Saturday 9 June 2007

25 great Christ-figures from novels

Kim and I got together and compiled a list of our favourite Christ-figures from novels. Here’s our top 25, listed in chronological order:

1. Don Quixote: Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605, 1615)
2. Dinah Morris: George Eliot, Adam Bede (1859)
3. Prince Myshkin: Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot (1869)
4. Jim: Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn (1885)
5. Billy Budd: Herman Melville, Billy Budd (begun c.1886)
6. Gerassim: Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886)
7. Benjy: William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)
8. Gandalf: J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1937-49)
9. Jim Casey: John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
10. The priest: Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (1940)
11. John Singer: Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
12. Tarrou: Albert Camus, The Plague (1947)
13. Stephen Kumalo: Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country (1948)
14. Aslan: C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
15. Santiago: Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
16. Simon: William Golding, Lord of the Flies (1954)
17. Himmelfarb: Patrick White, Riders in the Chariot (1960)
18. Asher Lev: Chaim Potok, My Name Is Asher Lev (1972)
19. Hazel: Richard Adams, Watership Down (1972)
20. Krishna: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1986)
21. Oscar: Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda (1988)
22. Owen Meany: John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
23. Harold and Raymond McPheron: Kent Haruf, Plainsong (1999) and Eventide (2004)
24. Vianne Rocher: Joanne Harris, Chocolat (1999)
25. Nakata, tracer of lost cats: Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (2003)


a. steward said...

It is interesting to me that several of the christ figures here have disabilities of some sort: Benjy (mentally retarded), John Singer (mute), Santiago (shit luck), Owen Meany (dwarf). Any thoughts on this?

Also, did you drop the restrictions on priests? If so, then why not Father Paneloux? It seems to me that Camus clearly wants him to represent Christ, and thus stands as his condemnation of Christianity: i.e., the best he has to offer is solidarity in death, and that's it. But then maybe Camus figure Tarrou is the new kind of Christ, the Christ of resistance or something.

What do you make of Winston in 1984? Jonas in The Giver? Finny in A Separate Peace?

Anonymous said...

Hi A.

Two pick up on your first two paragraphs:

My thought on the "disabilities" is Isaiah 53:2-3.

As for Paneloux, I don't think he represents Christ for Camus any more than the Grand Inquisitor does for Dostoevsky; while Tarrou, I think, represents the saint-without-God that Camus is looking for (cf. Bonhoeffer).

Michael F. Bird said...

What about Jean Valjean from Les Miserables! I'd put him second after Anacan. Oh yeah, Luke Skywalker has to get a mention too!

John Santic said...

I'm curious if you considered Babette from Babette's Fest. She is definitely a Christ figure in the way she draws out reconciliation in a community.

a. steward said...

Good answer with the disabilities. Have you heard of Nancy Eisland's book The Disabled God? It's a liberation theology of disability. It's a short book with a real provocative thesis, namely that the marks of the crucifiction on the resurrected Christ have a radical effect on the way we need to understand physical wholeness.

I would agree that the Grand Inquisitor does not represent Christ for Dostoyevsky (though maybe he does functionally for Ivan). But the key difference is that the Grand Inquisitor is interrogating the actual Jesus. For Camus, there is no actual Jesus. There is only Paneloux, and without the validation of resurrection, his sacrifice is nobly motivated, but in the end just absurd as any other death. He is then maybe not so much the Christ-figure of atheism (this would definitely be Tarrou), but Christ of Christianity from the perspective of atheism

gmw said...

Thanks for mentioning Asher Lev. That's a favorite book of mine, and it is poignant that his gifts are unwelcome and more than that blasphemous to his own community who cannot make sense of his (divine) vocation.

Anonymous said...

What a great list! Several there that wouldn't have occurred to me, but are spot on!

Some others come to mind:

1. Manolios: Nikos Kazantzakis, The Greek Passion
2. The father: Cormac McCarthy, The Road
3. Barabas: Barabas, Per Lagerkvist
4. Monsignor Quixote: Monsignor Quixote, Graham Greene
5. Henry Scobie: The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
6. Hazel Motes: Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor
7. Nancy: Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

Suggestions of Christ figures in Walker Percy? I'm sure they must be there. But it's been too long since I've read him...

Halden said...

I've really got to disagree with Asher Lev. As I see it he's much more a figure of Enlightenment indivdualism/expressivism. The whole point about Lev is that he can only be himself and realize his true potential by shedding himself of his community and tradition. Something akin to "release from his self-incurred tutelage". That's the story of the Enlightenment, not Jesus.

Anonymous said...

a few that come to mind for me:

You could come up with a Christ figure in each of Dostoevsky's books, but I'd go with

Sonya- Crime and Punishment as my favorite over the Prince or Aloysha

In more recent writing, I'd certainly vote for

Hassan in the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseni as my favorite. long-suffering love from an excluded person that produces redemption and transformation

Ben Myers said...

Hi Halden -- yes, I know what you mean about Asher Lev. I guess I wasn't thinking of Christ-figures in a narrowly "redemptive" sense (although, of course, the redemptive dimension of Asher's vocation becomes explicit in the sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev).

Apart from any question of redemptive significance, I reckon Asher Lev is a wonderfully vivid Christ-figure: his vocation leads him, in the end, to crucifixion (i.e. the "Brooklyn Crucifixion"). And when he first begins to imitate traditional Christian forms, his poor Jewish father shakes his head and says in astonishment: "Look where you have brought us, Asher. You have brought us to Jesus."

I guess that's one of the things I like about the book: it provides a distinctively Jewish perspective on the whole notion of "Christ-figures".

Anonymous said...

Hi folks,

Thanks for all your comments and your own favourites. Ben and I decided not to have any criteria on this one, though in my own mind, apart from the one priest (and, yes, Maiden, Monsignor Quixote was another that came to mind!), they were pretty much the same as the criteria for the filmic Christ-figures (and Babette didn''t make it because she was in that list).

I also thought only one character per author: not only from Greene, but also, e.g., from Dostoevsky, one could think of several. The absence of a Dickens character is a glaring omission, and thanks to Joshua for mentioning Hassan from The Kite Runner.

The wish-list grows ever longer!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and two other things: we tried to get a broad chronological as well as geographical spread of authors.

Anonymous said...

I would add Everett from The Brothers K by David James Duncan (I think Everett, not Irwin, is the Christ-figure in that novel).

And I think Myshkin is the best choice as far as Dostoevsky is concerned. More than any of his other novels, The Idiot is his attempt to explore what might have occured if Christ were to have been present in the Russia of his day.

As for Dickens, I would go with Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities.

Anonymous said...

Ben and Kim. I'm curious about how/why you came to identify Gandalf as the 'Christ figure' in The Lord of the Rings. Though Gandalf does bring strong echoes of the wisdom tradition, it seems to me that Aragorn II (son of Arathorn II) would be the obvious choice. A man among men, but still something other than them. The leader of men, dwarves and elves. A strong sense of call to fulfill his mission as its leader. I could go on. etc etc. Anyway, just curious.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,

Funny that you should mention an alternative The Lord of the Rings character. I considered one myself - only it wasn't Aragorn, it was Frodo! I guess we're spoiled for choice.

Anonymous said...

I too considered Frodo. Yes we are spoiled for choice.

thegreatswalmi said...

I'll second maiden's desire to see Manolios from Christ Recrucified included. If he's not a christ figure, i don't know who is!

Matt Elliott said...

Kudos for mentioning Asher Lev. LOVE that book.

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