Where Faith Saturates Life
In the popular Mitford novels, readers get to know the entire town. But it's Jesus Christ who's really the main character.
BY: Lauren Winner
Indeed, some readers have found community--albeit virtual--in thechat rooms of the Mitford website
. There, fans gather to exchange prayer requests and share how Mitford changed their lives. An eleven-year-old reader recently proclaimed, "I just finished, for the first time, 'At Home in Mitford.' My mom and I love the books... I fell in love with the characters. I really wish I could grow up and live in Mitford. When I am going to sleep at night I imagine I do." Another reader--this one an adult--exudes, "I read the books several years ago and still think of Mitford often. It is woven in my life, it's a part of me. I think of the books and it's characters as part of my family." In short, readers flock to Mitford because it offers a sense of community that our real-life suburban anomie lacks.
But beyond the community, there's another contender for star of the series. I suspect thatKaron would say
that the central figure in the Mitford novels is neither Father Tim nor the charming village itself, but Jesus Christ. Karon gives readers a warm community, but she is utterly unabashed in proclaiming what the source of that warmth and neighborliness is. It is the Gospel. Conversions, such as the dramatic conversion of George Gaynor in "At Home in Mitford," are commonplace in the town. As Karon depicts Gaynor's, one day in the middle of a Sunday service at Lord's Chapel the ceiling opens (it's not a heavenly vision, just attic stairs coming down) and out climbs George, a criminal who's been hiding in the attic and who has been converted by Father Tim's ministrations in the sanctuary. Perhaps you've been wondering about J.C. Hogan, the gruff editor of Mitford's newspaper-the only one of Father Tim's buddies who seems to have no time for Christianity. Well, rest assured--he declares his faith in "Light from Heaven." So does Edith Mallory, Mitford's resident wealthy shrew. Though medically incapacitated and barely able to speak, she manages to wheel into the middle of town and publicly profess God's goodness.
Readers, do not despair. The Mitford novels may have come to an end, but no publisher with sense would let a project this profitable get away. So, although there will be no more Mitford novels, according to Karon's offical website, "Cynthia Coppersmith Kavanagh's children's series [about her cat Violet] will soon become a reality." (It's about time! I wondered why Karon, who has herself dabbled in writing children's books, didn't publish a few Violet stories years ago.) Next year will also see the release of a Mitford Bedside Companion, and rumor has it that Karon will give us three more novels about Tim and Cynthia, though not about Mitford. I'm guessing they'll be set in Ireland, where Father Tim loves to travel, or perhaps in Mississippi, where he grew up.
I'm not sure I care that much about the cat exploits, and I'm certainly not sure I know what a Mitford Bedside Companion is. But I do know I'll be the first in line at my local bookstore the day they're released. For Jan Karon's books always offer not just a glimpse of a simple life, but a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.