Writing To A Deadline

As I write this, I have but two more passes through a single scene to be finished with my fifth book, Return of the Guardian King, the fourth and final book in a series I began writing nearly 30 years […]
| Dec 6, 2006 | No comments |

As I write this, I have but two more passes through a single scene to be finished with my fifth book, Return of the Guardian King, the fourth and final book in a series I began writing nearly 30 years ago. I contemplate that fact with a bit of bemusement. It’s amazing and I should feel amazed. To some degree, I do. But mostly I’m so drained, emotionally, mentally and creatively it’s hard to feel much of anything beyond cautious relief.  Coming to the end of a book is always a humbling experience for me. I think part of it is the intensity – you have to keep working, you can’t get away from the work and, as I’ve said in other places, you seem to see all of the flaws and none of the good parts. Worse, they’re flaws you know you aren’t going to be able to do a thing about because your time is up. (And with this book, my time is WAY more than up!)

So I just thought I’d take this opportunity to say, if you’re writing your book without a deadline or a contract right now, be thankful for the freedom that gives you. I’m not in any way complaining about being published — far from it! I am still struggling, after six years, to believe it’s all true, and deeply grateful for the opportunity the Lord has given me. But I remember how it was before, when I’d longed to have what I have now and failed to appreciate and enjoy what I had then: the freedom to put the work down and do something else for awhile when it wasn’t going well; the freedom to pick it up again when I was reinspired and things in my life had presented me with the means to solve the problems I had been wrestling with in the work; the time to make the notebooks and collect all the data about my created world, to work out all the characters and themes and plotlines just so.  I have hardly even looked at any of that since I started writing with a deadline. It’s always something I’ll do later. Only later never comes.

I don’t think it’s just me. I read a poll of published Christian writers asking how many of them felt that they had brought their books to a point of being “finished” by the time their deadlines arrived. The overwhelming majority said they never felt their books were really finished when they turned them in.

When I signed the contract for Legends of the Guardian King, I had, over the years, rewritten The Light of Eidon three times from start to finish. After the third rewrite I know I took at least a year off to work on the final draft of Arena. It took me about five years to write the first draft of Arena.  Suddenly, I was being asked to write the sequels to Eidon in six months. I laughed. “How about 9 months?” they asked. Ha!  “A year?” I said it would take me two years at best. They said everyone would forget about my books in that time and the series would tank.  I asked for 18 months. Nope. Too long. Especially for Fantasy, which was a hard sell. So I agreed to 12 months.

Afterward I added up all the days I had spent writing Arena and the final version of The Light of Eidon, minus the days or weeks in between that I took off to make home schooling plans, or go on field trips or clean the house, or do Christmas or Thanksgiving or take vacations, or just because I was sick to death of working on it and needed a break… if I added all those days up, they totaled, in both cases, 14 months.

Because my son was going off to college, I thought maybe I really would be able to work faster. And I think I have a little. But my first guess of when I could turn the books in was right: When I tally up the time consumed, including first draft and second, I find it took me 18 months to write each of them. And the last two have been finished very close to the time they needed to go to print. So I’ve had no time to dally.

What I’ve learned is that the time breaks I was given in the years before publication were actually helpful. Instead of being frantic and resenting them, I wish now I had embraced and enjoyed them. If you’re meant to write, you will. If you’re not, it’s just as well if the details of life can pull you permanently away from it. Because then you’ll know.

While a contract may provide some with more confidence in their writing, there’s a price to be paid: Now you HAVE to write in a way that’s probably different from the way you wrote before. Some people find this stimulating. Others find it too stimulating! Especially when you find out there are a bunch of other things you have to do that you never considered when you said that maybe, at the outer realm of possibility you could write a book in 12 months. Stuff like the rewrites of the book that came before it, like the galleys which take two to three weeks, like trips here and there to promote your book — and the time it takes to get your mind back into the book after such trips.  When I said 12 months, I meant 12 months of solid — every day or almost that — working on the book in progress. Not 10 months in a 12 month period.

It takes adjusting to, and I’m still adjusting. I’m not sure how good it all is for the quality of the fiction produced, but I’m also learning more and more to make a lesser deal of that than I did when I was still trying to break into publication. From the beginning of writing my books, I’ve prayed that The Lord would make them what He wants them to be, that He would guide me in doing that and I believe He’s done so. But He’s also taught me that if He can use flawed and fallen man to bring glory to Himself, He can also use fallen man’s flawed and imperfect works to do so. And that’s an important thing to remember when you get to the end of this process, to the place where you finally have to stop, ready or not, and turn the whole thing in, knowing the next time you see it, it’ll be in galley form, all but ready to walk out the door and meet its public.

A Change In Tack

Well I don’t know how many of you have noticed how my posts have been rather short over the last few weeks. Probably everyone except for that blind mongoose in the corner over there. I have to confess the reason […]
| Dec 5, 2006 | No comments |

Well I don’t know how many of you have noticed how my posts have been rather short over the last few weeks. Probably everyone except for that blind mongoose in the corner over there.

I have to confess the reason behind this is because I’m feeling burnt out just a bit. Not on reading or writing sci-fi and fantasy, but in just kind of vaguely talking about the esoteric ideas and concepts. Discussing ideals and technicalities and such.

To be honest I’ve never been much of one to focus too much on exactly how something works. I much prefer to simply know that it does and let it be a bit magical.

So starting next week I’m going to begin doing something a little different. Something that will hopefully have interest to both writers and readers of Sci-fi and Fantasy. I’m going to begin chronicling my journey of actual writing. Though my motives are a bit selfish, because I enjoy talking about my own work the most, and to help keep me honest and writing.

Now maybe this is a bit foolish and dangerous. After all if I chronicle my writing thoughts and process here, what’s to keep someone from stealing all my ideas? Well at least I’ll have a documented record of them to prove that they were mine. Besides, this just sounds like a fun experiment (and isn’t totally unprecedented).

What I’m mostly hoping to do is let all of us explore together one person’s process of creation and discovery and writing. Give people an inside glimpse of how a writer goes about it. Don’t know how well I’ll succeed. But it should be interesting.

The story I’ll be chronicling is titled Chamber of Origins and is my first serious foray into the realm of fantasy. So be sure to come back next week for the first installment about how this story idea first began to germinate.

As a disclaimer, I will be entering this story into the ACFW Genesis Contest this year, so if you’re a judge who doesn’t want to know of any entrants well best hide your eyes on Tuesdays.

And finally, for those who want to see how strangely fiction and life can intermingle head over to Forensics and Faith to learn how Brandilyn Collins met fictional sci-fi writer S-man’s doppleganger in real life.

And swing by Scenes and Beans to read the latest post by Ted “S-man” Dawson (yours truly) about the weaponry of Karnian Light Infantry.

Of Titles and Such

From time to time writers discuss their mode of coming up with names for their characters, and perhaps for places. SFF writers, of course, have an entire world to name. How is it done? I suppose I’m thinking about this […]

From time to time writers discuss their mode of coming up with names for their characters, and perhaps for places. SFF writers, of course, have an entire world to name. How is it done?

I suppose I’m thinking about this because I see similarities, unexpected commonality in works with little else alike. For instance, I finished Wayne Thomas Batson’s first book, The Door Within this week. One key place in the novel is Mithegard, much too similar to my own city of Mithlimar for me not to notice.

How does this happen?

Another example: Bryan Davis in his Dragon’s in Our Midst series has a character named Palin, Donita K. Paul in The DragonKeeper Chronicles has one named Paladin, and I have one named Paloh.

I know some writers like to play with words. If I remember correctly, I thought I detected word reversal in Karen Hancock’s Arena. I believe Randy Mortenson borrows from the Greek (or is it Latin? Hebrew? Aramaic? One of those! ).

Stephen Lawhead in the Albion Trilogy and Lloyd Alexander in the Chronicles of Prydain seem predisposed to names that sound as if they came from a Scandinavian source.

I have to admit, I have no particular pattern. Sometimes I take existent words or names and tweak them a bit. For example, in a recent short story, I named a country—one with an elevation that enabled them to see beyond the clouds—Tonum. Sometimes I tweak words beyond recognition (and more often then not, I end up forgetting why or how I got to that particular name). I’ve taken some names from the Bible, then altered them. I’ve also taken words, translated them to Spanish, and then played with them.

The overriding concern for me, I think, is how the word sounds. It needs to evoke in me something of what I intend for that person or that place.

It is certainly not science, because I have no rhyme for what I choose, though I usually have a reason.

I’m also not one to belabor names for any length of time. I know some writers pour over name books or develop entire languages (he-hem, naming no names, Stuart. ).

So this is what I’m curious about: As a reader, how much do you pay attention to the names of characters or places? How much do you think about the significance of the name itself? And for writers, do you put particular significance into the names? Do you have any particular pattern (you can tell us what the pattern is, or not)? Inquiring minds love to know what others think, how other writers work. Or maybe that’s just me.

A Sort Of Selah

I apologize for deviating from the program. Life has intruded this week, and I am bogged down today and with much, much less time to post than I had orignally expected. So, instead of leaving a blank Friday entry, I […]
| Dec 1, 2006 | No comments |

I apologize for deviating from the program. Life has intruded this week, and I am bogged down today and with much, much less time to post than I had orignally expected. So, instead of leaving a blank Friday entry, I refer you instead to a couple of sites with interesting information on the names of characters in TILL WE HAVE FACES.

The first, an article by Kathryn Lindskoog over at the Lindentree site titled UNGIT AND ORUAL: Facts, Mysteries, and Epiphanies:

Ungit is Glome’s Babylonian-style fertility goddess, equivalent to the Greek goddess Aphrodite. She is a dreadful but holy black stone that is anointed with sacrificial blood. According to tradition, this stone once pushed its way up out of the earth; yet, according to Arnon the priest, Ungit “signifies the earth, which is the womb and mother of all living things.” Ungit is the great mother and the great devourer, and her cult is one of darkness.

Surprisingly, Ungit’s name is not related to stone or darkness; instead, it is derived from the Latin ungo or unguo, meaning to smear or anoint with any fatty substance. Ungo came to Latin from the Sanskrit word anjana, meaning ointment, and the word anj, meaning to rub or besmear. (The Irish word ongain and the new Irish word ungadh both mean ointment.) English words closely related to Ungit refer to oil. An unguent is an ointment; unguentous means smeared with oil; unctuous means oily; and unction is the act of anointing a person in a religious ceremony or healing ritual to indicate and perhaps bring about a divine spiritual anointing. (Two of the ancient uses of oil are for healing and for light.)

Another taste:

It is Queen Orual’s name, not Ungit’s, that refers to stone. (Orual was a human being, but she had a stony heart.) The Greek word oruksis means a digging (excavation, ditch, tunnel, or mine), and the word orusso means to dig up or dig through, especially in mines or quarries. Accordingly, Orual uses a pickaxe and descends into the psycho-spiritual underworld late in Till We Have Faces (part 2, chapter 2). She goes down, against her will, to find dark, hidden meanings and truths. One of Orual’s major accomplishments as queen of Glome was the success of her silver mines. In the world Lewis lived in, the world in which we read his books, Russia’s Ural Mountains are a natural boundary between Europe and Asia. They are rich with ore, and the mid to central section is called the Ore Urals. (There is a Ural language group or family [linguists disagree] named after the mountains.) Similarly, the western Bolivian state of Oruro is primarily known for its tin mining. I don’t think the connection of Orual’s name to mineral deposits and mining can be coincidental.

There’s also a forum discussion on names in TWHF over at INTO THE WARDROBE. Find it HERE.

The above sites should be informational and fun for you. Consider it a “pause and consider” until we take up again with the novel proper.

See you next week.

Thursdays Lite?

To carry on the new tradition of Thursdays Lite (or whatever Beth is calling it), I’m posting the rerun (for some) of a list my lovely sister-in-law and I conceived together last year just after the opening of Star Wars: […]
| Nov 30, 2006 | No comments |

To carry on the new tradition of Thursdays Lite (or whatever Beth is calling it), I’m posting the rerun (for some) of a list my lovely sister-in-law and I conceived together last year just after the opening of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

Enjoy … and thanks for the very entertaining comments on my last post about Nanny MacPhee!

HOW TO KNOW IF YOU OR YOUR CHILD MIGHT BE A BIT TOO INTO STAR WARS . . .

KIDS:

1 – Tries to use Jedi mind tricks to persuade you to buy her a Barbie

2 – Favorite song is the Star Wars theme

3 – Calls you Darth Tyrannus when unhappy with you

4 – Comments on how her baby doll looks like a Jedi after she swaddles it

5 – Refers to the family vehicle as the Millennium Falcon

6 – Sibling rivalry involves attempted use of Force powers

7 – Any long, pointed object becomes a lightsaber

8 – Wants to grow her hair so she can style it like Padme’ or Leia

9 – Protests what he doesn’t like by saying, “I have a bad feeling about this!”

10 – Insists on Star Wars themed foods

PARENTS:

1 – You refer to your children as “my little padawans” (or younglings)

2 – You hum the Imperial March as you prepare to carry out discipline

3 – You actually agree to BUY Star Wars themed food

4 – You buy all the Star Wars action figures the day they are released so you can get them before they sell out

5 – A compelling reason to home school is so you can attend SW ROTS at noon on opening day to beat the crowds

6 – You consider going to see SW ROTS a field trip

7 – You buy Kellogg’s cereals just for the lightsaber spoons

8 – Instead of telling your children to be careful as they go out to play, you say, “May the Force be with you”

9 – Discipline involves the plea, “My son! Don’t go over to the dark side.”

10 – On stressful days, you walk around muttering, “Dark chocolate is our ally.”

Nine Marks Of Widescreen Stories, Part 6

First, I wish at the onset of this sixth-in-the-series to address a concern many of you may have about my identity. I wish to disclaim before proceeding that though I will be attempting to write about female-intensive subject matter, I […]
| Nov 29, 2006 | No comments |

First, I wish at the onset of this sixth-in-the-series to address a concern many of you may have about my identity. I wish to disclaim before proceeding that though I will be attempting to write about female-intensive subject matter, I am, in fact, male.

But that ceases to prevent me from writing a whole column about a female-dominated genre and get away with it — for this, the sixth installment in the Nine Marks of Widescreen Fiction series.

6. Love and romance as means to greater themes

I must also admit that my readership in this fertile literary field has remained limited. Actually, come to think of it, I haven’t read a single novel that had as its focus, the element of popular Romance.

The secular books have of course been anathema to me, not only because they all look the same, with women in negligees and men in biceps cavorting in darkened rooms across various objects, but because that sort of cover pretty much denotes disgusting and decidedly not-kosher contents.

But the Christian stories also don’t appeal to me. Sure, the cavorting isn’t there; the relationships are clean and more-sanctified. But this matters little to me, mostly because, though it seems otherwise at times, Twue Wuv and Mawwiage (a little Princess Bride lingo, there) are actually rather commonplace. Head to any college campus and you’ll see “romance” in action, whether real or feigned. Thus, to repeat these procedures in the form of fiction seems to me repetitious and dull. Meanwhile, dragons and rayguns, swordplay and starships — now, there are things you don’t see too often.

Of course, most people (except the older women who keep telling me how great their favorite romance books are) do understand that romance novels are not for guys.

However, as I suggested regarding less-epic-themed novels yesterday, might I carefully submit that most romance novels, even for women, aren’t all that great either? if their focus is so limited to an element that, important though it is, is pretty much a God-given perk of life, pointing to an even greater story?

A more-dated ‘Romance’ definition

Once upon a time, Romance had a different definition. Merriam-Webster’s is still helpful in providing it to us, defining the noun primarily as:

(1): a medieval tale based on legend, chivalric love and adventure, or the supernatural (2) : a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious.

Only the third definition contains the more-popular understanding: “a love story especially in the form of a novel”; “a class of such literature.” And somehow the pop-romance folks have neglected the first two definitions and opted for the third one.

Meanwhile, medieval tales about “chivalric love and adventure” with supernatural, heroic, adventurous or mysterious elements — oh, yes, I can get into that.

Such a definition fully encompasses speculative fiction, and in that respect, fairly well qualifies every Christ-following speculative fiction author as an adherent of true Romance, in the older definition.

A further etymological study could be helpful here, but I wonder if that older definition is related to a previous view of the world in more-encompassing terms — that of a Romance, an epic adventure, excitement and mystery and love all combined. Somewhere along the way the Love aspect of it sort of took over, either minimizing the other classical-romantic elements or eliminating them.

Not-so-great expectations

With that in mind, is it helpful to the growth of Christian readers to create a story in which a the theme ignores the classical definition and focuses only on the love/marriage/baby carriage one?

Another question probes to a core assumption of Western Christianity, closely related to the Westminster Confession-asked, “What is the chief end of man?” It is this: what is the chief end of a relationship? Marriage? Comfort and security? Not at all. The Christian life, at least in this world, isn’t about comfort. And marriage, like a job, as wonderful as it is, is a subplot in the greater plot of life.

Some authors and readers I know have actually concluded that the genre is counterproductive to their own Christian lives, or even their own romances, real or future. The authors of Dateable, a somewhat-secular work that nevertheless contains applications for Christian singles, come down rather hard on secular and evangelical romance stories; a female friend of mine eventually got rid of all of her romance novels — yes, Christian ones — because she felt they contributed to unrealistic expectations.

Courting the Greater Romance

Just as with a character’s conversion to Christianity, portraying a character’s discovery of Twue Wuv as the ultimate end of a novel seems similar to the propensity of some Christian authors to spend all their story time discussing, analogizing and preaching the message of salvation without going further into unexplored thematic territory.

Instead, very often what happens after both processes is far more interesting!

Both salvation and marriage should not be treated as epilogues, but opening chapters — maybe even story introductions. They’re both wonderful things, gifts from God, yet they are both merely means to the same overarching plot: the even more-wondrous union between Christ and His Church.

Thus I submit that love and romance should more often be portrayed this way: in the wider-screened context of the sovereign Creator’s plan for the world, the epic truth that finds its way into our fiction.

Ted Dekker in the Circle Trilogy — which I incidentally cited last week as well — pulled this off quite well. In the first novel Black, Thomas Hunter, granted some supernatural ability when falling asleep to transition into an alternate consciousness, in an alternate world, has encountered a race of people who believe passionately in what they call The Great Romance.

Though at first they don’t know exactly what it means, these people, at first unspoiled and living in tranquil perfection, know their expressions of human love are patterned exquisitely after the love that Elyon, the Creator, has for His created ones. This is perhaps most evident in the “game” Thomas finds he must play with his intended, Rachelle, who with her family informs him he must pretend to rescue her and win her heart, even though they are both already “marked” to unite. The game seems to make little sense to Thomas at first — until books two and three, in which a Christ-figure in that world performs the true rescue, and the imagery of the Church as a beloved bride is strengthened even more.

Humans want to be loved, and for Christians, that means we find the ultimate expression of love in Love Himself, the Creator. But human romance is a foreshadowing of the final plot, not the plot itself.

We may enjoy love stories by themselves on occasion, just as it’s not unhealthful to take in an action movie with no human relationships whatsoever and instead consist mostly of tanker-truck explosions. Yet perhaps we might consider strengthening our written portrayals of love and marriage not only by including them as part of a greater thematic context, but by remembering that Twue Wuv and Mawwiage foreshadows the Church. (That topic I hope to explore in the next installment.)

As wielders of widescreen stories, we’re in a unique position to maintain this greater perspective when crafting tales that involve romance and Mawwiage. The Princess Bride, that comical story of true love, included fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, miracles — hilarious, yes, but also a much-wider-screen romance. We can help show this: the greater perspective of Romance, in the great classical definition. Let’s hope more readers fall even further in love with that!

Porcupine Onion Lasagna

The truly classic stories that remain with us and drive us to proclaim their virtues so that others can experience their wonder are the stories that prick our souls and imaginations, stories that can be enjoyed and experienced on many […]
| Nov 28, 2006 | No comments |

The truly classic stories that remain with us and drive us to proclaim their virtues so that others can experience their wonder are the stories that prick our souls and imaginations, stories that can be enjoyed and experienced on many levels. These aren’t stories with a simple message, a single takeaway point or clear and concise theme in most cases, but rather stories that are firmly planted in God’s truth and that is what cleaves the soul.

Perhaps that is what can make these stories so effective. As readers we get caught in the tale and attached to the characters, only to discover that we find ourselves learning through their experiences, gaining new insights or new ways to see old truths, renewing an older awe that we had grown accustomed to. And perhaps even more powerfully, these stories impact us on a distinctly personal level. So that two people can read the same tale and yet come away with very different meanings, and yet neither is totally wrong.

How one goes about creating such a work is a debated subject. Some say that if you want a message that can cleave the soul you must write the story with it in mind. Others say that if you want to have a story that doesn’t preach at a reader you must let the theme(s) arise naturally out of the tale?

Is one position more right than the other? Can they both be true? What stories have pricked your soul and refused to let you go? What stories can you return to time and time again, always finding something new to discover? What do you know about how the authors went about writing those tales? Did they have a specific message in mind? Or did they simply let the story flow to it’s own ending?

Thrills or Wonder?

J. R. R. Tolkien (is there a week that goes by without reference to either Tolkien or Lewis? What giants of the genre!) made an oft-quoted statement in defense of fantasy. In part, author Michael O’Brien explains Tolkien’s view in […]
| Nov 27, 2006 | No comments |

J. R. R. Tolkien (is there a week that goes by without reference to either Tolkien or Lewis? What giants of the genre!) made an oft-quoted statement in defense of fantasy. In part, author Michael O’Brien explains Tolkien’s view in Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children:

In his essay “On Fairy Stories” J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out that because man is made in the image and likeness of God he is endowed with faculties that reflect his Creator. One of these is the gift of “sub-creation” — the human creator may give form to other worlds populated by imaginary peoples and beasts, where fabulous environments are the stage for astounding dramas. The primal desire at the heart of such imagining, he says, is the “realization of wonder.” If our eyes are opened to see existence as wonder-full, then we become more capable of reverential awe before the Source of it all.

Wonder. I think of it as a mixture of fear and astonishment, the sort of thing that made people fall on their faces in the presence of angels, to start confessing things like “I am a man of unclean lips.” Wonder, I think, has a way of sizing us down while holding God up.

In this same article, O’Brien makes an interesting an interesting observation about fantasy in its current form:

much of contemporary fantasy for the young is actually closer in style to television than to literature. It overwhelms by using in print form the visceral stimuli and pace of the electronic media, flooding the imagination with sensory rewards while leaving it malnourished at the core. In a word, thrills have swept aside wonder.

What an indictment. Is it true? That was my first question. Are Christian fantasies thrilling our kids and leaving them malnourished at the core, or are we offering something more?

One piece of advice I’ve heard repeated at every writers’ conference I’ve attended I think, is that authors must first write a good story. I disagree. A good story alone may thrill but it will not offer wonder. A good story first, with a vitamin pill added for nourishment will pass quickly. Only a good story written with the intent to create wonder will have a chance of doing so, in my opinion.

But that’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Part V: How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From The Dead and Into The Light–Lewis’s Till We Have Faces

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to […]
| Nov 24, 2006 | No comments |

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please. The succession is provided for. My crown passes to my nephew.

Being, for all these reasons free from fear, I will write in this book what no one who has happiness would dare to write. I will accuse the gods, especially the god who live son the Grey Mountain. That is, I will tell all he has done to me from the very beginning, as if I were making my complaint of him before a judge. But there is no judge between gods and men, and the god of the mountain will not answer me.

These are the opening paragraphs of TIL WE HAVE FACES. They establish that we are not in the present era or even in a Christian place. It’s a monarchy, and it’s a time of pagan belief and ritual (the gods, the god of the Grey Mountain), and the narrator is a queen (my crown) and old and has a grievance with the powers-that-be. It also tells us that this story is the queen’s complaint, akin to a legal cause, against the god of the mountain.

Who is this queen? She is Orual.

Who is Orual? She is the older half-sister of Istral (Psyche in Greek, as their Greek tutor, Fox, explains) and Redival. Orual is as ugly as Psyche has been luminously, awe-inspiringly beautiful. All three are daughterS of a selfish, brutish, violent, unwise, barbarian king whose
daughters are mere pawns he feels free to use to advance his own royal causes.

Orual, called all manner of cruel epithets throughout her years because of her ugliness, is writing her story, a retrospective intending to correct falsehoods and “set forth her true case” and grievances. Before we get to the fullness of the whys, let’s proceed chronologically through the whats, the tale as Lewis tells it.

Last week, I recapped the original myth of Cupid (Eros) and Psyche, and that will help to illuminate some of the parallels as Lewis fashions his own version of the story.

Orual, Redival, and Istral (Psyche) are the three daughters of the Trom, the King of Glome, (though not the same mothers) who grow up being tutored by a Greek slave, Fox, who brings education and reason to them. It is Orual and Psyche who benefit most from the learning, anD the three—Fox, Orual, Psyche—develop a close bond as the years pass. Redival is lusty, self-absorbed and left out of the threesome’s bonding. Psyche is, besides stunningly beautiful, gifted by a natural sense of the spiritual (her name means “soul” after all), and she is loving and gracious and brave without effort. Orual is smart, brave, intense, and highly possessive of her sister Istral/Psyche. Her love for Psyche becomes the central fact of her life and happiness.

The happiness is not long-lived.

Terrible times hit Glome: famine, plague drought. At the same time, Psyche is seen by those outside the palace, and her beauty is such that she’s taken to be a goddess. Women bring their children for her blessings. Offerings are made to her. At one point during the terrible plague, Psyche tends to a striken Fox, and when he recovers, the word gets out and the story becomes
that Psyche healed Fox with her touch. The people mass at the royal gates, seeking healing. The King is terrified at the seething, shouting crowd. When Psyche leaves the safety of the palace to touch the people, hoping to have some good effect, they bow to her, kiss the hem of her gown, and again, Psyche is treated as divinity.

When the hard times continue, however, the worship turns to suspicion. She begins to be called The Accursed. When the ailing, aged priest of the goddess Ungit (the goddess of Glome) recovers, he comes to the palace with his attendants (women described in such a way that we sense they are temple whores). He is blind, but he is fearless. His intense and unshakeable faith in Ungit affects Orual, who all along has feared that it is Psyche the priest has come to claim.

The meeting between the King and the Priest is a magnificent chapter. Orual is moved by the priest’s presence, both apprehension but something else, “Ungit smell” that turns the room “holy.” The priest announces that the goddess disfavor has caused the land to be cursed and the King to be barren (ie, no sons). The King offers a thief or, if the priest will wait, some battle prisoner. The priest, offended, says “Bulls and rams and goats will not win Ungit’s favor while the land is impure.” The statement echoes Biblical texts that say obedience is better than sacrifice and that God desires holiness more than the sacrifices of bulls and rams. And, of course, we think of the plagues and disasters heaped upon Israel when some offense stinks in the nostrils of God. The priest relates incidents in the past when those who committed offenses (sins that brought down Ungit’s wrath) had to be brought forward and their sins expiated. In this case, the sin is so great that The Accursed must be sacrificed to The Brute in The Great Offering.

(The Brute, interestingly, as the is explained, could be Ungit or could be Ungit’s son, hence the sacrifice could be male or female, and the “devourer” would be the fitting divinity, the one of the opposite sex.)

The King, fearing he’s the one who must be sacrificed, threatens the priest. Orual watches as the King lightly stabs the priest and threatens to kill him. (In the past, we see him kill a messenger for delivering news he didn’t like. The priest is doing likewise.) Orual loses what respect she had left for her father when the king’s ranting against sacrificing someone from the King’s house—he thinks he is the tartget—turns to relief and easy acquiescence when it turns out that the sacrifice will be Psyche.

Orual throws herself at her father’s feed and begs him to fight for Psyche’s life, but the King kicks his daughter and makes a self-serving series of statements, even after Fox gives his counsel on alternate ways the King might handle the matter without sacrificing his daughter. Fox even uses the story of Iphigenia (not using names) to show how sacrificing a daughter can bring ruin to the King and his family. But Orual has learned something through the awful encounter: There is an Ungit. There is a grievance against her. And the rational worldview of Fox did not accord with what she’d witnessed. “Our real enemy was not mortal. The room was full of spirits, and the horror of holiness.”

Orual offers herself up as an alternate sacrifice to save her sister. The King drags her to a mirror to show her her ugliness. The priest said it was the best in the land that must be given in expiation, and the best was not Orual, the ugly.

Orual, in pain, battered and bruised, runs to see her sister. She encounters Redival, who is babbling and weeping (but still more worried about her own neck). Orual knows it is Redival who betrayed their sister to the priest. She tells her sister that one day, if she’s queen, she’ll have her killed most painfully. Then she seeks out Psyche. Barred from visiting with her, Orual finds a sword and threatens the guard, who after disarming the frantic Orual, takes pity and allows her within the prisoner Psyche’s chamber for a farewell. The Great Offering is scheduled for the next day.

That takes us through chapter six.

I’ll pick up on the actual story next week, as the seventh chapter is lovely and important in terms of characterization.

So, from the original story we maintain: three princesses, one too beautiful for words. We have a curse on the land. We have an aggrieved and jealous goddess. We have a mysterious beast of a god. And we have a sacrifice about to take place.

But Lewis adds depth to the sisters. Both are not self-serving and jealous and malicious. One is immature and selfish and malicious. One is willing to die in her sister’s place. The goddess is transformed. Aphrodite/Venus from the original is now a blood-thirsty and faceless stone, and a terrifying divinity. (Ironic, since Venus’ statues were so carefully crafted and often inspired great lust in its worshippers. Ungit inspires fear.) The king is foolish and the cause of much of his woes, if not all. And the girls are educated. The presence of Fox (the rational Greek) is in contrast to the priest (the servant of the dark goddess). Reason and mystery. Learning and superstition. Logic versus blood offerings.

Think of Orual and compare her to yourself: How often do we encounter in ourselves the idea that God has not played fairly with us or with humanity? What grievances do we have?

Were we once skeptics like Fox? Were we once disdainful of the blood sacrifices of ancient Israel (and most ancient religions)? Do we find such barbaric? Does the idea of pacifying angry gods make no sense to us?

I can say I have felt this at various times, and quite notably when I became very ill and had to quit working and became very bitter over the loss of abilities and the change in my life. Like Orual, who loses something of value, whose life changes, and whose bitterness is evident. And in reading the ancient Scriptures through the decades, I wonder how very bloody, how stench-filled, the temple’s core must have been: the shining gold of the tabernacle sprinkled with blood that was left there to decay and stink. Rivers of blood pouring from the temple court as animal after animal was butchered and bled to atone for sins offensive to a holy God. The mystery of that sanctum sanctorum, and the dread possibility of the priest’s offering being rejected, the priest struck dead, the priest who is himself purified with blood.

And Christ, ripped to shreds, punctured, speared, bled nearly dry, asphyxiating. Is this what a holy God truly requires?

When we see it with eyes of understanding, then we have to say, “Oh, yes. This is horrible. But this is also holy and true.” Orual has sensed this.

Believeres, at some point, must sense this as well, or remain blinded. The priests of scripture and the requirements of YHWH, the deaths that hold back judgement, the one death that brings wholeness and fruitfulness again, the something horrible but holy going on. Yes, Fox and his Greek learning had much of value, but the stinking, old, blindpriest and his devotion to an angry goddess demanding sacrifices, that had the smell of holiness…and truth as well.

Continued Next Week: Happy Holiday WeekEnd to All!

“Love is too young to know what conscience is.”

On The Lighter Side: I,Robot or I,Saturn

Nothing serious here. It’s Thanksgiving for crying out loud and I’ve gotta turkey to cook. Shannon suggested writing a space opera about Thanksgiving. Hmm. Maybe for next year. But today I’m blogging about one of my favorite movies, I,Robot. It’s […]
| Nov 23, 2006 | No comments |

Nothing serious here. It’s Thanksgiving for crying out loud and I’ve gotta turkey to cook. Shannon suggested writing a space opera about Thanksgiving. Hmm. Maybe for next year. But today I’m blogging about one of my favorite movies, I,Robot. It’s not very deep, mind you, but there are some one-liners that I love. And in case you haven’t seen the movie, and I’m sure you have, here’s a quick summary.

In the year 2035, robots are an everyday household item, and everyone trusts them, except one, slightly paranoid detective. Investigating what he alone believes is a crime perpetrated by a robot. The case leads him to discover a far more frightening threat to the human race.

I’m one of those people who sees a spiritual metaphor or allegory in every book I read and every movie I watch. While I, Robot is one of my favorite movies for various reasons, there were a couple of lines that I love because, well, they seemed to speak loudly to me in spiritual terms. But I might be the only one. I haven’t watched the movie in a few days (ha) so I’m not sure if I have these lines exact:

“I believe my father created me for a purpose.”

“There was this one guy. . .” (referring to Jesus walking on water).

What are you favorite movie lines? They don’t have to be lines from your favorite movies, they can be your favorite lines from a not-so-favorite movie.

Moving on here. I,Saturn. What’s that about, you ask? Take a look.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
Beth