01 November 2010


In Festo Omnium Sanctorum

Well, I blogged about "dark angels" two months ago, in time for the Feast of the Archangels. Why not blog about "saints" on the Solemnity of All Saints?

As you can tell from the scare quotes, the bad news is that these stories are less about what the saints are than about what the saints can be manipulated to mean. (Which is, of course, any darn thing the authors can come up with.) But heck, we're all postmoderns here, by ignominy of birth. We know what it's like to have to live with people who first firmly decline to share our beliefs and then claim to have creative license over what those beliefs can mean.

It's not fun to be someone with easy-grip dogmas in a world full of fashionable slippery folk. It's especially mortifying when some of the people associated with us seem to think (ultra-postmodern) Harry Potter is demonic. (Christians can be so embarrassing. ;-)) But if we can bear the tension of being "in the world" yet not "of the world," then we'll get to do a lot of great reading.

3 Books
with Postmodern Twists on the Saints

Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce

I loved most of the saints who appear to young Damian Cunningham . . . St. Clare comparing saints to television: "They're everywhere. But you need an aerial" . . . St. Joseph waxing nostalgic during a Nativity play rehearsal . . . And my personal favourite, St. Charles Lwanga cussing out the "I M bloody F" just for existing. (Amen!)

But St. Peter was insupportable. According to this (infallible) eyewitness of the Miracle of the Loves, it wasn't really a miracle at all. Everyone who had come to listen to Jesus had brought along some food, but just wasn't keen to bring it out and share it. But the sight of a little boy offering his five loaves and two fish shamed them into emptying their own pockets. There was no multiplication of loaves; no foreshadowing of the Last Supper and the Eucharist. It was just a mass conversion of people who already had everything they needed to make their own "miracle," but didn't realise it . . . until a little child led the way. (Barf.)

It kind of boggles the mind that an author who so expertly gets us to suspend disbelief when it comes to the saints doesn't seem to believe in a miracle from the Gospels--but that's postmodernism for you. A little bit of this and a little bit of that; and if you don't mind the one big picnic exegesis, you have a fun, original and highly educational MG novel.

The Other Shepards by Adele Griffin

Of these three titles, this one is my favourite. When I read it, I kept expecting it to sucker punch me unconscious . . . and it never did. (I will forever be pathetically grateful.)

Holland and Geneva Shepard were born into a family that both greatly needed them and didn't really want them. Their three older siblings all died before Holland and Geneva were born; and so these two became a kind of second chance for their grieving parents, who hadn't planned to have any more children at all.

This family history means the sisters must live in a shadow world where the living and the dead, saints and ghosts, the past and the future, rub up against each other on a daily basis. But things don't come to a head until a mysterious stranger, whom nobody else also seems to see, bursts into their lives.

It's not quite the Communion of Saints. Or then again, maybe it's as close to the Communion of Saints as these two Catholic-only-when-they-feel-like-it-and-you-had-better-back-off-their-case (i.e., "Punk Catholic") schoolgirls can really get. It's not your typical story of a saintly visitation . . . but it's the sort of intercession a saint just might pull off, if that is what it takes in this postmodern vale of tears.

Virgin Territory by James Lecesne

This novel is a little different because the main character isn't Catholic and isn't really interested. He knows absolutely nothing about Mary the summer an image of her allegedly appears on a tree in his town. This is the point at which many YA authors make their main characters do online research. So considering what ridiculous things have been totally made up googled up about vampires or fallen angels in other books, it's wonderful of Lecesne to twist this formula by depriving his own protagonist of internet privileges!

That is why the only things Dylan Flack learns about Mary come from three new friends--who are dragged into town by their "Virgin Mary groupie" mothers, but who don't believe in miracles themselves. At least, not miracles in the traditional sense. As they explain, they attribute miracles to two factors: wanting something badly enough and being willing to take a risk. (At times like this, I wish I had an uncle in the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith. We could chuckle over these things together and I'd be his favourite niece.)

In the end, something vaguely miraculous happens. It might not really be a miracle, but it seems to defy rational explanation--and Dylan doesn't really mind. Who is to say, he asks, what the correct story is? What matters is that the story one believes is also meaningful to the one who believes it. And that takes us, the readers, beyond miracles to the whole postmodern take on religion itself.

Image Sources: a) Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce, b) The Other Shepards by Adele Griffin, c) Virgin Territory by James Lecesne


CMinor said...

Since you mentioned Christians who think Harry P. is demonic, I'm sending you the following link, just for funsies. I got a kick out of how it treated that question!


weird--my word verification is "muleap!" If define it as "a form of capering exclusive to mules," maybe I could get away with it in Scrabble sometime.

christopher said...

Sorry CMinor, not in the Official Scrabble Dictionary... (Scrabble snob here - no one wants to play with me except the tournament jerks at the pub)

Belfry Bat said...

Christopher, is that why you look so downcast in your profile sketch?

(btw, Christopher is my middle name)

E.; Definitely postmodern. In fact, I think the Errors of Modernism are at root what brought about the end of the Modern Era.

(When will folks figure out that "modern" is just the Latinate English word for "fashionable"? We won't be honestly "post-modern" really untill we put all fads behind us and acknowledge what is.)

Paul Stilwell said...

Did you see the movie "Millions"?

Lesa said...

I can't get over the people still living in the dark ages-- here is a link to a post that reviews a book titled 'Harry Potter and the Bible'. Kinda scary to find out just how nutty those people are...

Lesa said...

Sorry, forgot the link:


Enbrethiliel said...


Cminor: That is so funny! Thanks for the link. I'm not sure what my favourite part is, but the bit about Jesus and the Stupefy spell is definitely in the Top 5!

Christopher: Don't you mean "fellow tournament jerks" at your favourite pub? ;-)

Belfry Christopher Bat: Fashion is fun, but it's hardly something to be self-righteous over, aye? I didn't participate in the Banned Books festivities of two months ago because I didn't like the way book bloggers were patting themselves on the back for being so fashionable. One day I'll have a Punk Reader post about that . . .

Stilwell: No, I haven't! I did watch the trailer, though, and was delighted to see that St. Clare was smoking! (LOL!)

Did you see it? Any thoughts?

Lesa: Thanks for your link, too. =) (Did you read Cminor's?)

I actually have relatives of evangelical bent who refuse to read Harry Potter. I used to think I got where they were coming from, until one of my cousins, who had boasted that he had no desire to read about "witchcraft," got really enthusiastic about the Percy Jackson books. =S Really now, wizards and witches are unacceptable, but pagan gods are okay?

If parents really have objections to the content of certain books, I respect their right to teach their children accordingly; but so much of this "Christian" fuss seems to me to be the influence of some pastor who wrote a book, which got read by some other pastor, who then gave a sermon . . . and so on. If there is ever a backlash against Percy Jackson in Evangelical circles, and if it manages to reach my cousin, his family will have a theological farce on their hands!

Paul Stilwell said...

Yes, I loved seeing St. Clare smoking. I thought the movie was kind of delightful, though I remember it petering out somewhat. And I detested the St. Peter scene.

Enbrethiliel said...


The book's ending "peters out" as well. (Hmmmm. Is that a pun???)

christopher said...

Ma'am, you have my permission to edit my comment to read "fellow tournament jerks"

Bat: I was looking at a lot of Frida Kahlo when I did that portrait, have some other ones with swans and crows too, maybe I'll change it this week. So your name is Belfry Christopher Bat?

Enbrethiliel said...


You should do one with flamingos! =)

christopher said...

Hadn't really considered one with flamingos but maybe. And as you recommended, I googled up Wesley the Barn Owl... I think I'll stick to plastic birds, I don't have to pretend to eat a mouse for them every day :)

Belfry Bat said...

Christopher: I suppose that would follow if "Belfry" and "Bat" were my first and last names, respectively... but I'm not saying any more about that!

Lesa said...

Just read the Cminors link-- funny.

I have wondered if some of the pastors hide in the closet reading Potter for an illicit thrill-- wouldn't put it past them.

The instigators can't all be that stupid-- well, some are-- but really, they just use the fear to control their minions -- I mean, flock. Politicians do the same thing. It is a shame there are so many sheeple.

Enbrethiliel said...


Ah, you're too generous, Lesa. I don't think they could be thrilled by Harry even if they wanted to be. =P

CMinor said...

I personally may hereafter always refer to him as Lord Value Mart.


CMinor said...

Interesting that that author ok'd Tolkien and Lewis--pamphleteer Jack Chick and some others object to them because they serve as an inspiration for fantasy RPG's.

A number of Christian writers defended Rowling's series, having noticed the obvious Christian symbolism even before the last book rendered moot all arguments to the contrary. Some examples:



My own (somewhat dusty after four years but more or less unaltered) views are here:

"zingsh" for a word verif. this time--what a great onomatopoeia!

Enbrethiliel said...


The Lewis/Tolkien vs. Rowling thing makes me wonder how big a factor appearances are in this. If Rowling had only been an explicitly devout Christian--someone these preachers could call "one of us"--would she have received their support rather than their censure for writing the exact same books?

On the other hand, I think the Christian defense of Rowling is coming from the wrong place. To a great extent, Christian symbolism is inevitable in our literature; even those who are not believing Christians are cultural Christians, and only the more nihilistic examples of Contemporary Fiction will consistently lack the bare minimum of a saviour figure.

Which is to say that I think that Rowling put Christian elements into the books for the same reason she put everything else into the books: because she thought they suited the story. And that was probably because it was already a culturally Christian story, rather than a Christian-by-choice-and-you-had-better-not-forget-it story. It's the same case with the "dark angel" books I read in September and the "saint" books I reread for this post: they might get certain tenets of Christianity all wrong, but they could have been written only in a world which has known Christ.

(Note to self: "Harry Potter" equals surefire comments. Reread the series for Christmas; make a Big Blog Thing out of it.)

Lesa said...

Cminor--Thanks for the interesting links. It makes me sigh that books even have to be written to prove HP is safe-- but I will at least now have books to recommend to the 'book banner' types. You'd think 'It is a work of fiction-- there are no real witches/wizards-- no one can really fly on brooms' would be enough.

E: I've thought the same thing about Percy Jackson's pagan gods. I'm reading book 4 now and it has lots of calling up of spirits-- why aren't the evangelicals in a tizzy about that? Waiting for the movie maybe?

Enbrethiliel said...


And there I was writing off Cminor's recommendations, when they were actually the most practical thing anyone has said! *facepalm* Well, of course, the best answer to the laundry lists of reasons to hate Harry is a reasonable rebuttal that follows the same format.

At the same time, however, this reminds me of all the fuss and feathers which flew when Dan Brown's DaVinci Code became such a huge best-seller. I hope the apologists who took him more seriously than he ever ought to have been taken are now properly embarrassed at themselves.

Anyway, Lesa, I haven't got as far as Book 4 yet, but I thought there was enough stuff in Book 1 to get everyone riled. I mean, the oracle alone is obviously eeeeeevil! And a best friend who is half-boy, half-goat? Gasp!

CMinor said...

E, Rowling has acknowledged being a religious Christian (if occasionally subject to bouts of doubt a la Graham Greene) and a practicing Church of Scotland member. She's indicated that the Christian symbolism in the books was deliberate, and cited the Narnia Chronicles as an influence. She does hail from the Christian Left, so I'm sure some of her detractors would not be at all mollified by these revelations.

What do y'all think of Percy Jackson as juvy literature? I've avoided the books suspecting they were part Harry Potter knock-offs and part "Let's get the kiddos excited about classical mythology by having the pantheon drop in on an ordinary modern kid!" which I think a cheap tactic.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Cminor. That's something I really didn't know about Rowling. I assumed she was at least nominally Church of England or Church of Scotland, but wouldn't have minded if she was a "practicing agnostic." (I never care unless they're Catholic, because I'm narrow and hopeless like that. *rolls eyes at self*)

Now about Percy Jackson . . . The first time these books came to my attention, someone was calling Camp Half-Blood a "Hogwarts rip-off," and I got a bad "Harry Potter is to High School Musical what Percy Jackson is to Camp Rock" impression. (And if you know Disney movies, that's quite damning! LOL!) But I started reading them anyway, thanks to my younger students, and I'm glad I did. =)

Yes, there are definitely many things in common between both series--but I'd chalk that up to the use of universal tropes rather than to reliance on a "sure-thing" recipe. (I'm currently working on a Top 5 Destinies to Make up for Being an Orphan. Wizard and demi-god are on the list, of course, but there are so many other examples.)

I love mythical allusions and I think what Riordan has done to "update" these ancient stories is wonderful. Around the time the books came out, I was teaching the Greek myths in World Literature class. I tried to get my girls to make creative presentations--like Aphrodite's make-up tips vs. Hestia's make-up tips or Zeus and Hera's "He Said/She Said" marriage counselling talk show. A few really rose to the occasion; others didn't really know what I was asking. I think that if I went back and taught the same syllabus with a generation that has read some Riordan, everyone in the class would nail it.

To me, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is just *the* MG series for children who were too young to get into Harry Potter when it first came out and probably aren't interested in reading it because they can just watch the films. (On the other hand, the second Percy Jackson movie is still in production.)

And that's probably more than you wanted to know, so I'll stop now! =P

CMinor said...

Thanks! Good info!

Paul Stilwell said...

I'm not even aware of when I pun. Sheesh.

Lesa said...

CMinor: Yes, to all that E said-- she is so eloquent. Not much to add but to say I am enjoying the each book more than the last. However, there have been times I jarred out of the story to think 'Oh, that is just a rip off of Potter'. Doesn't keep me from continuing the series though.

I love to find a 'tip of the hat' to a favorite classic book-- but when the books are so new and popular it seems more like jumping on the bandwagon.

If you are looking for a juvy series to start, check out Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series. It is fun, exciting, scary, lots of fairytale/mythical creatures, a realistic sibling relationship full of aggravation/love, and of course, saving the world from demons. I was never jarred out of the story by anything Potteresque.

Enbrethiliel said...


Stilwell: I liked it, anyway! =)

Lesa: Now I wonder if any new MG Fantasy series will ever manage to avoid the "Potter rip-off" charge! Rowling's books cover so much imaginative ground that it seems impossible to avoid similarities. But it's really not as if she was the first one to write about schools that teach magic or many other the things which seem unique to her stories only because they were the ones most of us read first. She just got really, really lucky! ;-)

Lesa said...

she is so lucky she squeaks!!!

Oh no, she isn't the first-- In fact, there was a show on PBS a few years ago that came from a book series about a witch boarding school for girls that predates Potter-- I only saw a few episodes but it was good and very similar to Potter-- I always expected to hear some flak about Rowling copying but never did. Don't remember the title of the book/show but I will search for it.

Yes, difficult to avoid similarities-- time/distance between published series does affect my perceptions on whether I am charmed or roll my eyes-- not fair, I suppose. Percy is so right on the heels of Potter-- I can't help but roll my eyes a bit but it is still a fun read.

I like the Angie Sage Septimus Heap series-- it has a school for wizards too and even has a Weasley-esque family but it never seemed a Potter rip off. Guess my personal time/perception theory doesn't always pan out-- or maybe some authors are more skilled at switching it up a bit.

Lesa said...

the witch school series is called The Worst Witch-- here is a link to info on wikepedia:

I haven't read the book but the show on PBS was so HP-- a castle school, a snape-like teacher, a draco-like enemy.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Lesa! =)