Finding Christ in Fiction

Author’s Note: In my previous article, I described the Gospel-shaped pattern I see across stories. Here, I will explain why this pattern exists and why it matters.

When I point out biblical parallels in a secular work of fiction, I do not assume that they were intentional on the writer’s part. But stories often reveal truths about God and the Gospel regardless of a writer’s intentions. The enduring popularity of stories that follow the pattern of the Gospel is evidence that they resonate with something deep in the human psyche: our spiritual needs and our ability to recognize truth.

Myth & Fact

Why does the Christian mythos seem to be embedded in so many others? Is it divine inspiration, spiritual warfare, cultural osmosis, artistic imitation, or some combination of these?

The second-century saint Justin Martyr pointed out in his First Apology that many pagan myths are analogous to aspects of the Christian story. Many involve virgin births, half-divine heroes, and dying gods. Mythologist Joseph Campbell recognized the structural consistency of different cultures’ folktales, and believed they were variations of the same truth.

But this does not mean that Christ is simply one more deity among many, or that Christianity is no truer than any other mythology. C. S. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity, described in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, hinged on the realization that Christ was the only instance when a myth—that is, a symbolic truth—also became a historical event. Lewis writes in his essay “Myth Became Fact”:

God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about “parallels” and “pagan Christs”: they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome.

So, why do disparate cultures have variations of the same story, even predating the coming of Christ?

Justin Martyr theorized that demons overheard the prophecies foretelling Christ, and inspired similar tales in pagan poets so that Christ would appear to be merely one of many such legends.

Personally, I think more in terms of the Image of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God has “set eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Even before the Incarnation, people could perceive that the world is not the way it should be, and sense that a hero is needed to heal and restore it. God “shows no partiality” in revealing truth (Acts 10:34). Thus, some pre-Christian philosophers and folktales pointed to Christ without being conscious of it.

Brian Godawa examines Joseph Campbell’s famous “Monomyth,” also known as “the hero’s journey,” in Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment. Godawa argues,

Christians need not deny a Monomyth that is reinterpreted through different traditions. We need to only understand it in its true nature from God’s own revelation. After all, God is the ultimate Storyteller, and the Scriptures say that he has placed a common knowledge of himself in all people through creation and conscience … Christianity is itself the true incarnation of the Monomyth in history, and other mythologies reflect and distort it like dirty or broken mirrors.

(Godawa 69-70)

St. Basil the Great also used the imagery of mirrors in his “Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature.” He argued that young Christians should study the works of pagan authors, in which they could “perceive the truth as it were in shadows and in mirrors,” as preparation before studying the deeper, clearer truths of Sacred Scripture.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm believed that the oral tales of their culture contained religious meanings that had been forgotten as they were passed down. They considered the folk tales “remnants of ancient faith expressed in poetry,” as G. Ronald Murphy, S.J., explains in The Owl, the Raven, and the Dove. The Grimm brothers’ stories synthesize elements of not only Christianity but also German, Norse, Greek, and Roman mythologies. Their characters’ adventures represent the soul’s spiritual journey, with tests and failures, betrayals and reconciliations, separations and reunions, death and resurrection.

Like Samwise Gamgee says in the film version of The Two Towers, such stories stay with us even if we do not fully understand them at the time. Our hearts, made in the Image of God, can still recognize their truthfulness. We keep returning to stories of rescue, redemption, and reconciliation because they speak to our deepest longings. We dimly remember a happy past, and we yearn for a future where things will be better.

Why does this matter?

Christ calls us to evangelize, and entertainment media reaches people of all different worldviews. An awareness of the salvation story pattern can help us talk about our faith in the context of the culture we live in. And whether a story develops or deviates from the pattern of the Gospel, it can help us articulate our beliefs by providing points of comparison.

Obviously, not all stories adhere to every step of the pattern. But even those that do not can still point to Christ in an imperfect, incomplete way. One long-beloved example of this is the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus seems to prefigure Christ in his journey to the Underworld, but he fails to bring his bride back to life. His failure demonstrates that human beings cannot save themselves from death. Plato argues in his “Symposium” that the reason Orpheus failed was that he was not willing to die in order to save Eurydice. In this way, the myth of Orpheus illustrates humanity’s need for a divine Savior who is willing to lay down His life for His beloved.

Learning to recognize our values in a story can deepen our appreciation of them as we view them in a new context. It is one thing to talk about the concepts of justice and mercy; it is another thing to see Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert wrestle with them in Les Misérables.

St. Basil points out that even stories with elements directly opposed to Christian values can help to strengthen them by providing contrast. As Steve Turner says in Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, “the ideas we end up disagreeing with can have the effect of making our faith more vital by forcing us to examine what we really believe.”

Finally, recognizing echoes of the Gospel in popular media can create organic opportunities to talk about faith with other people, even in casual settings. Simply explaining why the latest movie resonated with you may open the door to share your worldview with someone.

To be a Christian is not merely to believe in the historicity of a long-ago or far-off story. It means believing that our lives are part of a story, which is still unfolding and ultimately will have a happy ending. It means accepting the invitation to play a role in the plot and participate in the resolution. It is, in a sense, to believe in “happily ever after”—or, as Julian of Norwich put it, that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

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Jacqueline Tetrault is a writer, photographer, and theatre artist from the Archdiocese of Boston, where she worked as a reporter for The Pilot for five years. She is the creator of Finding Faith in Fandoms, a podcast and blog about finding reflections of the Gospel in works of fiction. Information about her work and links to her social media can be found at

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