One of the key questions a writer should ask themselves when creating any character is what their religion is. Are they Christian? Are they Jewish or Hindu or Islamic? Do they, in fact, have no religion at all? Are they an atheist? The answer depends on the context, a Buddhist in Anglo Saxon England is going to be a bit out of place, to use an example, but it is important to answer the question nevertheless as it will inform the character’s actions and how those actions impact on the story.
Dark Legend, being set in the modern, mostly secular world, means that religion doesn’t play that big a part in the main story. That doesn’t mean that the characters don’t have any kind of faith or belief system though. Between them they have a whole mixed bag of faiths and beliefs and this affects them and the story in different ways.
Will is an Atheist, as Harris mocks him for at one point: ‘Christmas? You don’t believe in Christianity, Jesus or God Fleming…’ As Will then rebuffs, he believes in Christmas as well as peace on earth for that one day each year. So he does have some, limited sort of belief and that, I think, is solely down to the society he lives in. Without any God to guide him, Will knows that there isn’t going to be any miracle or salvation coming. He knows that the only thing stopping humanity from going over the edge is humanity itself. For Will, death is the end and when he loses his friends he’s lost them forever. For him there is no happy reunion in the sky. Thanks also to him bottling up his emotions, this means he gets more cut up about those deaths than anybody else- He often blames himself.
Not having to worry about sin and damnation also means that his morality is somewhat dubious. He’ll sleep around and not care. He’ll blow up buildings and not care. Only when people get hurt or injured or damaged does he care, he has that much morality at least.
In terms of faith Will is interesting because his Mother’s family were Jewish. This means, under Jewish law, that Will is also Jewish. If you told him this, however, he would tell you that he isn’t because he doesn’t have any religion. It adds a nice slant to his childhood Christmases where he would go around to his friend Zac’s for the day, Zac also being Jewish. His dad’s family, going back three generations, are atheists. Max, Anna and Mable are the last three to have any kind of solid religion, in their case Christianity.
Contrast Will with Hailey. Like Will, Hailey is also an atheist but one who was brought up in the throngs of Catholicism. Her parents were both Catholic and when we first meet her she’s a pupil at a Catholic boarding school run by nuns. (Why is it always nuns? Errr… Because nuns are funnier than regular teachers?) Though an atheist, she has a great many superstitions and is incredibly open to ideas surrounding the supernatural. This is emphasised in Sting where she comes to believe that there is something behind the walls of the gate. Dast doesn’t believe her, although she is partially right. Later on she mentions that she heard it speaking to her as well, to which Will responds by asking ‘did those nuns never teach you to ignore voices in your head?’ I won’t spoil what Hailey’s answer is.
By far the character who is most visibly impacted by religion is Dast. Though, like many of the other characters, he’s an atheist, his story is wrapped up in his mixed Islamic/Hindu background. Being gay, he appalled his dyed in the wool father and was thrown from the house, running away to Worton, where we first meet him some years afterwards. Without that incident, an incident which originates from Hassan Sayeff’s strong beliefs, Dast would not be in the right place to take part in the story. Like Hailey, he still has some remnants of belief and this shows up from time to time.
I also imagine that Gertie Barnes is a regular churchgoer, dragging her reluctant nephew along with her. I imagine she dresses up for it as well. That would certainly fit with her character.
Religion itself crops up now and again in the story itself, like in Sting where Will, Doug and Joe take shelter in an abandoned church. This gives rise to Will telling a story about a hypocritical priest. Earlier, in the first book, we visit St Felicity’s church, where according to Doug (wrongly,) Greg went for the purposes of being touched up- There’s also a bit of an Easter egg somewhere in that bit by the way, just so you know. There’s also Muriel Fisher, who, to the couch-bound Will’s irritation, watches religious programmes on a Sunday despite not being religious. Dast also briefly mentions how the Mersey is as sacred as the Ganges in Stop The Cavalry– A fact which is actually true.
At the end of this year I’ll be releasing a four part Christmas story that exists a little outside the main narrative. It features Eliza, Dan, Doug and Amanda (with a few appearances by Will and Harper and a cameo from Randy.) Being a Christmas story religion plays a massive role and all I will say is that accusations of blasphemy occur more than once within it.
Religion is a necessary part of fiction, especially if you want your writing to have life and a grounding of realism. Dark Legend is not a book about religion, but because it is set in our world, in the real world, religion has to play its part in the character’s lives, even if its influence is only passive.
Building Worton is a series of posts going behind and beyond the scenes of the Dark Legend books (Spawn, Swarm, Stop the Cavalry and Sting) and the Morfaverse at large. Everything is available from Amazon in various formats.