All About the Allegory
C.S. Lewis touched a nerve with the reading public. His Chronicles of Narnia (for children, but also read by millions of adults), Mere Christianity, The Allegory of Love, and The Screwtape Letters are his most well-known and beloved novels.
Lewis was a prolific writer, a scholar (educated at Oxford) who combined fantastical stories with allegories. Think of Aslan, the lion in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, one of the Narnia chronicles. Aslan clearly and unmistakably represents Jesus. How Lewis was able to weave such a fantastic story into an allegory is what intrigued me.
The two novels in my Solo series are murder mysteries with an allegory—sort of like Agatha Christie teaming up with C.S. Lewis. The first in the series, The Rector, released January 2016. It’s embedded with an allegory of Jesus’s ministry. Other Biblical characters in the story are Martha (the narrator), John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, and Satan. Yes, Satan.
The second in the series, The Actress, released this past January 20th. It’s a Paulinian allegory. “America’s most famous actress comes to the Mississippi Delta to film a controversial movie. She shoots a well-respected man outside her rented bedroom window. Was it self-defense? Murder? Or something else?” Father Paul Compañero is the new Calvary Episcopal Rector. His namesake is the Apostle Paul. He answers Martha’s questions about evil, guilt, even predestination.
Writing a murder mystery allegory is kinda tricky. I felt like I was walking a tightrope from Agatha Christie’s window over to C.S. Lewis’s. I kept one major caution in mind. The allegorical aspect should be subtle, not obvious, certainly not on the nose. Writing an allegory requires planning and structure. It definitely makes you be more creative.
Most readers tell me they were well into the novel before discovering the allegory. And that was my intention from the start. I hope readers find it to be a fun, entertaining read—and even help Martha solve the murder mystery. All while learning something new about God the reader likely never considered.
And what’s an allegory without theology? In my case, I used dialogue to weave in the theology. Here’s an example from The Rector:
After Rector Davidson explained his swollen jaw, Deputy Cox said, “So, Father, I still can’t understand why you let the man knock you down twice. You get up and—how did you say it—you turned your face and invited him to knock you down again?”
Father Davidson simply nodded.
“Where were you two nights ago?” Cox asked. “Upstairs, working on my sermon.”
“Anybody see you there?” “Only God,” the preacher said.
“I see. Do you know where he might be, so I can question him?” Cox asked sarcastically. “He may be a material witness in this murder.” Cox chuckled at his own cleverness.
“Officer Cox, if you would indeed like to see God, may I suggest you cover your face first.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Cox asked.
“It means neither you nor I could stand in the sight of His presence.”
“Okay, whatever,” Cox said. “I’ll be talking with the postmaster later. Maybe I can get something useful from him.”
Does allegory resonate today? One reviewer wrote: “The Rector will keep you entertained from start to finish and the biblical references aren’t in the least ‘preachy’ and only help to enrich the story.” Another wrote: “I got so swept away by the story that I wasn’t thinking about the religious aspect of it. It took me thinking through the allegories to know/get the deeper meaning. It’s as if I was experiencing two stories at once.”
Allegorical writing is a proven approach to creating rich, multi-layered stories with the added benefit of conveying timeless truths in original new ways.