Several years ago I wrote an article called “Romance in Literature” in which I discussed the advisability of including romance in Christian fiction. Since that time I’ve written three novels, all of which contain romance, and thought quite a bit more about the subject.
With that in mind I’ve reworked and added to my original article, and hence the following is my current perspective on this controversial subject.
“Love is like a red, red rose,” said Robert Burns.
Perhaps, but should we write about it? Romance plays a leading role in fiction past and present, probably because it plays such a significant role in life. One of the most important decisions you will ever make is choosing your spouse. Your husband/wife impacts you, your success and happiness in life, your children, and your heritage.
“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit.” That fact helped earn Shakespeare over four centuries of fame. Should it have?
Is Fictional Romance Biblical?
If it isn't biblical to write about romance you should rip out the books of Ruth, Esther, and the Song of Solomon. While you're ripping, don't forget to neutralize pages in Genesis, 2 Samuel, Proverbs, and most if not all of the other books of the Bible. If romance isn't biblical, then the Bible isn't biblical.
But maybe I’m going too fast. After all, these passages are historical, not fictional. Right?
Actually, not entirely. Think of the Song of Solomon, which is in many ways allegorical, or Proverbs 7, where a story of ungodly romance is used to warn young men from dangerous relationships. Written romance, including fictional romance, is biblical.
Is Fictional Romance Wise?
|When London Burned by G.A. Henty|
Romance gone wrong (most of the books on the shelves today) encourages lust and rank immorality. Even “modest” romance can augment discontent or build unrealistic expectations.
As humans, love stirs the depths of our souls. We feel for a character who is willing to remove any obstacles between him and his beloved. Sometimes, though, those obstacles are necessary, and shouldn't be removed.
(Interesting side note: Romance is big business. The Romance genre brought in an estimated $1.35 billion in 2013. You can find more stats at Romance Writers of America.)
So, what is "good" romance?
Virtuous romance involves a man and a woman who are prepared to follow God's law in their relationship both before and after the marriage covenant. The more burning buildings, pillaging armies, and ruthless villains between them the better, as long as these obstacles are weaved properly into the plot.
Romance or . . . Romance?
There is a difference between a Romance novel and a novel which includes romance. Romance novels are a genre of their own which I'll discuss again in a moment. Elements of romance in a book are generally weaved into a larger story, such as David Copperfield's life or Beric the Briton's fight for freedom. They add power, punch, and often comedy. Being a Roman slave, like Malchus in The Young Carthaginian, is a problem. Being a Roman slave and desiring to protect your beloved from a heartless Roman noble is an even bigger problem.
"You knew that I loved you, and for every time you have thought of me, be it ever so often, I have thought of you a score. You knew that I loved you and intended to ask your hand from your father." ~ Malchus in The Young Carthaginian
Malchus and Clotilde escape Rome
Malchus raises another point in his brief declaration of love above that is completely foreign to most novels today. A girl's father is her authority, and, according to Scripture, he is the point of access to her heart. Of course, there are times when this is not possible, such as when the girl is orphaned, but the principle remains. A young man trying to skirt a father's authority is not being virtuous.
The Romance Genre
In the Romance genre, the main plot of the book is the romance, and the setting and action are generally accessories. I don't see a principial problem with this, so long as the romance follows biblical guidelines. Be careful, though, that you don't fill your mind with unrealistic ideas about who your spouse should be. Mr. Darcy is much too busy answering fanmail to think about marrying you.
I think that romance is biblical, and I think that there is a definite place for it in literature. Just remember that there can be too much of a good thing. Be careful how much time you spend in its coiled web, and don't get unrealistic notions of perfection. Filter what you read, and you'll filter how you act. Now, I'll conclude with a favorite quote from R. M. Ballantyne's The Island Queen.
"It is of no use mincing the matter; Dr. John Marsh, after being regarded by his friends at home as hopelessly unimpressible--in short, an absolute woman-hater--had found his fate on a desolate isle of the Southern seas, he had fallen--nay, let us be just--had jumped over head and ears in love with Pauline Rigonda! Dr. Marsh was no sentimental die-away noodle who, half-ashamed, half-proud of his condition, displays it to the semi-contemptuous world. No; after disbelieving for many years in the power of woman to subdue him, he suddenly and manfully gave in--sprang up high into the air, spiritually, and so to speak, turning a sharp somersault, went headlong down deep into the flood, without the slightest intention of ever again returning to the surface."John J. Horn is a Christian writer from San Antonio, Texas. Learn more about John and his Men of Grit series and sign up for his newsletter at johnjhornbooks.com.