Past Watchful Dragons: Why One Christian Fantasy Author Chose To Write For The General Market
by R. J. Anderson
All the years I was growing up, my father served as a full-time Bible teacher and elder in the open Brethren assemblies. My father was, and is, a wonderful godly man with a great love of Scripture, and thanks to him I received an excellent Biblical education. But he also read to me from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books and the tales of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, and slipped copies of George MacDonald’s Curdie books and other works of Christian fantasy into my Christmas stocking. I loved them all, and plundered my local library for more. By the time I was a teenager, I had made up my mind to write, and Lord willing one day publish, a fantasy novel of my own.
Yet even though I’d read quite a bit of modern Christian fantasy—like John White’s Archives of Anthropos series and Stephen Lawhead’s Dragon King trilogy—and thought I might be able to get a Christian publisher if my work was good enough, something about the idea of writing books that would only be found in Christian bookstores, read by people who shared my core beliefs and principles already, didn’t sit right with me. And the more I thought about it, and even prayed about it, the more I felt that the CBA market was not the place for me.
Among other things, I took encouragement from C.S. Lewis’s writings about the creation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, in which he confessed that there had been nothing obviously Christian about the ideas that first provoked him to write the book at all. It wasn’t until later that he began to reflect on how a well-written fantasy story by a Christian might not only entertain the reader but also appeal to his soul and conscience—stealing past the “watchful dragons” of cynicism and unbelief, and enabling him to appreciate Biblical truths in a new way.
Lewis went on to say in an essay about writing for children, “The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author’s mind.” That resonated strongly with me as well. I didn’t want to craft my stories to meet the expectations of one particular type of reader, or to fit a theological checklist. I wanted to write a story that could be read and enjoyed by a wider audience, including and especially those readers who did not already share my beliefs. And I believed it was possible to write stories that would reflect my convictions as a follower of Jesus Christ, and still be published in the general market. After all, I’d read plenty of general-market fantasy by people of other faiths whose beliefs came through pretty obviously, sometimes blatantly, in the course of telling their stories. If Susan Cooper could write at the end of her THE DARK IS RISING series, “You may not lie idly awaiting the second coming of anybody now, because the world is yours and it is up to you,” and if someone like Philip Pullman could pepper his books with blatantly atheist sentiments, then there was surely a need for authors of Christian faith to speak out as well.
I believed that a Christian author could—and should—tell powerful, relevant, engaging stories that even readers indifferent or hostile to Christianity could appreciate. I knew that even without sermonizing, books by Christian writers could have a positive influence on the minds and hearts of those who read them. After all, hadn’t George MacDonald’s Phantastes caused the agnostic C.S. Lewis to crave holiness, and eventually helped lead him to Christ?
So when I wrote the manuscript that became my debut novel, I told the best story I knew how to tell, without worrying overly about whether it would turn out to be “Christian” or not. I trusted, and prayed, that something spiritually meaningful would come out of it anyway. And when the book was done, I started querying publishers in the general market, looking for an editor who would accept it. It was a long road, but eventually my book sold in both the US (as Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter) and in the UK (by its original title Knife). And since then—particularly since the publication of the sequel Wayfarer a.k.a. Rebel, which addresses Christian faith in a much more explicit way—I’ve received a number of letters and reviews to assure me that the spiritual and moral aspects of my books are being noticed and appreciated, not only by Christian fantasy readers but by some non-Christian readers as well.
I don’t consider it my mission as an author to save people’s souls. I don’t believe I could do that even if I tried. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit, and He uses any number of people, situations, and influences to accomplish His purpose. My mission is to be a committed Christian writing the best fantasy stories I can write, out of the heart and spirit and wisdom that God has given me, and trust that somewhere along the way, He can and will use my writing—even if it’s just one book, or even one line—for His glory.
And that’s why I write for the general market.
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