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Monday, April 27, 2015

No Zombies Allowed (in Christian Fiction)

One of the major hurdles I encountered when shopping my first novel “The Resurrection,” had to do with two factors: 1.) It was aimed at a Christian audience, and 2.) The story contained a ghost. 

And Christian fiction doesn’t do ghosts. 

The eventual publisher accepted the book on the basis that the ghost was peripheral, a MacGuffin (or so they believed). Nevertheless, they asked me to write an Afterword clarifying the inclusion of a ghost in Christian fiction. (You can find a summary of that Afterword in this post Another Perspective on Ghosts.) 

 I’ve since learned that my feelings about Christian stories containing ghosts, are no different than my feelings about Christian stories containing vampires, werewolves, leprechauns, and mermaids. 

Everything’s fair game. 

This puts me at odds with mainstream Christian writers and readers who consider certain fictional archetypes off-limits. 

Last year, I learned of another fictional archetype that is, apparently, off-limits for mainstream Christian fiction — zombies. 

In a post entitled How Then Can It Be ‘Christian’? novelist James Somers stated what has become the rubric, the defining principle, for what guides many Christian authors and readers: 

 …while we do have freedom to explore many avenues, we should never find ourselves compromising God’s Word or his person…

Likewise, we should never present a view of the world that contradicts God’s Word. (emphasis mine) 

Of course, this is fairly open-ended. I happen to think Harry Potter, Stephen King’s The Stand, Dean Koontz’ Odd Thomas, and Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find all meet these specifications. However, the devil’s in the details. Because something can be found in each of these tales that potentially “compromises God’s Word” to someone, in some fashion. 

And that’s the rub with this approach. Forcing fiction to neatly fit your theology is a losing proposition… at least, if creative storytelling is your aim

Case in point is the conclusion Somer’s draws based on his prescription:
 

I’m currently working on a new novel series that would seem like a zombie plague has broken out and threatens the world. Are zombies–the living dead–real beings? Could they actually exist? Of course they couldn’t. Dead is dead. Muscles don’t work without blood flow and a heart to pump it and lungs to oxygenate it. So, I can’t do living dead, but I can explore a story about infected individuals who are living and what such a pestilence or plague could do. (emphasis mine) 

So “while we do have freedom to explore many avenues… we should never present a view of the world that contradicts God’s Word.” And since the dead can’t reanimate, the Christian author “can’t do living dead.” 

Interestingly, the author gives himself a bit of wiggle room in describing his new novel by employing a plague “that would SEEM like a zombie plague.” Thus, the only way for a Christian writer to employ zombies without presenting “a view of the world that contradicts God’s Word,” is to create a plague that doesn’t reanimate the dead but zombifies the living. 

Problem solved. 

I have long argued that one of the inherent problems with Christian speculative fiction is that Christian spec-fic, by its very nature, cannot be speculative enough. We impose overly strict theological expectations on our fiction. Our fiction needs fit snugly within a biblical worldview, however we interpret that view. Thus, basic fictional archetypes like ghosts, vampires, dragons, zombies, werethings, space aliens, mermaids, shapeshifters, and shades can all pose tremendous problems for the Christian author. Why? Because they potentially “present a view of the world that contradicts God’s Word.” (This is also one of the reasons Why Christian Fiction Writers Love the Nephilim and why Christian spec author write so much epic fantasy — Fantasy fiction is our buffer against theological scrutiny.) So in “real world” settings, some characters or archetypes become totally off-limits for Christian authors. 

Like zombies. 

Unless they just SEEM like zombies. 

But if zombies are simply fictional constructs, why can’t they be just what they are: the living dead? 

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The Ghost Box, The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

3 comments:

Ron Estrada said...

I'm not sure how you write anything under a Christian label without being judged a heretic. We can never please all of our brothers and siters. So why even try? If my zombie, vampire, or wereperson convinces a reader to look a little deeper into the teachings of Christ, how have I failed? It's fiction. Doesn't that imply that we're not saying anything factual? Man, just wait 'til they see my time traveling cats (really, it explains a lot).

Thanks for the post, Mike.

Ane Mulligan said...

Well, I'm anxious to see Ron's time traveling cats. LOL Good spot, Mike. Why is it the CBA is so down on ghosts? Jesus even told his disciples he wasn't a ghost when he came across the water. I know all the scriptural references of "absent from the body is present with the Lord". And to be honest, I hope I never see a ghost, but I haven't totally ruled out the existence. I even ... gasp ... wrote a ghost story. It's kind of funny, too.

J. S. Bailey said...

The topic of this post is part of the reason I ditched the Christian label and went indie. I don't need strict guidelines to stifle my creativity! (Also, my novel Rage's Echo is about a ghost. Part of it is even told from the ghost's point of view.)