The Good News: No Snarky Theology this week. After Communion, Lent, Sex, and Evolution, I'm taking a break.
The Even Better News: Today, we have a guest blog from Murder in the Vatican author Ann Margaret Lewis.
Since Murder in the Vatican deals with tales from the Sherlock Holmes canon that involve Holmes working with Leo XIII, I asked if she could blog about history in fiction, religious historical character in fiction, or "something like that". As you can see, I was very helpful about picking out a topic for her.
The below was the result.
For the record, I have not doctored or altered her text in any way. In fact, the only "edit" I made was that I asked that she insert some hyperlink footnotes to some of her statements.
And, here we go.
|Ann Margaret Lewis|
You can’t help but notice: people of religious faith make popular villains—especially with secular publishers and film studios. From The Three Musketeers and Hunchback of Notre Dame, to DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. From the Godfather series, to even Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. From Voltaire’s Tartuffe, to TV shows like Showtime’s Borgias and films, comic books and animated films like Happy Feet. The list goes on and on.
So it’s safe to say that making a villain a person of religious conviction isn’t an unusual convention. A great source of conflict and interest is a character who goes against their own supposed principles, or warps them to their own ends. And in any case, to many in the secular world, someone who believes something to the exclusion of all else, someone who isn’t a relativist, has to be close-minded bigot, right?
On the contrary, having principles and sticking by them does not always mean that. Real people are not so cut and dried. What one needs to be, when creating characters and even creating their villains, is honest. Otherwise, the whole convention just gets to be….well…cliché.
When I wrote Murder in the Vatican, I did my best to portray Pope Leo XIII in a way that was, I hope, honest. I would be just as honest in writing about a shameful pope like Alexander VI. But I wasn’t interested in a crummy pope. I’ll leave that for Showtime to cover (yawn). Our secular culture is so hungry to see religious figures as corrupt, they rewrite history to try to turn those who were fine people into villains—as is this case of the pope of this blog, Venerable Pius XII. And not just he, but Benedict XVI as well—if he isn’t a Nazi (here Benedict’s the story in his own words), then he’s a protector of paedophiles (never mind that he was one of the one’s trying to do right in that regard).
So it stands to reason that I decided to do something—well—different—to go against the grain. The religious folks in my book aren’t the villains. While, Pope Leo is a man of his time, he is also a man of the future in thought. He was a son of a noble family, quite different from his predecessor and successor (Pius IX and Piux X) both of whom came from humbler beginnings. Perhaps that is why Leo has not been put on the sainthood track, though his care for the poor and the working class was legendary. But I realized through simple research, all I had to do was write Leo as he was to the best of my ability to have an interesting character.
Sherlock Holmes himself says in the story “A Case of Identity”—“Life is infinitely stranger than the mind of man can invent.” I would suggest to the would-be storytellers of the world that before you go with the tired cliché of a corrupt religious character, try making them three dimensional, tell the truth about them. Give them a point of sympathy, for most humans have one. It is far more satisfying for your readers/viewers (not to mention less bigoted).
Born and raised in Waterford, Michigan, Ann Margaret Lewis attended Michigan State University, where she received her Bachelor's degree in English Literature. She began her writing career writing tie-in children’s books and short stories for DC Comics. Before Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, she published a second edition of her book, Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Alien Species, for Random House.