Theology in a Parallel Worlds: Denise Giardina’s Fallam’s Secret
Denise Giardina’s first four novels are all informed by her subtle but sophisticated dialectic with elements of Christian theology. Whether characterizing the motivation of Albion Freeman, the no-heller coal-mining preacher in Storming Heaven, or scrutinizing the intricacies of German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call to “come and die” in Saints and Villains, theology is fully interwoven through her narratives. Her fifth novel, the time-travel fantasy Fallam’s Secret, once again offers a theological vehicle to ground and enrich both the narrative and metaphorical dimensions of the text. This strain is most apparent in her character Uncle John, a physicist. He explains time travel between the twenty-first-century New River Valley and seventeenth-century England in two different ways: in reference to the new physics and, just as importantly, through a concept appropriated from Celtic theology: thin places.
While thin places, places where various cosmic dimensions intersect, are the most overt incorporation of Celtic theology into the novel, close attention reveals related concepts that enrich the narrative and deepen its thematic import. For example, it is only when Uncle John turns away from Western theology, as suggested by the Chartres labyrinth, and gives his scientific attention to the old Celtic labyrinth at Norchester that his time travel theories show promise of success. But most morally significant is Giardina’s use of a Celtic version of panentheism as a vehicle to depict the desecration of land as sacrilegious. This turn creates the context for Giardina’s stinging, effective indictment of mountaintop removal.