Myth and Gospel in the Fiction of John Updike

By John McTavish

An exploration of the work of the American novelist John Updike, revealing the powerful mythic and sacred themes that underlie his fictional world.

ISBN: 9780718895372


Big on style, slight on substance: that has been a common charge over the years by critics of John Updike. In fact, however, John Updike is one of the most serious writers of modern times. Myth, as Myth and Gospel in the Fiction of John Updike shows, unlocks his fictional universe and repeatedly breaks open the powerful themes in his literary parables of the gospel. This book also includes a personal tribute to John Updike by his son David, essays by pioneer Updike scholars Alice and Kenneth Hamilton, and an anecdotal chapter in which readers share Updike discoveries and recommendations. All in all, weight is added to the complaint that the master of myth and gospel was shortchanged by the Nobel committee.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 202

Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

John McTavish is a minister of the United Church of Canada, a playwright and compiler of chancel dramas, co-editor of the book Karl Barth: Preaching through the Christian Year, and a longtime student of John Updike’s work with interpretative articles in academic journals (Touchstone, Theology Today) and denominational magazines (The United Church Observer, The Presbyterian Record). McTavish lives in Huntsville, Ontario.


Introduction: David Updike’s “Tribute to Dad”

Myth and Gospel in John Updike’s Early Fiction
1. Myth and the Problem of Nothingness in The Witches of Eastwick
2. Myth, Gospel, and The Centaur
3. Barthian Myths in Three Early Novels
4. The Myth of Eros in Marry Me

Interlude with the Hamiltons
5. Can a Novel Be Christian? John Updike and A Month of Sundays
6. John Updike’s Prescription for Survival

Myth and Gospel in John Updike’s Later Fiction
7. Updike’s Rabbit Tetralogy and Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests Trilogy
8. A Potpourri of Reviews

Myth and Gospel in John’s Updike’s Poetry and Short Stories
9. Myth and Gospel in Updike’s Religious Poetry
10. Myth and Gospel in Updike’s Short Stories

Meeting John Updike in Print and in Person
11. Readers Share Discoveries and Recommendations
12. An Interview with John Updike
13. John Updike, 1932-2009


Selected Bibliography


Endorsements and Reviews

John Updike was an American treasure. In the second half of the twentieth century, Updike and Saul Bellow inherited the mantle of ‘literary giant’ that William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway wore in the first half. A master of the elegantly lyrical sentence and the precisely observed detail, Updike used these gifts to probe the yearnings, both spiritual and mundane, of ordinary Americans. John McTavish is an ideal reader of Updike’s explorations of the complex relationship between the sacred and the profane.
Don Greiner, Curator of Modern American Literature, University of South Carolina; author of The Other John Updike

John Updike had better eyes than ours. He memorably noticed everyday details that, without him, we’d miss. McTavish returns the favour, uncovering surprising mythic riches beneath Updike’s deceptively mundane surfaces. Deploying wit, theological insight, generous inclusion of others’ views, gossipy encounters with Updike’s family and the iconic writer himself, in blessedly jargon-free prose, McTavish’s close reading of Updike is an eyeopener all the way.
Bruce McLeod, Former Moderator of The United Church of Canada