Monday, December 14, 2009

Not another "angels" book!

Angels and Other Strangers
by Katherine Paterson, 1979

I confess, when I was first given an attractively bound little book with “angels” in the title, I cringed inwardly. More sentimental, mass-produced, contrived plots with bad theology? Forgive me, Bob and Ruth, my reading friends, I should have known you better than that. I realized my mistake when I read the back of the book, which told me that Katherine Paterson is the author of Bridge to Terabithia. Oh, this lady can write! Maybe I should re-examine her angels book.

Turns out the stories were written, one a year, for Paterson’s Presbyterian minister husband to read to his congregation at Christmastime. The first year, when the minister requested a story, Paterson went to the library to find one. But she could find only sentimental, contrived plots with bad theology. And she said to herself, “I could do better than this!”

So, expect lots of tragedy lurking round the edges of these nine Christmas stories. Some are quite dark and others are dark and funny, but all take a redemptive turn before the end.

Perhaps because Paterson’s children were small when she was writing them, children appear in all nine stories, and six of the nine feature babies. This made the stories especially poignant, not to mention suspenseful, for the mother that I am. I went through each story hoping nothing bad was going to happen to the baby. Sometimes it did. One story deals with a mother grieving after the stilbirth of her daughter, and one with a Japanese minister whose wife, son and baby were killed (before the story opens) when a bomb hit their house. But no such tragedy takes place “on stage,” so to speak.

Paterson’s fictional children aren’t all little angels, either. Their very immaturity and sin even drive the plot in some of the stories. This, whether it’s tragedy or just immaturity, is a part of the fallen world that Christ came to save.

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