C.S. Friedman and Religion

Last night, I finished reading C.S. Friedman’s final book in her Magister Trilogy, Legacy of Kings.  It was a compelling and captivating end to a fantastic (pun not intended) series of books.  In many ways, I feel sad leaving behind the world of Souleaters and Magisters and the people (and creatures) that inhabit those worlds.

However, as I think of the series as a whole and her equally excellent Coldfire Trilogy, what really gets my notice is the skill, criticality, and sensitivity with which she writes about religion.  In both series, she writes about characters who follow diverse religions and yet work together.  And in both series, she describes one religion (though unique to each series) that is monotheistic in nature and, in my opinion anyway, bears numerous similarities to Christianity (or at least certain expressions of Christianity).  Whether it is the authoritarian church created by Prophet-turned-traitor Gerald Tarrant to tame the chaotic and deadly fae or the Penitent Church of King Salvator that believes the soul-devouring ikati are the punishment of the Destroyer for mankind’s sins, the monumental religion in question takes on trapping that are reminiscent of the dominant monotheistic faith in our own society.

What I find interesting about Friendman’s treatment of these religions is that she offers a thoughtful and critical — yet not damning — analysis of these monotheistic religions, and Christianity by analogy.  She seeks to explore what she clearly believes are both strengths and weaknesses of the faiths of her creation, offering a commentary that is neither too harsh more too fawning.

One of the methods she accomplishes this is through the stories characters who practice these faiths.  She explores how their faith influences their actions and how the trials they face challenge, strengthen, and occasionally alter their faith.  In effect, she creates deep characters of substance to occupy and portray these religions rather than strawmen to prop them up or tear them down.  Damien Vryce, Gerald Tarrant[1], and King Salvatore are all (relatively, in Gerald’s case) sympathetic characters who put humanity to faith.

Of course, their actions and portrayal of the monotheistic faiths are strengthened by their interactions with people of the other religions in these two worlds, the polytheistic, pagan idol-worshippers[2].  The monotheists sincerely struggle with how to interact with the other people who make up their world, even when confronted with things that are forbidden by their own faith.  In turn, the polytheists are given voice by Friedman to express, explore, and revise their opinions of the monotheistic religions and how those religions affect those followers.

In effect, Friedman writes a beautiful yet realistic world in which the realities of pluralism are negotiated and dealt with.  If only we could do so well here in the real world.

[1] Granted, one might argue whether Tarrant can still rightfully be called a follower of the Church he founded.  But I seem to recall that he arrogantly claimed at one point in the Coldfire trilogy that he still served the Church in his own way, and I’m inclined to grant him that conceit.


[2] Interestingly, neither Friedman nor her characters seem to use this term in a derogatory manner, but in a more technical manner.  And while I might nit-pick whether people actually worship their idols in the technical sense, I applaud Friedman’s apparent lack of denigration.


One thought on “C.S. Friedman and Religion”

  1. Aaah. How did I not find these entries a while ago..? Considering you’re tackling one of my favorite authors, and even one of my favorite series (that being the Coldfire Trilogy, though the Magister Trilogy was pretty awesome, too.)

    I really love the presentation of the various gods in the Coldfire Trilogy,and the contrast presented between the abstract and absent God of the church, and the present and .. erm, less abstract gods of the various temples.

    I keep meaning to write something more about that, in that I think her basic premise is very Christian and could use some digging-into, but I just wanted to come +1 your entry, and say that I like your taste in books. 🙂

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