Tuesday, October 26, 2010

21 Icons of Mystery

I’m trying to write short stories featuring the Saints as part of a new project that I’m working on that pairs fictional vignettes with spiritual exercises, wrapped up in the slightly dark, solitary aesthetic that used to be so popular in Medieval Christianity, but which has fallen by the wayside in recent years. It’s a somewhat daunting task, because I’m horribly scrupulous and apprehensive. Generally, when I write fiction I stick to the “speculative” genres: mostly fantasy and horror. In those genres, you get to make up your own world, which follows rules that you establish yourself, and you don’t ever have to be afraid about getting in “right” -- except in so far as it has to ring true and follow the inspiration.
Writing with Saints is a different matter, because there’s some sense in which I’m always worried that I’m maligning them by making the portrayals insufficiently rich, unique, beautiful, etc. It’s also a difficult task in general: most of the time, when people try to insert Mary, or the Saints, or Jesus into fiction it comes out horribly maudlin, sappy, sentimental, trite, and flat. It is, however, possible to do it well. Probably the best examples that I know of are Flaubert’s Temptation of St. Anthony, and his short story, “Julian the Hospitator.” Bulgakov’s Master and Marguerita is interesting because it provides, simultaneously, one of literature’s best portrayals of Pontius Pilate, and one of it’s weakest and most banal images of Christ (probably this was at least in part necessitated by the desire to be publishable in the Soviet Union.) Dostoyevski’s “Grand Inquisitor,” from the Brother’s Karamazov, is the best literary depiction of Christ that I know of, though he pulls it off largely by having Christ remain silent while the Grand Inquisitor rants.
Anyway, that’s the task. Prayers are appreciated. I could also use leads on good female Saints to include the project. What I’m looking for are women with interesting lives that will provide good fodder for the imaginative mill. They should be Saints that aren’t already well-known to most Catholics. Ideally there should be some good source material available in English, though older Saints whose lives have been almost entirely reduced to legend can work as well. Seven spots remain.


  1. Interesting comment about The Master and Margarita. I saw a play in New York City a number of years ago that was a collection of short vignettes based on biblical themes. Without a doubt the highlight was a 15-minute sketch from the first encounter of Pilate and Yeshua in M&M. It was amazing...the two of them, and Ratkiller, and Pilate's secretary taking notes and "craning his head like a goose." Just beautifully done.


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