A Reprise—Why Christian Fantasy

Last May and June I did a series on fantasy and a Christian worldview on my personal blog. Today’s post comes from that series. I apologize to those of you who read it before, pleading for your indulgence. I am […]
| Nov 20, 2006 | No comments |

Last May and June I did a series on fantasy and a Christian worldview on my personal blog. Today’s post comes from that series. I apologize to those of you who read it before, pleading for your indulgence. I am speaking today and unfortunately do not have the time (or mental energy) to do a new post justice. So without further comment, a slightly edited version Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 8.

– – –

I did a little online research and learned that the Narnia books have sold anywhere from 85-95 million copies worldwide.

In addition, 11 million DVDs have been sold since right before Easter. That compares to 10 million DVDs of the latest Harry Potter movie.

Speaking of Harry Potter, as of Oct. 2005 those books had sold 300 million copies worldwide. According to Wikipedia the online encyclopedia:

Over nearly a decade the books have garnered fans of all ages, leading to two editions of each Harry Potter book being released, identical in text but with one edition’s cover artwork aimed at children and the other edition’s aimed at adults. The world wide success of Harry Potter including sales from the books, as well as royalties from the films and merchandise, has made Rowling a billionaire and by some reports richer than Queen Elizabeth II.

Why my sudden fixation with numbers? Because sales—how people actually spend their money—translate into what people really like and, from my perspective, what they want to see more of.

Speculative stories are popular, and as the quote above indicates, this interest is not exclusive to children. Consider the top grossing movies of all time. Nine of the top ten are either science fiction or have sci fi/fantasy elements. Only one of those films, Shrek 2, could be considered a children’s movie primarily (and even then the humor is targeted mostly to adults).

Wikipedia’s list:

    1 – Titanic ($1,845,034,188)
    2 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King($1,118,888,979)
    3 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S.] ($976,475,550)
    4 – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ($926,287,400)
    5 – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace ($924,317,558)
    6 – Shrek 2 ($920,665,658)
    7 – Jurassic Park ($914,691,118)
    8 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ($891,719,985)
    9 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ($876,688,482)
    10 – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The next ten is similar. In fact all ten belong in the spec fic category. And the next ten? All but two.

The love of fantasy, the fascination with imaginative places or extraordinary creatures, is a part of our culture.

And here’s the point. If Christians do not enter into this arena in a meaningful way, non-Christians will have the say-so regarding the focal point of fantasy—the good/evil conflict. Non-Christians will define the terms and ultimately determine the winners.

Take one example—The Lion King. A harmless little animated children’s film, right? Here’s what a writer at soyouwanna.com said:

It’s not only animated, it’s also pretentious! Yes, the “circle of life,” a sort of kiddified Social Darwinism, comes across as “philosophy lite.”

I’d also mention the heavy New Age themes and a few more problematic issues. But what should we expect from writers and film makers who do not believe in the God of the Bible?

So why should Christians care about fantasy? Because the rest of our culture does. Because fantasy has great capacity for good but also great capacity for evil.

It depends on who wields it.

CSFF Blog Tour – Curse Of The Spider King

Book one of the Berinfell Prophecies, Curse of the Spider King, by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper, is the November feature of the CSFF Blog Tour. A couple of observations about the tour and the book. From what I’ve […]
| Nov 19, 2006 | No comments |

Book one of the Berinfell Prophecies, Curse of the Spider King, by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper, is the November feature of the CSFF Blog Tour. A couple of observations about the tour and the book.

From what I’ve read so far, this may be one of the most popular books we’ve toured. While we have an average number of participants—thirty-eight—more than average are posting multiple times. The reviews aren’t tepid appreciation but closer to enthusiastic (see for example, Robert Treskillard’s first post). A number of participants say the book transcends age, that it is a must read. There are even hints that it may become a classic.

The authors have been very involved in the tour, giving interviews (see for example, an exclusive in two parts with Amy Browning) and leaving comments at a number of posts, which segues into another observation: these two authors are respected, maybe even admired. They are busy people but take time to participate in tours for other authors as they are able. They’re involved in ministry, through their writing and their every day lives. Their core values come through in their stories. They speak and tour and love Christ.

But back to the book. There also seems to be a common criticism of the book. Yes, criticism of a book we love.

One of the strengths of the CSFF Blog Tour is the fact that we aren’t a promotional arm of anything. We are an independent collection of bloggers interested in highlighting the best of Christian speculative fiction. Certainly our tastes differ. Some prefer adult fiction and others young adult or middle grade. Some like science fiction, some would rather read an urban fantasy and others classic stories reminiscent of the hero’s journey. Some want stories with overt Christianity, others prefer a more subtly inclusion of faith themes.

So when this group of eclectic readers review the featured books, we often have criticisms—which holds true for Curse of the Spider King. And yet, perhaps the harshest critic still praised the book, saying “This didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book. It’s still a great adventure.”

While John (the above mentioned “harshest critic”) zeroed in on something few others mentioned, there was near universal criticism about the number of protagonists—a small thing, as it turned out. Nearly all of us, while confused at times, still felt the story overcame this weakness.

All in all, readers need to decide for themselves. Start by taking a closer look at what the tour participants had to say, the check out the book for yourself.

Brandon Barr/ Justin Boyer/ Amy Browning/ Valerie Comer/ Amy Cruson/ CSFF Blog Tour/ Stacey Dale/ D. G. D. Davidson/ Shane Deal/ Jeff Draper/ Emmalyn Edwards/ April Erwin/ Karina Fabian/ Todd Michael Greene/ Ryan Heart/ Timothy Hicks/ Becky Jesse/ Cris Jesse/ Jason Joyner/ Julie/ Carol Keen/ Krystine Kercher/ Tina Kulesa/ Melissa Lockcuff/ Rebecca LuElla Miller/ Mirtika/ Nissa/ John W. Otte/ Donita K. Paul/ Cara Powers/ Chawna Schroeder/ James Somers/ Robert Treskillard/ Fred Warren/ Jason Waguespac/ Phyllis Wheeler/ Jill Williamson/ KM Wilsher

Part Four Of How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From The Dead and Into The Light: From Wolves To Lewis’ “Soul”

ChrisD was the only one brave enough to submit some variations on what one could do with a wolf tale and a wolf Scripture. Thanks, Chris. Anyone else game? Okay, off the top of my head, here’s how I’d begin […]
| Nov 17, 2006 | No comments |

ChrisD was the only one brave enough to submit some variations on what one could do with a wolf tale and a wolf Scripture. Thanks, Chris. Anyone else game?

Okay, off the top of my head, here’s how I’d begin to go about fashioning a retelling with the given parameters:

  1. Pick the tale: Red Riding Hood
  2. Find a Related Scripture: How about 1, from Matthew, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Or 2. the one ChrisD mentioned: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb.”
  3. How can one deviate from the original?

a. with Scripture 1: The “wolf” could be an actual false prophet (ie, he’s out there in the woods trying to make converts to his askew religion. It can be set at any time: ancient Holy Land, American Southwest (with Native imagery), in a city, on another planet where the wolf is a whole different kind of critter.

And Red, maybe young but not so little, is the one the “wolf” is ravenous to convert, and perhaps do moreto. If we set it on another planet, say a colony, the false teaching might relate to the intentions of the homeworld (or a Pope or a missionary group). The “woodsman” could be an itinerant space-apostle who checks on the spiritual well-being of colonists and, maybe, does some botanical work (woods work) to support his religious wrok. Grandma could be way across the planet or on a satellite or somewhere else where travel is dangerous. In a sci-fi setting, the possibilities can be pretty interesting. Perhaps the “wolf” is actually a native to the world (a non-colonist) who can assume the shape of humans, but in his real shape, is more beastly?

b. With Scripture 2: The “wolf” is a werewolf, who when he is a man is the woodsman, so he’s both the good and the bad guy. Maybe Scarlett has been orphaned by the werewolf, but has fallen in love with the man part, and she’s heading to some old hermit lady’s house on the other side of the woods for the magical cure. So, she’s actually in danger from her own beloved, who is both wolf and lamb, as she takes the risk of being in the woods on a full moon night for a good reason: it’s the only time the particular herb for his cure can be harvested.

4. Ending? For fairy tale retellings, ending don’t have to be chipper and HEA (although, I really like HEAs). You can have grandma die/be eaten/be transmogrified/be possessed by an alien/etc. You can have the wolf win over Red, but have the woodsman learn something that will nevertheless save the colony. You can have the werewolf cured and marry Scarlett. It’s up to you.

That’s just one way to take a tale, find a Scripture that correlates in tone or via some key word, and then play a what-if game to find your story. Enough of that. I think you get the drift.

Now, let’s begin exploring what C.S. Lewis did with the myth of Cupid(Eros) and Psyche in his acclaimed novel TILL WE HAVE FACES.

She hurts so much. She is confused. She doesn’t know where she is. She won’t thank you. She will blink and sit up.

First, let’s review the influential and quite emotional myth that inspired various fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast, notably) and Lewis’ novel. You can read it here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/cupid.html

“A certain king and queen had three daughters. The charms of the two elder were more than common, but the beauty of the youngest was so wonderful that the poverty of language is unable to express its due praise. The fame of her beauty was so great that strangers from neighboring countries came in crowds to enjoy the sight, and looked on her with amazement, paying her that homage which is due only to Venus herself. In fact Venus found her altars deserted, while men turned their devotion to this young virgin. As she passed along, the people sang her praises, and strewed her way with chaplets and flowers.

This homage to the exaltation of a mortal gave great offense to the real Venus. Shaking her ambrosial locks with indignation, she exclaimed, “Am I then to be eclipsed in my honors by a mortal girl? In vain then did that royal shepherd, whose judgment was approved by Jove himself, give me the palm of beauty over my illustrious rivals, Pallas and Juno. But she shall not so quietly usurp my honors. I will give her cause to repent of so unlawful a beauty.”

We all know that arousing the jealousy of the Greek gods meant trouble. And Psyche is about to experience an abundance of woe because of her beauty. She sends her son, Cupid, to so afflict Psyche that she will fall in love with “some low, mean, unworthy being, so that she may reap a mortification as great as her present exultation and triumph.”

Cupid, however, is as startled by her beauty as the rest, and ends up inflicting himself with his own arrow. Nevertheless, wrathful Venus (Aphrodite) makes sure no one falls in love with Psyche. Her sisters marry, but Psyche is cursed. Her parents ask the oracle what’s up. The oracles says she is fated to marry a monster. She is taken to the designated mountain, where Zephyr carries her to a palace of great beauty and constant delight. Her husband is unseen by her, but she is happy in her marriage. After a time, however, she comes to miss her family. Her invisible hubby allows for the sisters to visit.

The golden palace and its delights inspire great jealousy in Psyche’s sisters, who then begin to poison her mind about her invisible husband, reminding her that she was prophesied to marry a hideous monster. “Take our advice,” they tell her. “Provide yourself with a lamp and a sharp knife; put them in concealment that your husband may not discover them, and when he is sound asleep, slip out of bed, bring forth your lamp, and see for yourself whether what they say is true or not. If it is, hesitate not to cut off the monster’s head, and thereby recover your liberty.”

She does as instructed, and when she beholds her husband at last, he is a man of great beauty, a true god. She drops of oil from her lamp spill upon him. Cupid awakens. As he flies from her, he says, “”Oh foolish Psyche, is it thus you repay my love? After I disobeyed my mother’s commands and made you my wife, will you think me a monster and cut off my head? But go; return to your sisters, whose advice you seem to think preferable to mine. I inflict no other punishment on you than to leave you for ever. Love cannot dwell with suspicion.”

The sisters gloated inwardly to see their sister returned to them, scorned. They each decide to try and become Cupid’s next beloved, going up to the high mountain as Psyche did. But Zephyr did not bear them aloft. They fell off the mountain and died.

Psyche begins her quest for Cupid. She happens upon a neglected temple of the goddess Ceres (Demeter). She tidies it and wins the goddess’ favor and this advice: “Go, then, and voluntarily surrender yourself to your lady and sovereign, and try by modesty and submission to win her forgiveness, and perhaps her favor will restore you the husband you have lost.”

Venus, in no forgiving mood, berates Psyche and decrees, “You are so ill favored and disagreeable that the only way you can merit your lover must be by dint of industry and diligence. I will make trial of your housewifery.”

Psyche undergoes two tests, each time receiving the compassion and assistance Venus denied instead from ants and from a river god. Venus, vexed, sets her a third task: “Here, take this box and go your way to the infernal shades, and give this box to Proserpine and say, ‘My mistress Venus desires you to send her a little of your beauty, for in tending her sick son she has lost some of her own.’”

Psyche, despairing, figures the fastest way to the Underworld is to die. She sets off to kill herself. But yet again, she receives aid, this time from a voice in the tower telling her how to find the cave down to Hades, how to calm Cerberus, and how to pay Charon. And lastly, says, “”When Proserpine has given you the box filled with her beauty, of all things this is chiefly to be observed by you, that you never once open or look into the box nor allow your curiosity to pry into the treasure of the beauty of the goddesses.”

Psyche accomplishes her task, but hoping to regain some of the beauty she lost through her trials and suffering, she opens the box to take some of Proserpine’s beauty for herself. “So she carefully opened the box, but found nothing there of any beauty at all, but an infernal and truly Stygian sleep, which being thus set free from its prison, took possession of her, and she fell down in the midst of the road, a sleepy corpse without sense or motion.”

Cupid, now recovered, comes and removes the sleep from her. He pleads with Jupiter (Zeus) on his and Psyche’s behalf. They are allowed to wed. Psyche is given immortality. “Thus Psyche became at last united to Cupid, and in due time they had a daughter born to them whose name was Pleasure.”

Between now and next Friday, consider what you would do with this story if you retold it. Come back for the discussion on what Lewis did.

Looking At The Redemptive In … Nanny MacPhee

This might be breaking the rules a bit … Nanny MacPhee is a film and not literature, per se. But it provides a good example of what I mean when I discuss “redemptive.” One might describe Nanny MacPhee as Mary […]
| Nov 16, 2006 | No comments |

This might be breaking the rules a bit … Nanny MacPhee is a film and not literature, per se. But it provides a good example of what I mean when I discuss “redemptive.”

One might describe Nanny MacPhee as Mary Poppins gone bad. Actually, I found it much better—that is, more realistic and morally deeper—than Mary Poppins. Whereas in the latter, there are only two children (as a concession to modern sensibilities), who are merely naughty due to mother and father’s benign neglect, Nanny MacPhee features a family of eight—a widowed father driven to distraction trying to fend off poverty in Victorian/Edwardian England, and his seven positively wicked children. The opening scene features the latest nanny—employed less than a day—running in hysterics to the father’s office with the news that “they have eaten the baby!”

The children, of course, have made it a game to see how quickly they can traumatize their nannies into leaving, and this is the seventeenth they have disposed of. When the father returns to the agency to secure yet another, a disembodied voice tells him that he needs “Nanny MacPhee.”

And soon she arrives, hideously ugly and witchlike, complete with a staff, warts, and hooked nose; the father is nervous but desperate, and so solicits her services. She explains that there are five lessons to be learned, then goes to find the children, who are, of course, in the middle of their usual wickedness. Nanny tells them to stop. They refuse. She then thumps her staff on the floor, once—ominously—and the children find themselves horrifyingly unable to stop. Nanny waits until they have come to the point of being wholly disgusted with their own wickedness—then at the last possible second, when the baby’s life truly is in danger—she thumps the floor again. Not only are the children able to stop now, but the horrible mess they have made is gone.

Later, the children want to foil their father’s attempts to find another wife, not knowing that he does so out of necessity: his aunt has threatened to cut off her monetary support of the family and parcel out the children if the father does not remarry. The eldest child goes to Nanny for help, only to find that it comes with the caution: he must live with whatever consequences come of his (and ultimately, all the children’s) actions. This is the crux of the story—they learn that not only is family important, but more important it is to bear responsibility for one’s words and deeds. And in this—the grappling with the issue of personal accountability, and of putting another’s needs before one’s own desires—the family is transformed.

The film has a couple of stupid moments—a dancing donkey, and the father’s attempts to fend of his children’s pranks on the woman he has painfully set himself to propose to, which manage to look (to her) like clumsy lechery. But overall—I loved the dark fairy-tale atmosphere, the subplots of the true nature of beauty and demolishing the traditional stereotype of the hated stepmother.

Now, here’s something interesting. My neighbor, a Christian who babysits and helps around the house and generally is unofficial part-time nanny herself, refuses to watch this film. After a bit of discussion, it came out that she more or less feels that the character of Nanny MacPhee is a witch. That gave me pause—I can see her point—but I explained that I rather felt she was an angel, instead. She did certain things that were too out of the realm of “ordinary” occultic ability, and the moral themes were far beyond the warm-fuzzy “family, friends, and self-esteem” that Stephen mentioned yesterday.

So, for those of you who have seen the film, what say you? Witch or angel, and are there any other redemptive aspects that I missed mentioning?

Nine Marks Of Widescreen Stories, Part 4

After a two-week break, I’m back to the series on what I consider Nine Marks of Widescreen Stories — speculative, epic-minded works of fantasy/sci-fi/whatever works for awesome storytelling. As we keep moving away from the original don’ts I find I […]
| Nov 15, 2006 | No comments |

After a two-week break, I’m back to the series on what I consider Nine Marks of Widescreen Stories — speculative, epic-minded works of fantasy/sci-fi/whatever works for awesome storytelling. As we keep moving away from the original don’ts I find I keep writing about, I’ll hope to focus even more strongly on the dos.

One of the greatest advantages Christ-following authors have over “secular” authors is access to a wealth of incredible themes that preempt just about anything they can come up with. For example, by writing about science, or law, “secular” authors are accidentally plagiarizing the Bible, I wrote back in part 3.

The same is true when we write about moral struggles, virtues or the lack thereof, and the battle of good versus evil. “Secular” authors have secondhand access to the truths of goodness and virtue; whereas Christians, in direct contact with the Source of that material, can portray these themes much more directly. I say “can portray,” though, because of course some books I’ve seen were evidently authored by those who have opted instead to broaden the moral themes, and follow after the “secular” conventions once again …

4. Focusing on deeper, more-timeless themes

The other night my sister and I were doing some research into whatever Pixar Animation Studios has been up to the past several months.

Yes, it seems that after watching Cars, we were further interested as to the themes of their 2007 release Ratatouille, which revolves around the adventures of a rat who dreams of being a chef in a fine Paris restaurant. One primary location to find this information is the Internet Movie Database; the other, Wikipedia, where volunteer authors have affixed the Disney/Pixar press release:

Remy finds himself torn between his calling and passion in life or returning forever to his previous existence as a rat. He learns the truth about friendship, family and having no choice but to be who he really is, a rat who wants to be a chef.

First I must heartily disclaim: I love Pixar!

As far as I’m concerned Pixar Can Do No Wrong.

If Pixar made a movie about living talking pots and pans trying to find a way out of Dishwasher-Land, it would be fantastic.

And yet at least the Disney/Pixar marketing here, anyway, rings the cliché bell. As my sister remarked, “When do we get a movie that’s not about friendship and family and following your dreams?”

Those themes have indeed been done multiple times — to the point where I know already that friendship is very important, and so is family (although “family can mean anything” according to a few movie outputs I’ve seen) and that it really doesn’t matter what others say so long as you follow your dream with all your heart and believe very strongly, etc., etc.

Hacking away at hackneyed

More recently I’ve seen some films “break out” of these common messages. Spider-Man 2, for example, played off the following-your-dream theme and instead reminded viewers of the powerful truth: “Sometimes, to do what’s right, we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most — even our dreams.”

And perhaps because a few “secular” storytellers are striking out in this direction, the Christian storytellers won’t be far behind, following as usual (as I complained just a little in my last installment).

But so far, it’s hard to see the same conventions going away anytime soon in Christian fiction, where the chief themes are often the same: family, friendship, following your dream — only supplemented by some specifically Christian virtues such as forgiveness, and of course the Gospel message and salvation.

Of course these should be nonnegotiable hallmarks of Christ-centered creativity. But perhaps more publishers, anyway, would do well not to act as though books about such topics somehow stand out — among all those other books that perhaps promote division in families, enemies, and making 180-degree turns away from your dream.

It’s like a politician who claims he strongly advocates the best health care and clean water and happiness for all — as opposed to the other candidate who, by implication, sincerely wants everyone to be miserable.

Fact is, Christian novels that “teach” important virtue like love, faith, family and forgiveness have already been far overdone — and again, while those elements are crucial, they are also naturally occurring for the Christ-following writer.

Speculative fiction encompasses these themes, of course, but they should be naturally occurring, not presented as though they are some hallmark of this particular story. If anything, the story itself should rise above and beyond any particular Take-Away Value some editors or marketers may try to assign to it.

That is why “simple” stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia work so well: you can’t stamp A Lesson in Self-Esteem on the front like you can with a VeggieTales DVD because Narnia just isn’t like that. A VeggieTales DVD can be about Self-Esteem, but what happens when you ask about the theme of The Silver Chair? “Well, it’s — it’s about two children, who are called into Narnia, and they have to learn — they have to obey Aslan, and — they meet some giants, and then Puddleglum put his foot in …”

Isn’t that great? The themes are so embedded, so deep and epic, that one cannot in good conscience say It’s A Story About Following Your Dream. The same is true of just about every timelessness-proved work of literature: you can’t pin down its Take-Away Value.

Time-release revelations

This is perhaps no more true than with the Bible itself — the Book that in my last installment I suggested is our “ultimate source material” and thus available for creative quasi-plagiarism. I think people often pick up the Bible with this mindset, asking, what is the Take-Away Value for me? On TV, we find brightly smiling motivational-types reading selections and snapping out the Lesson right away. It’s a lesson in Self-Esteem! It’s a lesson in Forgiveness! It’s a lesson in Following Your Dream!

Guess what: a Biblical passage might just be all of those meanings. Perhaps the meanings will occur naturally to the growing, Christ-following reader, in a form of Holy Spirit-guided word-search puzzle over the months or years.

If you’ve read the Bible — and any good book — multiple times, you probably can’t count the even greater amount of times this has happened. You’ll be reading the same passage again, and suddenly a hidden meaning leaps out at you. Incredible! This stuff has onionlike layers — except that, “unlike an onion, the inside is always bigger than the outside.” And the more you read, and the more experiences you may have had in the meantime, the more meaning one can glean from the passage, as its buried truths are finally unearthed like time capsules.

But of even greater importance is the idea that everything in Scripture, or any Christian story, must be read with a single lesson in mind, a Take-Away Value for us, about friendship, or forgiveness, or …

To that I would quickly answer: No. The Bible is primarily about God, not about us. Any messages we receive from it about our life applications are secondary to what we can learn about the nature of God and His plan for the universe.

That’s widescreen. And I believe our fiction should focus on that more strongly: God’s plans, what He has done, what He is doing, and people’s present and future role in His sovereign will. If secondary moral themes do find their way into the story — then they can imbed themselves naturally, just as our presentations of the Gospel should get in there on their own and not from propagandistic intention.

Most people already know anyway about friendship, family, faith and other fullscreen themes that are portrayed in countless made-for-TV movies. Therefore, for epic-focused, Christ-centered fiction, let’s expand the view even more!

Alternate World Traveler

One of the most popular styles of CSFF in the CBA has been that of taking a person from our real world and transplanting them through some means into an alternate reality. From Narnia to Arena, Chronicles of Anthropos to […]
| Nov 14, 2006 | No comments |

One of the most popular styles of CSFF in the CBA has been that of taking a person from our real world and transplanting them through some means into an alternate reality. From Narnia to Arena, Chronicles of Anthropos to Empyrion, Landon Snow to The Song of Albion.

It is interesting to look at this type of story and how it tends to come across. The person sucked into the new world and has some key role to play there (why else would they have been hand-picked to be pulled through a rift in reality in the first place). And often it deals with bringing God’s truth back to the world, while at the same time resolving their crisis of faith.

Though I admit, I often wonder how these characters cope with their newfound faith rebirth once they finally return to the “real” world. After having such an awakening in a world where often the spiritual rules, while similar are also quite different, could the reconcile that with Christianity, or would they try to hold onto what they found in the other world, or perhaps become more like Susan and simply drift away?

If you could travel to an alternate world, which one would you go to? What character would you most want to meet (who isn’t a Christ figure)? If you got sucked into an alternate world, what would be the first thing you would do, knowing what you do of all the like adventures written by other authors?

Deep thoughts, I know.

Let There Be Snow—CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1

Landon’s land. That’s not an official name for it, but the fantasy world that Landon Snow and eventually both his sisters are drawn into has a unique need for him. I am, of course, referring to the middle grade fantasy […]
| Nov 13, 2006 | No comments |

Landon’s land. That’s not an official name for it, but the fantasy world that Landon Snow and eventually both his sisters are drawn into has a unique need for him. I am, of course, referring to the middle grade fantasy novels by R. K. Mortenson.

This month the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour is featuring the third in the Landon Snow series, Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum (Barbour Publishing). One look at the cover or at the drawings at the beginning of each chapter, and you can see the promise of fun that awaits. For samples, see the Landon Snow web site.

Beyond the wonderful packaging—art work, paper quality, hard cover, colored print—the writing makes these books worthy additions to a fantasy-lover’s library, not to mention a desirable Christmas gift for any middle grade reader.

Here’s a sample:

Even Bridget’s little voice echoed in the tall marble lobby. “Do you think we should be in here?” Landon’s shoes squeaked as if he were on a basketball court. He finally resorted to walking on his tiptoes to keep them quiet. The chandelier sparkled high overhead. As they passed by the rowboat-shaped tombstone for the library’s famous founder, Bartholomew G. Benneford, Landon stopped, squeak, and motioned for his sisters to stop too.

“Listen,” he said, half turning his head. “What is that noise?”

It sounded rather like a drum. Like one of those big drums in a symphony orchestra—a kettle drum or timpani. Plumb. Plumb.

It was quiet.

And then— plumb.

“Over there,” said Bridget, her voice light as a feather.

At the far end of the lobby, opposite the log wall of Bart’s Reading Room, something round and large and red sat on the floor. Plumb. Bridget was right, the sound seemed to be coming from it. They crept closer, and a tiny swift movement caught Landon’s eye …

That little snippet gives you a taste of Mortenson’s voice. Writers talk about the importance of voice, though it is a difficult thing to define and harder to create. But when a writer has it, it seems to leap off the page.

In my opinion, Mortenson’s voice comes in part from his sense of humor and in part from his sense of intrigue. He isn’t afraid to judiciously use adverbs (those dreaded -ly’s that Browne-and-King disciples scrub off every page). Or rhyme, if it helps characterize the Odds, the former name of the people in the fantasy world. There’s a bit of tongue firmly pressing the cheek to his writing. It’s fun. But it’s serious too.

I highly recommend the entire series; all three books are small, easy to read, and delightful. But don’t take my word alone. Check out what the other bloggers on the tour are saying:

  • Jim Black
  • Jackie Castle
  • Valerie Comer
  • Frank Creed
  • Gene Curtis
  • Chris Deanne
  • Janey DeMeo
  • April Erwin
  • Beth Goddard
  • Todd Michael Greene
  • Leathel Grody
  • Karen Hancock
  • Katie Hart
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  • Part Three: How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From The Dead & Into The Light

    Do not throw stones at ravens. I said last week: “Ravens? What have ravens to do with anything?” Well, in myths and fairy tales—and symbolically—quite a bit. Odin had two, Hunnin and Munnin, thought and memory by meaning, and they […]
    | Nov 10, 2006 | No comments |

    Do not throw stones at ravens.

    I said last week:Ravens? What have ravens to do with anything?”

    Well, in myths and fairy tales—and symbolically—quite a bit.

    Odin had two, Hunnin and Munnin, thought and memory by meaning, and they roamed the world and brought the god news. In Celtic myth, they are associated with death and war and prophesy. In Greek myth, the raven started out white, but Apollo turned it black for bearing bad news. A variant of the King Arthur stories claims the king did not die, but rather turned into a raven. The raven (and its cousin the crow) figure in various Aesop’s fables, including one where the raven is said to feed on the food offerings on altars and longs to be white and lovely as a swan. (I can see a story with racial issues right there.) The Brothers Grimm give us two famous tales, both among my favorites as a child: “The Seven Ravens” and “The Twelve Brothers.” Yes, the brothers of a royal girl child are turned into ravens in both tales.

    If we were to write a retold tale with a raven, it’s not too hard a leap to ask, “How are ravens used in the Bible?”

    Well, Noah used a raven to scout the earth in Genesis. In Leviticus, the raven is branded as an unclean creature. In Matthew, Jesus speaks of the ravens thusly:

    “And He said to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” (Luke 12:22-24 RSV)

    A swirl of stories fill my head at imagining how to blend the Biblical with the mythological and the folktale. How about you?

    If you’re still not clear on how you can leap into new stories that speak of the doctrines of our faith, consider this, which is one that I may yet write:

    In “The Seven Ravens” an unwise king who guards not his tongue from foolish utterances, curses his sons, and they become ravens. His subsequent child, a daughter, when she grows old enough to hear tales of her cursed siblings, shows herself to be courageous and persistent and unselfish, and will not cease wandering the world until she finds her lost, transformed brothers and breaks the curse that binds them. She ultimately saves them from their bondage.

    The princess is a savior figure. The brothers are bound by their father’s sin. An act of supreme sacrifice is required to release those in bondage. The biblical doctrines are already contained in the tale.

    But to turn all that into modern story that’s more than the old folktale, the blanks in motivation, characterization and plot need to be filled in. I must, as a writer, give a reason why the father longs so much for a daughter that he would curse all his sons. Considering that, historically, kings wanted sons above all, that’s just a big, gaping hole. I would need to give a sense of what has formed the princess to be who she is with her character so much better than that of her parents. I would need to say more about her journey and suffering, and how she herself is transformed by her trials and adventures.

    Because blood matters so much, I would add blood to the redemption of the brothers in some way.

    I am thinking that one way I would add another biblical element is to blend the fairy tale with this passage concerning Elijah from 1 Kings 17:

    So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

    Why can’t the brothers become the ravens that feed the prophet? And perhaps their eventual rescue is a result of obedience to God in this act? Perhaps the sister encounters the prophet, who gives her the key to freeing her brothers. Ravens, symbol of prophesy? Well, seems like we could just have a prophet in there, too, a real one.

    Works for me. Needs for flesh on the story bones, but sounds workable and full of spiritual possibilities for the characterization and plot.

    What would you do with ravens? What would you do with Noah and a fairy tale with ravens or some other bird—a dove, a crow, a sparrow, a swan? How might you mix an event in the life of Jesus and a fairy tale you love?

    You may ask wolves for help, but you should not believe what they tell you. They do not think carefully. They do not think as we do.

    Now it’s your turn to take the bones and come up with new skin.

    Let’s see. You know at least two myths or tale with wolves. Come on. You know you do. (Hint: Grandma. Hint: Romulus and Remus. Hint: Pig triplets) Now, what’s a scriptural doctrine that might apply in these tales? What motivations and characterization changes can you make? How might you alter the plot? Who is your narrator? Where in the Bible are wolves mentioned? Can you use that?

    Go on, impress me.

    Finally, last week I wrote this to give you a heads up on what’s ahead: What myth inspired a novel by C.S. Lewis? How did he change it to write the truth he needed to tell?

    The myth—one of the most fascinating one to my childhood mind—was that of Cupid and Psyche. (Some relegate it to folktale, rather than myth status, but it feels like myth, so I call it that.) Parts of the myth are familiar to you (those who haven’t read it) from your readings of Beauty and the Beast. There’s an element of Pandora in it, too.

    Lewis rewrote it, retold it, in his novel TILL WE HAVE FACES. If anyone thinks it’s silly to retell such tales, or that pagan tales have no place in Christian fiction, I suggest you reconsider. I suggest you take a look at Lewis’ novel.

    So, ahead of us, more opening up of souls by resurrecting wonder tales. Ahead of us, wolves, beasts, gods and goddesses…and creating true faces.

    Again, the italicized quotes are from Veronica Schanoes short story which inspired the title of this series. Read it here:

    NEXT WEEK: Part Four of How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From the Dead and Into the Light—

    She is so tired. And she hurts. She hurts so much. She is confused. She doesn’t know where she is. She won’t thank you. She will blink and sit up.Take her by the hand. Hold her tightly.

    Give her one of your torches.

    More Trouble With Time Travel

    James Drury posted a comment to my previous post titled the Trouble with Time Travel: The Alternate Reality version of time travel has been the accepted theory in Marvel Comics for some time and seems to be the easiest route […]
    | Nov 9, 2006 | No comments |

    James Drury posted a comment to my previous post titled the Trouble with Time Travel:

    The Alternate Reality version of time travel has been the accepted theory in Marvel Comics for some time and seems to be the easiest route to avoid most paradoxes. Even if you went back and killed your grandfather, YOU would still be alive because you can’t disrupt your own personal timeline.

 Of course, if you have multiple timelines running in parallel (like railroad tracks), who can say if you’re actually travelling in time or just switching tracks? One timeline may look like yours hundreds or thousands of years ago but is completely separate, similiar to C.S. Lewis’ view in the Narnia books.

There are all sorts of variations from which to choose!

    Thanks for your comments and all of the other mind-boggling comments. There appears to be an answer to the trouble with time travel. Multiple universes? That’s a discussion for another day.

    Dean Koontz has his own thoughts about the subject. In my previous post I included his dislike of time travel from a Q&A. From his Writing Popular Fiction (1972), he gives examples of the limitless paradoxes. Here’s one.

    If you traveled back to last Thursday morning in a time machine and met yourself back then and told yourself to invest in a certain company because their stock would soar during the next week, what would happen if the Early You, did as the Later You wished? When the Later You returned to the present, would he find himself rich? Or perhaps, while the Early You was running to the stock broker, he was stricken by an automobile and suffered two broken legs. When the Later You returned to the present, would he find himself with two broken legs? Perhaps you would end up hospitalized, never having been able to make the trip in the first place because your legs were broken a week ago. Yet, if you had never taken the time trip, you wouldn’t have sent your early Self into the path of the car and would not have broken legs. Yet, if you did make the trip, and had the broken legs, you couldn’t have made the trip because of the broken legs and. . .

    He does go on to suggest reading Up the Line by Robert Silverberg.  In it Silverberg explores “every conceivable time paradox and carries them all to their wildly absurd and fascinating conclusion.”

    Anyone read this?

    But Orson Scott Card presents a different view. Make up your own rules. In How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, he presents a few examples. (I think that’s what’s been done with the alternative reality scenario that Jim mentioned)

    If you go back in time:

    1. you can make any changes you want in the past and you’ll continue to exist, because
    the very act of traveling in time takes you outside of the time stream and removes you from the effects of changes in history.

    2. you can make changes that destroy your own society—so time travel is a closely guarded secret and those who travel in time are only the most skilled and trusted people.

    3. if you go back far enough, any changes you make won’t have major effects in your own time, because history has a kind of inertia and tends to get itself back on track.

    4. you are only able to make changes that have no long-term effects, since any universe in which you change your own future could not exist.

    5. you’re invisible and unable to affect anything. But you can watch.

    6. Time travel consists of going back into the mind of somebody living in the past, seeing events through his eyes. He doesn’t know you’re there.

    And the list continues. . .

    Personally I like the idea of making up specific rules to counter any paradoxes.

    Speculative Faith: Seeing Beyond Christian Story Stigmatisms

    This week, you’ll find the following a slight departure from the Nine Marks of Widescreen Fiction series, whose third installment went live two weeks ago. I’m still working on part 4, following a very harrowing Wednesday, but the following is […]
    | Nov 8, 2006 | No comments |

    This week, you’ll find the following a slight departure from the Nine Marks of Widescreen Fiction series, whose third installment went live two weeks ago. I’m still working on part 4, following a very harrowing Wednesday, but the following is edited from another pending series about many similar themes. …

    It’s just slightly difficult to be a neo-sci-fi guy at the American Christian Fiction Writers 2006 conference last weekend in Dallas, Texas.

    Actually, it’s even more difficult to be a guy altogether, at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference.

    Intro: An AFCW Aftermath

    Some estimated the conference’s attendance at about 95 percent women. I think that’s about right, so long as one doesn’t count the hotel bellhops and the concierge. Also, leave out the imaginary males who probably inhabit most of those writing women’s fiction works, whether published or not. Those males, of course, are quite dashing and handsome and just the sort of chaps who can ease the loneliness filling women’s hearts on the barren prairie.

    Ah, but this is facetious. Not all the novelists, male or female, were purveyors of the Prairie Romances. Some were authors of cozy romance, inspirational romance, Scottish / Irish romance, World War II-era romance, romantic comedy, romantic suspense, chick lit romance, contemporary romance …

    Here I even more speak the truth: after the first day, they doubled the first-floor restroom space for women, which of course resulted in a 100 percent cut for the males in attendance. I, as a male, adapted well; others were more annoyed, including author Randall Ingermanson (City of God series, Oxygen, The Fifth Man) who I heard secondhand was tempted to go in there nonetheless.

    However, another rumor held that most women, understandably, didn’t want to go in the men’s room anyway. I would think half of the implements therein would likely be useless to the women no matter what — and that’s all I have to say about that.

    Well, I suppose it hasn’t been too long since the organization changed its named from American Christian Romance Writers. Inevitably there would be a lag time.

    Vital storytelling statistics

    Readership in the Christian Booksellers’ Association (CBA), the catch-all term for Christian publishing, is just a little more balanced: most put it at 80-20, still slanted toward women. Secular publishers have about the same ratio, though, so this isn’t unique to Christendom

    Guys read more nonfiction, one of the conference’s organizers told me. Fine, that is sensible, I say, but that still fails to explain the smashing success of the nonfiction (ahem) author and decidedly-non-Alpha-Male-ish Joel Osteen.

    With this general market from which to draw, it’s understandable that Romance and all its related modifiers would prove the more popular genres. Behind the counters of a Christian bookstore myself, I have seen these customers: they are mostly middle-aged and older women, and often members of a certain denomination (Southern Baptist) who much enjoy this sort of thing in their reading material.

    So, one really can’t “blame” the publishers for frowning upon alternative genres, such as the neo-sci-fi story I advocate and the fantasy / sci-fi hybrids underway by many other Christ-honoring writers.

    After all, that sort of thing just won’t sell, claimed one editor during the publisher’s panel the first afternoon. And after a sneaked-in question (another ahem) about whether the hugely increased popularity of Tolkien and Lewis was affecting the CBA’s offerings at all, David Long, editor from Bethany House and Faith*in*Fiction blogger, was quite direct: “No” — instantly prompting raised imaginary phasers and battle staffs from the outraged fantasy / sci-fi warriors.

    Ergo, sci-fi and fantasy are genres with a stigma — their own sub-stigma within a “niche market” that itself has long been stigmatized in the publishing world.

    Yet Lord willing, both of those stigmas may be changing.

    But that leads to another quandary, something I had been thinking about recently: the phenomenon of Christian storytelling and publishing as it relates to true Christlike living in our culture.

    Regarding the latter, the Creator is clear that His children will often seem a bit weird, if not outright evil, to the majority of others — that is, stigmatized, and unavoidably so.

    Yet when it comes to media and storytelling, we need attempt to avoid some stigmas in order to appeal to wider demographics. And this is something the Western church is doing more often as well: consciously deciding not to talk about tough Biblical topics such as God’s Law and justice in order to avoid offending people (which, by the way, is something the Bible frowns upon, to put it mildly).

    Therefore, how are we as Christians to balance the stigma of existing as Christians ourselves, with the stigma against Christian publishing — and particularly Christian speculative fiction, an even narrower segment?

    Should we attempt broadening our stories’ focii beyond specifically Biblically inspired beliefs, and thus ensure more people can be exposed to a few truths that will lead them to search for more Truth? Or permit the faith elements to manifest themselves in whatever way possible and trust the Creator to forge a path for success if He so chooses? … Or, perhaps a combination?