A week ago today one of my favorite bloggers, Mike Duran, posted a thoughtful blog article about the need for more adult Christian science fiction and fantasy. Hear, hear! I thought, until I got to the first of Mike’s two suggested reasons for this situation. In part, he said
In this way, YA speculative fiction is much better suited for CBA / ECPA readers because it doesn’t need to have the “bite” that adult spec-fic does, and can more easily skirt taboos of sex, language, and questionable theology. Which is why much Christian YA spec-fic tends to involve lots of dragons, elves, and swordsmiths…
Excuse me? Dragons, elves, and sword-smiths somehow equate with YA fantasy?
Mind you, I still agree with Mike’s main point—where is the adult Christian speculative fiction; must it come only from small, independent presses?
But I take issue with the idea that dragons, elves, and sword-smiths must automatically be associated with fiction that isn’t adult.
How ironic to read the end of Mike’s post:
Discovering C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy and Till We Have Faces, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, and G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, were some of the most exciting times of my life as a Christian reader. Discovering that those books were 50+ years old and still have no contemporary equals, was depressing. Perhaps we just can’t write like that anymore. (Emphasis mine)
As I recall, elves are plentiful in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Swordplay isn’t unheard of either. The dragon, of course, appeared in the stand-alone, The Hobbit, that preceded the trilogy.
But if Tolkien is one of the masters, and he is, then why this look-down-the-nose attitude toward dragons, elves, and sword-smiths?
I don’t have a good answer. I can speculate that perhaps a number of YA books written by contemporary authors featuring dragons has somehow branded the creatures as “without bite.”
But why not take that to it’s logical conclusion? Since Twilight, another YA fantasy, albeit not Christian, featured vampires, then vampires are “without bite.” Hmmm. 🙄
Or how about this one. Since ghosts are prominent in the Harry Potter series, ghosts are “without bit.” (That one would have merit if we meant “bite” in the physical sense only).
My point is this. The creatures, even the characters, do not make “the bite.” It’s how the creatures and characters are portrayed and, most importantly, what they do.
Same with swordplay. Was the Helm’s Deep battle in Lord of the Rings somehow less tense because the combatants used axes, swords, and bows? Or how about the tragic battle for Osgiliath, Gondor’s capital? Are deaths only “biting” if they’re wrought using automatic weapons or vampire venom?
I can understand someone saying they prefer a contemporary setting because fantasy often has the feel of the historical. Or even that they prefer a futuristic setting because they like the cool technology or imagined logical extensions of today’s trends in science fiction or dystopian fantasy.
But to somehow assume that tropes of classic fantasy somehow have less bite, as if they can’t quite get the job done that adult speculative fiction needs doing—well, that seems rather biased.
Using that standard, one of the best Christian speculative books for adults out there Blaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivka should be dismissed without a second thought because it features sword-smithing.
How about Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy, for adults? Lots of swords wielded there too. Then there are the Song of Albion and the Pendragon Cycle. Are these books “without bite” because they involve more traditional tropes?
If it is the trope that produces—or fails to produce—the all important bite, then maybe we should do away with human characters, too. After all, they appear in these same stories, beside the elves and dragons.
Yes, I’m being factitious. The point is, I love sword play—always have. I’m a fan of Zorro and Robin Hood. I loved the Princess Bride and as a preschooler, my favorite cartoon was Mighty Mouse, a small version of Superman and Zorro rolled into one. Why, then, wouldn’t I also love a fantasy in which the characters face each other with swords in hand?
More importantly, can’t a story with classic tropes have just as much to say about life as one with contemporary or futuristic elements? I think so, and I think its time to end the discrimination against stories with dragons, elves, and sword-smiths.