true-to-life. We know cringey events can only work in a fictional world. And so many readers rightly want more in the fiction they read.
Could we enter a new “golden age” for fantastical Christian fiction?
This question has featured in several Lorehaven podcast episodes over this past year, most notably episode 110, in which E. Stephen Burnett and Zackary Russell devoted to this question. While I’m hesitant to use the phrase “golden age” just yet, I favor the idea that we could at least be entering a “silver age.”
If you look at the fantastical Christian novels published over the past several years, you will see many admirable works, from Nadine Brandes’s Fawkes to Catherine Jones Payne’s Breakwater to Harper’s Silence the Siren to Kerry Nietz’s Amish Vampires in Space. To riff off Realm Makers’ old slogan, this isn’t your grandmother’s “corny Christian fiction.” Today’s Christian fantastical fiction often faithfully grapples with robust themes in entertaining ways.
Some critics too easily claim that Christian-made stories often portray characters with non-Christian beliefs in cartoonish ways. You might already know the stereotypes: the villainous atheist, the angry Muslim, or the scheming liberal.
These figures may appear in evangelical movies. Contrary to some critics’ charges, such characters aren’t terribly widespread in Christian-made novels. But even when these novels don’t turn non-Christian characters into cartoons, the novels don’t always present compelling arguments for the non-Christian’s position.
Lani Forbes’s Mesoamerican-inspired fantasy The Seventh Sun is one book that does present non-Christian characters who are complex and sympathetic—and even dares to portray people who defend human sacrifice, of all things.
This is certainly a fashionably late time to still be posting book recaps of 2021. It’s been a rather busy end of 2021 and beginning of 2022 for me over here in North Carolina. But lest I break the tradition I’ve been sticking pretty regularly to over the past several years, I did want to post about my top ten books from last year before the month of February rolls around.
As has been the standard for these lists, I generally keep re-reads off this list (unless it dramatically changed my view of the book), so those won’t be represented. But without any further commentary, let’s dig into my favorite new reads I’ve done this past year. (As always, titles are linked to my longer reviews.)
10. Truman by David McCullough
I’ve always enjoyed David McCullough’s biographies of different presidents. This book was no exception. A great work that really did an admirable job in bringing the 33rd president of the United States to life.
One of the original Dune novel’s arguably best portions did not appear in the 2021 film. I’m speaking, of course, about the infamous dinner scene. Duke Leto Atreides and Lady Jessica invite a smuggler, a banker, and an ecologist for a royal banquet. This sets up a dinner theater performance featuring the secretive characters.
Many fans felt disappointed to see this scene cut from the film—even if the scene’s internal nature would make it hard to portray effectively onscreen. Dune author Frank Herbert uses this scene to establish many of the story’s hidden tensions, along with the sense of shrewdness that House Atreides possesses.
Today we will explore that virtue of shrewdness (or cunning), following after last week’s part 1 that examined how Duke Leto’s nobility shows how Christians can live in a hostile world. In that article, I unpacked what it means for Christians to live in negative spaces and how Leto constantly displayed nobility against pressing odds, and how Leto’s fictional portrayal can give Christians a model to emulate.
Of all the films the pandemic delayed, Dennis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part One topped my anticipation list. This fall, the final film did not disappoint me. Gorgeous shots showed plenty of spectacle, making this one of the best-looking sci-fi films I’ve seen. Combine that with stellar acting and fantastic adaption (despite some skipped scenes from the book), and this made one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
Still, I didn’t notice one of the adaptation choices until my second viewing. Dune spotlights the noble character of House Atreides, and specifically Duke Leto (played by Oscar Isaac). From the start, Dune consistently elevates Duke Leto’s virtue in ways that can’t help attracting viewers to him and his high ideals.
For adult Christian fantasy novel fans, reading can feel like a lonely pursuit.
Back in high school, several church friends loved joining me to explore the latest trending fantasy and sci-fi novels. We had a blast reading and discussing works like Cornelia Funke’s Ink Trilogy, Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom, Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle series, Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven, and many other works. These books gave me joy, and not just through the thrills of reading them. I found joy by discussing their stories with others and trying to predict what came next.
Flash forward to adult life.
Suddenly that sort of community is harder to find—especially in Christian circles.
Marvel’s Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier began with star-spangled plans but, like its patriotic heroes, ended up with a complicated legacy.
This Captain America franchise sequel did offer many highlights. I enjoyed learning more fallout from the Blip (that is, Thanos’s “snap” decimation). For a TV series, it shared some fantastic action sequences. It boasted great character moments. And Baron Zemo was an absolute show-stealer.
Several glitches, however, kept Falcon from fully taking off. The story made admirable attempts to deal with real-world themes, but these often came off as clunky and simplistic. (Both conservative and liberal media critics I follow on Twitter recognized this.) As an organization, the Flag Smashers’ goal and ideology seemed terribly confusing. But worst of all, the character arc of John Walker, the new Captain America, ended up a bungled mess.