God and Fiction – A Look at Tuck

tuck coverThis month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Tuck, the third book in the King Raven Trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson).

While I do intend to review the book, and have another issue I’d like to discuss connected with the story, I thought it might be informative, as part of the series I began last week, to examine how a skilled author like Stephen Lawhead incorporates God in his fiction.

First an introduction to Tuck. The King Raven Trilogy is a reframed telling of the Robin Hood myth. “Reframed” because Mr. Lawhead gave his trilogy a new setting and different players from the well-known bandit-in-Sherwood-Forest-Nottinghamshire rendition. (Most fascinating to me is the clever way in which Mr. Lawhead ties his story to the more famous legend in Tuck‘s epilogue). In this new version, the “real” Robin Hood is a Welshman, Rhi Bran ap Brychan y Hud, in conflict with the invading Normans. A king in his own right, Bran is nevertheless forced to flee his home to preserve his life. Under the cruel and unjust reign of the Ffreinc, the homeless and disenfranchised gathered to him. And thus develops the story of the undermanned outlaw fighting against the corrupt and oppressive forces in power.

And where does God fit in all this? Most interestingly, He appears as the characters in the story see Him. Some trust Him with their lives and rely on His guidance. Some only know Him by reputation and by what the Church has to say about Him.

Tuck opens with a prologue in which King William of Normandie is begrudgingly paying a sum of money to an abbey so its monks will pray his father out of purgatory, or perhaps, out of hell. Throughout the story, this idea of money spent to forestall the consequences of the king’s own wrongdoing and that of his father serves as a believable motive.

In contrast, Friar Tuck seems to carry on a running dialogue with God. Here are some examples from the first chapter:

“How long, O Lord? How long must your servants suffer?” he muttered. “And, Lord, does it have to be so blasted hot?” (p. 11)

God bless you, Little John, thought Tuck, and keep your arm strong, and your heart stronger. (p. 12)

“Thank the Good Lord,” gasped the friar, scrambling up the dry, rutted track. “I thought I’d never catch you.” (p. 13)

    “What do you want me to do?” Tick shouted.

    “Pray,” answered Bran, pulling an arrow from the sheaf at his belt and fitting it to the string. “Pray God our aim is true and each arrow finds its mark.”

    Bran moved off … Tuck watched him go. Pray? he thought. Aye, to be sure—the Good Lord will hear from me. But I will do more, will I not? (p. 17)

The point is, God shows up in the story in just the ways the characters know Him. If they have a false idea about Him, that’s not “corrected.” No one comes to King William, even at the end of the story, to tell him that he doesn’t have to pay money to secure forgiveness for sin because Jesus paid it all, as true as that is.

Instead, the false and the true lie side by side within the story, without authorial tampering. Never is there any heavy-handedness in dealing with spiritual matters. That which is endemic to the characters comes out naturally. And the reader, then, is left to think through the divergent views.

Yet, the false rings false and the true rings true. One way Mr. Lawhead accomplishes this is by giving the protagonists the views most closely aligned with Scripture. At the same time, corrupt churchmen are unmasked, casting their untoward practices into the proper light.

This ordering of Truth with noble heroes, however, is not done in a stereotypical manner. Instead, because the characters are fleshed out in believable ways, their spirituality seems like one more part of who they are. It is a powerful way to tell the truth about God.

I invite you to join the CSFF Lawhead Tuck tour this week. Visit a few of the blogs participating (there’s quite a list—click on the check marks to go to specific posts), and tell them I sent you. 😉

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17 Comments

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your post! I never really thought of how God showed up in the story, I just knew He was there.

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  2. This idea that “God shows up in the story in just the ways the characters know Him” can be troublesome for dedicated readers of Christian Fiction, especially if those characters “…have a false idea about Him, that’s not ‘corrected.'” Needing to have God spelled out and potential unorthodoxy “corrected” is a big problem with today’s religious market. Maybe this is one reason I like Lawhead’s stuff so much.

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  3. Interesting analysis. I’m going to have to mull that one over.

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  4. Great discussion as always, Becky. (I wasn’t able to post the participant list due to some error, which I’ll work on later)
    Stephen definitely has a way with words, and takes special care in presenting God in his stories. I look forward to reading more–of your posts, that is. LOl

    Beth

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  5. I like the way God is there as a matter of course. He doesn’t have to be shoe-horned into the story, or explained, He just IS. Very cool.

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  6. I agree with your post, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the tour.

    Just a note, Technorati seems to be majorly messed up the last couple of days. There’s no popular books as of Tuesday morning. It tells me it has no knowledge of my blog, yet I’ve already claimed it. This tour may not seem “successful” based off of Technorati just because they’re having problems.

    Two posts up, I’d better get reading!

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  7. You explained the faith aspect well. I couldn’t quite place the difference with how Tuck treated fiath differently than most books. As you pointed out, I liked the way Lawhead presented a true faith by belief, works, and deeds of his protagonists, while unbelievers came across as trusting in their might and right to take what they wanted. The character Tuck exhibited his faith throughout the book, and led by example for the outlaws and eventually the King. Lawhead’s subtle use of faith in Tuck may affect more readers than a heavy handed approach.

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  8. […] you started. For the entire list of participants, with check marks that link to their posts, see God and Fiction – A Look at Tuck. On to my […]

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  9. Rachel, thanks for stopping by. One of the things I love about these tours is all that I can learn about writing by thinking about what others have done. It just happened that this tour fit nicely into my discussion about God and fiction.

    Janet, I’ll be interested in your thoughts once you’ve mulled it over.

    Becky

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  10. Hi Becky,
    You said, “Instead, the false and the true lie side by side within the story, without authorial tampering. Never is there any heavy-handedness in dealing with spiritual matters. That which is endemic to the characters comes out naturally. And the reader, then, is left to think through the divergent views.”

    Great food for thought. The false and the true are never hard to sort out, even though they aren’t labeled. I’d say Lawhead provides a great example for Christian writers in not being heavy handed.

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  11. Needing to have God spelled out and potential unorthodoxy “corrected” is a big problem with today’s religious market. Mike, I agree. As I see it, there is a Great Fear that readers will miss the truth. I’ve struggled with that myself, so I think I understand it. The result is, however, too many books “dumb down” Christianity to the lowest common denominator. Make it simple so that even a child can understand it, seems to be the rationale.

    Well, the truth is, faith isn’t all that complicated, so it doesn’t need any dumbing down. God, on the other hand, needs to be shown in all His glory and power, and I think it’s a mistake to oversimplify God.

    Becky

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  12. I think it’s awesome how the good Christians and the bad ones are totally obvious in the telling even though no one says it. We just know that the pay-for-prayer thing is rotten to the core, but because of the story and not because anyone preached at us.

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  13. […] not just Tuck who has faith. Other characters are doing their best to live out their faith too.  Becky Miller points out that the false religious ideas and the true ones are presented side-by-side, with no […]

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  14. Hey Becky! I LOVED this story!! Both my teen sons devoured it! GREAT stuff!!

    Here’s a link to my review:
    http://berlysue.blogspot.com/2009/02/tuck-by-stephen-r-lawhead.html

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  15. I imagine Lawhead felt it went without saying that the buy your way into heaven notion was heresy, but technically he did have Tuck say as much near the end of the book.

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  16. I never thought about how right you are in that the author, Mr. Lawhead portrayed God in the book as the way the characters viewed him… how close to life is that?! That is great. There are people today who are just like Angharad and Tuck, and then people like Little John who rely on others to pray for them and to even others that I can’t remember in the book that didn’t hardly believe in him at all, but just “benefited” from the blessings that God provided without giving Him the credit that is due… Good point on bringing that out! Made me think some more about the content of the book. While I think that a “christian” fiction book should portray the truth more accurately, from a writers standpoint, it makes sense to make the characters more real to us if they act just like the other “real” people in life. 🙂 Good review #1!

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  17. […] looking at God in fiction over at A Christian Worldview of Fiction (see posts here, here, here, and here). Then during the current CSFF Blog Tour for Stephen R. Lawhead’s final installment of the […]

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