RARA-AVIS: Re: willie or not

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 09 Dec 2006


Again, I won't go into your long response point by point, but your original assertion was that religios beliefs were all but absolutely verboten in publishing
(and, by inference, in all popular entertainment) until recently, and you spcifically refer to several famous mystery writers below:

"Neither Chesterton nor Kemelman were anywhere near as successful as Earl Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, or Agatha Christie, who mention religion only in passing."

to bolster thant point. I'm not sure what you mean by
"only in passing," but to take each writer in turn:

One of Gardner's early Perry Mason books was THE CASE OF THE STUTTERING BISHOP, in which the central figure is an Anglican clergyman. True, Mason's own beliefs don't come to the forefront here, and this might only pass muster, by your lights, as a "passing reference," but, again, that's only off the top of my head, and I'd be surprised if there aren't other religious references throughout Gardner's sizable ouvre.

The two cousins who collaborated as Ellery Queen made, I grant you, only inferential references to their own Jewish faith, but religiosity pervades their books to a large degree.


The central situation in THE CHINESE ORANGE MYSTERY is that everything in a crime scene has been reversed or turned upside-down. This turns out to have been a ploy to conceal the fact that the murder victiom is a Anglican clergyman.

Again, I grant you, something that might be regarded as only a passing reference, but the whole novel hinges on that religious symbol.


Regligiosity also pervades such early work as THE EGYPTIAN CROSS MYSTERY and THE CAT OF MANY TAILS. TEN DAYS' WONDER is built around a series of ten crimes each meant to represent one of the Ten Commandments, in much the same way that the murders in SE7EN represented the Seven Deadly Sins. AND ON THE EIGHTH DAY is about Ellery's investigation of a crime in a peaceful desert religious cult.

I'm not as familiar with Agatha Christie's work as I am with Gardner's or Queen's, but I do know that the first Miss Marple novel, MURDER AT THE VICARAGE, is about a murder at, well, a vicarage, and that the narrator who acts as Miss Marple's "Watson" is the local Anglican vicar, who is presented as an intelligent, and sincerely religious helpmate to the main sleuth.

Even Conan Doyle, who you mention earlier, let some religious comments in. You presume, for example, that Holmes must be Anglican, but I think an argument could be made, given his French background (and given the religion Conan Doyle was raised in) that he was Cathlic, although likely not a practicing one. It is known that he undertook at least two investigations for His Holiness, the Pope, the affair of the Vatican cameos, and the disappearance of Cardinal Tosca.

Religion and religious beliefs may not have been as central to the work of the writers you cite as it was for Chesterton, Kemelman, Holton, and others, but there doesn't seem to have been a conscious effort to avoid it in the hope that no one would be offended, and I'm not really sure what causes you to draw that conclusion.

Looking outside of mystery fiction, again, consider that the O'Haras in GONE WITH THE WIND are all practicing Catholics and one of Scarlett's sisters becomes a nun. Consider that Gregory Peck's movie debut was as a Catholic missionary in China in a film adaptation of a best-selling novel, A.J Cronin's KEYS OF THE KINGDOM. Consider how many Oscars have been given to performers playing Catholic priests or nuns going back nearly 70 years. I honestly don't see any evidence that publishers, or their counterparts in other media, were making a fetish of avoiding any mention of specific religious belief systems in order not to offend anyone.


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