“Novel” theology: Bestsellers as rich theological source

The Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas, detail. Paris...

Aquinas with his favorite novel? (The Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas, detail. Paris, Musée du Louvre.)

A nifty post by “Theology PhD Mom” on novels and theology, including a run-down of some of the theological themes in Nick Hornby‘s About A Boy (which later became a movie starring Hugh Grant). Some snippets:

“My PhD advisor has often suggested that fiction is good for theologians to read.  Until I met him, I had generally thought that my reading mystery novels when I was supposed to be reading Barth IV.2 or, heavens, the Summa Theologica, was a big vice. But who am I to argue with my Doktorvater?”

Excellent start. And then quickly, a list of a few theologians (and one medievalist) who also wrote mystery novels:

“G.K. Chesterton (Father Brown), Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey), Ralph McInerny (Father Dowling – and I used to love the tv show, shot in my very own beloved Denver), to name a few.  Can I count Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael) in there too?  I guess she was more a medievalist than a “theologian” in the modern sense, but let’s face it – most medieval historians also have to be theologians to one extent or another.”

Amen to the comment on medieval historians. That’s one of the top attractions of the field for me, unlike the field in which I did my graduate work–American Christian history–in which one has to be a politic scientist to one extent or another, and/or a historian of warfare. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Now, a bit of Theology PhD Mom’s riff on Hornby’s novel:

“Will Freeman, the adult, has no responsibilities. . . . Will is the quintessential “free man,” to the point that he meditates on what it is to say “No man is an island,” but finds himself as a wonderful island, thankyouverymuch.”

“Hornby contrasts Freeman with Marcus, the son of divorced parents.  Early in the book, his mother attempts suicide, so Marcus finds himself in the role of parenting his mother and worrying about all the things about his life that most parents hope their children wouldn’t worry about at such a young age.”

“Hornby’s novel aims toward making the man a man, and the boy a boy.  That requires that the two “islands” become related to others.  Communities – weirdly shaped communities that don’t look necessarily ideal, by the way – get formed in the course of this novel.  What the characters find is that being related is scary – Freeman speaks of being a newly hatched chick, bewildered by and vulnerable to this world in ways that his consumer-island self had not been.”

“The novel is therefore rich in theological themes and in themes theologians ought to be interested in, even if not inherently theological: freedom, what it means to be human, one’s purpose in life, consumerism, gender, identity.”


And, encore! Would love to see Theology PhD Mom reflect on some other novels. Perhaps she could load my guns for the next time my wife asks: “Tell me again, WHY do you like detective and police TV shows so much?” I have yet to formulate an adequate reply under the withering stare of my wife’s “hairy eyeball” that invariably accompanies this question.

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