Almost twenty years ago, successful advertising executive, Jan Karon left behind her fast-paced life in the city and moved to Blowing Rock, North Carolina to pursue her childhood passion of writing. What she created is a contemporary classic. The Mitford Series is made up of ten novels written in a vignette format that intertwine the stories of finely-drawn characters who inhabit the fictional mountainous town of Mitford, North Carolina. The first in the series, At Home in Mitford, became a new York Times bestseller the same year my first child was born. I waited impatiently for each new novel’s publication and was always rewarded with another charming, humorous installment.
Father Timothy Kavanagh, the central character in the beloved Mitford series, epitomizes the Mitford town motto – “We take care of our own.” His parish is wider than the Lord’s Chapel where he is the Episcopalian rector. His heart reaches out to anyone he encounters, proven by his daily waking prayer: “Lord, make me a blessing to someone today. Through Christ our Lord, Amen”. Delightfully, Father Tim is also intelligent and well-read; his speech flows with literary quotations and references.
The world of Mitford may be charming, but it is not idyllic. Difficulties afflict Father Tim: loneliness, physical disease, doubt, and clinical depression; yet a message of hope is woven throughout each novel which reflects the author’s worldview. Because he loves us, God works things together for our good. The personal hardship experienced by author Jan Karon creates a depth to the stories: “There was a lot of brokenness in my family,” she observes. “Writing is a way of processing our lives. And it can be a way of healing.” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul). Karon married young and was divorced soon after, raising her daughter for many years as a single parent. Karon describes herself as having been “. . . driven to the wall by the circumstances and tragedy of life” which led her to embrace Christianity (Christianity Today’s website). Another good interview on Jan Karon’s life and faith journey can be found here: http://aredeemedlife.wordpress.com/interviews/on-the-road-with-jan-karon/
Father Tim is joined by a cast of endearing characters that populate Mitford and its surroundings. Our hearts are irresistibly drawn to Dooley, the lovable, yet unloved young boy who comes to Father Tim’s back door looking for a place to “take a dump”. (Yes, that is what the author means!) Endearing toothless Uncle Bill – long-suffering husband of a mentally ill wife, Miss Sadie Baxter – sweet-tempered, aging spinster, Percy Mosely – owner of the Main Street Grill, all these characters are seen through the eyes of Father Tim. “He sees these diamonds in the rough with compassionate love. Without fail, he lives out the kind of love that sees the potential of others and never gives up on them,” states my friend Joy – an avid Mitford fan.
The romance in the series captivates readers. Doris, my best friend from childhood, told me, “I am amazed that Father Tim, a bachelor at the age of 60, would take a chance at loving someone romantically. In my mind he was very brave to be open to this new life.” Although Karon offers a variety of romantic intrigues throughout the series, Father Tim and Cynthia Coppersmith steal the romantic spotlight at their advanced ages, which is fairly unique in modern fiction.
I have finished all ten novels and found comfort, hope, and a lifting of my heart. The only complaints over the years from friends who didn’t like the series include “too sweet” and “too slow”. If you have already read the books, please comment about your experience in Mitford. As Jan Karon says on her website: “My character driven work seeks to give readers a large extended family they can call their own.”
The Mitford Years: ten novels in order of publication:
At Home in Mitford (1994)
A Light in the Window (1995)
These High, Green Hills (1996)
Out to Canaan (1997)
A New Song (1999)
A Common Life (2001)
In This Mountain (2002)
Shepherds Abiding (2003)
Light From Heaven (2005)
Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014)
Jan Karon continued Father Tim’s story in his later years in settings beyond Mitford in the Father Tim novels: Home to Holly Springs, and In the Company of Others. More information at http://www.mitfordbooks.com. My favorite comment by a pineneedlesandpapertrails reader is Mimiswardrobe@wordpress.com: “I love the Mitford books, and I’m delighted to see that I missed the last one so I still have a new one to enjoy! Yes, they are slow, but like many slow rivers, they run deep! Rapids may be exciting, but they don’t give you much chance for introspection. What is wonderful about Jan Karon’s books is that her characters seem so real that reading one of her stories makes us feel like we’ve been to Mitford on vacation.”