(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Love Comes Softly series, eight Christian novels about the lives of the Davis family, helped create a new genre known as prairie romances, historical romances involving the frontier. These books convey Christian values through the thoughts and actions of the characters.

In Love Comes Softly, the first novel in the series, one day in fall, the husband of youthful pioneer Marty Claridge dies. At the burial, Clark Davis proposes a marriage of convenience in which he will provide for Marty in exchange for her tending to his daughter Missie. He promises Marty the fare to go home on the spring wagon train. Everything goes wrong as Marty adjusts to her new life and tends Missie, but Clark patiently demonstrates kindness and prays for her. Marty does not know much about religion but figures the religious Clark will not drink or beat her. When Clark realizes Marty is expecting, he feels glad she will have a child to remember her husband by. Marty finally sees past her grief to notice Clark’s goodness. On Christmas, they share a special day, and the nativity story strikes a chord with Marty. Marty and Clark experience joys and tragedy. Each evening they talk about the day’s events and their feelings, dreams, hopes, and even faith. On Easter Sunday Marty attends her first church service and learns that Jesus Christ died for her sins. Clark’s God becomes her God. Marty grows in her faith and draws closer to Clark. Marty and Clark realize that love grew slowly and came softly, and they choose to stay together.

In Love’s Enduring Promise, Marty feels gratitude for God’s provision through Clark as their family flourishes. When an ailing neighbor passes away, they take in Nandry and Clae Larson, the neighbor’s daughters. The community builds a school and hires a teacher. Missie comes home with her daily report about classes and how much she hates Willie LaHaye, who torments her. Time passes, and eleven-year-old Missie still dislikes Willie but instead of fretting she ignores him. Clae trains to be a teacher. Nandry marries. The girls thank Marty and Clark for helping them succeed. Clae is hired to teach the same fall that the new preacher settles in. Missie finishes her schooling and trains for teaching. She returns and takes the position when Clae marries the parson. During Missie’s second year of teaching, Willie declares his plans to move West and his interest in her. On her wedding day, Missie thanks Marty for raising her.

In Love’s Long Journey, Missie and Willie travel West. They rely on the promises from Isaiah 41:10 that assure them of God’s presence, strength, and help. The rigors of trail life drain Missie, who battles homesickness and fatigue from pregnancy. Missie values God’s provision of a cautious and careful wagon master who leads them safely to Tettsford Junction. She remains alone in town, close to a doctor for three months, while Willie hires hands and establishes their land. When his son is nearly two weeks old, Willie moves his family to their ranch. Missie faces more disappointments at the desolate and isolated spread. The cramped sod house seems almost unbearable, but the baby brings her joy. Hardships, endless wind, blizzards, rustlers, and illness force Missie and Willie to draw strength from God’s promises. As their lot improves, Missie reflects on how God kept his promise from Isaiah 41:10—their love journeyed a long way and found a home.

In Love’s Abiding Joy, Clark gives Marty a birthday trip to visit Missie and Willie. After years apart, they relish a joyous reunion. During their stay, two boys are playing inside a mine when it collapses. Clark frees one boy and...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

DeLong, Janice, and Rachel Schwedt. Contemporary Christian Authors: Lives and Works. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2000. Biographical sketch details Oke’s books and awards as well as her purpose and themes in writing.

Hedblad, Alan, ed. Something About the Author: Facts and Pictures About Authors and Illustrators of Books for Young People. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1998. Provides young adults an overview of Oke’s writing career and accomplishments.

Johnson, Sarah. “Pioneering Efforts in Christian Historicals: Sarah Johnson profiles Bethany House.” Solander: The Magazine of the Historical Novel Society 9, no.1 (May, 2005): 26-28. Profiles Bethany House’s and Oke’s impact on Christian historical fiction, starting with Love Comes Softly.

Logan, Laurel Oke. Janette Oke: A Heart for the Prairie. Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1993. Biography of “best loved” novelist whose simple stories opened the door to Christian fiction.

Love Comes Softly, Janette Oke’s Message of Hope and Expectation.” Christian Literature Today 1, no. 5 (March, 2002). Analyzes the themes of love and hope that characterize Oke’s Love Comes Softly and her other successful novels.