Christian Mythmakers

Reviewed by:

Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.

Title:

Christian Mythmakers

Author:

Rolland Hein (foreword by Clyde S. Kilby)

Publisher:

Wipf and Stock (original edition by Cornerstone Press Chicago)

Publication Date:

January 8, 2014 (original edition 1998)

Format:

Paperback

Length:

303 pages

OVERVIEW

For many Christians, the term “mythology” sounds dangerous and pagan. However, many Christian thinkers and scholars (notably J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis) have argued mythology is the stories we tell to understand ourselves, and try to understand the divine. In that context, a mythic story is one that uses vivid, often archetypal imagery to describe truths about the human condition and our relationship with God. Rolland Hein looks at a group of Christian storytellers who have excelled at exploring mythic territory, summarizing each one’s background and unpacking some of their best works. Separate chapters look at:

In a final chapter titled “Myth Today,” Hein considers mythic works by four contemporary authors:

  • The Murry series by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Crying for a Vision by Walter Wangerin Jr.
  • The Whalesong trilogy by Robert Siegel
  • Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard.

For at least five years, Wipf and Stock has been finding great out-of-print Christian books on fantasy (such as Colin N. Manlove’s Modern Fantasy and Fantasy Literature of England) and republishing them for new audiences to access. This book is a great addition to the publisher’s library. Most of Hein’s insights don’t feel dated, although new info about some authors does affect it at times. Since Hein wrote in 1998, a biography on Charles Williams has finally been published, correcting some views that Hein and others have held about Williams’ private life. With Walter Wangerin Jr.’s passing in August 2021, all four of the authors Hein mentions in “Myth Today” are gone, although their works are still well regarded. Other than that, Hein’s thesis continues to stand up. He successfully shows how each author developed Christian mythic stories – Dante’s Christian appropriation of pagan myth images, MacDonald’s use of symbolic language to describe spiritual truths, and so forth. Each chapter is insightful, but Hein is careful not to make things too dense or technical – these are introductions to the writers, not master theses.

As far the authors he chooses, Hein does a great job of picking important authors without retreading old territory. When he talks about Chesterton, he focuses on two Chesterton fantasies rather than his well-known apologetics or detective stories. When he talks about Lewis, he’s careful not to leave out The Pilgrim’s Regress (like Dymer, a very under-read book). His section on Walter Wangerin focuses not on his best-known novel The Book of the Dun Cow, but on his Native American tale Crying for a Vision. His chapter on Robert Siegel is particularly interesting since Siegel, Wangerin and L’Engle were all members of the Chrysostom Society, a Christian writers’ group dedicated to great literature. This mix of well-known and underrated writers, looking at both their well-known and underrated works, gives the book a distinct flavor which keeps it relevant today.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

People interested in Christian literature, particularly fantasy, with mythic qualities – particularly writers associated with the Inklings circle.

Christian Impact

Hein gets readers to think about the mythic impulse and what the need to tell mythic stories says about humanity’s relationship with God. As he unpacks these authors, he shows how mythic stories describe spiritual truths in a potent way, which makes it an enriching activity.

Christian Mythmakers: C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Macdonald, G.K. Chesterton & others


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