Allegory is traditionally labeled as a retelling of the Bible. The Pilgrim's Progress comes to mind, and C. S. Lewis's Narnia books.
But far too often, allegory comes out predictable and preachy. (On the predictable part, I'm thinking of Chuck Black's Kingdom series. While I enjoyed them, I didn't love them because they were a blatant retelling of the Bible. You probably disagree, but it IS rather predictable, no?)
So what do we do? Christians who want to write Christian fiction have two choices: write allegory or write Christian fiction—that is, fiction with Christian characters. Most go for the latter, but I believe there's a power in allegory that today's writers have not completely harnessed.
My upcoming novel (codenamed Tornado C) is somewhat allegorical. But more and more, I'm rebelling against the traditional way of labeling allegory. Retelling another story isn't much more than copying. Too often, allegory comes out cliche and predictable.
So how can we write allegory and keep it unpredictable?
We need to change our definition of allegory. Writing that is deep and meaningful AND allegorical is hard to come by. Really, all the allegory I can think of that really works is Lewis's Narnia books.
And yet, Lewis didn't intentionally "copy" the Bible. He instead said that it was the story of Christ coming in another world and another time.
Therein lies the key, I think.
Allegory is not retelling a story: it's retelling a truth.
Can you see the difference? Retelling a story leads to a strict copy of the Bible: retelling a truth leaves room for speculation and truly original story.
Tornado C has something of a Christ-parallel in it. (Don't look at me like that. I promise you, it's good.) And yet, if you tried to formulate theology off of that parallel, it would come way off. Because the purpose of that parallel is NOT to retell Christ's story, but to retell self-sacrifice and show the importance of the voice of God in our lives.
And really, thinking of allegory in this way frees us. Trying to copy the Bible not only fails (because we're human), it harnesses us to the theology of the Bible; we HAVE to tell it in this way, otherwise our theme would be skewed. You can't have Christ coming in a sinless world if you're writing allegory; otherwise, the theology behind the book wouldn't work! If there's no sin to save us from, then that could translate into the real world and make people think that they don't need Christ!
And yet, that's what Hopper does in his White Lion Chronicles, because he didn't write traditional allegory. He retold the truth of a Savior, not the story of Christ.
This could transform the way we look at Christian fiction. It would free us to speculate and thus write truly original novels.
If you only remember one thing about this post, remember this: don't try to retell the STORY of the Bible, but instead show the TRUTH of the Bible. That's true allegory. And that's how we can write powerful, original Christian speculative fiction.