An issue that often confronts me at school is an approach to fiction. I do not read fiction and to many of my colleagues this is seen as different.
Personally, I have always found reading about real people and real things much more stimulating. While I would not encourage pupils to read books that contain inferior content - I am still undecided about whether I have an qualms about them reading what are essentially story books. It was into this type of indecision came this book of the month.
I was delighted a few months ago when I read an extract from this book in the Banner of Truth magazine. Iain Murray has taken as his topic a most important area for modern Christians, especially given the prevalence in some evangelical periodicals to now write reviews of fiction and reviews of films. I was a little saddened to note for the first time in the Evangelical Times the presence of a film review for something entitled Slumdog millionaire. It is therefore, all the more important that this little book is read widely and I would encourage you to buy it.
At the outset, this is a short book and it is open to question whether it actual does what it has in its subtitle, i.e. an analysis of how fiction has changed britain. Iain Murray makes many telling points and provides some excellent short bio-pics of authors that one would tend to class at the better end of the fiction spectrum. What he fails to do is provide any lengthy analysis of the way that fiction has changed Britain. At the end of the book, with his usual evangelical zeal he promotes the gospel - and in many ways I admire him for this.
In the opening he says that "in 1870 the largest group of new books to be published was religious. Works of fiction came fifth on the list. With reference to that era, the historian G.M. Trevelyan wrote: 'The popular heroes of that period - and they were true heroes - were religious men first and foremost (Livingstone, Gordon, Lord Shaftesbury, Gladstone).' ... Sixteen years after 1870, however, in 1886, a further census of popular literature put works of fiction at the head of the list.... A most potent attack on Christianity in modern times has been little recognised. Most of the writers to whom I will refer used fiction to present something they believed to be better than the Christian life."
The next couple of chapters deal with different authors. I winced at the way that Robert Lewis Stevenson spoke and acted towards his godly father. Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, G. B. Shaw are all openly antagonistic to religion. He discusses the role of B. Russell and his philosophy - the book even begins with a most telling quote from his autobiography,
'Through the long years, I sought peace; I found ectasy, I found anguish, I found madness, I found loneliness, I found the solitary pain that gnaws the heart, but peace I did not find.'
Murray then directs his reader towards Christianity as not being fiction and towards a God, that is a God of peace.