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Discussion Post: Religion in Fantasy & YA Books

Incorporating religion in books can be a very tricky business. Even if it’s really well-written, books with spiritual elements can upset and annoy even the most easy-going readers. 

Religion in Books

Recently, I’ve had the random luck of reading four or five books that incorporated religious themes, including Waterfall and Cascade (The River of Time series), The Mephisto Covenant and The Girl of Fire and Thorns. 

The Bible

All of these books tied in ideas about God, faith, prayer and good vs. evil in completely different and unique ways. One of the only common threads among the novels was the idea that people struggle with their faith no matter how devout or strong their beliefs are. 

Other than that, it was a complete free-for-all. 

Like I mentioned before, religion can be a strong divider. Heck, if it can cause wars in real life, it could definitely rile people up even in fictional worlds (ex. The Da Vinci Code). 

When I read books that have spiritual themes, there are some things I try to keep in mind:

  • Most book are not going to represent my personal beliefs. For some, this may be a deal breaker, but for me it’s not. In the science fiction/fantasy world, anything goes. And, I mean anything (we’re talking unicorn girls in space). So, I’m not shocked or surprised to read about necromancy or ghosts or angels. The whole point of this genre is to write about things that couldn’t happen in real life. 
  • It’s fiction. Although this is pretty basic, it’s surprising the number of people who forget this. Fiction can be used to teach life lessons and make us think foreign ideas or concepts, but it also serves to entertain us. It’s for fun. To help keep reading an enjoyable pasttime, I remind myself to sit down, relax and read. The blog isn’t called “Read.Breathe.Relax.” for nothing…  😉
  • I can stop reading a book at any time. If I’m getting creeped out, disturbed or annoyed, I just stop reading. I can skip parts and move on or just put the book down. Usually, I get so annoyed that I keep reading just to see where the book’s going, but I try to remind myself that getting mad at a book doesn’t do a lot of good. 

 Personal pet peeves:

  •  Lack of consistency in religious practices or ideas, like in The Mephisto Covenant. Ugh…
  • A portrayal of a stereotypical religious fanatic- someone who is judgmental, hateful and self-righteous (i.e. Angela from The Office)
  • Hedonism for hedonism’s sake. Books that employ an anything-goes mentality just to be subversive or alternative or to represent what “real teens” are doing. 

It’s your turn- what do you think about religion in books? What are your pet peeves?

About Lisa Parkin

I'm a hardcore lover of young adult fiction and have been reviewing books since 2011. Other interests include Downton Abbey, heat lightning storms, Harry Potter land and (begrudingly) one orange tabby.
  • Lea

    Hi Lisa!

    I recently read 2 books that have religious or spiritual themes in them. The first was Incarnate by Jodi Meadows, which centers around the idea of reincarnation, and The Sharp Time by Mary O’Connell, which presents many aspects of Catholicism and religious Christianity…

    Now for me personally, I am very strong in my Christian faith and I have a close relationship with God, so it can be tricky reading books like these. Basically, I just keep in mind pretty much the same things you mentioned above– and unless I am getting uncomfortable because a book is clearly trying to push some hidden religious agenda on me, I am open to reading different things.

    In both Incarnate and The Sharp Time, even though the authors were presenting different ideas, opinions and beliefs, they were not shoving them down my throat, by saying this IS the way it IS, and if you don’t believe it, then you are WRONG. It was more like, take it or leave it, interpret this however you see fit. Some people might get offended, but I guess if you are confident enough in what you believe, it isn’t going to shake that. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some things that rubbed me the wrong way– for example, in The Sharp Time, I didn’t like how the characters “slung around” the name “Jesus” all the time, but then that makes me think why it bothers me, and sort of re-confirms my own beliefs, if that makes any sense!

    Great, thought-provoking question! Thanks for bringing this up 🙂

    ~Lea @ LC’s Adventures in Libraryland

  • Jenny

    I don’t really care one way or the other. I’m bugged when books poke fun of religious people and mock us but still, people are entitled to their opinion and I don’t have to read the book.

  • It depends on the book and the way the religion is incorporated for me. Like you said, with fantasy and sci fi, anything goes. With realistic fiction, I’m more apt to be annoyed with it if it’s preachy or if it’s subtle in its way to put other beliefs down.

    One of my favorite series is His Dark Materials. I’m not atheist. I have a very strong belief in God and I am very religious. But, this series didn’t bother me because even though they killed “God,” to me the character wasn’t really God. It was too far from my own beliefs, it was fantasy, and it was fiction. What I liked about it was that it made me think and reevaluate my own beliefs, making them stronger.

    So, if it’s done right, I’m perfectly fine with religion in books. But, I normally don’t pick up Christian fiction just for the heck of it because I usually find it’s not as well written and it’s too preachy.

  • I don’t normally go out of my way to read books with real-world religions in them. It’s just not something I’m interested in. When it does pop up, I usually don’t mind it … Unless it’s like some bastardized version, then I’m like, “WTF is this?” Like Mephisto Covenant … haha, funny you mention it! I totally agree it was inconsistent and just bizarre. It was clearly fictional, but also sort of based off of Christianity with God and the devil, Adam and Eve, and all that jazz.

  • Elizabeth Baxter

    This is a really interesting issue. My own opinion is that fiction is just that: fiction and any portrayal of religion should be taken as such. Some people seem to take offence if their religion is treated harshly in a book which I don’t really understand. It’s just someone’s opinion after all. That said, I don’t think fiction should be used as an excuse to bash a religion. I recently read a book where all the bad guys were part of a religious sect. This is one of my pet peeves. It’s way too simplistic. It’s a bit like saying all members of a particular race are bad guys. I mean, come on.