≡ Menu

Christian Fiction’s Ideal Man (or the Holy Hunk)

CAUTION: This post contains snark, sarcasm, innuendo, wisecracks, jests, crass stereotyping, and lots of playful, but not-so-subtle jabs. Okay?

 

swoon-1

It’s no secret that women drive the Christian fiction market. Polls like the following simply reveal what they want in their fiction — men.

Swoon-worthy men.

man-in-kiltI must confess, I thought this was a parody at first. To my dismay, the “Top 5 Swoon-Worthiest Men of Christian Fiction” was indeed no joke. Apparently, the folks at Novel Crossing felt that the question was pressing enough to open it to their readers. Exactly what did they mean by “swoon-worthy”? They didn’t really say.

So I turned to the writers and their commentators for answers.

Take Amy’s nomination of Todd Spencer, from the Christy Miller Collection:

Oh, Todd. I am overlooking his desire to give carnations, of all flowers, to Christy and instead focusing on his many attractive qualities. One, he’s sold out to Christ in a way that most teenage boys were/are not. Second, he knows how to deliver a gift of epic romantic proportions from a “Forever” bracelet to a coconut carved with Philippians 1:7. Third, he’s level-headed in emergency situations. Are there more? Well, sure, but this post can only be so long, so I leave it to you to fill in the blanks. 🙂

So Todd is super romantic, giving Forever bracelets engraved with Scripture verses, he managed to do thanks to a Boss laser engraver he found at this Boss Laser reviews. And he doesn’t get all panicky and skittish in a pinch. But more importantly, it’s being “sold out to Christ” that makes Todd SO attractive.

One of Kara’s nominations was Bane, the star of Elizabeth Camden’s Christy award-winning Against the Tide.

Nicknamed “Adonis” because of his ridiculous good looks he is a cross between a charming rogue and gallant hero. He isn’t afraid to play dirty when it comes to his mission – the destruction of an opium drug lord – but is unable to hold onto his cold facade when it comes to the heroine, Lydia. Did I mention he takes down the bad guys?

From this, I gather that swoon-worthiness requires some “ridiculous good looks.” Swoon Points are automatic for any hero nicknamed “Adonis.” Playing dirty seems okay, as long as it involves beating the bad guys and losing that “cold facade” when it comes to the heroine.

Okay, so now I feel like we’re making headway understanding how Christian fiction readers define “swoon-worthy” men.

Rachel spices it up with her nomination of Phineas, from All the Tea in China:

Dashing, enigmatic, exotic and hiding so many secrets, Phineas is the thinking girl’s dream man. Also, he presents his beloved Isabella with an heirloom sword so she can practice her fencing and even teaches her martial arts so they are physically— as well as mentally— on equal footing. Phineas loves Isabella because of her opinionated nature and her strength. Sigh.

“Dashing, enigmatic, [and] exotic” seem status-quo for any aspiring swoon-worthy male. And apparently, swordplay inspires (and empowers) female love interests. As does “hiding so many secrets.” But if “Phineas is the thinking girl’s dream man,” it makes me wonder what the un-thinking girl’s dream man might look like.

Rel nominated Tommy Lucas, from Sweet Delights:

Any man who sells the Ferrari Testa Rossa he has lovingly restored, to go to college and pursue a business degree to ensure his bad boy image is behind him, and so he can provide for the woman he loves, deserves his top 5 ranking. Tommy’s heroic status is only enhanced by his knowledge of Charlotte’s Web and his selection of English literature as one of his classes. Not bad for a good looking grease monkey who is five years younger than the woman of his dreams!

What swoon-worthy list could go without “former bad boy”? Apparently,  Christian readers find some personal baggage rather steamy. Of course, becoming a bookworm helps silence speculation regarding how “bad” the boy may have been. And as long as “good-looking” precedes “grease monkey,” this Charlotte’s Web-quoting former bad boy is a legit contender for swoon-worthiness.

To christen our understanding of what constitutes a swoon-worthy Christian hero, several commenters nominated James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser from the Outlander series.

James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser. Despite many trails and tribulations he remains steadfast in his faith, family, and values. He doesn’t use vulgar language, and was a virgin when he wed.

Another commenter describes Sir Fraser as

A tall, good looking, romantic and wonderful Scottish warrior – he is known to us as “the king of men.”

Sadly, Sir Fraser, despite being a handsome, profanity-free, kilt-wearing virgin, did not make the final cut. Anyway, you can find the Swoon-Worthy Conclusion HERE and the five paragons of Christian fiction heroism enshrined for the whole world to see.

So from this list, we can compile a working description of the swoon-worthy Christian fiction hero. Ready?

  • He’s a virgin
  • He’s a Christian (or well on the way)
  • He’s handsome / good-looking / dashing / “Adonis,” etc.
  • He’s romantic
  • He doesn’t curse
  • He’s level-headed in emergency situations
  • He’s brave / courageous / noble, etc.
  • He’s exotic
  • He hides some secrets and/or is a former bad boy
  • He’s literate (not JUST a grease monkey)
  • He provides for the woman he loves
  • He remains steadfast in his faith, family, and values

I’m sure I missed a few. Which wouldn’t be hard being that men like this are mostly fiction. Of course, that could be the point — Christian romance readers want to create (and swoon over) men who don’t exist. That doesn’t seem very Christian, but who’s judging?

Nevertheless, the Swoon-Off got me thinking. As a devout Christian man, I turned to the Bible to see what I was missing. Perhaps the apostle Paul or the prophet Moses could expound upon the virtues of swoon-worthiness. Maybe Jesus addressed the subject when instructing his Twelve Studs, er, Disciples. The again, maybe the poets extolled the virtues of swoon-worthiness under the inspiration of the Almighty.

Alas, I found nothing.

The Bible is strangely silent about how to be a swoon-worthy man. If polls like the ones above are any indication, then most of the Christian men I know are ruled out.

  • Fat guys aren’t swoon-worthy
  • Non-believing guys aren’t swoon-worthy (exceptions, however, can be made if they’re “seeking”)
  • Non-romantic guys aren’t swoon worthy
  • Timid / neurotic / anxious guys aren’t swoon-worthy
  • Illiterate “grease-monkeys” aren’t swoon-worthy
  • Average, non-exotic guys aren’t swoon-worthy

Etc.

Unless you count love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, etc. as swoon-worthy, the Bible doesn’t speak to that category. It does, however, hint at the fact that judging people by their swoon-worthiness is a very, very nonspiritual thing to do.

If Christian women are looking for swoon-worthy men, I think most of us guys are screwed. Then again, maybe that’s what Christian fiction is really doing: Keeping us from appreciating those non-swoon-worthy brutes all around us.

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on Reddit
{ 41 comments… add one }
  • Heather Day Gilbert October 27, 2014, 9:46 AM

    LOL on the “fat guys aren’t swoon-worthy.” And you know how I feel on this subject…in the end, for married readers, our husbands need to be the swooniest of all, whether they’re bad boys (or not), hot as all get-out (or not), and dashingly romantic and supportive (or not). Our hubbies may or may not consistently act/look swoon-worthy, just like I may or may not look and/or act swoon-worthy at the end of a long day homeschooling, etc. But every day we fall more and more in love with each other. That is real romance to me. But I know many enjoy the escape aspect of (unmarried) romance, and I can’t diss it because I enjoy the escape of reading realistic fiction or video games, that kind of thing. To each his/her own swoon. 😉

  • Kristin October 27, 2014, 10:12 AM

    Don’t forget, he cannot possess any testosterone until AFTER the marriage. Because that would make him not a REAL Christian. : ) Don’t get me wrong, I like the doors closed in my romance, but I do miss some of the reality of attraction before the door is closed.

  • Normandie Fischer October 27, 2014, 10:18 AM

    Oh, Heather: “To each his/her own swoon”? Love it.

    I don’t read Christian romance, but your title grabbed my attention, Mike, because I’ve been reading Charles Martin’s books recently. He doesn’t preach at readers. Unless you recognize the signs, you might not know his guys love God. But they’re real men, with strong-men values, who try to make good choices in the way they love women and children. I don’t think he writes of handsome men, but their character makes them about as swoon-worthy as a man can be.

    In my own stories, most of the heroes are broken men, not particularly handsome–just guys who are doing their best to overcome whatever it is life has thrown their way. In my marriage, I’m with Heather–so grateful for this imperfect man (who will never go shirtless, no matter who pays him), this gift from God to me, that I swoon over him on a daily basis. I mean, he actually likes the aging me, an imperfect woman whose body is aging far too quickly. (And, honey, that’s something to shout about.)

    For this believer, character trumps, character that may fail but that will keep on trying to get it right.

    • Heather Day Gilbert October 27, 2014, 10:28 AM

      Normandie, I love it. As we age and grow together, we do realize more and more how imperfect we are and how BLESSED we are to be loved by our spouses. And I agree that character trumps. One of my fave characters is Farmer Gabriel Oak in Far from the Madding Crowd, and though I don’t recall him doing anything swoonworthy or even how he looked (if anything, he was rather monosyllabic and didn’t say what he should when he should), but he ENDURED in his love for Bathsheba and didn’t give up on her, despite her mistakes. Then again, that may just be my type of swoon. Glad God made us all different!

      • Kristin October 27, 2014, 10:37 AM

        Gabriel Oak — FFTMC is my favorite book, and he is such a swoon-worthy hero. So patient and strong (like his name!) Darcy is my favorite hero though because of all he gave up to be with Lizzy.

        • rachel October 29, 2014, 7:10 AM

          did you guys hear that it is being adapted again! cannot wait to see a new version!

    • Shannon October 28, 2014, 10:29 AM

      Mike, snark is pretty high up there amongst sincerest forms of flattery (not your intention, I know) in this day and age so it’s always welcome. Now I’m off to go looking for the hidden unpublished gem somewhere, the Twelve Studs manuscript…

  • Samuel R Choy October 27, 2014, 11:08 AM

    Actually, three of those characteristics would raise my dad hackles if my daughters were interested in a young man who had them. Those wouldn’t automatically make sit on my porch with my proverbial shot gun, but to me they are warning signals of things to watch out for:

    He’s handsome / good-looking / dashing / “Adonis,” etc.
    Why? If he spends too much time preening, to me it would indicate an over emphasis on outside characteristics. Not a deal breaker, but something to look out for.

    He hides some secrets and/or is a former bad boy
    To me that means he has emotional baggage that I would not want in a relationship with my teen daughter. Again, that wouldn’t necessarily earn him a “Stay Away from my Daughter” speech, but I would caution her to be on the lookout for that.

    All of the above
    What can possibly be wrong with the perfect young man? I’ve had bad experiences in the past with narcissists and sociopaths. It’s estimated that 4% of the population are sociopaths. A common trait among them is that they know how to present themselves as everything you’ve ever wanted. And more often than not, they are well-dressed, well-groomed, well-spoken, attractive people. The phrase “too good to be true,” is more often than not true. That doesn’t mean that a young man who’s a great catch is always a sociopath. But beware the person who is too perfect.

    Young man, I’ve got my eye on you. Fear me. I’m a dad.

  • Melissa O October 27, 2014, 1:32 PM

    This is so embarrassing…

  • Kessie October 27, 2014, 3:12 PM

    Haha, the funny thing is, this list is very similar to the secular woman’s swoony man, except the secular list includes the following:

    He doesn’t have to be a virgin
    He is often an alpha male jerk because for some reason that’s attractive
    He’s a werewolf/vampire/angel/other half-human creature
    He’s a billionaire
    He’s a Scottish Highlander
    He has great abs

    • D.M. Dutcher October 27, 2014, 3:56 PM

      actually, remove the vampire/werewolf/angel and its the same list. Alpha males dominate Christian fiction too; so many ex-navy SEALS out there.

    • Joanna November 4, 2014, 12:46 PM

      “He’s a Scottish Highlander” …. so ….. basically my literary crush Francis Crawford of Lymond then. (minus the half human thing…) 😀 …. ^_^ ….

      Seriously, though. The “Lymond Chornicls” by Dorothy Dunnett are some of the best historical fiction ever written. And if you dare to disagree, I shall call for my ax!

  • Kerry October 27, 2014, 3:27 PM

    I just can’t get past the sword-bearing skirt-wearer image above. Wow…

  • Jodie B. October 27, 2014, 3:45 PM

    Um, that kind of Christian man does exist and I married him! He happens to check everything on that list of yours plus adds: willing to cook and clean and is a great father. (He also checks the list of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, etc.”) Of course, I doubt he could make the cover of GQ (and I am not a model), but I find him way more handsome than any movie star or romance novel cover image. He is my Adonis just the way he is! I bet your wife feels the same way about you!

    Mike, I do get what you are trying to say. Frankly, those descriptions that the women wrote of these characters made me roll my eyes. So many Christian women seem to want, as I’ve seen written somewhere, the body of Edward Cullen and the godliness of Billy Graham. But, how many Christian men want a godly girlfriend with the body of a Victoria’s Secret model? I bet the number is high.

    Myself, I don’t really read romance novels, per se. I like more adventure in the story (fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, thriller) sometimes with the addition of romance, with the characters finding love along the way as they save the world or something. (And the addition of Jamie from the Outlander series just boggles the mind – I know women swoon over him, but I just never really got why.)

    Honestly, the obsession with looks I think is just people falling prey to the Hollywood superficiality with everyone being attractive. Few movies have “unattractive” leads, especially unattractive female leads. (The use of unattractive is by the world’s standards of beauty.) And yes, this preoccupation with looks is sinful. Also, people tend to view marriage as … “what do I get out of this” and not “what can I give to this person.” So, selfishness, in other words.

    Myself, I wasn’t looking to check a list. I just wanted a kind Christian man who shared some of my interests. He just happened to check that list, and some of that I wasn’t even looking for. Of course, I doubt our marriage would be exciting enough for a novel!

    • D.M. Dutcher October 27, 2014, 4:25 PM

      To be honest, I’m not sure there even is a unified standard of what Christian men want. There’s the Proverbs 31 wife, but that’s pretty much “she should be moral and not be lazy.” Not all that rawr-worthy. Most Christian dating advice for men is more about handling the woman like the Ark of the Covenant or nuclear waste than extolling feminine desirability.

      I don’t think we can even name a single swoon-worthy Christian female in fiction.

      • Sam October 28, 2014, 7:52 PM

        A Christian man isn’t allowed to think of a woman as swoon worthy, unless he’s already married to her.

  • Deborah October 27, 2014, 8:05 PM

    He’s exotic? Please…..swoonworthy in Christian fiction = He’s white.

    • Lyn Perry October 28, 2014, 12:59 PM

      lol, love it…I always think of the South Pacific when I hear the word exotic, but I’ve not seen too many Polynesian men on the cover of religious fiction books…

    • Joshua Franklin October 30, 2014, 1:39 PM

      Whoa! You took the words right out of my mouth! I was just about to make that point! how many times do you see non-white guys on the cover of Christian romance novels? In fact how many non-black ANYONE shows up as a main character in Christian fiction. Heck, its in the movies too! Very rarely will you see a non-black character, and if you DO, its normally in a negative light. I understand that sometimes they try to capture the whole “urban” thing or what have you, but still……we sometimes talk about how different we are from “how the world does it”, but if you look closely, you see that it isn’t so. But you know what? (I’m on a roll now! I’ve sayin’ this to my brother and he’s been all like, “Josh! We have the same discussion ALL THE TIME! You need to make more friends so you can debate this, I’m tired of hearing the same thing!” Bottom line is, geek is a lifestyle, not social awkwardness 😉 ), when we see the women on the cover of Christian novels, how many of them are plus sized? How many of them are curvy, and have large breasts and bums? There is even a mold of “swoonworthy” women in Christian fiction as well, which basically amounts to skinny and flatchested. Not that there is anything wrong with that perse, but there are thousands of different types of Christian me and women out there. Let’s try to capture a wide array of characters, eh?

  • Carole McDonnell October 28, 2014, 6:46 AM

    I don’t generally read Christian fiction but I write them. My guys tend to be spoiled, gorgeous, disabled, disobedient to their fathers, rejects, non-white and outcasts. I do think you’re right about Christian fiction in general though. Most Christians in real life are pretty accepting of the wounded, rejected, hurt, grieving, the outcast. We often care for them. But somehow when it comes to writing, they fall into the romance novel pattern. I always try to remember that our Lord was someone from whom men (and probably some women) turned their faces away because “there was no beauty in him that we should desire him.” He was acquainted with grief yet had fullness of joy. But that would be difficult for many Christians to see.

  • Carole McDonnell October 28, 2014, 6:55 AM

    OOps, forgot to add that there has always been an idea that women write about who they would want to sleep with. And that women tend to want to “like” characters they read about. As a famous feminist non-christian writer once famously said, “Why create a hero if you don’t want to F*** him?” If that is true — not sure it is because there are women writers who write about male characters they “mother”– then why shouldn’t it be true of Christian women as well? There are also the whole slew of covers on comic books and the slew of perfect hot babe/all-accepting/prostitute with a heart of gold/innocent baby doll in need of protection female characters in men’s books. And in Christian male books. So if men do the perfectionism thing, women are allowed to do it as well. And American men do have their long list as well.

  • rachel October 28, 2014, 10:14 AM

    Yep! HE HAS to be on level footing with her heroine. equalism is the most swoon-worthy trait in my book which is why I stand by my assertion of Phineas. He’s also ridiculously intelligent, is not even remotely the status quo in the look departments, challenges the heroine’s faith and inspires her to a deeper understanding of her relationship with Christ. Their banter is intelligent, their repartee–with swords and words–even moreso, and physical attraction is secondary to preternatural kinship. he’s a darn sexy hero and mostly because he doesn’t embody ANY of the traits you gleaned from the post 🙂

  • rachel October 28, 2014, 10:23 AM

    as Irene so rightly puts it in the BBC Sherlock: Brainy is the New Sexy. the Christian heroes I swoon over are brainy…. the smarter you are, the more I swoon. ……

  • Becky Wade October 28, 2014, 7:05 PM

    “judging people by their swoon-worthiness is a very, very nonspiritual thing to do.” Since we were judging the swoon-worthiness of book characters, and not people, then I guess we’re safe. 😉 I really enjoyed the post!

    For me as a reader, a hero becomes swoon-worthy when I’m both attracted to him AND feel compassionately towards him. For example: Rhett Butler. He’s attractive. But I also felt compassion for him because of his (unrequited) love for Scarlett and his fatherly love (which was devastated) for Bonnie. Boom. Swoon-worthy.

  • Kat Heckenbach October 29, 2014, 6:00 AM

    All I can say is that this is another reason I don’t see myself *ever* fitting into the CBA.

  • rachel October 29, 2014, 7:12 AM

    @Kat if you need lists of how there are CBA books that don’t fit into the archetype outlined here, please let me know.

    I study the CBA intensively and closely and you cannot cloister it into one specific thing. There IS something for everyone 🙂

    • Mike Duran October 29, 2014, 9:25 AM

      Rachel, I would be interested in the titles of some mainsream inspirational fiction that does not follow the Harlequin mold. Also, what percentage of the Christian market do these nontraditional males comprise? As an outside observer, it seems pretty small.

      • rachel m October 31, 2014, 3:10 PM

        Try Sutter’s Cross by Dale Cramer. Love the allegory in that. If you’re looking for a historical Christian mainstream The Thief by Stephanie Landsem is a work of poetic allegory pretty much unrivalled. I love anything by Geoff Wood: he’s acerbic and witty and turns everything on its ear. His most recent, independently published, Grimrack is a contemporary retelling of the Screwtape Letters.

        • rachel m October 31, 2014, 3:11 PM

          did you ever try Tracey Bateman? I loved what she did with Thirsty —the first ( as far as I know ) CBA vampire novel which was basically a metaphor for alcoholism.

          Billy Coffey is also insanely talented and has this spooky, eerie atmospheric down south slant.

          • rachel m October 31, 2014, 3:14 PM

            GIDEON’S CALL by Peter Leavell. I really liked that one. William Henry is a Fine Name by Cathy Gohlke. For the frustrated writer type who finds themselves banging themselves against a wall with writer’s block, Renee Gutteridge is usually a good, comedic reprieve. I’ve always been into John Grisham so Robert Whitlow is someone I return to again and again. I kinda have a thing for fantasy (in doses) so Patrick Carr’s a Cast of Stones is high on the list.

            • rachel m October 31, 2014, 3:19 PM

              Bonnie Grove: talking to the dead! Also, David C Cook is taking some neat chances nowadays. How Sweet the Sound by Amy Sorrells was really nice literary fiction and I really love Julie Cantrell who reads like if Christians decided to pepper some Steinbeck and Faulkner into their ilk. They both are the first, I believe, to unabashedly tackle some of the subjects that the CBA has long left uncharted.

    • D.M. Dutcher October 29, 2014, 9:37 AM

      No, not really. For a guy, 95% of the CBA stuff is useless. Like if I go into a Christian bookstore there’s literally is nothing for me to read in fiction. The shelf space is dominated by books for women, and very specific genres at that. Romantic suspense, historical romance, literary/chicklit.

      Check out Amazon’s best selling 100 in Christian literature and fiction. One indie fantasy at 71, and Left Behind, the Harbinger, and The Greatest Salesman in the World being the only books by male authors on the list.

      • rachel m October 31, 2014, 3:08 PM

        please please please please please read An Elegant Solution by Paul Robertson and the God Cookie by Geoffrey Wood and Catherine Wheels by Leif Peterson.

        • D.M. Dutcher October 31, 2014, 5:00 PM

          I’ll free sample on Kindle and see. Out of all three An Elegant Solution sounds closest to what I’d read.

          However, this doesn’t really change my point. The ratio of guy books to woman books is still absurdly high, and I can see this browsing Waterbrook’s site. What’s worse is that the guy books/books that interest me are all series, making the real number of books smaller.

          • rachel m November 1, 2014, 7:38 AM

            you’re right; but the market has always proven that more women than men purchase Christian fiction so, in that sense, publishers have their hands tied. They have to produce marketable and saleable content. I am not sure how to make sure that more fiction is being written for men but I know some male authors are trying. Billy Coffey, Don Brown, Richard Mabry, to name a few. There is a WaterBrook book that you may have seen with a deceiving cover. Thief of Glory targets the female Christian reader cover-wise but the content has a Bridge over the River Kwai feel to it. It is written by Sigmund Brouwer and set during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies. the only romantic element to it resounds in a way not unlike Doctor Zhivago, with Uri’s poems to the elusive Laura.

            • rachel m November 1, 2014, 7:42 AM

              Bill Collins, Ace Meyers, Randy Singer, Davis Bunn, Creston Mapes, James L Rubart, Randy Alcorn, David Aikman, Ted Dekker, Charles Dyer, Mark Batterson (he does fiction and not) James Scott Bell—- there are a lot of male writers who write prolifically in the genre. But I, like you, wish there were more. And I, like you, wish there were more literary offerings and voices. The CBA does excel at genre fiction. 🙂

  • Lauren Lynch October 29, 2014, 11:54 AM

    I laughed so hard at this I nearly swooned … which, I suppose, makes you swoon-worthy, Mike Duran. Personally, I’ve only ever swooned over blood–which, thankfully, my husband has never done in sufficient quantities to inspire. But then I’m happily married to your average curmudgeonly guy (albeit handsome and steadfast provider) and I prefer to be conscious so it works. (Which is a good thing since my non-swoon-worthy characters don’t provide enough for us to live on!)

Leave a Comment