“I know religion has always played a part in people’s lives. I’m wondering
if that’s a tricky thing to address in order to make the book appealing to
From Pat Rice:
Maureen asked this at a time I was debating earlier comments about religion in relation to my own work. (In case you haven’t noticed, as a whole, writers are reasonably modest people, but our books are our children, and we tend to think all topics relate to them.) I don’t generally write medievals, where religion and politics dictate most of the action. Currently, I’m writing about the latter part of the eighteenth century, an era known for its vast inroads on scientific knowledge that ultimately becomes the industrial revolution in the next century. Writing about science often eliminates the need to talk about religion with the excuse that a logical scientific man isn’t likely to be religious, and thus the story has no religious conflict to tiptoe around.
But I have strong beliefs, and they cannot be entirely ignored in my writing. I don’t have the arrogance to preach my beliefs, so I hide my opinions, but in some manner, my characters will reflect various important aspects of the world I see around me. Human nature almost always requires some form of belief system, and the beliefs of my characters are integral to who they are. So even in the Magic series where my heroes were logical, scientific men and my heroines were all descendants of Druids, I addressed their religious beliefs. They attended the Church of England when required for legal formalities, because the Church was very much a part of English law, especially in the areas I’m most likely to write about: birth, death, and marriage. In this series, the women had their own ceremonies based on the beliefs of their ancestors. It’s rather apparent that their rituals had been adapted to suit their family, but many of the rituals I used were ancient ones from Druidic eras that celebrated nature. I had no wish to offend readers, so I made the rituals integral with normal church ceremonies, which would be highly characteristic of people in their position.
But in the book I’ve just turned in—MYSTIC GUARDIAN, the start of a new series that won’t be released until summer–religion is a possible source of conflict and becomes part of the story. This time, I’m using one historically accurate culture and playing it against one of my own creating. And this is where Maureen’s question caught my interest, because my hero’s world has imaginary gods, and my heroine lives in very Catholic late eighteenth century France, where the church eventually undergoes the same tumult as the country during the revolution.
In this first book, though, the Church is a towering source of strength and power and lives revolve around it. How do I introduce a God-fearing woman to a pagan who believes his God resides in a volcano?
And yes, Maureen, this is tricky. But in creating an island of heroes and heroines who have their own gods and must ultimately interact with the real world where the Anglican and Catholic churches rule, the conflict becomes pretty obvious as soon as my characters plan to spend their lives together. And even a simple wedding ceremony becomes a delicate balance, since my hero’s religion has two means of joining couples, and “marriage” is an irrelevant word to them.
This time, I addressed the problem head on, since it’s bound to show up in the next books as well. I have the Oracle of the hero’s island, the closest they have to a priest or priestess, counsel my Catholic heroine. They have a frank discussion of their beliefs that allows my heroine to understand that all religions have a similar basis and that they all worship the same god, just in different manners. And then I leave the characters to work out the differences in their worship in their own ways. If this offends anyone, I’m sorry, but it won’t stop me from writing the book my way. This is fiction, and I get to make the rules.
Because my beliefs are so much a part of me and the stories I write, I can’t ignore religion as it affects my characters. But in many stories, especially if we stick to English and American settings, religion plays very little part in the story conflict, and we need only work with wedding or baptismal ceremonies. Such things are pretty well defined historically, so there’s nothing difficult about them. It’s only when religion becomes a source of conflict that we must consider reader reaction.
I realize there has been some protest that historicals do not adequately reflect religion in the lives of their characters. As readers, do you think more emphasis on religion would create a better story? Have you read any books recently that accurately portrays religion in history? Would you be offended if we used our books as a means of conveying our beliefs through our characters? And do these questions sound loaded to you? <G> Sorry, I just can’t help myself. No one ever accused me of lacking an opinion.