It Doesn’t Have To Be An Allegory by Gillian Bronte Adams

If there was one misconception about writing that I took a while to overcome, it would be the idea that any fantasy written by a Christian had to contain an allegory of some sort.

Like every other child, I grew up reading C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. To me, their work was the pinnacle of fantasy, and if I wanted to be a writer worthy of the Inklings, I had to do things just like them. And somehow, my brain translated that into meaning I had to write an allegory.

(Never mind that Tolkien frequently claimed his work was not meant to be taken as an allegory.)

I’m not exactly sure where or how this notion became lodged in my head. But lodged it was. And it took a good amount of shoving, pulling, and hammering to break free of it.

The struggle between writing so called “Christian fiction” and being a “Christian writer of fiction” is something that I believe a lot of writers struggle with. Especially new writers like myself. We wonder if wanting to honor God with the abilities He has given us means that we must always include a Gospel message or a conversion scene. We wonder if every fantasy must be an allegory replaying the fall and redemption of mankind if we are to sanction writing about magical powers and battles between good and evil.

We wonder where to draw the line.

If I knew the answer I would gladly tell it. But I think a lot of times it comes down to the individual stories we feel the need to share and the audience we desire to share them with. Not all writers are trying to reach the same readers and not all allegories are the same.

But not all readers realize this.

Not all readers understand that some books are meant to contain only Christian themes or allegorical elements, while others are written as outright allegories. On the one hand, you will have Christian readers call you out for not including allegorical themes on every page, while on the other, you will have Christian readers call you out for a book that they consider preachy and heavy-handed.

At the end of the day, I think it is important to realize that you cannot please everyone, and your goal instead should be to determine who you are writing each book for.

And you should know that the appeal of an outright allegory is often limited to fellow believers. I’m not saying it’s impossible to attract other readers—after all, the Chronicles of Narnia has drawn readers from all over the world, from all walks, and from all faiths—but unless you’re C.S. Lewis, it is unlikely your allegory will please or even intrigue non-believing readers, whereas a book with more understated themes might.

So what is the power of an allegory if not to reach unbelievers with the Gospel?

I would claim that the true power of an allegory lies in its ability to stir the hearts of those who are already acquainted with its themes. To renew the passion that once burned bright and perhaps now only flickers within. To remind them of sacrifice, of beauty, and of love unending.

It is preaching to the choir perhaps, but it is preaching that is no less potent for its audience.

Growing up, some of my favorite books were allegories. Nowadays, I still love pulling a good one from the shelf. Ever heard of the Tales of the Kingdom Trilogy or Tales of the Forgotten God? Both are excellent. More recently, I read and adored Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Heartless and Ashlee Willis’s The Word Changers.

Writers of allegories should stand unashamed in their work and not feel the need to hide the fact. There is nothing wrong with writing an allegory.

I wrote one and loved it.

But it is also important to remember that it is not the only story one can tell.

GILLIAN BRONTE ADAMS is a sword-wielding, horse-riding, coffee-loving speculative fiction author from the great state of Texas. During the day, she manages the equestrian program at a youth camp. But at night, she kicks off her boots and spurs, pulls out her trusty laptop, and transforms into a novelist. She is the author of Orphan’s Song, book one of the Songkeeper Chronicles, and Out of Darkness Rising. Visit Gillian online at her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

Take a peek at Gillian’s latest release…

OODR Front Cover

Darkness reigns unchallenged.

For the villagers on the accursed Island, life has only one meaning – death. Bound to the Island by the curse, the villagers suffer beneath the iron claw of the Serpent, daily breathing the poison of his breath and dying to appease his insatiable appetite.

When Marya’s parents are slain by the serpent for their belief in a legendary king, she becomes an outcast. Struggling to survive and avoid the vengeance of the Tribunal, Marya is torn between legend and the harsh reality of the Island. Yet when a forgotten promise springs to life, she cannot help wondering if the old stories might in fact be true. And if they are, will the promise prove stronger than the curse?

On Goodreads and an amazing TRAILER!

Special Note: Many thanks to Gillian for her patience. I was supposed to post this several weeks ago as part of a blog tour, but got behind on all my “labors of love” while sick. But now I’m almost caught up – whoohoo! And tomorrow I have another new release to share with you, so slide to the edge of your seat while you wait in anticipation.   ~Angie


11 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Have To Be An Allegory by Gillian Bronte Adams

  1. Love it. Great post, Gillian and Angie!

    And you’re right, it doesn’t have to be an allegory. But I would take it one step further – it doesn’t have to be a Gospel allegory. There are many stories in the Bible which could be allegorized. They won’t come across as preachy because our culture is becoming so biblically illiterate that many won’t realize the story is an allegory. 😉

    I’m interested to read this one, Gillian. Sounds like a great story.

    1. That’s a great point, Lisa! Thanks for commenting. I love stories that have allegorized components of other stories from the Bible. King David? Elijah? Showdown on Mount Carmel? All of those would be so cool to see at least incorporated into a story in some way or another. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be obvious to the uninformed reader, either. An allegorical “easter egg” if you will. 🙂

    2. That’s a great point, Lisa! Thanks for commenting. I would love to see elements of other Bible stories allegorized. King David? Elijah? The showdown on Mount Carmel? It doesn’t even have to be something that the uninformed reader would necessarily pick up on. A sort of Biblical “easter egg,” if you know what I mean. 🙂

  2. Gillian and Angie, for me it virtually *has to be an allegory – with the disclaimer that at least the *background is allegorical, if not every story spun out of it. Let me explain why.

    I could say about completely throwing out and then restarting my work what Mark Twain said about quitting smoking: it is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it a thousand times. 🙂 It took me over fifty years (!) to figure out why: I can’t bear logical conundrums in my background. I’d get frustrated over a logical conundrum (which typically brought a moral conundrum with it), throw out part or all of what I’d done, only to have the scenario arise in a different form in the back of my head when I’d figured out a way around the conundrum.

    I had in time to say to myself, let’s be honest to both the Bible and literature on the one hand and to a far-reaching idea called Godel’s Theorem on the other: speculative fiction is basically rooted either in the godless extreme (science fiction) or in the “worship anybody but the true God” extreme (fantasy). There is a sort of spectrum, and I think Lewis and Tolkien could be considered profitably on that spectrum. (It must be admitted that both compromised with paganism, each in his own way.) But anywhere on the spectrum, I found what Godel pointed out: this side of God’s own plane, it is impossible to construct a system of ideas without logical conundrums. Tolkien’s background is as impressive as it is because he struggled harder than most against that reality. But not even he could be completely successful – some questions raised by his ideas had to remain unanswered and unanswerable. They just aren’t easy to find.

    I found a way to use that reality to my advantage, the only way which will work for me: turn the logical question inside out. Why not explore “the infinite possibilities of potential reality” so as to illustrate, if not openly, why God chose *this way and not *another way to create the Universe and life within it, and to bring mankind to salvation? That way I can combine ideas from the sci-fi and fantasy poles without being either godless or pagan, and also show that inevitably, even in a multiverse (my Metacosmos), one cannot reach a good or a Godly end unless one *does follow the framework He set up. But that demonstration can take a long time within the Metacosmos, and in the interim, story threads arise.

    Clear as mud? 😉

    1. It sounds like you have really given this subject a lot of thought! When it comes to my own writing, I would agree with you as far as the background being “allegorical” in some way, even if the individual stories are not. Or at least spun from a Christian perspective with Biblical themes or elements.

      I will say that one of the most “Christian” stories I ever read is a book called Enemy Brothers set during WWII. So not fantasy. But it’s a beautiful story of unconditional love and a type of “prodigal son” tale that more clearly demonstrates Christ’s love than a lot of the outright allegories I’ve read. In short, I think there are many ways to write beautiful novels with Christian elements or themes (the echoes of eternity, as I call them) without necessarily feeling tied to writing an outright allegory of the Gospel. Though that certainly has its place too!

      1. The idea voiced elsewhere that other parallels with biblical stories could be used too is a great one. Alas, the only such idea I’ve seen to date was in secular science fiction, a takeoff of the Book of Jonah. But surely they must be out there somewhere.

        “Echoes of eternity” – very good! 🙂 Because we are made in the image of God, there are many themes which appear in fiction (and mythology) quite independent of what the Bible explicitly says. Much of that is a matter of the “archetypes of the mind”. The normal mind is meant to function in a way which reflects a normal family relationship, and also a way which reflects being positioned between God on the one hand and “the world, the flesh and the Devil” on the other. Finding that out has enriched my own fictional ideas phenomenally. The world describes these phenomena in different ways, not knowing what echoes they are hearing.

        Thus whether in fiction, mythology or world religion, everybody who isn’t psychotic responds to the universals of unconditional love, the return of the prodigal son, and so on. Man has a way of banging his head long enough on the gym walls of the School of Hard Knocks (school colors: black and blue 😉 ) to rediscover some things God has been telling him all along. (C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape had an interesting way of pointing that out.) So if one is clever and careful, one can sneak in things with a specifically biblical root which don’t *look like they have one.

        Well, I’ll stop rattling on here. Thanks for listening. 🙂

  3. I loved this post. Thanks so much Gillian! (And Angie!) Especially: The struggle between writing so called “Christian fiction” and being a “Christian writer of fiction” <–This is something I've struggled with as well and you said it beautifully. Thank you. ^_^ *hugs post*

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Deborah! When it comes down to it, I know that all of my stories are going to have some Christian themes or allegorical elements, because that’s who I am and that’s how I write, but some may be more subtle than others and not all of my books will be outright allegories – like Out of Darkness Rising – and that’s okay too. Realizing that was immensely freeing for me. 🙂

  4. If I’m reading fiction, I’m reading for pleasure. It’s a “zoning out,” similar to watching TV, but I expect to be encouraged when it’s of the “Christian” category. That’s my only expectation, really! I don’t know what God has called each author to do, so as long as you’re not writing an “Oliver Twist” story or having your characters sinning left and right, I’ll be reading.

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