Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War, Part 7: The Fearless Elite

How likely is it to find the farm kid who is fearless in the face of danger and ready to kill the enemy? Rarer than you think.

Last week we discussed factors that influence a person’s ability to take another person’s life.

It’s hard. The closer you are and the more intimate the manner of killing, the harder it gets. We’ve discussed some of the psychological impacts that affect a person’s desire to engage in combat, those core fears that must be overcome to bring oneself into the arena, so to speak, to engage the enemy. Yet in speculative fiction across every genre we are exposed to characters who wade into battle without hesitation (or hesitation that is not fully developed), and perform the most miraculous of feats with nary a second thought. We love the fearless Aragorns and Legolas’, the intrepid space marines and underdog-turned-superhero who make up the large majority of our casts of characters.

Back to our Grossman reference of On Killing. The vast majority of people must overcome strong resistance to take a life in combat. Yet some people feel little fear of this kind of “up close and personal war.” Statistics derived from World War II, but consistent with records from other conflicts indicate that when human beings are locked in close personal combat for a period of around six weeks or more, between 96% and 98% of those fighting become psychological casualties. What it means to become a psychological casualty we’ll talk about in a later installment, but notice here that 2 to 4 percent do not suffer psychologically at all, or to a much lesser degree. This group, this unusual minority, we’ll call “The Fearless Elite.”

“Fearless” is not really the right term. This minority can experience fear (though not all do). But unlike the overwhelming majority of us, they can fight in sustained combat conditions without showing any sign of damage to their inner-selves. Note that since the fright or surrender reactions are involuntarily triggered by psychological stress, this small minority also seem resistant to throwing up hands in panic or uncontrollably running away. They may still feel fear and still surrender or run–but they would do so by choice it seems, because it makes sense at the moment, rather than because of an uncontrolled emotional and mental reaction.

Why is this small minority different? The answers are not completely known, but it seems the group can be divided in rough halves according to On Killing:

Half of this group are immune to the psychological damage of combat because there is something deeply wrong with them–they are psychopaths. Psychopaths, sometimes interchangeably called “sociopaths” (but there is a difference between the two terms), do not feel empathy for other human beings or only feel it in the tiniest amount. Killing someone else is nothing to them and they likewise are much less concerned with their own deaths.

The other half seems to be composed of people who are otherwise perfectly normal, who react differently to combat than most people for largely unknown reasons–though being naturally calm and highly resistant to getting stressed out seems to be related to what makes these people unusual.

Remember our opening: 2 to 4 percent of the total human population exhibits this behavior, and split that in half for each of the possible causes.

An author of tales should immediately recognize that a lot of war story writing has been focused on these unusual people. The villains, those who kill and feel nothing for any one–the heroes, who do feel, but are so calm and level-headed they manage to do the right thing even in the worst of scenarios. These are the men of legend and history, these are the Odysseus, the Achilles, the Spartacus, and Audie Murphy figures; the other half represents Genghis Khan, Ashurbanipal, and Joachim Peiper.

The Fearless Elite.

Conditioning and selection of the elite

It might be tempting to say that the 300 Spartans who stood with King Leonidas at Thermopylae were all naturally elite soldiers. But there is no suggestion based on scientific evidence that any nation of people will have a higher percentage of natural warriors than any other. In fact, the historical record seems to indicate that Spartan courage was not the product of natural affinity for warfare, but of superior “unnatural” training. In fact, elite training is the main ingredient in what makes certain individuals and military units superior to others. Training can condition any soldier, but is particularly useful in conditioning the already elite.

Though it is also true that joining an elite unit is voluntary, people of this “warrior elite” mentality (both halves) tend to seek to join elite military units. So, whether among King David’s mighty men or the U.S. Navy Seals, Army Rangers and Green Berets, or other elite units, the percentage of warriors more resistant to the psychological harm of combat is higher in elite units than in ordinary ones. This is partially why modern airborne units, in which every member has to face the fear of jumping out an airplane, tend to be considered elite. Or put another way, fear suppresses the effectiveness of a military unit in combat and so “elite” units who recruit from people who are the most fearless—who have passed through some form of ordeal proving their courage–fight more effectively and have a greater capacity/capability to conduct certain missions than “regular” units.

It might be interesting to write a story about a non-human race where all the soldiers naturally behave as if they were elite. Or where human beings are genetically engineered to fight without remorse or fear. Note that someone who fights without any regrets or fear would be lacking something psychologically–this lack should show somehow in a story. Even if the lack is missing the ability to enjoy ordinary events because of supreme natural calmness.

Soldiers in sci-fi

Travis C. here with some discussion and illustration from the literature. One of the first DVDs I bought was Kurt Russell’s 1998 movie Soldier, a science fiction story about a soldier produced by a program that takes orphans and conditions them to suppress those natural reactions and fears, creating an elite fighting unit. The program weeded out the other 96-98% quickly, leaving that Fearless Elite to fight for humanity. When exposed to a shipwrecked homesteader community, the main character must adapt to integrate into society. Fast forward that concept and you have the beginnings of M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth.

Here we’re getting closer to the fantasy and sci-fi writers realm of the fantastical. The race of S’krells have an objective to conquer the new human homeworld of Nova Prime. Their weapon? Creatures known as Ursas who can sense fear in the human population. How do humans respond? The Ranger Corps, an elite unit of soldiers selected and conditioned to suppress their fear in order to combat the Ursas (a skill known as ghosting). It’s with that context we watch a pretty vanilla story about a father-son relationship.

Likely? Not particularly. Again, 2 to 4 percent of people have a capacity to operate in a combat environment without the natural resistance to combat actions we discussed earlier. Now let’s temper that with the research: that resistance to killing is directed towards humans. The Ursas seem pretty horrific, and there’s a clear sense of present danger driving the actions of the Ranger Corps (i.e., the extinction of the human race). Also as we said, it’s not that the Fearless Elite don’t feel fear, they are just capable of operating without significant limitations in those conditions. But we do see a common theme: conditioning of the soldier, possibly an already elite and rare soldier to begin with, to create one even more capable in battle.

Let’s finish with another example from the realm of science fiction: the Star Wars universe and the clone army. The early Imperial army is made up of cloned soldiers from Kamino based on the genetic template of bounty hunter Jango Fett. After an accelerated growth period these soldiers are put through a rigorous training program to condition them into the Stormtroopers we’re all familiar with. (And if you aren’t familiar, just drive around your neighbor and look for the Stormtrooper family stickers on every minivan and SUV. Or suffer through Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.)

We witness the results of this genetic modification, combined with regimented conditioning, through the franchise, and only in recent years are we seeing the storyline of the movies open up to the possibility of a Stormtrooper breaking out of that mold in the character Finn. Stormtroopers appear fearless against any foe, against any race or species of the galaxy, even against the droid army on Geonosis. Just pull the blaster trigger. Don’t think, don’t react. Don’t respond to fear.

The fantasy hero

In the realm of fantasy writing, I’d suggest we writers examine one of our longest-living tropes, the idea of the untrained, unconditioned coming-of-age-teenager (boy or girl), who is thrust into a new environment/out of their old environment, and through a journey with a guardian alongside finds it in themselves to develop this fearless attitude/condition and overcome astronomical odds against a nearly omnipotent foe. We’ve certainly seen the evolution of the Hero’s Journey since Joseph Campbell proposed his monomyth theory and not all stories are quite so blatantly conceived. Many try to do justice to the change element in the main character, showing us their growth from unaware/naive/broken/weak into strong/courageous/fearless/skilled, but if we’re being honest, that’s an exceptionally rare occurrence if the result is getting to that 2-4% Fearless Elite state.

Admittedly, we want to hear the story of the average, everyday pigboy who becomes a knight and later a king. I’m more like Shasta the fisherman’s boy than King Cor of Archenland, but I love the hope that C.S. Lewis creates to become a great man. The world needs great coming of age stories to help inspire and guide the next generation of real heroes in every sphere of influence. However, we have the power to deceive them with unrealistic expectations of the human capacity for fearlessness.

There are Aragorns in the world, but we’re more likely to see a stout-hearted Samwise if we honestly look around us. Let’s be honest with our readers as we develop characters that are real and exciting enough to capture and hold their attention but also true to the human condition. Training and conditioning can go a long way to improve the capacity of the 96 percent soldier, but it’s a rare few that exhibit the traits we find in that last 4 percent. How many of your cast are from that 4 percent?

I also want to leave you and I with some hope. That other 96 to 98 percent? Training and conditioning benefits them as well, and will result in a spectrum of positive responses to fear in combat. Some will always struggle with reactions we’d deem as cowardice, but many will stand up and perform brave and honorable acts while suffering varying degrees of psychological damage as a result. We’ll talk about that outcome later in the series.

Lastly, let’s always keep close in mind God’s command and promise to all of us: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NIV). That’s great encouragement from the God who created all 100 percent of us.

One in a Million

What if parallel worlds do exist? Does that mean there is a world out there where Adam didn’t sin?
| Oct 17, 2018 | 1 comment |

I recently finished the third season of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime. It wasn’t as intense as the first two seasons but it was still very solid, and it presented many new questions and thankfully answered many as well. One thing that struck me about this season was the simmering sci-fi undercurrent that was almost inconsequential during the first two seasons but came to the forefront with this new season. Taken at face value, this show is a cut-and-dried alternate history where the Allies lose World War II, but being a Philip K. Dick tale, there is more than meets the eye, and things finally start moving in a high-tech direction in the last few episodes.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. DO NOT CONTINUE READING IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE THIRD SEASON AND PLAN TO DO SO.

Image copyright Amazon Studios

At the end of season two, Trade Minister Tagomi teleports to a world that aligns with our own, in which the Allies won the war and the American dream is alive and well. He does this through mental power alone. The existence of parallel worlds explains the mysterious film reels, hoarded by the Man in the High Castle, all of which show different realities than the grim one the show’s characters inhabit. But what can the knowledge of these parallel worlds do in terms of helping our scrappy band of Resistance fighters stand up against the Nazis and the Japanese Empire? If someone told you that the greatest restaurant in the universe was on Neptune, that wouldn’t make a lick of difference in your own life since it would be impossible to get there. The only difference would be that now you are even less satisfied with your current restaurant choices because you know something better is out there, yet it is far out of reach. This was my thought throughout the first two seasons, as well as much of the third season. Okay, some people can pop in and out of different worlds but they can’t really do anything. It’s just like a vacation.

Enter the Nazi teleportation device at the end of season three. In true Nazi fashion, the Reichsführer decides that he not only wants to conquer this world; he wants to conquer parallel worlds as well. Deep in the mountains, Nazi scientists have been working on a device to one day transport armies to other dimensions and subject them to the might of the Reich. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and an unexpected wrench is thrown in their plans, but the Master Race isn’t so easily thwarted. Things are set up for what should be a very entertaining fourth season, one with a lot more sci-fi wizardry.

All of this got me thinking: what if parallel worlds do exist? From what I understand of quantum physics, the existence of parallel worlds is essentially a foregone conclusion. Does that mean there is a world out there where Adam didn’t sin? Where Jesus didn’t actually walk the Earth? Where Mark Carver is the billionaire founder of social media giant Markbook?

It’s fun to think about, and it’s certainly within the realm of God’s power to preside over infinite worlds, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. This reality is the only one I will ever know, and in this reality, I am a sinner saved by grace. Questioning the very fabric of reality unravels the sweater into nothingness, and questioning something doesn’t change its state of being. Someone says, “What if we’re all just plugged into the Matrix? What if we’re just one possible variation of infinite possibilities?” etc. etc. Well, what if this actually is reality and it’s the only one? And since that’s the more likely conclusion, let’s just go with that. Even if I did somehow find out that there were other versions of me in other versions of the universe, it wouldn’t affect my life here nor God’s sovereignty over all creation, because all of those other universes would still be created by Him.

If there are other Marks out there living countless lives, I only hope that they know God’s love, because He is the one constant in all possible worlds.

Great Male Characters in Fantastic Fiction

E. Stephen Burnett asked five female friends to describe a favorite male character from fantastic fiction.
| Oct 16, 2018 | 7 comments |

This week, (name of male celebrity) was accused of (insert one: sexual harassment, abuse of power, assault, and/or all the above).

People have reached their limit and seem to have collectively decided to hold such celebrities to account. For Christians, that also means responding to abuse accusations in our contexts, such as Christian conferences.

Still, I’m grateful to see other voices speaking out to remind us of this: We still have many celebrities, Christians, and men in general, who stand apart from this behavior. Many of them actively condemn such abuse, and show by their example a grace-blessed humanity that rebukes harassment and abuse of power.

Fantasy fans also find many positive examples of male characters in fiction. They are gallant, gracious, humble, protective. They struggle to act virtuously. They use their gifts (including the gift of power) in righteous ways.

I’ve asked five female friends to describe a favorite male character from fantastic fiction. Here they are.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh, author, The Songweaver’s Vow

I don’t have a favorite hero, because I can’t commit to a favorite anything. But I think Sir Percy Blakeney is often overlooked.

He’s a remarkable hero in many ways, though the story by now has been remade and parodied so often it’s easy to miss its original significance. (The Scarlet Pimpernel was the first hero with a secret identity. Batman, Superman, and Zorro all owe their origin to Sir Percy.) This is a man who deliberately destroys his own reputation, allowing all the world to perceive him as a useless fop who cannot think of anything more significant than fashion and socializing, tricking even his own wife into believing him shallow and meaningless. Meanwhile, he is spending his fortune and risking his life to save lives during the Reign of Terror.

Tricking his wife, you say? Doesn’t sound much like a hero. But understand that Sir Percy believes his wife Marguerite an accomplice to murder, turning in a French aristocrat for execution. He cannot risk his secret with her. Yet even while he distrusts her, Sir Percy respects her, keeping the vows he made though it would be easy to find other company in the libertine society of the late 18th century. The first novel is the story of their restitution. By the standards of the day, he places in Marguerite an astonishing amount of trust and authority, eventually taking her undercover with him and giving her command of his assisting League.

I don’t know that I would have the strength to make everyone despise me, so I find Sir Percy’s resolve and dedication impressive and inspiring.1

Marian Jacobs, author, Drawn from the Water; writer, Lorehaven Magazine

When The Legend of Tarzan released in 2016, I drooled in the theater and babbled all the way home like the nerd I was.

In my opinion, that film is the best Tarzan so far. Partly because it was epic like a good superhero film, and partly because John Clayton/Tarzan was at the height of virtue—not to mention the man knows how to admit when he’s wrong.

One of the greatest accomplishments in this adaptation is an intensely romantic story about a married couple. In a society where marriage isn’t considered sexy or romantic, Tarzan aims to balance a great respect for the strength of his wife while still being passionately protective. What could be more virtuous or romantic?

Bethany Jennings, author, Dreamskip

As an author, I love telling stories about heroes we could hope to emulate—not because they are unrealistically flawless, but because they face dark times by clinging to integrity and stepping out in courage.

One of my favorite male heroes I’ve written is Milo, a dream-traveler from my short story Dreamskip (coming out in my Severed Veil collection on October 27).

Milo is confronted in his dreams by a girl he knows, who claims to be in danger and pleads for his aid. Initially he’s disturbed by her panic, and brushes the whole thing off as a nightmare. But when he becomes convinced that the girl’s real life might be at risk, Milo races to find her despite his great fear, putting his own safety on the line—and possibly even his life.

The best male characters are not merely “strong” or “brave,” but rather they are men who image Christ by their love. “Greater love hath no man than this …” (John 15:13). Without love, all acts of masculine strength, cunning, bravery, or power are nothing.

Avily Jerome, author, The Breeding; book reviewer, Lorehaven Magazine

One of my favorite heroes is a bit unconventional. It’s Fezzik the giant from The Princess Bride. He’s not someone who is normally thought of as a hero, but I think he is because of a few specific reasons.

First, he stands up for someone who is being oppressed. He says “I just don’t think it’s right, killing an innocent girl.” This very nearly costs him his livelihood. Moreover, even though he continues on his job of kidnapping, he is gentle with her and careful to keep her safe.

Later, when he is fighting The Man in Black, he doesn’t take the advantage of surprise–he has honor and believes in a fair fight. When he finds Inigo, he nurses him back to health. And I think the most telling part of his character is that at the end when they escape the castle, Buttercup trusts him completely. Despite his role in her initial kidnapping, she feels safe with him, trusting him to keep her from harm. He is a hero because of the choices he makes to protect those weaker than himself even when he could easily overpower them and when it would be in his best interest to do so.

Lindsay Franklin, author, The Story Peddler

Our entertainment is filled with a particular type of reluctant hero—those “chosen ones” who understand their high callings in life but just want to be normal, for heaven’s sake. And while I love those Harry Potters and Frodos in my fantastical stories, my hands-down favorite male character breaks that mold.

Samwise Gamgee is the opposite of a chosen one. It’s practically an accident that he’s on the quest at all. He’s a supporting cast member, not the star of the show. But what drives Sam is his loyalty to Frodo and his belief that there’s a greater good to be served. Without Sam, the quest wouldn’t have been completed. Frodo would have been lost to the power of the ring. Sam does the right thing simply because it’s good, and he’s the real hero of that story.

  1. More from Laura VanArendonk Baugh: “The Scarlet Pimpernel is inspirational in other ways, too: when author Baroness Orczy initially saw her novel repeatedly rejected, she converted the story into a play, which became wildly popular and fueled the sale of the novel and its many sequels. Don’t give up, writers!”

Writers Of Amish Fiction May Not Have It So Wrong

Can speculative fiction find a place for these women? Can they be our protagonists? Do we see them as worth the spotlight? Or do our female protagonists all have to do as the men do?
| Oct 15, 2018 | 23 comments |

Speculative writers often express a disdain for Christian fiction because it is dominated by books in the romance genre and by the peculiarly Christian Amish Fiction genre. Stories in those genres, we so often say, do not reflect reality. They are not authentic. They reflect wishful thinking more than they do the way things actually are.

It is kind of ironic for fantasy and science fiction writers to criticize another genre for not being “real enough.” Of course I say this with tongue in cheek, because I believe that speculative fiction can do what other genres only hint at—our books deal with the spiritual life as much or perhaps more than the physical, emotional, mental life of a person.

So why would I suggest that Amish Fiction writers have something to say that might actually be what readers want to hear, beyond wishful thinking?

My thinking has to do with a blog post I read this morning, “We Need More Weak Female Characters…,” by one of my favorite bloggers, InsanityBytes, who also happens to be a Christian.

IB explained her position:

Well, isn’t it rather insulting to have “strong” placed in front of “female” as if we must now differentiate? Isn’t that just incredibly redundant and rude? Doesn’t it also just scream, the female characters is this book are so not like all the other women, you know, all those limp wristed, wimpy, soggy plates of pathetic femininity we have all come to loathe and despise?

I mean call me naive, but I thought “strong female” was just a given?? What woman is not strong? And really when the world attacks, I’m pretty sure it could care less about you presenting your Strength Credentials anyway. “Listen up world, I’ll have you know, I am actually a strong female character, so thou shall not mess with me…?” Does that even work?

Later she adds

What is with this whole idea that “weak” is somehow the same thing as “bad?” Don’t our stories all begin with a moment of weakness? Isn’t it our scars and our struggles that make us unique? Isn’t it our defects that tend to build our character? How can I even empathize with one of these two-dimensional, plastic characters who walks about like trained prize-fighter in stilettos? Like, I totally question the judgment of anyone wearing a tank top in 40 degree weather, anyway. Chasing bad guys in heels is even worse.

IB has a point, a humorous one but also with serious ramifications. In today’s feminist-driven society, a woman isn’t really quite significant unless she’s doing what a man does. Softball players, for instance, aren’t valued by the press nearly as much as the few women who have attempted to have a professional baseball career. Who makes the press, the female cheerleader who does an incredible, daring high-flying flip into the arms of her teammate, or the girl who becomes the football team’s field goal kicker?

Translate that into stories. Do we writers value women characters only when they do the things men do, or do we have a place for women who are “nothing” but gracious and kind and nurturing and stable and (hold your breath) domestic?

Do we see “weak” women as valuable too?

I think writers of Amish fiction might have a place in their stories for “weak” women. They may have strength of character or spiritual depth that far outstrips the men in their lives. I’m not well schooled in the genre, so I don’t know for sure, but after reading IB’s article, I got to wondering whether or not women can relate to the women in Amish fiction more than they can relate to “two-dimensional, plastic characters who walks about like trained prize-fighter in stilettos?”

I suppose the real challenge for writers is to fairly represent characters of various stripes. All our female lead characters don’t have to be girls that can hold their own with the guys on the team. Nor do they all have to be vulnerable victims that need a man’s protection. Maybe we can get away from the stereotypes of both extremes and write women characters who are, you know, like real women are.

The women I know are amazing because they can multitask, they can wear a dozen different hats every day, they can deal with grief and loss with the same grace that they do gain and applause (which doesn’t come their way very often). In case you’re wondering, I’m describing my friends who are moms, some who also work outside their home. But the stay-at-home moms are no less amazing. Can speculative fiction find a place for these women? Can they be our protagonists? Do we see them as worth the spotlight? Or do our female protagonists all have to do as the men do?

Fiction Friday: The Day The Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker

It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident.
| Oct 12, 2018 | 1 comment | Series:

The Day The Angels Fell

by Shawn Smucker

The Day The Angels Fell is a finalist in the 2018 Christy Awards, Visionary category.

INTRODUCTION—The Day The Angels Fell

It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened.

After his mother’s death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to bring her back. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Sam begins his search for the Tree of Life–the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Sam to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?

THE DAY THE ANGELS FELL — EXCERPT

I am old now. I still live on the same farm where I grew up, the same farm where my mother’s accident took place, the same farm that burned for days after the angels fell. My father rebuilt the farm after the fire, and it was foreign to me then, a new house trying to fill an old space. The trees he planted were all fragile and small, and the inside of the barns spelled like new wood and fresh paint. I think he was glad to start over, considering everything that summer had taken from us.

But that was many years ago, and now the farm feels old again. The floorboards creak when I walk to the kitchen in the middle of the night. The walls and the roof groan under the weight of summer storms. There is a large oak in the front yard again, and it reminds me of the lightning tree, the one that started it all. This house and I are two old friends sitting together in our latter days.

I untie my tangled necktie and try again. I’ve never been good at these knots. My last friend’s funeral is this week and I thought I should wear a tie. It seemed the right thing to do, but now that I’m standing in front of a mirror I’m having second thoughts, not only about the necktie but about even going. She was my best friend, but I’m not sue I have the strength for one more funeral.

Someone knocks on the front door, so I untangle myself from the tie and ease my way down the stairs, leaning heavily on the handrail. Another knock, and by now I’m crossing to the door.

“Coming, coming,” I say. People are in such a hurry these days. Everyone wants everything to happen now, or yesterday. But when you’re my age, you get used to waiting, mostly because you’re always waiting on yourself.

“Hi there, Jerry,” I say through the screen, not making any move to open it.

“I won’t come in Samuel. Just wanted to apologize for my boy again.”

Jerry is a huge bear of a man with arms and hands and fingers so thick I sometimes wonder how he can use them for anything small like tying shoes or stirring his coffee. He’s always apologizing for his boy. I don’t know why—seems to me his boy simply acts like a boy. And because Jerry is always calling him “boy,” I can’t remember the child’s name.

“I heard he was throwing smoke bombs up on your porch this morning.”

“Oh, that. Well . . .” I begin.

“I won’t hear of it,” Jerry says. “In fact, as soon as I find him he’ll be coming here in person to apologize.”

“That’s really not necessary,” I say.

“No. That boy will apologize.”

I sigh. “Anything else, Jerry? How are the fields this summer?”

“Green. It’s been a good one so far.”

“All right,” I mumble, then turn and walk away because I’m too old to waste my time having conversations that don’t interest me. “All right.”

“Oh, and I’m sorry about your friend,” Jerry calls to me as I begin the slow ascent up the stairs. His words hit me like a physical object, making me stop on the third step and lean against the wall. They bring a fresh wave of grief to the surface, and I’m glad he can’t see my face.

“Thank you,” I say, hoping he will leave now.

“The missus says she was a good, close friend of yours for many years. I’m very sorry.”

“Thank you,” I say again, then start climbing he stairs. One foot after the other, that’s the only way to do it. I wish people would mind their own business. I have no interest at my age in collecting the sympathy of strangers. Or near strangers. In fact, I cn do without sympathy at all, no matter the source.

I still imagine myself to be self-sufficient, and in order to maintain that illusion I keep a small garden at the end of the lane. Sometimes, while I’m weeding, I’ll stop and look across the street at where the old church used to be. After the fire they left the lot vacant and rebuilt the small brick building on a lot in town, but the old foundation is still there somewhere, under the dirt and the plants and the trees that came over the years. Time covers things, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone.

If I’m honest, though, I have to admit that during some gradual phase in my life I became too old to work the farm myself. There was a time not long ago when my farm fell into disrepair, and I thought it would be the end of me as well, because I couldn’t bear to watch so many memories collapse in on themselves. Then the family that moved into Abra’s old farm, Jerry and “the missus” and his “boy,” asked if they could rent my fields and barns. I said yes because I had no good reason to say no. Now they take care of everything and I live quietly in the old farmhouse, puttering in my garden or sitting on the front porch, trying to remember all the things that happened the summer my mother died.

Jerry’s son looks to be about eleven or twelve, my age when it happened. I wonder what he would do if his mother died.

I think he’s scared of me, and I don’t blame him. I don’t shave very often and my hair is usually unruly. My clothes are old and worn. I know I smell of old age—I remember that scent from when my father started walking with a cane.

Sometimes Jerry’s son will hide among the fruit trees that line the long lane and spy on me, but I don’t mind. I pretend not to see him, and he seems to have fun with it, climbing up to the highest branch and peering through an old tube as if it’s a telescope. Sometimes, though, when he gets to the top, I find myself holding my breath, waiting for him to fall. Everything falls in the end, you know.

AUTHOR BIO—SHAWN SMUCKER

Shawn Smucker is an author and co-writer who lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is married and has six children. The Day The Angels Fell is a finalist in the 2018 Christy Awards, Visionary category. You can learn more about Shawn at his web site — http://shawnsmucker.com/

Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War, Part 6: Psychology of Warfare: The Act of Killing

The human response to killing in a combat environment is influenced by distance and method.
| Oct 11, 2018 | 7 comments |

Travis C. here, filling in a bit for Travis P. We both contributed to this article, and you probably remember we’re both warfighters of the U.S. military. This is a sobering topic, but it’s also part of our mission (at least being prepared for such times as we may need to). We’re also writers and this discussion is in the context of writing speculative fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction. There’s no short shrift here, only humility and honesty. As the Micah prophesied, we’ll eventually turn swords to plowshares and spears to pruning hooks.

According to Dave Grossman’s book On Killing, the biggest stressor human beings face in combat is killing other human beings. The sequel to On Killing, On Combat, actually puts more emphasis on the danger of being killed, but both things haunt the human mind, largely based on the human ability to feel empathy. Feeling the suffering of the humans we kill on the one hand–and to witness friends and colleagues being killed on the other, empathetically feeling their pain as they pass on, worrying that we might be next. These particular fears are the primary causes of battlefield psychological trauma according to On Killing and On Combat. Natural human empathy does not like to be at war against other human beings.

Grossman outlined several significant factors that influence the human response to killing another human being: the influence of authority, the influence of a group’s support for the warrior and perceived legitimacy of the act, the training, conditioning, experiences, and temperament of the warrior. But two key conclusions of Grossman’s research are that killing another human being is hardest when it’s face-to-face and when it involves stabbing into another person’s body. The first part of this involves the fact we humans read one another’s emotions primarily through facial cues. For almost all people, witnessing another human suffer causes at least a weak empathetic response. Like laughter or coughing becoming contagious, the normal human psyche feels a reflection of another human being’s suffering.

It’s about distance

If people are too far away for their faces to be seen, as in a combatant firing artillery or dropping bombs, killing bears a lesser psychological effect–unless the recipients of bombing or shelling are seen up close later. Hard, close combat causes psychological injury to human beings–submarine crews or bomber squadrons in WWII, who were in fact in as much or more danger as infantrymen, were usually less traumatized by their experiences. (Note that while snipers fire from far off, their use of optics brings their targets pretty close visually.)

Note also how this factor relates to the “chase” instinct mentioned in last week’s post. When an enemy turns and runs away, it is easier to kill them by stabbing them in the back than it is to stab them while facing them. Let’s compare that to an old cultural prohibition from the Wild West: only a coward would shoot a man in the back. It might be considered more honorable to shoot someone while facing them and wrestling with the emotional consequences of one’s’ actions. It is also significantly safer to shoot someone who can’t see you, making it more likely someone might choose to pull the trigger who otherwise would have chickened out. Our ancestors judged this act to be villainous and our sense of righteousness in combat tends to recoil in response.

It’s about method

The “stabbing into another body” concept from above is perhaps a particular issue because it seems to strike people instinctively as being interlinked with sexual intimacy and therefore especially wrong (and for certain criminally disturbed minds, especially exciting). It happens to be true that stabbing into the body is a very effective way to kill people, generally superior to slashing or smashing. Yet human beings have often gravitated towards weapons that swing in order to slice or crush as a means of killing instead. It’s worth considering that one of the reasons why a person might use a sword to slash or hack instead of stab has nothing to do with weapon effectiveness, but rather with a psychological factor of avoiding putting a penetrative wound in another person, up close and personal.

Related to the revulsion against stabbing into other human beings is the terror that the thought of having someone else do that to us inspires. Humans are certainly afraid of being bombed or shelled, largely because the terrible noises the explosions make, but we’ll take our lives into our hands in automobiles in reckless ways without much fear at all. It’s different when someone is deliberately trying to kill you. And while the idea that another human would drop a bomb on you or target you with a sniper rifle certainly can inspire fear, most people are more afraid of an enemy who will stab them to death with a knife up close.

Popular media and killing in war

Fantasy and science fiction have described a range of emotional responses to the act of killing, and I would say that many in the military have been influenced by books, movies, TV, and comics as they consider the choice to join the armed forces. You, dear author, have a powerful tool in your hand as an influencer of future generations.

I have one specific example I want to end on, but to begin, let’s spitball a bunch of popular examples of killing with a note on realism:

Example 1: In Star Wars, we see several leaders within the Empire react to the power of the Death Star. They see it only as a tool to bend others to their will, and never react to the decimation it causes when leveled against a planet.

Conclusion: Extremely unlikely, even so far removed from the target. You just destroyed a planet for goodness sake! Not even a tear?

Example 2: The helmeted-lackey who pulls down the priming lever for the Death Star’s weapon: no visible reaction (at least, Lucas never shows us that part of the story).

Conclusion: Not as unlikely, but still a little extreme. That soldier is acting under very powerful authority, likely highly trained to follow rote procedure, and is highly distant from the consequences of his/her action. (No one is looking at the planet, right?)

Example 3: It’s October, so the endless reruns of our most popular horror series should be on everyone’s radar. There’s a reason such franchises maintain their popularity: we’re all scared of being stabbed in the dark, alone, by a tall, scary being like Michael Myers.

Conclusion: While the concepts are usually over-the-top, the horror genre as a whole has done well at capitalizing on a core fear of ours, and our reaction to those characters (abomination) is reflective of that.

Example 4: The frequent use of phasers in the Star Trek universe.

Conclusion: It’s one thing to lay down cover fire, another to actively target and kill those enemies standing before you. We rarely see evidence of Kirk and his companions (forward through the rest of the franchise) wrestling with their emotions. There are some examples of the impact distance has (is firing a phaser at a being the same as launching photon torpedoes against a vessel, or bombarding a planet?) We do, however, see the disparity between races/species and how training makes a significant impact on certain groups. For example, take your average Federation human, Klingon, and Vulcan and you can discern differences in reactions and responses based on historical, cultural, and species-level differences.

I’m picking some low-hanging fruit, but look at your favorite series and you should find examples that either support the analysis Travis P gave, or seem over-the-top in comparison and therefore should strike us as awkward. It may be entertaining, but it isn’t an accurate portrayal of reality. In reality, killing is hard and it impacts the warfighter.

Finally, an example that gets it well, and one that gets close but not quite.

Many readers may be familiar with Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. It follows a small cast of characters as they navigate a world on the brink of destruction from ancient powers, all while humanity is fighting amongst itself for power and supremacy. Enter Dalinar Kholin, brother of the king, Brightlord, and Highprince of War of the Alethi armies. He has received visions and knowledge of an ancient path known as The Way of Kings, a code of honor that he attempts to resurrect among the factious Alethi. His son, Adolin, doesn’t quite get it, but is strongly influenced by his father. This part of the plot is in stark contrast to Brightlord Sadeas, who basically represents everything we would ever hate about a person (selfish, backstabbing, conniving, spiteful, basically awful in every way).

Spoiler alert……

When Adolin reacts to Sadeas at the conclusion of Words of Radiance, we all rejoice a little bit. Comeuppence is given. A wrong is righted. But Adolin immediately knows he’s in the wrong. He took the coward’s way. He reacted to the right circumstances, took the action he deemed necessary, but he killed a man kind of out-of-combat by stabbing him face-to-face in the eye. For one who gained notoriety through dueling, whose father is trying to bring about a seachange in the belief system of the entire army, Adolin knows this will be devastating. What a great place to begin the next book, Oathbringer, and watch him wrestle with the consequences of his actions, of his moral and ethical dilemma, and his reactions to those around him.

Contrast that with a childhood favorite of many. Let’s see if you can guess where I’m going.

I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Since he was eleven years old, Inigo has been preparing himself to do one deed: avenge his father, a master bladesmith who crafted a master blade, was refused payment, and was murdered by the six-fingered man. It’s hard not to feel satisfaction when his duel at the end of The Princess Bride comes to its inevitable conclusion. And let’s face it, would it be as popular if it ended with, “You killed my father. I forgive you”? Sigh… someday, we’ll have ploughshares.

Let’s take a look at the realism in this example though:

  • Authority: Inigo is acting on moral authority to right the wrong of his father’s death and stop a murderer (take that in contrast to two combatants fighting one another in war… )
  • Experience: Certainly the death of his father has galvanized Inigo into the hardened fighter he is today. It spurs him on against all odds. He has intentionally chosen to never forget what occurred and to actively pursue the training and opportunity to get revenge.
  • Training: A lifetime of training has molded Inigo into a consummate swordsman (bested only by the Dread Pirate Roberts, right?) It’s probably accurate to say that he has trained out any emotional reaction to killing the six-fingered man. In his mind, Inigo isn’t taking a man’s life, he is stopping an evil.

All of that should support the idea of Inigo as an elite warrior (which we’ll get to next week) incapable of fear.. Which leaves me struggling with the likelihood that the six-fingered man just happened to kill the father of an eleven-year-old boy who happens to be in an extremely small category of people who can conduct an extremely intimate act of violence (stabbing, face-to-face, while in close proximity) and have no reaction afterwards. He just runs to Wesley’s aid and they escape like nothing’s happened. He solemnly nods his head, “Yes, the six fingered man is dead.” WHAT!!! YOU STABBED A DUDE!!! THAT’S CALLED MURDER!!! (Author Travis’s reaction.)

Admittedly, The Princess Bride leaves us behind before the victors can stop and really process their emotions. We don’t see Inigo struggle to overcome the consequences of achieving his revenge (Now what? Take up Sudoku?) We don’t see him wrestle with the question of whether he truly achieved an honorable outcome for his father’s memory. We don’t see him have trouble reintegrating into society as the unforgiving guy who stabs people and doesn’t ever let go of a grudge. Or the guy who pursues justice at whatever cost to himself.

As authors, we have the ability to help our audience wrestle with those realities. We can provide a glimpse of how our hero, or villains, actions may or may not impact them and open that up for discussion. Next week we’ll introduce one such example, the idea of the warrior elite, a very small percentage of humans that are capable of violent acts with seemingly no emotional impact. Till then, let’s close with a quote from On Killing to help you frame the challenge of killing others in your stories:

The basic aim of a nation at war is establishing an image of the enemy in order to distinguish as sharply as possible the act of killing from the act of murder.

— Glenn Gray, The Warriors

A Simple Line

It is time to stop and ask ourselves: How much do bad adaptations of our favorite books really bother us?
| Oct 10, 2018 | 4 comments |

Now that Amazon has acquired film rights to Lord of the Rings, and Netflix has licensed all seven Chronicles of Narnia, it is time to stop and ask ourselves: How much do bad adaptations of our favorite books really bother us? I am not saying, mind you, that the adaptations will be bad. But the possibility is strong enough that we should be thinking about it.

I am not going to attempt to analyze the profound emotional investment humans pour into stories that don’t happen and people who do not exist. We all know how real fiction can be, and how stories can accompany us through life, following us through changes that leave old times and old friends behind. Depending upon the time and manner of their entrance into our lives, stories acquire associations with larger things – a carefree summer, a person we knew then, old haunts, even (a thousand Star Wars jokes don’t change the truth) a gone childhood. To touch the story is to touch hidden chords.

Narnia and Middle-earth possess an uncommon power and resonance. Their potency is all the greater because they come to so many people in childhood and remain, among all the fantasy movies and books that follow, a kind of first love. Christians often associate these books with their faith and see Jesus in – or, perhaps, through – Aslan. Both for what they are and for what they represent, Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia evoke a considerable degree of passion that does not wish to be disappointed.

The new adaptations further labor under the burden of previous adaptations. The animated versions of both works exist mainly as curiosities, arousing little antipathy or attachment. The live-action versions are weightier creations and well-known to the Tolkien and Lewis fandoms. Peter Jackson’s trilogy is iconic, binding its images to the books, and for countless people it was their initiation into Middle-earth. Many fans don’t only worry that the Amazon series won’t live up to Tolkien’s Middle-earth; they worry that it won’t live up to Jackson’s Middle-earth. There is even talk of bringing back the actors from Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

Perhaps some people feel about Walden’s Narnia films the way others feels about Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Perhaps, but I doubt it. The Walden films were not bad, but they fell far short of their source material. They failed to capture the spirit of Narnia, always seeming to be made by people tone-deaf to the meaning of Lewis’ works – people who replaced Caspian’s thirst to see Aslan’s country with boilerplate daddy issues because they just didn’t understand. Netflix has, in many ways, an easier task than Amazon, and strange as it may seem, it helps them that they are trying to do something no one has done: bring Narnia’s magic to the silver screen.

For myself, I am glad that Amazon and Netflix are producing their adaptations. I take a simple line: If the adaptations are good, I will enjoy them, and if they are bad, I will ignore them, and in either event I will be an interested viewer. But other people will take other lines. What is yours?

Explore Lorehaven Magazine’s Fall 2018 Issue!

With your free subscription, you can read PDF copies of each issue, or explore articles at Lorehaven.com.
| Oct 9, 2018 | No comments |

Fantasy fans, Lorehaven Magazine’s newest issue has arrived.

With your free subscription, you can read each article at Lorehaven.com, or download print-copy-style PDFs of this issue (and the spring and summer issues).

Lorehaven Magazine, fall 2018 issueYou will find:

Meanwhile, at the Lorehaven Book Clubs group, we’re hosting many of the authors featured in our book reviews. We’re also preparing our winter 2018 issue (which can share authors’ amazing ads with new fans.)

Ad an aside …

Speaking of ads, you may notice a few of those appearing with the magazine articles at Lorehaven.com.

Right now, these ads appear both in the magazine’s print version, and they now appear on the website, between magazine articles and the comments section. Note also that these ads appear even to readers who have not subscribed to the magazine.

Normal ad-blockers don’t hide them!

These ads also reflect the many great authors and publishers who want to share their stories with you.

So please, click away. See what worlds you can find.1

Be sure to join the mission at Lorehaven.com. You can also browse our virtual library that shows nearly 900 titles. Or keep enjoying daily, free articles at Speculative Faith. And be sure to share this magazine with your church, friends, family, and anyone else who would love to explore great Christian fantasy.

Thank you for joining this mission to find truth in fantastic stories.

  1. Here on Speculative Faith, we’re only showing ads that reflect the work of the person whose article you’re reading. That may include the Lorehaven Magazine ad you’ll see between this article and the comments section.

The Bible And Speculative Fiction

So often Christian speculative fiction authors fear the accusation of “preachy” that they don’t want characters doing what actual Christians do
| Oct 8, 2018 | 4 comments |

Does the Bible belong in Christian speculative fiction? Of course there are various ideas behind what Christian fiction is and what it can and should accomplish, so much of the discussion about the Bible and its use in Christian speculative fiction will undoubtedly depend on a person’s philosophy about what a Christian can and should attempt to accomplish in fiction, and speculative fiction specifically.

Add the fact that speculative fiction is an umbrella category that covers a wide variety of genres. Here’s a look at some of the types and ways authors have used Scripture in their stories.

Biblical Fiction

Perhaps the category that can use Scripture most extensively is speculative fiction set in Biblical times. These stories borrow liberally from what the Bible says, but add from imagination what the Bible does not say. Similar to the alternative history approach of books such as Stephen Lawhead’s Bright Empires and Robert Treskillard’s retelling of Merlin’s story in his Merlin’s Spiral series, this type of fiction speculates on the times of Noah, such as Brian Godawa did in his Chronicles of the Nephilim Series, or follows the plight of Jonah or the Apostle Paul, and more.

Alternative Bibles

Some authors use a variation of Scripture, often creatively disguised by another name. For example, in her Restorer series, Sharon Hinck constructed an entire religion around knowledge and use of the Verses. A number were artful rephrasing of Scripture. As I recall, Donita Paul does something similar in her DragonKeeper Chronicles, and more recently Sally Apokedak uses Precepts which guide her protagonist in her award-winning young adult novel, The Button Girl.

Supernatural Suspense

Biblical Characters

Perhaps the most common use of the Bible is the imaginative use of Biblical characters—demons, angels, the Nephilim. In fact, there are so many books in this category that the genre “Supernatural suspense” has come into being. Here are a few examples. Tosca Lee’s debut novel, which launched her fiction, was Demon: A Memoir. Karen Hancock wrote a science fiction-ish novel that incorporated the Nephilim. Shannon Dittemore wrote her Angel Eyes YA series, featuring very Biblical angels and demons. Kathryn Mackel wrote Hidden, an eerie story about chained fallen angels who break free.

Biblical Places
Other supernatural stories are so bold as to delve into angelic realms or into the depths of hell. I’ve read some of these books, but titles elude me right now.

One that incorporates the suggestion of “Biblical places” is Tom Pawlick’s Christy Award winner, Vanish. Some titles in Bryan Davis’s Dragons in Our Midst series involve both going into and surviving hell.

Dystopians

David Gregory’s novel The Last Christian may not deal specifically with the Bible in his dystopian world in which a missionary returns home only to find that Christianity has died out, but Bryan Litfin’s Chiveis Trilogy makes the Bible the focus of his story in which Christianity is wiped out along with technology and the world as we know it. When the protagonist finds a portion of the Bible in a ruin, forces line up to suppress it or to bring it to light.

Stories with Biblical Themes

More often than not, stories that do not use the Bible in an overt way but do contain Biblical themes, are called Christian worldview stories. Any number of novels fall into this category—fantasies, science fiction, horror. I think of Patrick Carr’s Staff & Sword series and Jill Williamson’s stand alone science fiction, Replication.

Allegory

I know of a few true allegories in the vein of Pilgrim’s Progress that have recently seen publication. One such is Walter Cantrell’s Disciple’s Quest series. In these books, the author puts Scripture in his own words from time to time, and also uses verses taken from the King James Version.

Clearly the Bible can and does play an integral part in Christian speculative fiction. I don’t doubt that there are stories set in contemporary or future times, or even past, in which the Bible is simply the Bible. It hasn’t been lost or reworded. It isn’t waiting in the wings or the catalyst that initiated the story. Rather, somebody in the story believes it and reads it. I can’t think of a title that uses the Bible in this way, but I think it’s a legitimate way the Bible can appear in a story.

So often Christian speculative authors fear the accusation of “preachy” that they don’t want characters doing what actual Christians do—things like, praying and going to church and reading the Bible. But those activities are as real as a character doing drugs or sleeping around. There’s less hesitation, I’d suggest, to show characters who are immoral than ones who take the Bible seriously.

Sure, there are stories in other genres that show characters doing religious things, holding conservative views, but do they wrestle with the truths of Scripture? Do they show the characters going to the Bible for answers or comfort or guidance?

Nearly two years ago, Stephen Burnett wrote an article here at Speculative Faith about Christian fiction and the need to make it “more Christian,” not less. I wonder if including the Bible might not help to accomplish this.

Is Netflix ‘Not Safe, but Good’ for Narnia?

Netflix had acquired all rights to make films based on C. S. Lewis’s magical world of Narnia. Let us take the adventure that Aslan sends us.
| Oct 5, 2018 | 16 comments |

This week, The Chronicles of Narnia’s Facebook page announced the unthinkable: Netflix had acquired all rights to make films based on C. S. Lewis’s world.

Was this fake news? Oddly enough, this page had been hacked before. Yet other sources quickly verified: NarniaWeb,1 Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and, of course, Netflix itself.

Let’s presume we’re all lifetime Narnia fans here, and get down to speculating.

I myself have a few immediate questions, like:

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

“Remember, remember, remember the book.”

1. What about ‘The Silver Chair’ film?

No media sources I found mention what this deal means for the just-past-rumored development of the fourth Narnia film, based on The Silver Chair.

It is (or was?) a real project. It would be (have been?) produced by Mark Gordon (Murder on the Orient Express, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) and directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger). David Magee (Finding Neverland, Life of Pi, and this winter’s Mary Poppins Returns) was writing the script. And C. S. Lewis’s stepson and head of estate, Douglas Gresham, had praised the early script as recently as this past February.

Gordon and Gresham are, of course, named in the announcement. It’s not like the series has radically changed hands; Netflix will simply finance and distribute these stories. But would-be director Johnson and scriptwriter Magee are not mentioned.

2. Related: will Netflix reboot the entire Narnia series?

Netflix could take two paths here:

  1. They won’t shelve all current work. The recent films are still fresh enough in fans’ minds to make it safe starting with The Silver Chair. Pros: use existing creative work that’s already been done for this film adaptation, and save a bit on the budget (more on this below). Cons: pick up in the middle of a series, making the first three books difficult to adapt later.
  2. They’ll reboot the whole thing, likely starting with the first story in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Pros: name recognition, and the ability to carry forward with the whole series. Cons: this is a big-budget story.

My prediction: Netflix will use The Silver Chair as a “soft reboot,” aligning with some of the film’s creative voices existing statements about the film’s intent.

3. Will a Netflix budget do these stories justice?

If Netflix starts with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—or bows to pressure from certain fans and decides The Magician’s Nephew is the best starting point—that’s challenging. These stories “for children” are epic in scope. They have imaginative worlds, magical-portal travel, and creatures galore. Aslan figures prominently in both tales. Even in the first series of three films, the budget is occasionally strained under the relative limits of animation technology available from 2005–2010.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) cost $180 million to make.

However, Netflix has proven its willingness to fork over tens of millions of dollars for past productions. And with projections for Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings production likely starting at hundreds of millions, Netflix is incentivized to compete.

Still, as I mentioned, Netflix could start with The Silver Chair. Budget-wise, this is far more reasonable without compromising the book’s themes. In fact, barebones budget fits perfectly with the story itself. Here, for the fourth Chronicle, Lewis actually “gritty reboots” the series somewhat. Gone are the many delightful creature comforts of Narnia, in favor of a tale about strict duty and obedience.

As I noted back in 2013:2

Gordon will likely face less-expensive film construction and a struggle to market The Silver Chair. In fact, a new film’s journey may be like that of the story’s two English schoolchildren — the new Narnia friend Eustace Scrubb and the trust-averse Jill Pole (perhaps Lewis’s best heroine) — and their optimistically pessimistic Marsh-wiggle guide Puddleglum, trekking into the wild lands around Narnia to seek a long-lost prince.

But such hardship may be exactly what a fourth Narnia film needs: a lower budget, tighter focus, less input from those with film investments to lose, and more faithfulness to Lewis.

4. Will Netflix make Narnia films or Narnia miniseries?

Left unanswered in the early news is whether Netflix will make Narnia feature-length films, or miniseries, or both. Oddly enough, I see advantages to both approaches. Stories such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as The Silver Chair and The Magician’s Nephew feature relatively simple, accessible narratives. However, all the other stories, especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, are quite episodic.

5. Who would star in a ‘Silver Chair’ film?

Actor Doug Jones "likes" my Twitter comment about playing Puddlegum in a film version of The Silver ChairWho among you loved The Voyage of the Dawn Treader film? Yes, I see those three hands. The film itself sunk. But Will Poulter as Eustace Clarence Scrubb totally deserved this role. (And a better story.) Alas, by now eight years have passed, and Poulter is too old to return to the magical land of Narnia.

This marks a perfect chance for Netflix to go full into the realm of the “soft reboot.” They’ll re-cast all characters. I’d suppose they’ll likely choose another voice—besides Liam Neeson—for the great lion, Aslan.

Other than my earnest desire for Sir Patrick Stewart to voice Aslan (he’s done it before!), I’ve no firm convictions for particular cast members. With one exception:

Make sure you note the Like from actor Doug Jones himself. It also turns out he himself floated the idea back in 2011. And who else could he play but Puddleglum?

6. Would Netflix de-claw Aslan and weaken Narnia’s faith?

Short answer: very possibly. Netflix has a lot of great fare, including among its original series, such as Erased and Lost in Space. It also has a lot of terrible content—not just exploitative (like Altered Carbon) or laughably hijacked for religious Progressivism (like Anne with an E), but simply poorly made.

At the same time, I take some comfort in this truth:

  • Douglas Gresham is involved. This man has spent his life working to get Lewis’s world turned into films. He’s also fought to preserve the “supposal” Christian elements that permeate Lewis’s stories as naturally remixed classic mythology.
  • By all accounts, Netflix does tend to honor creative control. That, not just some monolithic “liberal agenda,” means its content can end up all over the place.
  • My guess is that Gresham and Gordon saw this Netflix arrangement as the best way to make more films how they want. Now, the creators don’t necessarily need to compromise for the sake of the silliness demanded by the “children’s fantasy franchise motion picture” template (e.g., “believe in yourself” insipidity).
  • Netflix’s involvement also removes a huge cost factor: physical distribution. Films can market themselves thanks to fan interest, and momentum remaining from the previous three films (two distributed by Disney, the third by Fox).

7. When will we get to see the new Narnia film or series?

The statement doesn’t mention production or release timing. That’s also been a key element always left unanswered by creative voices talking about The Silver Chair.

However, based on previous announcement-to-release timing, I’d venture we’ll at least know of a Narnia film or miniseries release date/year by the year 2020. In either case, I’m almost certain my family will personally be up for hosting a long-overdue NarniaWeb moot—not in theaters, but in our house. We will hope to enjoy the awaited release of whatever adaptation we get. And if it ends up terrible, well, we can try to work with that too. In that case, we’ll just make sure to invite Bacchus.

  1. In the past I’ve served as a moderator for NarniaWeb. Once a mod or moddess in NarniaWeb, always a mod or moddess in NarniaWeb.
  2. Yes, The Silver Chair has been rumored for that long!