I am very excited to be attempting some form of literary analysis with my kids. As I posted earlier, we are basing what we do on the book Deconstructing Penguins (review here) and are going through some kids’ classics with an eye to learning how to ferret out what the author’s hidden message is. I say the author’s message because that is how Deconstructing speaks, but the truth is that I don’t take author’s intent too seriously. I know there are two schools of thought on this, but I have always thought that works, whether of literature or art, can have a meaning beyond what their creators intended. I think the authors of Deconstructing really feel this way too since they say that there is not one right answer and that one just needs to be able to defend one’s position from the text. If it all depended on what the author intended to convey, then we could call them up and find out what the one right answer is.
All of this is just precursor to what I really want to say which is this: In addition to the questions that Deconstructing suggests to us to ask, I think we as Christians also need to ask how the stories we read fit into The Big Story. As Christians, we believe that we are living within a story (I am indebted for this language to the Storyformed Conference I attend last year; read about that here). The fact is that there is an Author (notice the big “A”) who is Himself part of the story and who shapes the people and events around us. It is the story of all creation, from perfect creation through fall and redemption and continuing on until the completion of time.
As we discussed Mr. Popper’s Penguins, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my elder daughter found a Christian message in the book (you’ll have to look back at that earlier post to see what it was). Now I don’t want to find a Christ-figure in every book or to make every book have a Christian message. The message might not always be a good one. It might just be a picture of what the world without God is like; it might be an accurate depiction fo the human heart (which is not a cheery thing). I’m pulling together a lot of strands in this post, but I am also indebted to the book Meaning at the Movies (review here) for these ideas. In that volume the author, who is a Christian, discusses how we view movies and particularly how to discern the worldview behind them. He says, and I agree, that a movie need not be Christian in any way to be valuable for Christians to watch. Again, you’d have to read my earlier review for more details (sorry; I don’t mean to promo my own posts so much; it’s just working out that way), but he says all the truths which humans try and suppress pop up in other ways they don’t intend.
Which gets us back to the fact that we can’t rely on the author’s intentions alone. Because authors are human and might not even realize in what ways the truths they are trying to suppress come through in their stories. The very fact that we do create so much fiction, and in so many forms, is evidence of this. We are, as I said, living a part of The Big Story and we humans tend to naturally express ourselves in story. When an author writes a story, it is already a story within a story (the story of his or her own life, the story of creation and time). So when we sit down to say “what does this book mean?”, we must also ask “how does this story fit into The Big Story?”