Monday, July 25, 2011

John Buchan and Christian readers

I've been exploring the site I discovered a couple of days ago, In Which I Read Vintage Novels, and enjoying it thoroughly especially since Suzannah's six favorite authors are also among my favorites. One of those authors is John Buchan. In her review of his The Thirty-Nine Steps, she explains one of the reasons Christian readers may particularly enjoy the books:
.... His characters may rarely mention it and they certainly never preach, but they, like their creator move within the paradigm of the Bible, the Pilgrim's Progress, and the kirk (Scots for 'church'): it is a part of their lives in an unobtrusive, all-encompassing way: if it isn't an off-hand quotation of Scripture, it's a reference to the hero being an elder of the Free Kirk (like Dickson McCunn). .... How many fictional church-going people do you know that are as interesting as the real kind? Either they're too heavenly-minded to be any earthly use, or they are slimy evil hypocrites (depending on whether the author is religious or not). I have already mentioned that Buchan made virtue deeply beautiful to me; and he did so in large part by depicting an active, masculine, un-pietistic Christianity that lives rather than preaches what it believes. ....
In another post she expands upon that point:
.... In my review of The Thirty-Nine Steps I tried to explain why I so deeply love Buchan's casual references to his characters' Christianity. The reason why I love it so is that it seems the dead opposite of the internal pietism that plagues Christian literature today. I did not have space to fully develop it then, so by your leave I'll try it again here.

Buchan, like most devout Christian writers until this century, refused to turn his novels into tracts: instead of preaching to his audience, he draws them into a Lewisian Enjoyment of Christendom. It is much more powerful to mention that your brave, honourable, plucky, and humble hero is an elder of the Guthrie Memorial Kirk than to have him stop mid-story and deliver a short sermon on Psalm 15. And never does Buchan list or preach the attributes of a godly man. He simply depicts them ceaselessly: courage, valour, strength, perseverance, fortitude, chastity, humility, loyalty, honesty. He depicts these virtues as admirable things, embodied by capable men, and then by casual references peppered throughout his works lets the reader know that the homeland of these good qualities is Christendom. It is Christian perseverance that gives Buchan's heroes the ability to stand fast and quit themselves like men, whether charging into wartime Germany or street brawls.

The result is that the reader is drawn into the experience and enjoyment of faith, rather than exhorted to study it; and both the Christian and the secular readers are presented with a persuasive argument of the delightfulness of Christian virtue. ....
In Which I Read Vintage Novels: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, In Which I Read Vintage Novels: John Buchan Week: Envoi