When I first started this blog series, I wasn’t really thinking about whether it was on good or great books. In fact, I think my ideal book cannot fail to be both. When I sat down to write today’s post, I had an idea that it was going to fall very definitely into the good category. But after beginning to write, it occurred to me that I had made a mistake. In the ideal book, the greatness is bound to be good, and the goodness to be great.
Last week I touched on how my ideal character sees significant spiritual growth throughout the book. This may seem a limiting concept, but spiritual growth is possible in so many different forms, and on so many different subjects, that when it is combined with varying personalities, circumstances, and influences, the possibilities for the ideal character are endless.
The religious content of a storybook can be one of the most difficult aspects to write. This perhaps explains how difficult it often is to find our ideal in this area. But defining what the perfection of the genre would be, gives both writers and readers a useful tool.
My ideal novel, then, would contain a religious flavour. In fact, I think it would be inseparable from a religious flavour. The Christian teaching which has the most effect is the teaching which is lived. I have met a few authors (that is to say, I have met their works, which for this purpose was quite as good), who have an amazing knack of making their characters’ lives inseparable from God’s teaching. These were not books which “preached.” Very often they did not contain much direct religious instruction at all. But Christ was the very mainspring of who they were, and why they made the choices that they did.
The power of such characters, especially when we are young, is inestimable. They are an enduring example of the fact that “actions speak louder than words.” It is sometimes possible to skim over a sermon, or even a serious religious conversation between characters in a book. Our minds may wander without intending it, or we may read it conscientiously but only for the sake of getting on to the rest of the story. I do not say that such sermons or conversations are bad. On the contrary, they are very good, and they have a place in the ideal book. But I think in this same ideal book, the Christian worldview would go deeper. We would not want anyone to skip the “serious bits” in any novel. But I think that in my ideal one, a reader could do so and they would still be unable to avoid the Christian influence.
In the ideal book, the character’s life and growth is inseparable from who they are themselves. As they grow, as they sometimes stumble and sometimes fall, but work their way on with the sincerity of their hearts unchanged, whether they walk through trials or triumphs, we grow with them. We are all familiar with the effect which godly friends may have upon us. And the characters in the best books are friends. When the fear of God and the desire to keep His commandments are an inseparable part of their lives, then we cannot help being better for having lived beside them, even if it was only through the pages of a storybook.
And this is probably the summit of the accomplishments of the ideal author. Binding, title, topic and length may all be dictated by circumstances. Narration and originality may come by talent. Plot and vocabulary may be taught by art or earned by practice. But nothing external, nothing of this world can supply the characteristic of a heart which is centred on Christ. The very author who has it, will have the least idea of how great a gift it is. But it is the final, the paramount, the crowning glory of our ideal book.
It is the one thing which cannot be counterfeit.
If you would pay the highest compliment to your ideal book – when and if you are so happy as to find it – I think you will say as you close the final page, “This book is truly good.” And then you may add, as an afterthought, “Yes, and it is also truly great.”
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