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 sureβ€”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 listβ€”click on the check marks to go to specific posts), and tell them I sent you. πŸ˜‰

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