Stephen King as Christian novelist

Stephen King as Christian novelist June 20, 2012

An interesting take on King that doesn’t really surprise me at all. I read an interview with him once in which he remarked that he saw himself standing in the great tradition of such New England Protestant preachers as Jonathan “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Edwards. I also recall him writing a review of A Prayer for Owen Meany in which he instantly caught the fact that the novel was basically a retelling of the Paschal Mystery. People who aren’t thinking Christianly don’t notice such stuff. So, for instance, it had to be pointed out to Steven Spielberg that ET was also basically a retelling of the Christian story (Hero descends from heaven, is friend of children, has the power to heal, teaches wisdom, is persecuted, suffers, dies, comes back to life, promises to remain with his disciple, ascends into heaven. Where have you heard that story before?). Spielberg was surprised.

It’s hard for an artist to avoid God, even when the artist is an atheist and even when he’s making schlock. It’s what critic Jeffrey Overstreet calls the Inescapability of the Gospel. I remarked on this here.

What it means for us is that the mere fact that an artist is an atheist or pagan or whatnot does not mean their work is necessarily going to be anti-christian. A good artist who sets out to tell the truth will, by virtue of the fact that he is a good artist, wind up revealing Christ whether he realizes it or not and whether he likes it or not in some cases. Of course, an artist can choose to let his hostility to Christ to actually overwhelm, distort, pervert and deaden his better artistic judgement, as for instance, Phillip Pullman did, resulting in this delectable autopsy of the His Dark Materials trilogy by the inimitable John C. Wright.

But a decent artist who does not set out to keep all traces of Christ out of his secondary world can’t help but letting him in. Good art tells the truth, and Jesus is the truth. So he finds ways into our lives far beyond apologetics syllogisms.

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  • Spastic Hedgehog

    My husband says the same thing about Doctor Who. He was speaking to a fellow Whovian (a devout Buddhist) this week who was amazed by the one episode in the new series where the Doctor becomes human to save humanity, lives and suffers in a human existence, dies and then comes back to life. My husband was like “Yeah, I feel like I’ve heard that story somewhere else before.”

  • Karen

    Read Dorothy Sayers’s “The Mind Of The Maker.” She makes the argument that we are the Imago Dei most when we create, and that the first duty of a creator is to make good work. A good work, regardless of the beliefs of the maker will reveal something of God.

  • KML

    I’ve said this before here, but Dr. Who is SO Catholic. There’s a doctoral thesis in there somewhere.

    Also, I just finished reading Steven King’s “On Writing.” Great read. In general, I think a lot of science fiction/horror/fantasy stuff plays into some eternal themes more easily than other genres. It takes human nature and untethers it from the everyday, giving license to more fully explore without playing on the reader’s usual fallback positions and assumptions.

    Makes me think of this: “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.” – Flannery O’Connor

  • Ted Seeber

    My favorite description of a possible alternate explanation for the creation of the universe comes from the atheist (and very prolific) author Isaac Asimov in his short story _The Lase Question_. He completely missed the miniaturization trend in computers, however- there is no reason to think that a future computer-God who becomes the God of the next universe (or with the concept of circular time, becomes the God of this universe) would be so large it would have to exist outside of the four dimensions as we know them. Given current real world trends, such a god-like computer would probably be subatomic.

  • Stephen King has long been my favorite contemporary Christian writer. I really do think he has the heart of a small boy… and not in a jar. I once annoyed a Catholic horror novelist at a party by asserting that I thought King’s writing showed he has a beautiful soul. I pray for Stephen King all the time , especially for his marriage. This is one man whose clay feet I never want to see wrt his marriage. In an interview once it was mentioned in praise how refreshing it was to see a wildly popular and wealthy celebrity male who was still loyal to his older (and, implied the subtext, fatter) wife. King sounded indignant in his answer, saying that HE was the lucky one to have a wonderful woman like Tabitha love him and stick with him — that he would be lost without her.

    Stephen King, like Andrew Greeley, has been tremendously influential in my visceral understanding of God’s workings in the wounded world of men. Faults they both have , being poor sinners like myself, but I will always be grateful to both.

  • Horror takes a lot of flack. But I have long argued that it is one of the most unashamedly and unapologetically Christian of all the genres. Obviously that’s not to say that every horror story is Christian. I only mean to say there is more “Christian” in horror than anywhere else. Stephen King said it very well with that quote from ‘Dance Macabre’: “Within the framework of most horror tales we find a moral code so strong it would make a Puritan smile.”

    How often have we seen immoral behavior leading to a character’s demise in a horror story? Good triumphing over true evil? Christianity used as THE ANSWER to the problem? (And not just in a metaphorical or allegorical way.) How often do they use priests as heros? Crucifixes and Holy Water as weapons? Churches as safe hideaways? I could go on and on. But I sense that nobody is actually reading this.

    • Mark Shea

      I read it.

  • The author of that article certainly has a point. There are many scriptural allusions in Stephen Kings’ writings along with stories of redemption and grace. Though there is also often a rather extreme anti-Christian attitude that started with the mother in this first novel Carrie and shows itself from time to time. For example Under the Dome was quite extreme in this regard where every single Christian character was not only a hypocrite, but quite evil. The only sympathetic portrayal in this book was was the woman preacher who had lost her faith in God. Though Fr. Callahan in Salem’s Lot and some of the Dark Tower’s book is a sympathetic character despite being a fallen whisky-priest.

    Though despite this his books keep pulling me back in as he is a gifted storyteller.

  • Hmmm. Under the Dome is still on my to-read list. Your comment, Jeff, is making me think I should just skip it. Does it have other redeeming qualities?

    I started reading Storm of the Century a couple of days ago, but put it down in favor of The Robe (yeah, the novel about the Roman soldier who won Christ’s robe in the dice game.) I put Storm of the Century on my Netflix instant queue instead. It’s just too hard to read a script. I do remember the mini-series being very disturbing. So I look forward to viewing it again. Meanwhile, The Robe is wonderful. The movie is so bare bones next to the detail of the novel. And there has never been a time when I have felt more curious about a well-written examination of trying to be a decent human being and a citizen of the Roman Empire.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    its fitting stephen is not only a devout christian, but a horror writer