Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What's Wrong with Christian Romance Novels

Romance novels make up the bulk of the Christian fiction market. Harlequin’s Love Inspired is pumping out six a month. Then there are suspense novels, many of which are also romances. Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense is pumping out four of those a month. And that’s just a portion of what one publisher is putting out. It seems that the theory of Christian publishers is that there is not story that cannot be rewritten as a romance.

I’ve been giving this subject some thought ever since Tamela Hancock Murray brought it up on Steve Laube’s blog ([1], [2]). Tamela is a literary agent and a romance novelist, so that should give you some idea of her view on the subject. But the thing I’m really struggling with is the concept of love that we find in Christian romance novels. I’m not going to tell you that they aren’t clean. I’m not going to tell you that they are poorly written. I could give examples, but most are clean enough that pastors’ wives read them and the readers aren’t complaining about the writing. But the one thing I’ve found to be consistent throughout Christian romance novels that I’ve read is the concept of love. (Yes, I have read Christian romance novels, so don’t bother leaving a comment saying I don’t know what I’m talking about because I don’t read them.)

Inevitably in a romance novel you will find this concept of being “in love”. Often, the struggle in the book is this question of whether two people love each other. By this, the author mean, are they “in love” with each other. In other words, does this person make the character feel all fuzzy inside? Is this person the one she daydreams about? Does she imagine what her kids would look like if they had this man’s eyes and nose? Of course, it is never as simple as that because there is usually something that keeps the characters from wanting to be “in love” with the other, such as some past argument. But once they get past that and admit to each other that they are in love with each other, they eagerly put aside their differences and live happily ever after.

That kind of love is great. I’m all for it and I truly believe it is a blessing from God as long as we don’t abuse it. The problem I see with so many romance novels is that the basis for determining whether two people should be together is whether they are “in love” or not. My apologies to my friend Colleen Coble, but consider her recent novel Lonestar Angel. In this book, the two lead characters are separated and one of them thought they were divorced, but the her husband shows up as she is considering marriage to another man to tell her that he knows where their daughter is and needs her help to get her back. Throughout the book, we see that he still loves his wife, but is reluctant to tell her this and that he wants them to be together. We also see that she still has feeling for him and she also is reluctant to tell him. As for the other guy, he was just a friend anyway, so there never was a question of whether she was “in love” with him. All the right people get together in the end and they live happily ever after.

While that sounds great, what does that say about real life? While being “in love” with one’s spouse doesn’t hurt anything and we might find it difficult to decide to marry someone with whom we are not “in love”, it is dangerous to portray that as the basis for a successful relationship. The problem is that a man may wake up one morning and realize the old romance has gotten stale. He looks at his wife and she isn’t as attractive as she once was. She doesn’t take the time to get dressed up for him, like she once did. Their conversations are about things like what’s for supper and who will pick up the kids from school. And they can’t agree because she wants to buy a new pair of shoes when he knows they need to save money. Is it now okay for a man to leave his wife or a wife her husband because the feeling is gone? If the unthinkable should happen, and they get divorced, should the return of the “in love” feeling be the basis for them to get back together?

As great as that feeling is, no, that is not what the Bible says. Husbands, love your wives. Do it intentionally. Even if you don’t feel like it, love your wives. Even if you wonder if it was a mistake to marry her, love your wives. And wives, respect your husbands. Even if you don’t feel attracted to him, respect him. Listen to what he has to say. Even if you know he’s making a bad decision, respect him. Let him make mistakes and stick by him and support him as he learns from his mistake. That’s what the Bible says, but I have yet to see it in a romance novel.

4 comments :

Angelia said...

When I was a Christian, I learned there were many types of love. What you're talking about in these books is sublimated eros and infatuation.

Eros and Infatuation are the launching pads for a relationship, they don't keep it in the air. Phileo (friendship love) and storge (settled love) do that. Unfortunately, most romances are "will they or won't they get together" usually with a dash of Big Misunderstanding. So all we see is the launch stage.

This is part of why I like writing established couples facing a crisis, whether blackmail from a jilted fiancee forcing them to go on an arctic expedition or a zombie invasion or a sudden power gap when the ruler of the planet dies, these things test the characters and their relationships.

Angelia said...

BTW, I'm here by way of link from a romance blog. Apologies for bouncing in without intro.

Timothy Fish said...

Angelia,

Yes, you are correct, what I am referring to is what the Greeks would have called eros or what we might call infactuation in English. The Greek word you didn't mention is agape, which is the kind of love the Bible says a man should have for his wife. I can see that the kind of stories you mentioned have a greater opportunity of demonstrating that kind of love than a romance novel does.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Your article is interesting. Here are my thoughts. When I was in my late teens, 20s and 30s, I devoured romance fiction (of all kinds). After I get into my 40s, the books seemed so repetitive and boring because it was always the same predictable storylines and manufactured "happy endings." Now that I'm in my 50s, I much prefer to read primarily Scriptures, books on prayer and spiritual growth or learning about real life experiences of people of faith. To me that beats escaping into fantasy, no matter how 'innocent' or inspiring the fantasy in the book. Ephesians 5:16 says we should make the most of our time, and one has to wonder if escapism (in any genre) does that. So while there is nothing necessarily 'wrong' with Christian romance fiction, one has to wonder if it's the most profitable use of our time...but then the same could be said for TV viewing, dinking on the internet, blogging etc lol.