posted on December 11, 2013 by Naomi King

Why Does Amish Fiction Appeal to Us?

9780451417879_large_Amanda_Weds_a_Good_ManAs I ponder the appeal of Amish stories, I think I can best illustrate it with two very compelling images: the image of a family gathered at the dinner table, and the image of a family seated in a church pew.

Faith and family are the essence of Amish life—the unshakable foundations of that life—and we who read (and write) these stories are drawn by those values. For readers my age and older, these images takes us back to The Way We Were as a nation in our own lifetimes: we can recall when sports and social activities and business demands were not allowed to intrude into our family lives during the dinner hour or on Sundays—and often on Wednesday nights, which were reserved for youth and choir activities at church.

And while we know those times were not as perfect or ideal as Norman Rockwell paintings depict, we crave those days. Faith and family came first, and parents and grandparents took responsibility for seeing that those priorities were maintained in our homes. That’s how the Amish have lived for centuries.

An Amish Country Christmas 2I suspect readers who are 40 or younger are drawn to the same ideal, the same Norman Rockwell simplicity of times gone by. It’s not so much that the Amish don’t appreciate what modern technology can do (and I lump electricity, cars, and computers/the Internet into this term). Many of them partner with Mennonites to have websites and electricity for their businesses (as my Miriam Lantz does, in the Seasons of the Heart series) to attract tourists, which in turn better supports their families. But the Amish control technology, rather than allowing technology to control them.

By not allowing electricity or phones into their homes, they have decreed that recreational chit-chat, TV, texting, tweeting, gaming, and Facebook will not distract them from their two bedrock priorities: faith in God, and keeping their families together, emotionally and financially. I think this is what readers respect most about the Amish, even if they wouldn’t want to live that way themselves.

Winter Wishes 2It’s also important to note that—just as Norman Rockwell idealized the everyday aspects of our lives 50 years ago—any sort of fiction idealizes real life. Stories have been a favorite escape for centuries, and this current wave of Amish fiction doubles that: we readers (and writers!) are escaping into fictional homes and towns and families where we feel far more comfortable than we really would, were we to become Amish! It wouldn’t take us long to miss our cars and and our dishwashers—especially those, in families where eight to ten kids is the norm!

But in our books, we also see Amish characters tackling the ongoing chores of canning, cooking, cleaning, barn raising (and barn mucking!) as a family and as a community. Nobody goes it alone. Nobody competes to be the best, or to stand out and be noticed. Everyone encourages and supports their neighbors—and best of all, these characters are expected to admit when they’ve done wrong, and the community and their families are expected to forgive them.

Does this always happen willingly and joyfully in real life for the Amish? Of course not! They struggle with their personal desires, just as we do. But, as with technology, they are expected to take responsibility for their actions. They believe that in the end, God will be holding them accountable for the way they lived their lives on Earth—even as they believe that God’s will controls every little thing that befalls them in this life.

So, what’s the appeal of Amish fiction? Simplicity, yes. But also the accountability, honesty, cheerfulness, and sense of family/community of the characters we’ve come to love. We wouldn’t want to live their lives, but we love to put ourselves in their places as we read stories about them!

Naomi King

Naomi King

I’ve called Missouri home for most of my life, and most folks don’t realize that several Old Older Amish and Mennonite communities make their home here, as well. The rolling pastureland, woods, and small towns along county highways make a wonderful setting for Plain populations—and for stories about them, too! While Jamesport, Missouri is the largest Old Order Amish settlement west of the Mississippi River, other communities have also found the affordable farm land ideal for raising crops, livestock, and running the small family-owned businesses that support their families.

Like my heroine, Miriam Lantz, of my new Seasons of the Heart series, I love to feed people—to share my hearth and home. I bake bread and goodies and I love to try new recipes. I put up jars and jars of green beans, tomatoes, beets and other veggies every summer. All my adult life, I’ve been a deacon, a dedicated church musician and choir member, and we hosted a potluck group in our home for more than twenty years.

Like Abby Lambright, heroine of my new Home at Cedar Creek series, I consider it a personal mission to be a listener and a peacemaker—to heal broken hearts and wounded souls. Faith and family, farming and frugality matter to me: like Abby, I sew and enjoy fabric arts—I made my wedding dress and the one Mom wore, too, when I married into an Iowa farm family more than thirty-five years ago! When I’m not writing, I crochet and sew, and I love to travel.

I recently moved to Minnesota when my husband got a wonderful new job, so now he and I and our border collie, Ramona, are exploring our new state and making new friends.

One thought on “Why Does Amish Fiction Appeal to Us?”

  1. I think this is very true-during my childhood,this was the way we lived-neighbor helping neighbor,and families being together..I truly miss it!

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