Thursday, December 14, 2006

Suspend Disbelief All Ye Who Enter Here

Continuing with the theme of belief/lack of belief I'd like to take a look at a couple of free online works by Holly Lisle. The second is a short re-working of a fairytale and the first is a longer novel, Sympathy for the Devil, which, as I observed regarding many paranormal romances, can be read as an inspirational (but non-Christian) romance. Although it draws heavily on Christian theology and is monotheistic, there is no endorsement for any particular world religion.

The reason I'm paraphrasing from Dante's Divine Comedy in the title of this post is that it seems entirely appropriate in the context of Lisle's Sympathy for the Devil. The original phrase, from the third Canto of the Inferno (the first part of the Comedy, which is followed by Purgatorio and then Paradiso) is written above the gate to Hell and is often rendered as 'Abandon hope, all ye who enter here'. Hope is one of the three theological virtues, along with Faith and Charity (Love) and the heroine of Sympathy for the Devil has all three in abundance. This being a romance (or, at least, I read it that way, because it has both 'a central love story' and 'an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending') it seems appropriate that one is forcefully reminded of the words of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13: 13) concerning love: 'And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity'.

Sympathy for the Devil is by turns humorous, emotionally powerful and psychologically insightful, much like C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. Lisle acknowledges her debt to both 'Mark Twain and C.S. Lewis, who introduced me to this territory when I was nine'. Lewis' theology is considerably more orthodox than Lisle's, however, and his work is composed of a series of letter from Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. Through the letters (a sample letter is available here) one learns about the faith journey of Wormwood's 'patient', the human whose soul he is trying to gain. The Screwtape Letters contains a significant romantic thread but unlike Lisle's Sympathy for the Devil it is not a romance.

There are a number of reviews available of Sympathy for the Devil, for example here and here. Holly Lisle has also written about the theologial and personal background to the novel here. I'd recommend, however, that you read them only after reading the novel itself. So, if you're ready to start, here's the first page. I'll be interested to know how people feel about this. Did you think of it as a romance? Did you enjoy the humour? How did you feel about the theology?

The second online work of Lisle's I want to look at is Armor-ella, a reworking of the Cinderella story. As in the previous novel, an important issue is belief in paranormal beings. This time, however, they're ones more often discussed in fairytales than by theologians.

I'm looking forward to reading your opinions on these two.

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