Writing a 'Saviour' figure?

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  • Prisca

    I’m working on a fantasy novel for children/young adults. It includes a ‘Saviour’ figure – who in my mind is representative of Jesus Christ. But I am really struggling to write him!! I have concluded that, in my head and heart, he is too close to Christ. This creates two problems – first, I am anxious about straying too far from who Jesus is and misrepresenting him (so writing a character analysis feels close to blasphemous); second, I want it to be obvious that he is the Saviour, but not too obvious, if you know what I mean – I don’t want to smack people in the head with truth, just illustrate it so that they recognise it when they encounter it in the real world!

    Do any of you have ideas of how I can get around this? Or how I can work with the character without feeling that I’m blundering across holy ground? :-/

    Rachel Donahue

    @prisca, I’ve faced a similar tension in a set of stories I’m writing. Making prayer a part of my practice when sitting down to write has helped me with some of my wrestlings. I can ask the Author Himself to guide me in how best to represent Him in the world I’m creating, free of the pressure to portray everything I see because no finite story (or imagination) can fully capture the infinite. There’s room for mystery.

    Do you have a copy of Every Moment Holy? It has a liturgy for fiction writers that’s been very encouraging and formative for me, increasing my awareness of and dependence upon the Holy Spirit throughout this process. I highly recommend it.

    "I really wasn't a reader, until I started reading." -Mick Donahue

    Matt Garner

    @prisca Oof! Wow, talk about an obstacle. I wish I could help, but I’m just as unequipped as you. The only time I’ve seen this work in that particular genre is Lewis’s treatment of Aslan in the Narnia series. But crafting him in the form of a lion may have provided the reader with enough of a remove to accept the allegory. I can’t imagine having a flesh-and-blood humanoid character who is a stand-in for Christ. That’s pretty much always doomed to come up short. You might consider thinking of this character as being extremely Christ-like but not Christ actual. There have been numerous historical figures, or “heroes of the faith” that have shown Christ-like character while still being flawed, sinful people. Take a look at the lives of the Saints. Particularly the martyrs. Take a look at Maximilian Kolbe for one. I wrote a one-act play about him. A rescuer of sorts, maybe not in the conventional sense. But one of the most compelling Christ-like figures I’d ever heard of since the Apostles.  Don’t get discouraged, though. Sounds like your heart’s in it 🙂


    Linda Rogers

    I am not a writer at all, but as a reader, I have opinions. You can decide whether they are worth anything later. That is questionable, and not something I am qualified to judge.

    I think there are a couple ways to approach this that can help.

    One is to focus on what makes this character a human rather than a symbol. Yes, he can be a savior figure, but he isn’t Jesus Himself. A “savior” is a role he plays in this particular story, not who he actually is. He could choose not to be fill that role and still be a distinct person, or you could encounter this character in another setting and he wouldn’t be the savior figure in that environment. This character has a favorite color. He likes and dislikes certain foods. He might be grouchy if you wake him up too early in the morning. To feel like a real person, there has to be a personality. He will have a way he naturally thinks and interacts with others. He will have things he wants, things he needs, things he hopes for, and things that hurt him. By paying attention to the little quirks and specific things that make this person distinct, you can help make the reader see them as an actual person rather than just a place-filler or being defined by the role they play in the story. This isn’t actually Jesus and he doesn’t have too match Jesus exactly. (After all, no one bothered to tell us what Jesus’ favorite food was, or whether He was introverted, or if he liked to dress neatly or more comfortably, etc. Apparently we didn’t need to know.) None of these things are moral issues- he doesn’t have to be sinful to be a distinct person. But the more specific you can be, the easier it is to believe that this is a person rather than a veiled attempt at preaching.

    Another approach, which I think Andrew Peterson used beautifully in his Wingfeather Saga books, is to split the role. There is not a single “Savior” figure in those books. Instead there are different times when multiple characters take on that role for another character. Those characters also have other times when their weaknesses and even sinfulness shows through, but for a specific time and circumstance, they act as a savior for another character. Nia, Podo, Peet, Janner, Leeli, Nugget, Kal, and Gammon ALL take a turn reflecting Jesus at different points. But since none of them have to live up to His character all the time, they can also be fully rounded, needy humans too. (Although Jesus was fully human, and sometimes needy. But that is hard for me to wrap my head around, and might be off topic for this post.) The point is that not all the saving or reflecting Jesus has to be given to one character. If that is too difficult to write a single perfect person, splitting the role may help make it feel more possible.

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