Recently a member on a pagan forum I visit asked if we knew of any coming of age novels about pagan families. Specifically, they were looking for a book where the paganism aspect was in the background, much like the religion of Christian, Jewish and even Muslim characters is treated in many books.
To give an example, a typical character in a mainstream YA novel might wear a cross or go to church somewhere along the story line and readers would barely notice it. They’d be more interested in what happened AT church and the interactions with anyone there, than the fact that Suzy was going there in the first place.
Here are a few reasons I don’t think we’ll be seeing Mainstream Pagan YA anytime soon:
Pagans Are Focused on Our Religion
For most of us who are pagan, our faith is a huge part of what we are. Most of us chose our paths rather than being born into it. Therefore we’re pretty much invested in and focused on it. Many of us have had challenges with family, friends and co-workers because of our religion.
It’s an important part of our lives. Because a pagan viewpoint character will be focused on their path, much of the focus of a book about a pagan character will be on religion–and not as a background item. That goes even when their religion is not the main point of the plot.
Even Pagan Kids Are Religion Focused
Although more parents are raising their children pagan, it’s still a relative rarity. Because their birth religion makes them “different” it will be heavily on their radar. In Dark Moon Gates, Willa’s family is in the broom closet to all but a few friends, family and coven members. Because of a problem in the past, her mom is paranoid that someone will find out that they’re witches. Willa can’t wear a pentacle to school. She keeps her altar hidden in a cabinet so that visitors won’t see it. Her sister is cautioned on how to behave when she visits Christian friends, and isn’t allowed to bring Tarot cards to school.
If their local community is pagan supportive it will still be a big part of their lives. My younger nieces participate in drum circles, rituals and other events for the local pagan children on a regular basis.
Unless their parents have purposefully decided not to teach them religion, their parent’s focus will filter down to them, as they’ll be raised with celebrations of the Wheel of the Year or other festivals. The same way that any strongly religious family of most faiths (as opposed to the Sunday-religious) will make opportunities for their children to receive religious teachings.
Writers are Conflict Junkies
Face it, we writers thrive on getting our characters in trouble. Good plot is full of conflict. Few writers are going to pass up the opportunity to get their characters in hot water. Putting a pagan character in the midst of non-pagan ones is bound to create conflict somewhere. And it should. Otherwise the writer isn’t doing their job.
There may well be a day when paganism is so normal that being Wiccan or Asatru or Voudoun or what-have-you won’t be something to remark on. That day isn’t yet.
Props Tell Us About People
There’s an old adage that if a gun is introduced in Chapter 1 it should go off in Chapter 3. If something isn’t important to the plot or the character, the writer should probably edit it out.
Here’s an example:
Jason leaned against the hood of his Maserati, idly picking the dirt from under his broken fingernails, as he waited for Doris to finish her shopping.
Right there we’ve said something about the character, and possibly brought up a few questions.
First, Jason has a Maserati. That’s a car that even used, goes for at least $50-100,000. Since he’s waiting in what is probably a public space and his manner is casual, we’re going to assume that he didn’t steal the car.
Now the fact that his fingernails are broken and he’s picking dirt from them comes into play. Rich, successful people don’t tend to run around with ragged nails and dirt under their fingernails. The fact that he’s doing it “idly” raises another question. If his nails were ragged because he spent the past few hours digging a secret grave to bury his ex-business partner, there wouldn’t be any idleness about his actions. He would have raced to get himself cleaned up. So who is this Jason, why are his nails broken and dirty, and most of all, why doesn’t he seem concerned?
So let’s say we have Kalietta running around in her “What Would Thor Do?” t-shirt with her neck and ears dripping pentacles. The reader is going to make some big assumptions here. Mainstream readers are going to make some very different assumptions than the average pagan reader might. At the very least they’ll label her a misfit. They may even (depending on how extreme their own beliefs are) decide she’s the bad guy.
What most readers would probably not see is that the character is basically “normal” other than the usual quirks that any character should have to make them interesting.
I write fantasy, so the fact that my characters are witches is a main plot point. They use their magick to advance the plot and in the final scenes. If I wrote mainstream coming of age/YA novels, I probably wouldn’t bring the subject up at all. It’s far too distracting, and the last thing I’d want to do is alienate a potential reader because my character “just happened” to be pagan.
Now there MAY be books out there where Kalietta wears a pentacle that is never remarked on, and casts spells in the gym with nobody really noticing or caring, but if so they’re few and far between. If you know of one, please do let me know.