Worldbuilding and the “Fictional Dream”

While it’s impossible to think through every scientific implication of intergalactic space travel or magical agriculture, worldbuilders should at least pay attention to the things readers will notice—such as rudimentary physics, basic logic, and normal character psychology.
| Jul 13, 2018 | 8 comments |

As a speculative writer thinking about worldbuilding, I’m reminded of one of my favorite shows of all time: Mystery Science Theater 3000. I think it’s the same appeal that draws people to laugh at videos of people falling down—it’s funny to watch, but I also know that it could easily happen to me.

That is, I can laugh along with the Satellite of Love crew at the ineptitude of B-movie directors who can’t seem to avoid glaring plot holes, nonsensical “scientific” explanations, and even monsters with visible puppet strings—all the while knowing that I could fall into similar story-killing traps in the next scene I write.

One of the reasons we love great speculative fiction is that it immerses us in a fantastic world that feels real. And when we’re enjoying a great book, movie, or show, we no longer notice the couch we’re sitting on, the sound of the faucet dripping, or the cat walking on top of us to get our attention. We’re experiencing the story along with the characters in an almost trance-like state—what fiction theorist John Gardner describes as “the fictional dream.”

What keeps bad B-movies from being engaging are all the careless mistakes that disrupt that dream—unmotivated character actions, poorly executed dialogue, unconvincing monsters, and anything else that pulls the audience out of the moment and makes them say, “Hey, wait a minute!”

Unfortunately, these kinds of illusion-killing mistakes are also common for fantasy and science fiction writers—those who have bravely taken on the complex task of inventing a new world from scratch. While it’s impossible to think through every scientific implication of intergalactic space travel or magical agriculture, worldbuilders should at least pay attention to the things readers will notice—such as rudimentary physics, basic logic, and normal character psychology.

Here are some common worldbuilding errors that can shatter the dream experience:

Extreme environments that aren’t well thought-through

I’ll admit, being a fantasy writer has sucked some of the fun out of enjoying pop culture. For example, here’s what happened after watching the famous “Let It Go” sequence from Disney’s Frozen:

Other people: “Oh my goodness, that was fantastic! The artistry! The message! I feel so free and validated!”

Me: “OK … but what does Elsa eat in the ice palace?”

Unexplained ice magic emanating from a Norwegian princess’s hands I can accept as part of the fairy tale. But running off to a barren mountain, making a shelter out of ice, and then expecting to survive there with no access to vegetation or even canned goods? Now I’m distracted from the story.

A writer who creates a speculative world with unusual settings needs to think through physical realities, even if they’re never overtly explained. This is vital in extreme environments such as lava planets, space stations, or dystopian versions of Earth with dramatically different climates. These are all great settings in theory and can work well. But if the writer can’t explain where people grow food or where they go to the bathroom, they’ve failed worldbuilding on a basic level.

An inhospitable environment can be used in speculative fiction, of course, with a bit of creative problem solving. For example, Foundation by Isaac Asimov starts out on Trantor, the capital of the Galactic Empire, a planet that is 100% urbanized. Where can a planet of metal and asphalt grow enough food to support its population of 45 billion? Essentially it can’t. Trantor has to depend on agricultural imports from the planets they rule over. If this sounds like a precarious political arrangement, it is, and now things are getting interesting.

No societal implications for magic or technology

If you’ve created a world with a game-changing discovery or pervasive magical power, one of your first jobs is to figure out all the irritating and mundane ways people would ruin it for everyone.

For example, if a scientific lab announced that they had discovered a method for practical, affordable teleportation, here are the first two things that would happen:

#1. Someone would demonstrate it on TV/the Internet/the Hive Mind/etc. A genius in a lab coat would give an impassioned speech about how much better the world will now be, all the ways we will save on transportation energy, connect families across the globe, and so forth. It will be a crowning achievement of mankind and very inspiring.

#2. A common criminal would steal the technology, transport themselves into a bank vault, and rob thousands of people blind. Bootleg versions of teleporters would quickly hit the black market. Pandemonium would ensue as security systems are now essentially useless. No one would be safe. Panic. Chaos. The government would step in and create a stringent military state. And someone in a lab coat will lament, “This is why humanity can’t have nice things.”

The point is, you can’t introduce cheap teleportation to society and not have issues with theft and espionage and murder. You can’t give people time travel and not expect everyone to go back and steal Cleopatra’s jewelry or try to kill Hitler.

The writer has to think through likely societal implications and then either embrace the chaos, or else create logical guidelines why this wouldn’t happen. Maybe the knowledge is limited to a select few, and the creators have to guard it from falling into the wrong hands. Or maybe the power is only available to those with special ability or rare magical tools.

Vaguely motivated conflicts

Why is the Dark Nation trying to destroy all that is good and beautiful in the Happy Valley? Well, because they’re evil, that’s why! And that’s what evil people do! They hate flowers and clean water and simple folk, and they love coal dust and terror.

The problem with this common fictional scenario is that first, it’s overused, and second, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sure, there may be sadists and psychopathic individuals who enjoy evil for its own sake, but it’s unlikely that a whole people group will buy into it.

Think about it: most of us want to consider ourselves good—or at least brave or proactive or strong—and we create several layers of justification to prove to ourselves that we are not bad people. (And if we are mean, we’re only mean to people who have it coming anyway!)

For that reason, much of evil group behavior is motivated by goals that sound noble: progress; purity; heritage; revenge for a legitimate past wrong; what’s only fair. The problem surfaces when these virtues, real or imagined, take precedence over morality and ethical treatment of others. The subtler the swap is, the more people will fall for it. Fear of authority can also motivate people to go along with evil behavior or at least turn a blind eye to abuses. And once someone’s gotten in too far and realized they’ve crossed a moral line, they may be unwilling to admit it and turn back.

A villain group should have an understandable perspective—probably not enough to excuse their cruelty or war crimes, but something we can at least grasp. Maybe it’s even something we can relate to in an uncomfortable way, forcing us to re-examine our own viewpoints.

Don’t underestimate the power of a well-told story

If all of these pitfalls make worldbuilding sound too complicated, take heart: the point is not to create a world that actually could be real, but one that feels real in the context of excellent storytelling.

For example, the Harry Potter universe definitely feels very real to millions of fans across the globe. But even J.K. Rowling has let slip some inconsistencies that make you scratch your head if you think about them—such as how can the entire wizarding community function when everyone has only a fifth-grade education in mathematics, writing, and other Muggle subjects? Are there really enough jobs at the Ministry of Magic and whimsical broom shops for all those Hogwarts graduates? And why would they give the ability to time-travel to a thirteen-year-old girl but never use it again?

But you never really ask these questions during the course of the novels, because Rowling is such a good storyteller that these more technical questions never occur to you. We are fully engaged in the moment, and the dream stays intact.

A writer doesn’t have to be perfect in their worldbuilding, just careful. If the rest of the world is well-developed and the plot is compelling enough, it hides the occasional (and unavoidable) gaps. The audience stays solidly within the dream that the writer weaves, never noticing that in a few places, if you pull back the curtain, you can see the puppet-strings.

Main photo courtesy of David Marcu. Ice photo courtesy of Sergey Pesterev.

Bio:

Emily Golus has been dreaming up worlds since before she could write her name. A New England transplant now living in the Deep South, Golus is fascinated by culture and the way it shapes how individuals see the world around them. Her fantasy works are filled with diverse and complex people who are unwillingly united in times of great danger.

Golus aims to write stories that engage, inspire, and reassure readers that the small choices of everyday life matter. In addition to her first two fantasy novels, Escape to Vindor (winner of the 2018 Selah Award) and its upcoming sequel, she writes about world-building and what it truly means to be a storymaker. Explore her fantasy creations at WorldofVindor.com, and read her blog at EmilyGolusBooks.com.

You can also find her on Instagram and on Facebook. In addition, you can read an introduction and excerpt to Golus’s award-winning debut novel, Escape to Vindor, posted in an earlier Spec Faith Fiction Friday article.

Why Does ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Back Away from Redemption?

Does the movie I Can Only Imagine cut redemption short by not fully portraying evil? Do other Christian stories also cheat redemption in the same way?
| Jul 12, 2018 | 16 comments |

This article’s title is intended to draw you in, but I really mean it. Why did the recent Christian film I Can Only Imagine (a few details about the movie are below) pull short of showing redemption as fully as it could have done? Does that demonstrate something is wrong with Christian audiences? Is it a shortcoming of Christian stories in general–do we see it in speculative stories as well, like in the film version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?

By “back away from redemption” I mean something specific. An online dictionary (Mirriam-Webster) has three main definitions of redemption. The second is about property (so we can skip it for this conversation), but the first says, “the act of making something better or more acceptable.” While the third definition is, “Christianity: the act of saving people from sin and evil.”

Note the third definition requires sin and evil. Without evil, there isn’t any real redemption from evil.

I would say that I Can Only Imagine wound up trading “the act of saving people from sin and evil” for “the act of making something better or more acceptable.” Not entirely, but to a certain degree. In other words, to a certain degree, it traded Christian redemption for a more secular kind.

This was not my first reaction to I Can Only Imagine, by the way.  Though the movie has some of the corniness typical of Christian films, I was moved by the basic story of a son separated from his father and rebuilding that relationship with him, of a father turning to God, and a song partially inspired by that relationship. Though part of the reason that story resonated with me so strongly is my father drank. My father beat me severely only once, but he was recklessly dangerous for a child to be around apart from anything he did directly (I lost a finger as a child under his supposed supervision of wood cutting). He also was often absent while my parents were married and after their divorce, years would pass by without me hearing from him.

I saw God through a variety of circumstances change my father’s life, so that he no longer is an alcoholic, no longer is absent and dangerous–who married another woman and has had another child and has been a good, responsible husband and father. These are changes I prayed for, for decades, and saw them happen. So, seeing Arthur, the father in I Can Only Imagine (played by Dennis Quaid) change also–well, at first it struck me in a powerful way.

I saw the movie a second time in Mexico with my wife’s parents (dubbed into Spanish). It was only as the church I attend decided to show the movie at a Sunday Evening service, me watching the movie for a third time, that I noticed something was wrong with the storytelling in relation to redemption.

Yes, I’m aware that I Can Only Imagine is based on true events, but even in telling a true story, the screen writer and director choose what material to include and what to omit. What they choose to include is what I’m talking about.

So the story records the subject of the story, Bart, telling people his father was monstrous. But what did the movie show in terms of his evil? It showed him burning a paper spaceship his son built. It showed some yelling (especially yelling, “you’re not good enough”), some glaring, and one swing of a plate onto Bart’s head.

Arthur, unrepentant but regretful.

In a scene in which Bart says to his father (Arthur), “Do you remember the time you beat me so bad I had to lie on my stomach?” Arthur replies, “I cried all night when I did that.” Why did the story choose to have him say that? Even if the real father said those words at that moment (which may not have happened at all), I would have omitted it at that point in the story if I were the director, in order to heighten the contrast between who Arthur used to be and the redemption that came upon him after coming to Christ.

I probably would have also shown Arthur beating his son rather than having it referred to in the story.

Now I recognize that showing a father beating his son mercilessly would have possibly ruined the family-friendly status of I Can Only Imagine. Maybe it would have to have caused the movie to have been rated R, especially if they included the kind of language that Arthur probably actually used (which ironically perhaps, I would have been more reluctant to show than a beating). And the movie would have become traumatic to people sensitive to screen violence. So…I totally get why the filmmakers chose to steer away from that kind of controversy.

But why have Arthur say, “I cried all night”?

Eustace

I find a similar situation exists in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie (a movie with many problems beyond what I’m mentioning here, to be sure). In the book version of Dawn Treader, Eustace is an annoying pest. But he’s also evil–he’s a bully, eager to hurt and humiliate anyone he sees as weaker than himself. And he’s a self-centered egoist, willing to take rations from others and let them suffer in the belief he was more deserving than everyone else.  It’s a judgment of the acting and character portrayal, but I would say the film version of Eustace only managed to be annoying. Not evil.

 

Perhaps that was an accident. Or perhaps the director softened Eustace deliberately, to make it easier for us to accept him as a regular person later on in the film.

Because that’s how human beings tend to be, isn’t it? We find it easier to accept a person changing for the better if we see there was good there all the time, don’t we? Redemption for a certain level of sin we are OK with, but if you show a stronger version of evil, we tend to balk. That is, at least some of my fellow human beings react that way–not all of us do. (I, myself, actually don’t think I belong to the “we” in the first two sentences of this paragraph.)

Could it be we have a hard time accepting the miracle of redemption?

Could it be that Christian audiences are like Bart in I Can Only Imagine, who distrusted his father’s sudden change? Could it be we are actually more tolerant of “the act of making something better or more acceptable” than we are of “the act of saving people from sin and evil”?

I don’t actually know. But maybe.

If I were to make a recommendation, it would be that if we’re going to tell stories of redemption, we should not back away from showing those to be redeemed as in sin first, showing them as actually being evil in an unflinching way before they hit their big change. Because backing away from showing evil makes the redemption weaker.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

The Bible as Horror

Novelist Mike Duran: “At its heart, the Greatest Story Ever Told is, in part, a horror story.”
| Jul 10, 2018 | 43 comments |

One argument for the compatibility of the horror genre with a Christian worldview is the amount of horror tropes which find their genesis in Holy Writ.

At its heart, the Greatest Story Ever Told is, in part, a horror story.

This is not meant to suggest that the message of Scripture is primarily one of dread, but that the Bible contains more than enough references to terror and the horrific to, at least, call into question its classification as “family friendly” fare.

There are many instances of biblical horror—Scriptural themes, events, people and stories that could easily fall under the horror genre. Perhaps the greatest example of biblical horror is the single act that uniquely defines the Christian faith—the crucifixion of Christ.

This week we feature Mike Duran and his novel Saint Death in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about this story.

Breaking: Subscribe to Lorehaven Magazine for free to download our new summer 2018 issue. This issue includes Mike Duran’s exclusive article “Horror Reveals Human Sin in the Dark.”

In our age, the crucifix symbol has been glamorized and sanitized; it is brandished by rock stars and imprinted upon bumper stickers and T-shirts. Nevertheless, the cross was a horror in its time, a symbol of disgrace, shame, and torture.

Many have illustrated the gruesome medical details concerning the practice of crucifixion. In The Horror of Roman Crucifixion, Stephen M. Miller frames the process like that of “butchering an animal.” Likewise, the terminology used to describe the Messiah in Scripture is arresting—He “bore our suffering,” was “punished by God,” “stricken” and “afflicted,” “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). The apostle Paul summarized what transpired on the cross this way:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.1

Two important biblical doctrines intersect at the cross of Christ and His redemptive work. Both of these doctrines comprise what could be considered to involve horror or the grotesque: The Fall of Man and The Substitutionary Atonement. These powerful biblical doctrines are wedded at the cross.

“. . . A gritty angels-and-demons yarn with astronomical stakes.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Man’s sinful estate and all of its subsequent fruits were judged at the cross of Christ where “him who had no sin [was made] to be sin for us.” So great was this pouring out of wrath upon the Son that He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Christ, who often claimed to be in perfect union with the Father (John 10:30), was abandoned at the cross. It is impossible for us to comprehend the anguish, suffering, and despair Jesus must have experienced. The substitutionary atonement of Christ may in fact be the most horrific concept in all of Scripture. Not only does it speak to our moral and spiritual fallenness, it places the consequences and weight of that Fall upon a sinlessly perfect God.

The themes of fallenness, sin, and judgment are axiomatic in Scripture. Not only does the Bible not shy away from showing us the sin and utter depravities of man, even the greatest of Bible heroes are not exempt from its claim. Furthermore, there are unflinching depictions of judgment upon sin in Scripture. The Flood of Noah, the plagues of Egypt, the Canaanite extermination, Sodom and Gomorrah, Ananius and Saphira, the Great White Throne judgment, the fiery return of Christ to judge the nations, and hell itself are terrible glimpses of a holy God’s divine right to wield the gavel.

Closely aligned to this is a belief in real evil and real evil beings. Relativism suggests that knowledge, truth, and morality are not absolute but exist only in relation to culture, society, or historical context. However, it is the belief in real existential evil, as opposed to something that is simply a social construct or a perceived threat, which is so important to a compelling expression of horror.

Pazuzu, the demon that possessed Regan in The Exorcist, was not just portrayed as a figment of her mother’s imagination or a socio-cultural concoction. Nor was the entity just a threat to the girl. Pazuzu was the personification of Evil, an opponent of all that was Good, True, and Holy. The demon was portrayed as real, which demanded an equally real God to evict it.

Likewise, supernatural agents such as angels, Satan, and demons are portrayed as unapologetically real in Scripture. Of course, many faiths have detailed beliefs in good and evil spirits of various sorts. Nevertheless, the Bible is foremost in describing a hierarchy of invisible beings, both good and evil, who interact with our world, serving God or resisting His aims. This worldview is an integral component of both the religious traditions of the Western world and much of the horror genre.

Similarly, evil spiritual entities are also a mainstay in contemporary horror. Whether it is an angry poltergeist, a demonic legion, or Satan himself, the basic idea of an invisible realm that impinges upon ours and wars against us, seeking manifestation or control, is uniquely tethered to the worldview of Scripture. Not only do fallen angels personify the defamation of what is holy, they are reminders of Man’s ultimate adversary.

Though relatively rare and obscured in the Old Testament, the devil and his minions make regular appearances in the New Testament. Jesus’ ministry began immediately after He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). This is followed by numerous stories of Christ casting demons out of the sick or mad. Perhaps the most famous of these is the encounter with the Gadarene man who lived among the tombs possessed by multiple demons who called themselves Legion (Mark 5:1-17). In all of these cases, Jesus treated Satan and his demons as real beings, neither myths, local superstitions, nor purely psychological disorders.

Likewise, the New Testament writers saw the devil as a very real adversary. The apostle Paul described the Christian life as a struggle against “spiritual forces of evil” (Eph. 6:12) while the apostle Peter suggested that Christians must be ever vigilant of the devil’s schemes:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.2

Obviously, the writers of the New Testament saw the devil as a very real adversary and warned of very real consequences to spiritual sloth or immorality.

Perhaps the most horrific universal biblical archetype is that of a literal hell.

Those who emphasize Jesus’ message of love often neglect to mention that He spoke about hell more than any other single Bible figure. Though there are differing perspectives amongst believers about the exact nature of hell, i.e., annihilation or eternal conscious torment, Scripture is fairly clear about its existence and essence. For instance, in The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus concludes with this pronouncement upon the wicked:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”3

The fire is “eternal” and, apparently, some portion of the human race end up there. Explaining the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23), Jesus said,

As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.4

Thus, the “end of the age” is portrayed as a sifting, a weeding out of evil, in which souls are thrown into a “blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Whether or not hell is actually a literal, eternal reality, the Bible is clear about several things: Hell is the worst possible end for a human being, the most horrific possible conclusion to one’s life, and something to be rigorously avoided.

While the Bible is often referred to as The Good Book, within its pages are some truly bad, disturbing, awful things—depravity, judgment, the crucifixion, angels, demons, and hell. In many ways, The Greatest Story Ever Told is a horror story.

“. . . A gritty angels-and-demons yarn with astronomical stakes.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Explore Mike Duran’s novel Saint Death in the Lorehaven Library.

Read our full review exclusively from the spring 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!

  1. 2 Corinthians 5:21.
  2. 1 Peter 5:8.
  3. Matthew 25:41.
  4. Matthew 13:40-42.

For Writers: The Spiritual Element

So whether it’s overt or subtle, there has to be reflection of something greater for a story to resonate as true. It may take the form of direct allegorical elements or a subtle symbolic thread, but in capturing some element of spiritual truth, our stories will gain impact.
| Jul 9, 2018 | 1 comment |

[“The Spiritual Element” is a reprise of a guest article by Sarah Sawyer featured here in July 2011, and which remains as pertinent and relevant today as it was then. ~ RLM]

_____X X X X X_____

I read with interest a recent conversation on the Enchanted Inkpot regarding religion in fantasy novels. Most of the participants in the discussion were not Christians, therefore their responses gave a broader view than often seen in these sorts of faith in fantasy discussions. Several points in particular were relevant to Christian writers of speculative fiction, which I’ll recap here for conversation purposes.

The article offered an even-handed portrayal of religion in fantasy novels and the reasons you may or may not want to include it.

Possible advantages:

  • Enhance richness of setting
  • Add tension to plot
  • Flesh out motivations of a character

Possible disadvantages:

  • May not be relevant to a particular story
  • May cause controversy
  • May be prevented by the author’s personal beliefs

But in the comments, things really became interesting. Several common threads cropped up:

  • People enjoy creating and reading about fictional religions (often ones that blend elements of real world faiths and mythologies)
  • Some have had negative experiences with religious expression in speculative fiction, namely with preachiness (specifically mentioned in connection with Christianity), Christian themes, or the portrayal of monotheistic religions as uniformly bad.

Despite the variety of opinions shared and the distaste of some for Christian themes, almost every commenter placed a value on faith and its inclusion in fantasy tales. Why? Because everyone believes something about the supernatural. That’s equally true of individuals in an invented fantasy world or a far-future civilization as it is of people in our own world. Neglecting the spiritual element doesn’t enhance the realism or decrease the preachiness of the story, rather it leaves out a significant component that shapes the attitudes and actions of characters in a given culture — and indeed, shapes the world itself.

In a discussion of imagination and world creation, CS Lewis aptly stated that “no merely physical strangeness or merely spatial distance will realize that idea of otherness which we are always trying to grasp in a story about voyaging through space: you must go into another dimension. To construct plausible and moving ‘other worlds’ you must draw on the only real ‘other world’ we know, that of the spirit.”

So whether it’s overt or subtle, there has to be reflection of something greater for a story to resonate as true. It may take the form of direct allegorical elements or a subtle symbolic thread, but in capturing some element of spiritual truth, our stories will gain impact.

Yes, Christian writers face prejudice at times. There’s an interpretation (sometimes rightfully so) of Christian works as preachy, and there certainly seems to be a more favorable view toward the depiction of fictional faiths that spring from no greater reality than the mind of their inventor, fusing together bits and pieces of mythology, legend, and obscure spiritual beliefs.

Yet rather than taking this to mean any hint of our worldview should be expunged from our works, I take it as a challenge to craft something so compelling that even those that might normally be repelled by any Christian element would want to read it. To truly engage readers, we must craft the spiritual elements of our stories with as much care as plot and character.

We may end up with stories like Tolkien’s that only reveal a spiritual framework when viewed as a whole or tales like Lewis’s that contain more obvious suppositions. Either way, the faith element should dynamically connect with the story in a way that enriches setting, enhances character, and strengthens plot, a seamless fusion without which the story would fail to function. Can you imagine Middle Earth without Gandalf? Or Narnia without Aslan? The spiritual underpinnings of these books make the stories function at their highest and best…and that’s what we should all aspire to achieve.

_____X X X X X_____

Sarah Sawyer loves creating other worlds and exploring what they can reveal about our own. Her passion for story led naturally to novel writing, and her love of the imaginative to fantasy.

Sarah has served as a Carol Awards judge and a book reviewer, and she works to promote Christian speculative fiction wherever she can.

Are Talking Animals Biblical?

Wilbur, Peter Rabbit, Eeyore, Aslan—talking animals pervade children’s literature, but are they biblical?
| Jul 6, 2018 | 27 comments |

Wilbur the pig from Charlotte’s Web.

Peter Rabbit.

Eeyore.

Bree from C. S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, and even Aslan the Great Lion himself.

Talking animals are as pervasive in children’s literature as orphans.

I know I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of my pets talking to me (You mean, you really hate that brand new toy I just bought you? You want what for dinner?) Maybe it’s a dream for all animal loving children, but for some of us the desire to read about talking animals never leaves, even when we’re adults. Am I the only one who wishes that for just one day of the year I could hear what my dog is really thinking?

This week we feature C. J. Darlington and her novel Alison Henry and the Creatures of Torone in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about this story.

Breaking: Subscribe to Lorehaven Magazine for free to download our spring 2018 issue instantly. Then this Monday, July 9, you can download our summer 2018 issue!

But just like the debate of whether swords and sorcery should be included in novels written by Christians, some could make a case against those talking beasts. After all, God didn’t make my dog with a tongue that can speak.

Or did he?

Have you ever wondered if maybe, just maybe, animals could speak to humans before the fall of man? What if this gift of speech was lost in the same breath as our gift of living forever in these flesh and blood bodies?

Is it a crazy idea? Heresy? Or is it just plain wishful thinking? Maybe it’s all three. But there are two Biblical accounts that make me wonder.

Think about this: Eve heard a serpent speak in the Garden of Eden, but did she seem at all surprised? Did she question her sanity and ignore the crazy snake or run away and chalk it up to a little too much time in the sun? Nope. What did she do? She started a conversation with the animal as if it was an everyday occurrence.

Alison Henry and the Creatures of Torone, C. J. Darlington

“Familiar but satisfying, and female heroes lend a modern flair . . . good comfort food for people who dream of other realms.” — Lorehaven Magazine

What about Balaam? Here’s a guy who’s minding his own business, riding down the road with the top down on his donkey when all of the sudden said ride scrapes his foot against the guard rail. We all know the story, right? Mr. Balaam has a little road rage incident, grabs the nearest branch, and gets ready to take out his fury on that innocent beast of burden. So the donkey tells him off.

Does Balaam act even a little surprised the animal talks? Nope. He too begins a conversation with the beast as if it’s the most ordinary thing in the world to have a discussion about ethics with your donkey!

I know, I know. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say animals could talk before the fall, or any time for that matter. It also doesn’t tell us there are eight planets orbiting the sun. (Maybe it if did poor Pluto wouldn’t have been so disgraced.) I’m certainly not looking to create a new doctrine or hoping my pup named Shiny (that’s not a typo) will finally be able to tell me whether his name embarrasses him.

But this is why I didn’t shy away from including talking animals in my fantasy novel Alison Henry and the Creatures of Torone. In fact, one of the central themes of the book deals with the loss of communication between the creatures and the humans. Something or someone must bridge the gap. Enter Alison Henry, a normal girl from our normal world who finds herself in the land of Torone where she’s the only one who can hear the animals speak. It’s an adventure even an imaginative girl like her has a hard time grasping.

Here’s the thing. Whether God intended for animals to speak in our world or not, sometimes we just need to listen a little harder. Maybe I’ll never hear my pets verbally espouse the virtues of milk bones, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look into their eyes and see real love. Or feel it in my own heart toward them. That’s a theme that can benefit every story, don’t you think?

Oh. Did I mention that in Torone, dogs can fly? Wonder what the Bible would say about that!

“Familiar but satisfying, and female heroes lend a modern flair . . . good comfort food for people who dream of other realms.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Explore C. J. Darlington’s novel Alison Henry and the Creatures of Torone in the Lorehaven Library.

Read our full review exclusively from the spring 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!

The Car-Universe Without A Motor, part 12: Conclusion

The conclusion of this series ends with the idea that the universe makes more rational sense when you include talking about God than if you exclude God. This is the post an atheist should see.

The notion that atheists tend to have of the past is that people used to be frightfully ignorant. They believed in gods and demons and eventually one God because they had no idea how the universe really works. Science has pushed back the veil of ignorance, they would say, and revealed that things once was attributed to supernatural forces wind up being nothing more than natural laws in action, an unthinking universe following (or paralleling) mathematical formulas to generate all that we see around us. They further would add (most of them) that science has established the nature of the universe as a fact–that while there still might be a few issues to work out, it is certain that the universe generated itself–that most of the mechanisms of how it would do so are based on known natural laws, with any gaps in what we know being rather minor issues that surely will eventually be resolved.

They’d say that adding a Creator to the discussion only complicates things. Doing so first begs the question of “where did God come from” and in fact adds nothing to simplifying the understanding of the universe (they would say). To discuss God (they would say), we first need really solid evidence that God exists, and only after receiving that evidence can we consider God as part of the process that made the universe.

When challenged with certain highly improbable events in past history of the cosmos, they mostly refer to the concept of the multiverse combined with the anthropic principle to reply. If there are an innumerable teeming host of realities, as multiverse theories suggest, then surely one would produce observers who could notice how unusual our reality is, as the anthropic principle indicates.

The problem with this viewpoint is its riddled with contradictions. And also, modern science doesn’t back it up.

Let’s tackle the second point first. Which means taking the science involved seriously, as reporting true facts (verses arguing science is wrong)–does the understanding of science support the above view, that God is simply unnecessary?

Or, is it true that science basically understands the universe, with only a few gaps in our understanding remaining?

As documented in this series of posts, what science actually reports about the universe is as follows:
The universe has an unknown origin that produced laws of physics that have no natural reason to be what they are and any known process of making matter should have created an equal amount of antimatter, but didn’t (see part 4 of this series). The early universe expanded very smoothly and evenly for reasons no one can adequately explain (see part 3), produced a massive amount of totally unobserved and so far unobservable matter (see part 6) and which also produced “dark” energy and an observed galactic motion that’s challenged because it doesn’t match the paradigm of scientists (part 7). And which produced life out of non-life (part 10and consciousness (part 11).

So let’s make sure we’ve got all this straight:
So the basic laws of physics, with their 19 different unrelated constants, are essentially unexplained right now? And no one knows what happened to the missing antimatter that was supposed to 50% of all that exists? No one can explain satisfactorily the universe beginning with such low entropy? No one can explain literally 95% of what the universe is thought to be made of? Life coming from non-life is treated as a problem that’s already solved, but in fact, isn’t anywhere close to being explained? And nobody can really explain the hard problem of consciousness at all, and everybody who is an expert in this field acknowledges that this is an issue?

All of that summed up does not sound to me like a universe that’s basically explained, that only has a few gaps that need to be cleared up. It sounds like ideas with gaping holes that essentially don’t work. (Maybe someday we can imagine that these ideas will work, but to think they do today is wishful thinking in the extreme.)

It should be laughable to suggest science can explain all that exists without referring to (a) supernatural being(s). Er, no, actually, it can’t. Not even close. Again, 95% of the substance of the universe as understood by modern science is unexplained, to say nothing of problems with origins of the universe. Ninety-five percent unexplained. Even if we were talking about 5% unexplained, we’d have to admit science is missing something very important–but with only 5% explained? That should be seen as a much more serious problem than it usually is seen.

If the idea that science can explain basically everything and essentially has already done so is that far out of touch with reality, where did the idea come from in the first place? From the history of science, from how things appeared to be in science circa 1900, as explained in part 5 of this series. Even though science has made more discoveries since 1900, including discoveries that make it clear the universe is much more mysterious than it once was thought to be, the attitude that we’ve-just-about-got-it-all-figured-out-and-don’t-need-to-talk-about-God persists among many scientists and even more so among people who report about science. For historical reasons.

“Well, then, adding God surely doesn’t help the confusion we face,” an atheist might reply. “It just adds one more confusing element to an already difficult bunch of things.”

This is where the analogy adopted in this series comes in. If we throw in the idea of God, does doing so just add one more unexplained thing to the mix of already unexplained things? Is it really insane to imagine a car driving uphill, as laid out in part 2 of this series (and introduced by part 1needing a motor? Is that bad reasoning because it adds a part that humans under some circumstances would not have been able to explain (say in Ancient Greece)? Or should we insist that the “car” must have rolled by inertia alone, even if doing the equivalent of going uphill? Does it make sense to insist in the face of evidence to the contrary that the universe came about by the laws of the physics doing what they normally do, like wagon or a soapbox car rolling downhill?

A car with a motor does not invalidate the laws of physics, by the way. It just calls upon principles of physics beyond those that would be available to people who lived before motors were invented. Likewise, while there are ideas about supernatural beings that would invalidate physics, violating physics is not a necessary part of theism. In fact, it’s quite natural to think of a Creator organizing and putting into place the laws of physics–which does not require that he violate them–and then making use of the laws, including especially using quantum “randomness” to make highly improbable events come to pass. Even things we might otherwise consider miracles.

So the idea of God is not anti-science. In fact, belief in God is wholly compatible with a material universe separate from ourselves, a universe we can study, a universe that has a logical order, even if that order shows signs of being beyond human understanding.

As for the idea we need really solid evidence of his existence before we can even talk about God, how is the evidence for the multiverse + anthropic principle (discussed in part 8 of this series) any better than evidence for the existence of God? If really solid evidence is actually needed prior to even considering an idea, then nobody would ever be talking about a multiverse (as many top scientists are), because no other universe has ever been observed. Other universes are proposed not because they’ve been directly detected, but because they would explain some basic ideas about reality. Which is exactly what proposing that God exists does.

So, comparing the two ideas that make sense to think about even if we have no direct evidence for them, what makes more sense, a multiverse or a Creator God?

The idea of an enormously unlikely universe coming about because the multiverse had so many chances to generate it that eventually all things just turned out right (after in effect trying and trying and trying)–that idea cancels itself out. Why? Because such a level of randomness would much more likely produce a Boltzmann brain matrix (part 9 of this series) than a physical universe. And if we are all in a Boltzmann brain, nothing is real and science would no longer make any sense at all. So a vastly improbable universe producing itself after innumerable repeated attempts is actually an intellectual dead end. Self-defeating.

We can also observe that a multiverse plus anthropic principle requires all the weirdness of the universe to be separate, unrelated, random events–the universe winning the cosmic jackpot over and over again on unrelated issues. Or we can think that a single cause explains all the randomness–that with just one idea (God), whose origins we admittedly cannot explain, we do better than by imagining multiverses whose origins we cannot explain, laws of physics we cannot explain, a preponderance of matter over antimatter we cannot explain, as well as expansion of the universe, dark matter, dark energy, life, and consciousness we cannot explain.

Which idea is simpler, more logical, more straightforward? A host of unconnected mysteries? Or one Mystery? One God?

So the universe actually makes more rational sense when you include talking about God than if you exclude God.

For some countries on this map, the actual percentage of practicing Christians is lower. For others, especially places where Christians face persecution, the actual number of Christians is higher. Still–Christian communities exist worldwide.

It’s in truth beyond the scope of this series to say which religion of Earth best represents the Creator who causes the universe make more sense than it would without a Creator. But it would be best, if we are to respect science, to think of a system that portrays God generating a universe separate from himself, a reality that physically exists–which generally rules out Eastern religions. And it would also be helpful to think of a religion (assuming God wants us to know it) that would eventually become known throughout the entire world–which really only applies to Christianity.

This series of posts ends here. Since this particular article summarizes and drives home the point of all the rest, Christian readers, please share this page with atheist friends. This post has links back to all the previous posts, which in turn have links to various articles on science, for any person who is interested enough to invest the time to fully examine what I’ve said.

Atheists or anyone else who sees this and wishes to comment, feel free to do so. I will gladly do all I can to answer any questions or comments. Thanks for listening.

 

The Making of ‘Us’

By these things we forge identity, and by identity we create the us.
| Jul 4, 2018 | 2 comments |

America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice … Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things. G.K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America

I open with this quotation for two reasons. The first is that today is July 4, and it is appropriate to Independence Day. The second is that, like Independence Day, it points to the creation of a nation. Nations, though somewhat maligned as, for example, a proximate cause of World War I, stand as the largest cohesive group yet formed by humanity. (Empires, though generally larger, possess unity no deeper than the edge of a sword – hence the inevitable dissolution of all empires, usually in short order.) Groups are defined by common identity. National identity is only an unusually modern way of defining us.

The oldest method of creating a broad us is through blood, through a concept of family expanded to include thousands. Clans, tribes, kinship groups: all have been societies unto themselves, holding political power and social organization within a web of kinship. Common ancestry, real or invented, is an effective way of forging identity and unity, and a tenacious one. Even today, ethnic violence is often a reversion to tribal divisions, whose bonds prove stronger than overlying national identities.

Religion also forms a basis for groups and for identity. Some religions (it isn’t true of all) transcend divisions by ancestry to create a broader identity. Islam, at its birth in the Arabian peninsula, did this; the Koran specifically forbids violence against fellow Muslims of different tribes. Christianity used to be a powerful force of cohesion in the West, a common source of moral standards, metaphysical beliefs, and – in such forms as music and literature – culture.

National identity followed the rise of the nation-state. National identity encompasses any attribute or characteristic people wish to claim, from speaking Gaelic to fine cuisine to the Declaration of Independence. It often includes common ancestry or religion but often transcends them as well. The Reformation broke the religious homogeneity of Europe, and America never had much in the way of ethnic homogeneity; national identity is another avenue to unity.

By all these things we forge identity, and by identity we create the us, and Man must have the us. The trick of it all is that if there is an us, there must also be a them. What bridges one gap may deepen another; if the presence of a commonality is reason to spare someone, the absence of it may be a reason not to spare him. Nations have broadened beyond tribes, but not risen above tribal impulses.

So where do we go from here? Maybe you see evolution in all this and, with happy optimism, imagine that identities will grow broader and broader until they merge, in some distant utopia, into one universal identity. Maybe you think that that would be very nice, but unfortunately people aren’t, so it’s more likely that a regression into primitive loyalties and narrow identities will create a dystopia. Maybe you think that another basis of common identity is possible, whether culture or secular creeds or social class (Workers of the world, unite!).

Whatever you think or imagine about the thorny issue of communal identity, of this – as of everything else – stories are made.

Lorehaven Issue 2 Arrives in One Week

On Monday, July 9, Lorehaven Magazine’s summer 2018 issue will release free to subscribers.
| Jul 3, 2018 | No comments |

Next week, Lorehaven Magazine will no longer be a single-issue project.

Lord willing, this Monday, July 9, subscribers will receive their access to the all-new, bigger, better, and great-book-stuffed digital copy of Lorehaven Magazine’s summer 2018 issue.

Our mission, shared by many of the same creatives behind Speculative Faith, remains this:

  • To find truth in fantastic stories.
  • To offer flash reviews of Christian-made, fantastical genre novels.
  • To encourage Christians everywhere to enjoy and discern these stories together.
  • To share amazing articles about seeing fantastical stories as our Savior sees them.

We hope God will use Lorehaven to help his Church explore fantastical stories for his glory. We hope he will use Lorehaven to “reboot” the Church’s love for fiction in a biblical way. Not just by thinking about fiction. Not just by complaining about bad fiction. And not even just by thinking and planning and training one another to write fiction. (That’s Realm Makers’s job!) But by finding, buying, reading, and loving the best stories by the best creators.

Creators who specifically want to glorify God by sharing stories created by his people.

Lorehaven Magazine

Did I mention that your subscription to Lorehaven Magazine is free?1 All you need do is subscribe to the magazine here. Here’s what you’ll get:

  • Access to the existing debut issue, spring 2018, of Lorehaven
  • Access (on Monday) to our sophomore issue, summer 2018.
  • Ability to sign up to Monday-through-Friday Speculative Faith updates, and/or for occasional updates about Lorehaven, especially those new issues every season.

Want a preview of Lorehaven Magazine’s summer 2018 offerings?

  • Fawkes, Nadine BrandesThe Bridge: outlook of coming attractions, plus my short thoughts on the godly purpose of amazing stories.
  • Flash reviews: twelve short, fun reviews of incredible Christian-made fantastical stories. Our review team works hard to read these novels and create these reviews.
  • Cover review: none other than Fawkes, out Tuesday, July 10, from novelist Nadine Brandes.
  • Cover story: “I Process Big Questions Through Story,” starring Nadine Brandes.
  • Fanservants: “How to Become a Spiritually Leveled-Up Christian Geek,” from Paeter Frandsen of ChristianGeekCentral.com.
  • Fanservants: “How Does Your Family Read Fantasy?”, from Marian Jacobs.
  • New Worlds: “Horror Reveals Human Sin in the Dark,” from Mike Duran.
  • Folklore: “Flood Legends Rise from the Depths of History,” from Tim Chaffey.
  • Roundtable: “Engaging That @&*% Our Stories Often Say,” from Roundtable panelists Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Morgan Busse, Mike Duran, Steve Rzasa, and myself.

Click here to subscribe to Lorehaven Magazine. We can’t wait to share more stories with you as we keep striving to find truth (and beauty, and wonder!) in fantastic stories.

  1. Speculative Faith has always been a free ministry led by volunteers. Lorehaven Magazine is also free, yet is supported by advertisers. This includes authors who want to share their stories with new fans! If you’re interested in advertising your novel or story business in the fall 2018 issue of Lorehaven, reach out to us here. We’d love to speak with you about sharing your excellent ad.

A Resurgence Of Epic Fantasy?

Since epic fantasy is a good vs. evil struggle, and good wins in the end, how far can an author flip the script without making evil come out on top?

From my perspective, epic fantasy is always alive and well, but there was a time when science fiction ruled speculative fiction. Back when brick and mortar stores were more relevant than they are now, I would go into a Borders bookstore or the like and browse, only to discover that “fantasy’ as a section within fiction didn’t exist. Well, it did, but all those books were shelved in the section labeled Science Fiction, and unless I’d asked, I would have passed them by.

Then along came Harry Potter. And The Lord Of The Rings movies. Suddenly epic fantasy was relevant again, though it soon turned darker in the form of horror or urban fantasy or dystopian. Thankfully a number of Christian writers—Jill Williamson, Patrick Carr, R. J. Larson, and others—cracked the epic fantasy ceiling in traditional Christian publishing. In the general market Brandon Sanderson built a solid and growing following of his more traditional Mistborn series.

Now Tor Books, the general market publisher known as the go-to place for speculative fiction, has announced a new epic fantasy:

Tor Books is very excited to reveal the first two chapters of The Ruin of Kings, the start of a new epic fantasy series by debut author Jenn Lyons, coming February 5th, 2019.

From the blurb, it seems as if the author has included some of the usual fantasy tropes, but she’s actually turned them on their head.

My question is about the heart of fantasy, which has always been a struggle between good and evil. Will this new series hold to that aspect of what epic fantasy has been in the past?

Apart from that, the story idea intrigues me:

There are the old stories. And then there’s what actually happens.

Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew upon storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests. When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn’t what the storybooks promised.

Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family’s power plays and ambitions. He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin isn’t destined to save the empire.

He’s destined to destroy it . . .

Turning the expected on its head is definitely a great way to capture readers. That’s why Wicked and Maleficent became so successful: the showed a familiar story in a way that most people hadn’t thought about it before.

But my question is simple: since epic fantasy is a good vs. evil struggle, and good wins in the end, how far can an author flip the script without making evil come out on top? Or without making evil looked better than evil and good look worse than good? In other words, are we so anxious for something new, something fresh, something different, that we are willing to forsake good and embrace evil?

Of course I haven’t read The Ruin Of Kings yet (not surprisingly, Tor did not offer to send me an advanced reader’s copy for my review or endorsement), so my questions may not relate to this particular book. But I tend to think they are legitimate. After all, our entertainment has become more and more “politically correct,” so it seems logical that epic fantasy produced by the general market might become more closely aligned to what 21 century western culture considers “good” than any thing the Bible would call good.

But for now, I suppose I must wait and see.

Fiction Friday — Foundling by D. M. Cornish

The Half-Continent is a world at war: humans and monsters have been fighting for centuries. Biotechnology supplies light, engine power and even, in some cases, superhuman powers.
| Jun 29, 2018 | 5 comments |

Foundling

Monster Blood Tattoo, Book 1

by D. M. Cornish

INTRODUCTION—FOUNDLING

Middle Grade/Young Adult Fantasy

“The Half-Continent is a world at war: humans and monsters have been fighting for centuries. Biotechnology supplies light, engine power and even, in some cases, superhuman powers. Our hero, Rossamund, leaves the protected, if not fully comfortable, world of the orphanage where he was raised to start a career as a lamplighter outside the city walls. Early in his travels he is diverted from his true path and we discover the Half-Continent and its inhabitants through his adventures. The world is rendered with thoughtful and convincing detail, complemented by the author’s own illustrations and an extensive set of appendices (the ‘Explicarium.’)

“In truth, Foundling is more of a first act than a first book: characters are introduced, mysteries are suggested, the scene is set; but the arc is not complete.”

FOUNDLING — EXCERPT

MADAM OPERA’S ESTIMABLE MARINE SOCIETY FOR FOUNDLING BOYS AND GIRLS

vinegaroon (noun) also sailor, mariner, seafarer, mare mam, bargeman, jack, limey (for the limes he sucks when out to sea), mire dog, old salt, salt, salt dog, scurvy-dog, sea dog or tar: those who work the might cargoes and rams that tame the monster-plagued mares and ply the many-colored waters of the vinegar seas. Such is the poisonous and caustic nature of the oceans that even the spray of the waves scars and pits a vinegaroon’s skin and shortens his days under the sun.

The great Skold Harold stood his ground. His comrades, his brothers-in-arms, had all fled in terror before the huge beast that stalked their way. This beast was enormous and covered with vicious, venomous spines. The Slothog—the slaughterer of thousands, the smiter of tens of thousands. The gore of the fallen dripped from its grasping claws as it came closer and closer. Struggling beast-handlers were dragged along as the Slothog strained against its leash.

The battle had been long and bloody. Ruined bodies lay all about in ghastly piles that stretched away as far as the eye could see. Harold had fought through it all. His once-bright armor was bruised and dented beyond repair. With great heaviness of heart he checked his canisters and satchels: all his potives were spent—all, that is, but one. It would be his last throw of the dice. He fixed the potive in his sling and, taking up the Empire’s glorious standard, cried, “To me, Emperor’s men! To me! Stand with me now and win yourself a place in history!”

But no one listened, no one halted, no one returned to his side to defend his ancient home.

Alas, now, the Slothog was too close for escape. It paused for a brief and horrible moment. Slavering, it regarded Harold hungrily with tiny, evil eyes. Then, with a bellow it shook off its panicking handlers and charged.

With a cry of his own, lost in the din of the beast, Harold swung up his sling and leaped . . .

“Young Master Rossamünd! What rot are yer readin’?’

Fransitart, the dormitory master of Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls, stood over Rossamünd as he sat in a forlorn little huddle, tucked up in his rickety bunk. A great red welt showed on his let cheek and right down his neck. Gosling had done his work well.

The boy looked sheepishly at Master Fransitart as he pressed the thin folio of paper he had been reading against his chest, creasing pages, bending corners. He had been so taken by the tale that he had not heard the dormitory master’s deliberate step as he had approached Rossamünd’s corner down the great length of the dormitory hall.

“It’s one of them awful pamphlets Verline buys for yer, bain’t it, me boy?” Fransitart growled.

It was the old dormitory master who had found him those years ago: found him with inadequate rags and rotting leaves for swaddling, that tattered sign affixed to his tiny, heaving chest. Rossamünd knew the dormitory master watched out for him with a care that was beyond both his duty and his typically gruff and removed nature. Rossamünd did not pause to wonder why: he simply accepted it as freely as he did Verline’s tender attentions.

The foundling nodded even more sheepishly. The gaudily colored title showed brightly on the cover:

TALES OF DARING FROM THE AGE OF HEROES

He had woken a little earlier, after recovering from his dose of birchet, to find the pamphlet sitting on the old tea chest that served as a bedside table.

X X X X X

AUTHOR BIO—D. M. Cornish

D.M. Cornish was born in time to see the first Star Wars movie. He was five. It made him realize that worlds beyond his own were possible, and he failed to eat his popcorn. Experiences with C.S. Lewis, and later J.R.R. Tolkien, completely convinced him that other worlds existed, and that writers had a key to these worlds. But words were not yet his earliest tools for storytelling. Drawings were.

He spent most of his childhood drawing, as well as most of his teenage and adult years as well. And by age eleven he had made his first book, called “Attack from Mars.” It featured Jupitans and lots and lots of drawings of space battles. (It has never been published and world rights are still available.)

He studied illustration at the University of South Australia, where he began to compile a series of notebooks, beginning with #1 in 1993. He had read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels, The Iliad, and Paul Gallico’s Love of Seven Dolls. Classical ideas as well as the great desire to continue what Mervyn Peake had begun but not finished led him to delineate his own world. Hermann Hesse, Kafka and other writers convinced him there were ways to be fantastical without conforming to the generally accepted notions of fantasy. Over the next ten years he filled 23 journals with his pictures, definitions, ideas and histories of his world, the Half-Continent.

It was not until 2003 that a chance encounter with a children’s publisher gave him an opportunity to develop these ideas further. Learning of his journals, she bullied him into writing a story from his world. Cornish was sent away with the task of delivering 1,000 words the following week and each week thereafter. Abandoning all other paid work, he spent the next two years propped up with one small advance after the other as his publisher tried desperately to keep him from eating his furniture.

And so Rossamund’s story was born – a labor of love over twelve years in the making.