Whether we are pious or not, at one point or the other in our lives, we will come across religion. Similarly, whether we are interested in book-reading or not, we will have to read a few important works once or twice in our lifetime.
What is really interesting is how we can see prevalent religious themes in the works of literature dating back from 18th-century British literature to modern-day literature. Regardless of your religions & belief, it is difficult to deny that the Bible is pretty interesting and is nice as an introduction to religion and literature.
Featuring war & peace, love & hatred, a story about a man-eating whale & a woman who turns to salt, the Bible is indeed a good story with a touch of romance and an adventure that is very interesting to read.
Thus, it isn’t very hard to imagine that Biblical themes continue to persist throughout the history of literature and the effect of such works is prevalent. Let’s briefly discuss a few very common literary works so that you can see how faith systems have impacted the world of books and shaped the words that we read.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The novel is set in the 1960s in a mental asylum. It is written from the perspective of a patient – Chief Bromden – who pretends to be deaf & mute. The narrator details the story of McMurphy, who is a Christ-like figure despite his proclivities for womanizing, drinking, and gambling.
He is an unlikely messiah as he brings salvation to other inhabitants of the asylum. With his exuberant nature, he keeps the patients from falling prey to the rigid behavioral habits instilled by society and the head nurse.
The head nurse is depicted as a devil incarnate while McMurphy is the Christ-like savior. As an allegory for the death of Christ, McMurphy sacrifices himself to save the rest of the patients in the ward.
In the Bible and other pious books, there is always a villain who is leading mankind astray. Putting an alternative spin on this story and idea, Good Omens tells a story about good and bad coming together to stop Apocalypse.
Crowley – the demon – and Aziraphale – the angle – are the representatives of Hell & Heaven on Earth. They join forces and prevent the Antichrist from destroying the world as we know it. However, doing this is more difficult than any of them anticipated.
The novel utilizes humor to convey messages & ideas about the nature of the creation of mankind. We learn a lot about the biblical idea of the Apocalypse and the catalysts as well as the consequences of the world ending.
Even though Vonnegut identified as a secular humanist, we see various Christian themes in his novels and particularly this novel. The story is about Billy Pilgrim – a young soldier who has been drafted to serve in World War II. His last name is a reference to the pilgrimages that people take for pious purposes.
It is a subtle hint and reflection of the journey that Billy goes on in the novel. Despite his pious name and the fact that he came from a very pious family – he grew up with a crucifix hanging from his wall – Billy wasn’t a pious person himself.
In the book by Vonnegut, we learn that he serves as the assistant of a chaplain, and he is captured as a prisoner of war and he witnesses the Dresden bombing. When he comes back from the war, he experiences severe PTSD.
He starts to live one moment to the next and travels everywhere without any prior plan. He prophesied his death and life, which is a hint towards Christ’s prophecy about his death.
An Irish vampire, a gun-toting criminal, and a priest walk into a bar. This does sound like the beginning of a badly written joke. However, this is something that you will find within the pages of the preacher series.
This acclaimed graphic novel series follows the story of Jesse Custer, a preacher from a small town, who is imbued with supernatural powers that give him the ability to command anyone with a simple word.
Throughout these graphic novels, religion is depicted in dark, violent terms. Chaos reigns everywhere and God is nowhere to find. The preacher – Jesse Custer – is hunting him down so that he can make him pay for his shortcomings.
The authors use characters such as Custer to point out the shortcomings and flaws of the pious teachings. Even though Custer has a desire to point out the flaws of religion, he doesn’t reject the idea of God outright – a dilemma which many of us face even today. Similar to Edgar Allan Poe’s book and as is illustrated in the Tell-Tale Heart essay, the human heart knows what the truth is and no matter how many lies try to obscure the reality, it will have a voice louder than the rest.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Surprised to see this book on the list? Don’t be – even though the series received a backlash from the devout Christians for promoting occult and witchcraft, Rowling claims that the series was partially inspired by Christianity.
The seventh and last book in the series starts with two epigraphs drawn from the Quaker Christian tradition. Several biblical quotes appear throughout the novel – especially on the tombstone of Professor Dumbledore and Harry’s parents.
Apart from these subtle pious references, the themes of death and resurrection that are woven in the final chapter, are indeed Christian in nature. Similar to Christ, Harry sacrifices himself to save the rest of the people and then is resurrected.