Honoring marriage in our writing

SPOILERS*: This post contains spoilers for Upstairs/Downstairs Season 2 and Doctor Who Series 7.

First Downton Abbey, now this.

Downton Abbey disappointed me early, because most of the characters were unlikeable and the stories were depressing. I watched through the end of Season 1 anyway, because I’m kind of a completist. The new sequel series to Upstairs, Downstairs, by contrast, was sweet and uplifting.

Until Series 2. Now I’m disappointed.

Agnes and Hallam Holland were a nice couple in the first series. This year, their marriage hit some rough spots, and I thought we might get a demonstration of the principle “marriage is hard; stick with it anyway.”

But no. After this week’s episode and the previews of next, it looks like we’re getting that hackneyed old trope “marriage is hard, so cheat on your spouse.”

Rory and Amy in Angels take Manhattan

Amy: “Together, or not at all.” Photo: BBC America.

Contrast that with Amy and Rory Williams of Doctor Who. They had more obstacles in their marriage than anyone in a stogy old historical could imagine. Cybermen, the Silence, the rebooting of the universe. Oh, and their daughter was kidnapped and they didn’t see her again until she grew up. And she grew up to be a time-traveling adult sent to assassinate the Doctor.

And that’s just a sample. Hallam can put that in his martini and swill it.

In Doctor Who’s recent midseason finale, Amy and Rory demonstrate with sacrificial love the principle “marriage is hard; stick with it anyway.” (Over at Speculative Faith, E. Stephen Burnett did a great analysis of this story and its counter-culturalness compared with the typical entertainment industry view, which Burnett summarizes as “stable relationships make for dull stories.”)

In the Christian submarket we’re not likely to fall for that view. My fear is that too often we focus on courtship rather than marriage. This is certainly true in most of my books. But as I work on the sequel to Alara’s Call, I’m enjoying the process of taking the couple into the “stick with it anyway” phase, which is only going to get harder for them in book three.

Karen Hancock did a great job of this in Return of the Guardian King. I’m having trouble thinking up other examples, though. As I think about marriage in Christian fiction, I can only recall a few historical series in which the couple that gets married in book one lives happily ever after, offering sage advice to the courting couples in successive books without ever hitting the “marriage is hard” phase.

As Christian writers, we should be as good at glorifying marriage as Steven Moffat did in his Doctor Who scripts. Not just the happily ever afters, but the sticking with it through the rough patches. We could use more characters like Amy and Rory in Christian speculative fiction. What examples of this have you seen?

* — I trust I am not the only one who now reads the word “spoilers” with River Song’s voice.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

7 comments on “Honoring marriage in our writing

  1. I think that was why Doctor Who was so refreshing, precisely because it was counter-cultural. You know that episode where Amy and Rory were getting a divorce? Talk about a tear-jerker! That’s one reason I’ve been enjoying Grimm so much, because even though Juliet has lost her memories of Nick, she’s working very hard to fall in love with him again–evil spell notwithstanding. I didn’t like her much in the first season, but this second season has me rooting for her hard.

  2. You had me at “Doctor Who”…. yes, I was really pleased to see the strong marriage component of the Rory/Amy storyline. Very refreshing in today’s culture. The fact that I’m having to think hard to come up with another example just proves your point. And unfortunately “Grimm” is starting to take a turn for the dark side as far as Nick and Juliette’s relationship goes…still hoping they will pull it together, though!
    Know what you mean about “spoilers”…… 🙂

    • I haven’t watched Grimm yet — or Once Upon a Time — I’m reluctant to add more TV to my schedule. Not that there’s a whole lot in it anyway. But I keep hearing good things about these two shows.

    • I saw this week’s Grimm and was all like, “Noooo!” But it’s still being presented as a Very Bad Thing. That gives me hope. It’s not like this creepy stalker magic spell is being encouraged. Neither of them want it.

      I was trying to think of strong marriage stories, and I haven’t read many, either. Usually it’s all about the initial infatuation. Although the earlier Mitford books showed the whole process–infatuation, marriage, and settling down to live life while married, with all its ups and downs. Including working through emotional baggage from various wounds. (The series is only good about until book 5, and then you can tell the author was sick of it all but had a contract so she kept writing.)

      Does the Restorer books show a strong marriage? I know she’s married with kids, and later books involve her kids getting into trouble in the other world.

  3. Love the Mitford books – and especially because they show people of a certain age (ahem) who have a strong marriage. Haven’t got through the whole series yet, but enjoy it immensely. On the secular scene – you couldn’t find a stronger marriage than Jamie and Claire in the Outlander series. The sex scenes in that are off-putting, though.

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