RJ’s latest entry reminded me that I had not yet reviewed Many Dimensions by Charles Williams. I was depending on him for the fantastic in Christian literature, so I was a bit surprised to find this novel was, aside from being an good example of pre-war (1931) pro-Moslem sentiment, also a work of Islamic literature in a sense I’ll define below.
The premise is as follows: a churlish Englishman buys an ancient relic from a Persian, brings it home to England, and shows it off to his friends, claiming it’s the crown of Suleiman ben Daood. The stone set therein proves to have great powers, among them that of infinite divisibility. Several copies are divided off and passed around or sold, which angers the faithful Persians to no end. One threatens to raise the Arab street, as they say, in defiance of the English infidels who are so abusing the artifact. The British government has its own plans for the stone.
Miracles, disasters and time-travel paradoxes follow the duplicate stones around the English countryside. The proper order of things is restored only when one of the characters makes the ultimate act of submission, which is to say, islam. At least, that was what I got out of it. Many Dimensions is rather a dense, philosophical work not aimed to please the modern reader, though Charles Williams was an Inkling.
It pleases me only in that it gives me an example of Islamic fiction for my list below. Let me define R fiction, where R is a religion, as fiction that has one of the following as a major theme:
- The realistic lives of modern practitioners of that faith, as such: The Chosen and Daniel Deronda (Jewish fiction)
- Fictionalized past lives of religious figures: The Last Temptation of Christ (Christian)
- Fictional recreations of religious figures in another milieu, usually a fantastic one: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Christian) and Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming series (Mormon)
- Outright allegory: The Pilgrim’s Progress (Christian)
- Fantastic realism - that is, stories set in the real world in which miraculous or diabolical events occur consonant with the tenets of a particular religion: That Hideous Strength and The Screwtape Letters (Christian), also Many Dimensions (Moslem)
- Religious tourism - that is, stories set in locales postulated by the religion, or during future events predicted by the religion: The Divine Comedy, The Great Divorce, and the Left Behind series (Christian)
That’s all. That someone is a Christian does not make their fiction Christian in any useful sense of the term. Monotheism, in particular, is not synonymous with Christianity, nor are themes of faith, hope, self-sacrifice, temptation, resurrection, or ethics in general.
I have nothing against Christian literature, but I do not consider The Lord of the Rings a Christian work. It is not realistic, it contains no religious figures, and it is not an allegory. Tolkien despised allegory. He said that Middle Earth was “a monotheistic world of natural theology.” There is nothing within The Lord of the Rings that makes it Christian rather than, say, Baha’i.
Perhaps a better argument could be made for the Silmarillion as Christian fiction, but nowhere in Tolkien do I see the ideas that I would consider essentially Christian - original sin, justification by faith, the death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the damnation of (apparently) good people for not believing in Christ, transubstantiation, the Trinity, etc. If a person were offended by such things, Tolkien would not offend him but C.S. Lewis would.
I find the notion of islam alien, and I found Many Dimensions strange to that extent. Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, reminds me of the Norse epics that inspired Tolkien and of the (pagan) heroic tradition in general - of battles and honor and courage and fate and magic and true bloodlines. Tolkien may have softened it where it is harsh in, say, William Morris, but he did not change it into anything recognizably Christian.