As I’ve been reading historical fiction and sci fi/fantasy, I’ve been thinking about the world building aspects of stories, and pondering when and how much religion needs to be included as part of the world building. It seems clear that for much of historical fiction, it needs to be there, because for most of human history, some sort of religion was considered a vital part of daily life. I recently reread A WRINKLE IN TIME, and was so surprised to find religion a major part of that book. I hadn’t remembered that at all, but I’m sure when I read it as a child, I thought nothing of it, because it would just be a part of the characters’ beliefs.
To add religion in can give a story a much greater richness, and for historical fiction in particular, show young readers how very different life used to be. I’ll never forget my son’s reaction when I read him FARMER BOY by Laura Ingalls Wilder. He was absolutely horrified at Almanzo’s description of life on Sunday:
"Boys must not run or laugh or talk loudly on Sunday….Almanzo just sat. He had to. He was not allowed to do anything else, for Sunday was not a day for working or playing. It was a day for going to church and for sitting still."
At seven years old, my son could imagine nothing worse than sitting still all day. It gave him a new appreciation for the idea that not everyone is the same nor lives in the same way, and that is a terrific realization to take away from a book.