I hope it doesn’t surprise you to find out that C. S. Lewis wrote speculative fiction. After all, his Chronicles of Narnia are still fairly well known, aren’t they? His Space Trilogy is also well known. I’d even consider The Great Divorce to be speculative fiction. The Screwtape Letters are clearly not meant as non-fiction – at least not in the conventional sense.
If you walk into your average Christian bookseller, you’re sure to find a fair amount of Lewis. Granted, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe might be in the kid’s section (and appropriately). Granted, his Great Divorce might not be on the fiction shelves. Yet, Lewis typically gets a lot of respect from your “average” Christian. Here, of course, I’m talking about evangelical Christianity, the big-box Christianity that seems to pervade the typical picture of the Faith.
So why is it that a speculative fiction writer gets so much applause… but speculative fiction is relegated to the kid’s section in Christian book stores?
Let me approach this from another angle.
I hope it doesn’t surprise you to find out that C. S. Lewis wrote Christian fiction. After all, his Chronicles of Narnia are still fairly well known, aren’t they? And if you think that Aslan could be Mohammed, frankly, you’re an idiot. If you read The Great Divorce (and I recommend that you do), you can’t escape his Christianity. The Screwtape Letters scream Christian doctrine.
Yet, if you walk into your average bookseller, you’re sure to find a fair amount of Lewis. Granted, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe might be in the kid’s section (and appropriately). The Space Trilogy might be in the science fiction section. Yes, Lewis gets a fair amount of respect from literate people.
So why is it that a Christian fiction writer gets so much applause… but Christian fiction is relegated to a little shelf over there in an average bookseller?
Now, I think I can explain why you put Christian fiction over in its own section at Barnes and Noble. The people who read Christian fiction, at least by anecdote, rarely read anything else or are offended by those other books. Barnes and Noble doesn’t have anything against Christian fiction; it simply knows demographics, what sells, and the best way to sell it. So Christian fiction gets its own little section over there, the way Christian fiction readers like it, so their Amish romances never have to hear the terrifying word “Harlequin.”
Christian booksellers also know their audience. They’re businesses, after all. So if the Christian book market supports romances of the historical bent along with the occasional thriller or horror story, that’s what they stock.
But this gets me back to my big question, and the one that’s more pressing for me:
Why is it that the Christian world applauds C. S. Lewis, a writer of speculative fiction, but they don’t support Christian speculative fiction?
Does he get a pass because he wrote allegory so frigging well? That may be a large part of it. You can read his stories as more than simple stories. In Aslan we see Christ anew, for instance. It’s not God’s Word, but he opens our eyes to reality in exciting ways we may never have considered before.
Does Lewis get a pass because he wrote other things besides speculative fiction? Possibly. After all, you can love Lewis and loath Narnia. Just stick with The Problem of Pain or Mere Christianity. All those other stories simply get lumped in as his greater work.
Does Lewis get a pass because he’s considered a “classic” and therefore he must be stocked on the shelves no matter what? I suspect there’s more truth to this last than anything else. As another blogger has noted, Lewis would not likely get published in today’s Christian fiction market. He’s far too speculative and steps on far too many toes! Lewis likely wouldn’t get published in today’s general fiction market, either. He’s far too Christian!
I guess Lewis is simply a foible of the market. Specualtive fiction? Talking animals? Taking strong stances on unpopular subjects? Yeah. Stuff like that just doesn’t play to the general markets these days.