Catherine Marshall’s best-selling Christy celebrates milestone anniversary

Part 2 of an interview with Nancy LeSourd,
Publisher of Gilead Publishing’s Evergreen Farm imprint
about Catherine Marshall’s Christy

Catherine Marshall’s Christy landed on the New York Times list on November 5, 1967. Since then, more than 10 million copies have been sold worldwide, and the book blazed a trail for the new Christian fiction genre. In 1994, more families were introduced to the beloved character, Christy, and to the works of Marshall when the story inspired a CBS television movie pilot starring Kellie Martin that was so well received, it became a TV series.

In conjunction with the bestselling book’s Golden Anniversary, the e-book will be available for the first time. Readers can purchase the digital edition through online retailers, and libraries can now include the digital book in their OverDrive collection. Its re-release will introduce a new generation of readers to the story that has delighted millions and inspired many authors in the Christian genre. Christy will also mark the first release under Gilead Publishing’s Evergreen Farm imprint, specializing in books written by both Catherine Marshall and Dr. Peter Marshall. 

Q: Why do you think Christy resonated with so many people at the time it was written?  What makes this story as culturally relevant today as it was when it was first written?

Christy was first released in 1967, a turbulent time in our nation’s history. Americans were politically at odds with one another, and protest, frustration, anger and violence in the streets of America were at new heights. The civil rights movement faced tensions as the Black Power movement challenged the Martin Luther King non-violent protest approach. The number of young people drafted to fight in the Vietnam war brought the reality of death to many families. Drugs were rampant.

The story of Christy, though set 50 years earlier, was not so different from the time in which the novel was first published or today. The Mission represented the desire of outsiders to live alongside the mountain people and provide education and guidance. In reality, it was an attempt to create social change. The centuries-old “mountain ways” were threatened by the Mission school and its “newfangled” ideas. Christy's desire to educate her students, challenge superstitions, and to open up opportunities for them outside of the Cove threatened the fabric of the lives of these isolated people and even the cohesion of their community. Evil existed in the excesses of alcohol and the problems of an economy heavily dependent on the sale of the moonshine. Feuding caused deaths that seemed senseless and tore families apart.

Now we are nearly in the 2020s, and Christy is just as relevant today as ever before. Wherever there are young people who are passionate about impacting others, changing society’s social problems or caring for those who are impoverished or uneducated, there is Christy.

Q: What would Catherine Marshall think of the book being so popular that it became a beloved TV series?

Because Christy was on the New York Times best-sellers list for 38 weeks, there was a heated bidding war for the movie rights. MGM purchased the movie rights to Christy shortly after it became a blockbuster success. In 1969, the movie was in pre-production. A well-known director and award-winning scriptwriter were engaged by the studio. The script was written, and just like she did with the popular movie, A Man Called Peter, Catherine consulted with the studio. Then MGM was sold, and every picture in production was canceled. As you can imagine, it was a deep disappointment to Catherine. The Christy film rights, which had been sold to MGM, were locked up for decades and held hostage by the studio that had no plans to do anything with the rights or the script now relegated to the basement files. This story, perfect for dramatization, was owned by a studio with no desire to bring it to life.

The CBS TV series resurrected the dream of Christy on-screen again — this time on television. Although Catherine was not alive to enjoy those episodes, her family was thrilled with Kellie Martin’s portrayal of Christy. We believe Catherine would have agreed and been delighted to see the character of Christy come alive visually and dramatically. Many of the episodes were drawn directly from the novel. A number of the endearing school children in the series were local to the area, and some had never acted before. The portrayal of Christy, Dr. MacNeill and Miss Alice by experienced actors who were ideal for their parts brought the novel’s characters to life.

Catherine would have appreciated the authenticity brought to the series by the producers. She was a stickler for historic research both in Christy and her next novel, Julie.  She believed the historic detail and the use of it in her vivid descriptions, plotting and characterizations transported the reader back in time to the community and brought them alongside Christy in “real time” as she was experiencing the Cove. The authenticity of the location in which the series was filmed, the depiction of the Mission buildings, the detail in recreating this Scottish highlander mountain community and the care of the writers and the producers to bring the novel to life made the series a success.

Now, what about Christy’s dramatic big screen or television future? There is nothing in the works right now. It was always Catherine’s hope that one day Christy would be a film musical. We can dream.

Q: How has Christy shaped Christian fiction and the Christian publishing industry as a whole?

Christy was a trailblazer. When it was released in 1967, there really wasn’t much of a “Christian fiction” genre. The book’s acclaim and success was an inspiration to a new wave of authors who went on to become the foundation of Christian fiction. When this category of writing achieved enough momentum to require its own set of awards in 1999, it was only fitting to name The Christy Awards after Catherine Marshall’s pioneer novel that set the bar so high.

Many of the greatest Christian fiction stories throughout the years also take a page from the character of Christy Huddleston herself. One of the reasons she is so relatable is that she struggles, falters and doubts. For most of us, our first true exposure to the darkness and brokenness of the world rocks our worldview, and Christy is no different. Catherine Marshall wanted to emphasize that it’s OK — even appropriate — to be filled with questions in the face of tragedy and evil. Christy has good intentions, but she’s definitely not a super-Christian. It’s the influence of this character, one whose relatability transcends generation or geography, that continues to help shape the genre.

Q: Are there special features in the new edition for both those who have read and loved Christy many years ago and younger generations who aren’t familiar with the book?

Actually, there are no commemorative features. In this new edition we went back to the original model, creating a book that can be easily read by millions of new readers. Our intention was to create a book to be read, not placed in a shelf as a keepsake. In addition to this new hardcover addition, the book is available in digital format for the first time.  We’re so excited to be able to reach new readers with the e-book.

Learn more about the 50th anniversary of Christy plus download a free map of Cutter Gap by visiting Readers can also keep up with news on future Evergreen Farm releases via Facebook (@gileadpublishing) and Twitter (@GileadPub).