Thursday, February 07, 2008

Lost Genres

I was thinking this morning about the phrase “lost genre” and all that phrase implies. I mean, I know we use it on the Lost Genre Guild Blog to mean Biblical speculative fiction. But the more I think about it, the more I think that there must be other lost genres out there. We just have to realize what they are.

After all, Christian fiction has done a pretty great job exploring slice-of-life genre, romance genre, even fantasy. But there are other other genres it could explore which it frankly has not. Genres such as mysteries, for instance. Not a lot of Christian mystery writers since G K Chesterton and Dorothea Sayers. The only one I can think of is P D James. I used to like even the flaky genres: the Christian boarding school genre for instance: Tom Brown's Schooldays and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, genres that explored coming of age and spiritual growth of either children or schoolteachers. And then there are genres which no one really has explored. The only recent coming of age schoolboy stories I can remember tend to be stories of nihilism or stories where someone accepts his sexuality or alienation from society, stories such as A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye.

One lost genre I really miss is, ANTHROPOLOGICAL FANTASY. Being a minority, a person whose background is non-European, a lover of missionary stories, and someone who is always reading or watching something about tribal people, I'm drawn to this kind of fantasy. And it seems to me that with so many Christian missionaries out in the world, we Christians should really have done more anthropological fantasy than we have. Have we even done any? I can think of anthropological novels written by non-Christians --Michaela Roessner's Walkabout Woman, for example is one of many. But the only Christian anthropological I can think of is Susan Palwick’s second novel The Necessary Beggar. (The book is fairly kind to Christians so maybe Palwick is.)

We Christians have seen some missionary or other coming and we listen enrapt and look at the slides of exotice children, women and warriors in elaborate clothing... and then we leave the church and... forget.

Perhaps we just don’t like dealing with cultures that aren’t western. Perhaps we don’t connect to cultures that are too foreign to us. Perhaps we don't think they have grand noble stories, histories, and folklore. Perhaps we Christians are just insular. Perhaps we simply don’t love our far-off neighbors as ourselves.

Don Richardson’s missionary book, “Eternity in their hearts,” is a book which talks about the spirituality and folklore of pagan cultures. He describes the spiritual hooks contained in those cultures that lead people to Christ. Cultures which have prophecies of a Lost Book. Cultures where God’s name is known. Cultures which have some amazing folklore that points to God. Consider the Chinese definition of righteousness. It’s a pictograph depicting a man underneath a bloody lamb.

How much fun it would be to write a book about a person from one of those cultures finding that his religion and writing alphabet point to the risen Christ as savior. And if you don’t want to deal with actual societies, consider how much fun it is to create a whole society out of whole cloth...to create clans, religions, tribes, and a spiritual hook that will lead the characters of that society to Christ.

How much fun it would be to trust the Comforter to create a society for us with a strange religion that secretly has the gospel hidden inside it. I’m creating a sotry world now where everyone is deaf-mute. I’m so excited wondering what kind of religion a culture like this will have...and what kind of spiritual hook God would put into a culture such as this.

We’re at the end of time now. We were called to go from Jerusalem first, then Samaria, then to the outermost parts of the world. It does make me sad to think that western Christian writers have spent so much time exploring European cultures when Christianity is (and the United States is fast becoming) multicultural.

Christian fantasy is to enamored of Gaelic fairies and English lords and dukes. And Christian science fiction concerns itself only with the apocalypse....and how the apocalypse affects the western world. Is anyone out there ready to do an apocalyptical story about an unsaved tribe in the middle of nowhere? I’d like to think someone could write it.

As I said there are probably many lost genres out there that most of us haven't thought of. I heard once that there is a genre in the Japanese publishing world called The Business Novel. Oh, that sounds neat! I could see that as a great Christian genre too. All the ethics of greed versus issues of poverty versus issues of stewardship. There's the social upheaval novel. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe comes to mind. Also those novels by Sinclair Lewis. (Okay, okay, Frank Peretti tackled abortion with The Prophet but that book was way way too preachy...and..if I may say so from a secular reader's viewpoint ...very badly written.)

Will anyone write these? And write them in an exciting way? God only knows. -C
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