Allegory VS “Plain” Novel?

There’s the “Antique Allegory” and the “Contemporary Christian (novel)”. I’ve given these unofficial terms to two sorts of Christian literature identified by Wikipedia. Honestly, I’d never made the distinction. I would have lumped them together. But being drawn to Christian allegory for its unique qualities after having read Pilgrim’s Progress, my interest was piqued and I wanted to learn more.

Wikipedia, haha!

159-allegory-vs-plain-novel

“Antique Allegory” isn’t always and necessarily old (not like Puritan literature is); I just liked the alliteration. And perhaps I get the feeling that allegory is old because the only true allegory I’ve read is The Pilgrim’s Progress written in the 1600s. This genre uses symbolic figures to communicate Christian truths. Perhaps Jesus’ parables were the pioneering works of “Ancient Allegory”.

Allegory may not be confined the be “olden days,” but the contemporary Christian novel is far more popular in our time. These works are classified more definitively as having been written by Christians for Christians with Christian themes which are direct rather than through symbology. In Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, for example, one story is taking place and it’s not intended to be interpreted as having a parallel interpretation.

These categories involve overlaps and blurred lines. I would have put CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia under allegory, but Wikipedia calls them Christian novels.

Today I’m especially interested in hearing your thoughts. Take the following questions as prompts:

  • Are you drawn to either the ancient allegory or the Christian contemporary novel over the other? Do you swing back and forth between the two – like them each for their own reasons?
  • Have you ever thought of books in terms of these, definitions do you pick your reads based on something entirely different?
  • Have you ever come across a modern Christian allegory that you would recommend?

Let me know down below.

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7 thoughts on “Allegory VS “Plain” Novel?

  1. Hmm, this is an interesting concept to consider, Jordy. I too would have placed Narnia as an allegory. It makes me wonder what particular criteria separates the two genres?

    Recently, I have been pouring my time into a novel that I could consider as an allegory. It portrays redemption and forgiveness but without mentioning Christ directly. This has been a unique challenge… sharing truth creatively without it being strict doctrine. I would say that your novellas fit more under contemporary Christian, but what do you think is most vital in an allegorical novel? Or perhaps I should ask, how can we portray Truth in a way that lets our readers discover it for themselves without preaching to them?

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    1. Yeah, I think that there aren’t official, binding terms and definitions so a book may fall into a different category depending on who you ask – or it may fall into both! You know what that does to me? It makes me want to fix that and clear things up so I can discuss things with a clearer head! lol.

      I’m wondering – if you’re comfortable in sharing this is here – whether that allegorical novel you’re working on is Emblem of Hope?

      I think allegories can be soooo powerful! The Pilgrim’s Progress includes lots of doctrine as well as fictional allegory, but I think that even without explicit doctrine, allegories can be powerful because the Holy Spirit may use them to teach doctrine directly to the heart.

      What is most vital in an allegory? According to me? And how can we portray truth in such a way that readers discover it for themselves? Hmm… Hard question, and I’m interested to know how you would answer it! But I think that the power of an allegory to communicate truth comes not from anything technical within the allegory, but from a Person outside of it – the Holy Spirit. I think of Jesus’ parables and how, when His disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables, He said, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” Based on that verse and the surrounding verses, Matthew 13:10-17, I see that the Lord enables some people to “see” while with others He leaves them unable. It’s such a hard thing to hear, but I think it must be the truth.

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      1. Yes, exactly! I wish life was white and black like that. 🙂

        Actually, I would consider Emblem of Hope to be a Christian Novel. It focuses more on real life than allegorical comparisons. The book I specifically mentioned is one I began writing in the beginning of June which is an allegory. The genre is realistic fantasy, I believe… but it’s difficult to describe. 🙂

        Wow, Jordy. That is so true. I think I would have given a quick, hasty answer by trying to list what’s important in an allegory, but it’s true: the Holy Spirit guides words, not us. That’s why it’s so important to pray through our stories and allow Him to work. Such a good reminder.

        How do you strive to let the Holy Spirit guide your written words when it comes to novellas?

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      2. Ahh, so I think this is the first time I hear of this new project of yours. I’m sure I’ll hear more about it as you reveal more about it in good time – and I look forward to it. X) Let’s see how the Lord leads.

        Yes, I think earnest prayer is invaluable for any allegory or other piece of writing. As I thought about your original question more, though, I thought also that allegory gets some of its strength from the fact that readers make the connections themselves. It thrives on “Aha!” moments in which the reader is the one who connects the dots, which is far more memorable and personal than when the author spells everything out. I think other types of books have their strengths, too, but this is what makes allegories unique. Just some more thoughts…

        As for how I strive to let the Holy Spirit guide me in writing my novellas… I don’t think I’ve been doing much striving recently. Can I ask what you do? I think I could use a good word of encouragement these days, and a fresh reminder of how to be intentional when writing fiction.

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      3. I am looking forward to a time of sharing more together in the future, dear friend. ❤ As you mentioned, it's all as the Lord leads… He astounds and surprises me so often, especially in our writing journeys. I'm so thankful!

        Ah, yes. And I think that is why prayer is so important in writing. We can create a story, but it's up to the Holy Spirit to guide readers to the truth–to help them make the connections and find those "Aha!" moments. That does seem to be a key aspect to allegorical stories.

        Isn't it difficult to let Him be the center of every area of life? In writing, I usually strive by praying first for Him to give me His words, and I also like to find a key verse that can guide me in the particular scene or chapter. Sometimes it fits my ideas, sometimes it doesn't. But I like to keep Scripture in mind, even if my written words don't reflect the themes exactly.

        Do you have any thoughts to add to that, Jordy? Have you made steps to strive in allowing Him to write your stories? I'd be so thankful to hear how you specifically allow Christ to write through your fingers. ❤

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      4. I appreciated hearing your thoughts about how you strive to write Christ-exalting fiction (perhaps you apply these same two methods to blogging, too?). Unfortunately, I don’t have much to add. You’ve caught me at a time when I feel very removed from the lifestyle of a writer. I’m currently in Japan for the month. My focus has shifted and my mindset is completely different. I want to be a faithful praying writer, and I like to hope that I am, when I’m writing. But I think I have a ways to go yet, and perhaps that’s something I’ll be growing in for as long as I continue to write.

        I hope this finds you doing well, Hosanna, dear friend. 🙂

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      5. I hope your time away in Japan has brought peace and Truth to your heart, dear friend! God is so good to give us breaks from life when we need it, and writing can certainly wear one down. I pray your time there is fruitful!

        Yes, I do try to be diligent in prayer, especially in blogging, yet I can’t claim to be continually faithful. I have many distractions, but HE is faithful. It is reassuring to know that even when we fail to turn our eyes upon Him (write for Him instead of with Him, perhaps?), He still gives grace.

        I’m thinking and praying for you today. Enjoy your time of rest or perhaps a different type of busyness. You are such a blessing, Jordy! ❤

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