Review: The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers

Among the noise of the various competing postmodernist approaches to literary theory, from neo-Marxism to feminism to deconstructionism, it often seems that the traditional Christian worldview and its accompanying approach to the production, interpretation, and understanding of literature have been buried in the morass. What Sayers gives us in this book, however, is a resurrected Christian literary theory. While the Christian worldview has certainly been eclipsed since the Renaissance, Sayers proves that it is not (or is no longer) dead. On the contrary, as Sayers shows us, the Christian approach to literature remains quite relevant and is, perhaps, the only truly complete and ultimately compelling approach.

Sayers begins her book with the thesis that the Imago Dei, the image of God in man, is creativity. As she points out, at the very point in the Book of Genesis at which God proclaims his desire to create a creature in his own image, the reader has been shown nothing about this God aside from his creative faculty. It is, therefore, this creative faculty which the author of Genesis wishes to emphasize, both in God and in his image, man.

From this, Sayers proceeds on the understanding that as man’s creative faculty is his defining and divine feature, this creative faculty must therefore reflect the Creator in whose image it has been created. Man’s creative faculty, therefore, is, as is its Creator, Trinitarian and Incarnational. She then delves deeply and at length into an allegory in which the Father is the Idea behind the art, the Son is the Energy present within it, and the Holy Spirit is the Power, or impact, of the art upon the one who perceives it.

From this, this develops a fascinating and compelling understanding of literature, and of man’s artistic and creative instincts more generally. Just as God has set us free, she says, we must set our own artistic creations free. This freedom, of course, allows for the existence of evil, as each thing inevitably gives rise to its opposite by virtue of its very existence. This evil, however, must, as in the story of salvation as found in the Christian Faith, be redeemed through free, full, and pure experience. This, for Sayers, is the story that underlies all art.

Any departure from this scheme of things is, to use the accompanying theological terminology, a heresy. A story that is driven too strongly by one element of the Idea-Energy-Power Trinity and which lacks others represents a flaw in the Trinitarian nature of its creator.

At last, Sayers concludes by drawing her net wider. She extends her gaze beyond the realm of literature and the arts and encourages us to exercise our God-given creative in each of our individual vocations, whether that be in the creation of good stories or in something else altogether. It is the task of man, says Sayers, to realize the divine image within him through applying his creative faculty in every realm of human life.

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