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?

Speculative Politics

And I bet you thought you could get away from it all by coming here didn’t you? But on this election day in the U.S. I thought it might be interesting to look at how the political systems we choose […]
| Nov 7, 2006 | No comments |

And I bet you thought you could get away from it all by coming here didn’t you? But on this election day in the U.S. I thought it might be interesting to look at how the political systems we choose to use in our stories can enhance the themes and worlds that we communicate to the readers.

Whether it is the incredibly complex and intricate Imperial feudalism of Dune, the idealistic socialism of the Federation, or the corrupt and bloated democracy of the Republic, every tale that works on an epic scale impacts the governing system at some point or another. And the way that system is represented can say a lot about the spiritual state of a world, and can serve as a strong symbol to comment on our own world, without necessarily being overt.

Think about the monarchies of Middle Earth and how Aragon’s journey from Ranger to High King impacted you. As well as the attitudes of the other monarchs encountered.

Or what about the theocratic empire of Narnia (Emperor beyond the Sea, who’s son is Aslan, King of Narnia). Or the simple theocracy of the inhabitants of Mars, with unassuming social structures of an unfallen, but damaged, peoples in Out of the Silent Planet.

What are some political systems that have stood out to you as being more than just window dressing and have moved farther into becoming defining attributes of a foundational worldview that is directing the course of events within a created world?

Who Lost The Genre? An Interview With The Lost Genre Guild’s Founder

Recently some of us here at Speculative Faith “discovered” a similar group of writers who also want to spread the word that Christian science fiction and fantasy does exist. This organization the Lost Genre Guild was founded by an author […]

Recently some of us here at Speculative Faith “discovered” a similar group of writers who also want to spread the word that Christian science fiction and fantasy does exist. This organization the Lost Genre Guild was founded by an author writing under the pen name Frank Creed.

I interviewed Frank so that readers here at Speculative Faith can be encouraged. Our group is one of how many similar groups who need simply to find each other?

The interview:

RLM: Frank, tell us a little about yourself. How did you become a Christian?

FC: Baptized, schooled, and Confirmed in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, I never understood how Scripture’s idealism applied to real life. From the time I graduated high school and escaped an over-protective home in ‘84, until the summer of ‘92, I lived for my appetites. My God-shaped hole swallowed all Hedonism. Then, working at a sheet-metal shop in Chicago’s western burbs, a coworker leant me a copy of Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who is There. It blew my mind. I devoured He is There and He is Not Silent, and How Shall we Then Live? God used Schaeffer to connect my dots, and it changed my life.

RLM What about writing? How did God lead you into this profession?

FC: This is a life story, so I’ll nutshell the timeline. 1970s: mom sent me to a program at the Public Library, where we read and discussed Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I already loved reading, but that hooked me. 1980s: my high school creative writing teacher encouraged me to enter a contest with students from three or four states. My short story took first place. 1990s: Reading Schaeffer had focused me on life’s meaning, and I struggled with a Biblical fantasy novella and a sci-fi novel in spare moments—until May 9, 1998. On that day, I survived a head-on collision that should have killed me. Doctors bolted my broken body, but I’d suffered a severe closed-head injury. As loved-ones learned that I should be able to feed myself after a year of rehab, my pastor strolled-in for a visit. I’m told he and I enjoyed my first lucid conversation in eighteen days. We prayed, I went to sleep, then awoke in my current capacity. The only lingering conditions are short-term memory lapses and an inability to multitask.

I returned to my factory job, but advancing osteo-arthritis and bursitis forced me to seek white-collar work. The fiction with which I once struggled, now pours like liquid. The people, tools, and learning that He’s provided have shoved, not led, me into fiction. My first novel is due out in late-winter, 2007.

RLM But speculative fiction? Why that genre?

FC: We glorify Him where He’s placed us in space and time, by dwelling at the intersection of given talents and passions. Narnia and Middle Earth first captured my heart. Whenever mom would take me into a Christian bookstore, I’d scour fiction shelves for more Christian fantasy. After years of drought, I learned speculative fiction could only be found in secular stores.

After reading Schaeffer in my mid-twenties, I wondered why Christian publishers stopped using our genre’s obvious world-view strength. Other philosophers employed spec-fic shelves, how had we dropped-the-ball? Asimov, Heinlein and Leiber had taught me that speculative fiction grants total creative license of setting and character—make an issue believable to your reader, and it’s just part of the story. Narnia and Middle Earth now tasted too allegorical. Lewis’ Space Trilogy inspired me, but his prose was thirty years old. Entertaining spec-fic, in modern English—the perfect delivery system for providing new-believes with meat. I’d found my motivation.

RLM You’ve initiated or combined forces with others to publicize what you term bib-spec-fic. What are some of the steps you’ve taken?

FC: I have to smile. It’s not as organized as you make it sound. Even though we shared memberships a few news-groups, Daniel I. Weaver and I officially met six months ago. We shared ideas. Next thing you know, Dan’s founded a spec-fic critique group, I’ve formed the Lost Genre Guild, and we’re both included in the Light at the Edge of Darkness anthology. It’s been a blur. We’ve just been developing ideas and opportunities as they’ve appeared, and this is where He’s led us.

Two months ago it occurred to me how many debates I’ve seen about what Christian fiction should be. Do Christian authors glorify God through overt Biblical themes, or should we be writing general fiction-of-quality, and then credit Him as our Maker? As if God gave us all the same motivations, purposes, and gifts. As if one position were right and the other wrong. I don’t see this as an either-or proposition. Does the confusion center around the term Christian fiction? What if there were another term with which to create a distinction? Biblical fiction was born, and bib-spec-fic became a natural place to start.

RLM You mentioned the Lost Genre Guild. What is that and what are your goals for such an organization?

FC: The Lost Genre Guild is an organization through which authors of Christianity’s Lost Genre can promote our genre, and our fiction ministries. The LGG’s domain is still rough. Our tools are press releases, Web-forums, a list of endorsed works, group e-mail, the LGG blog, and a members’ database for promotion and networking. Membership is free, but we may eventually employ a publicist and require that published members pay a membership fee. The LGG will not seek to profit from this fee.

RLM You and I have talked about collaborating on a publication. Explain a little about what we’re hoping to put out.

FC: We envision a bib-spec-fic thumbnail of industry news, published author events, contests, conferences, and opportunities. We intend on keeping subscribers more genre-informed than they’d ever thought possible. That’s all for now, but keep your ears-on.

RLM In an ideal publishing world, what would you like to see for science fiction and fantasy written from a Biblical worldview?

FC: Speculative fiction is the best-selling secular fiction genre. Sci-fi has been called “the handmaiden of philosophy.” (Thought Probes, Fred D. Miller, Nicholas D. Smith, Prentice-Hall). We have a laser-sharp ministry tool, but none can free it from the stone. I understand that publishers make decisions based on risk and profit potential. Authors and fans are out there. I’d like to see the publisher that realizes our market niche, and fills it.

RLM: From your perspective, what’s the most important thing a Christian writer of speculative fiction should know?

FC: Two things. One: faith. Step-out in faith. Live at the intersection of your talent and passion. If you want assurances, open a savings account. If bib-spec-fic is your calling, do what He created you to do, and leave the rest to Him. If He’s with you, none can stand against.

Two: If this is your calling, learn the craft. Qualitative fiction of any genre will eventually break through. Easier said than done? No. Don’t need no library card, don’t need to buy books. Do it for the cost of your ISP. Seek out critique groups, join groups, and read posted critiques. When you find yourself learning from a critiquer, seek out their critiques of other works. There’s no faster way to learn the craft.

RLM: Thanks, Frank. I look forward to what God will accomplish as we work together.

If you’d like to take a look at Frank’s book review blog (where he posts for the CSFF Blog Tour), I’m sure he’d love to hear from you. Or leave questions here and I’ll see if I can convince him to stop by later to field them.

Part Two: How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From The Dead & Into The Light

You will travel for a long time, holding your two torches. You must not stray from the path and you must not pick the flowers. You may ask for help. You will ask the sun for direction and you will […]
| Nov 3, 2006 | No comments |

You will travel for a long time, holding your two torches. You must not stray from the path and you must not pick the flowers. You may ask for help. You will ask the sun for direction and you will ask the moon. (Shanoes, “How To Bring Someone Back From The Dead”)

What are your two torches, SF writer?

Your imagination. Your truth. One makes old things new. The other makes dead things revive.

Vivian Vande Velde took the old fairy tale of “Rumpelstiltzkin” and made a new thing in her story “Straw Into Gold.” (Find it in the collection titled TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM AND THE SISTERS WEIRD.) She added a kindly elf. She added a sense of humor. She kept the greedy royal and the straw that must be turned into gold or off with the head. But this story added something new from Vande Velde’s imagination: a happy ending that makes sense to a modern sensibility. Yes, an elf can walk between the particles of walls and stupid servants can’t get names right, but the miller’s daughter ends up taking her baby girl and leaving her forced and loveless marriage to the shallow, greedy king. She finds happiness with the generous, kind Rumpelstiltzkin, who sees the value of a girl-child and a destitute miller’s daughter, which is vaster than the worth of gold. This protagonist learned the lesson the original protagonist did not: No one can change straw into gold. Some things are just straw, and some things are gold. And sometimes you just have to know which is which.

In Scripture, straw is worthless and burns up. (That Bema Seat is HOT!) Gold is precious and can be refined, but not destroyed. It doesn’t burn up. A good, generous heart is gold and is precious. A greedy, vain one is straw, and has little worth.

I happen to prefer Vande Velde’s ending to the original, despite what some legalists might say about the whole marriage thing.

One could take a different tack: God can change straw to gold. That is a second torch proposition: a truth.

From that perspective, that starting point, we can develop a different variation of “Rumpelstiltzkin.” You can set it in the past, set it in the present, set it in the future, set it in an alternate reality or a fantasy or a sci-fi world, any world where shallow and vain people do, in fact, change due to…what?

What are the causes of such change from our believing perspective? Interaction with the virtuous? The movement of some eternal force into the heart? The hearing of strange, powerful words? That’s where your first torch, imagination, has to shine extra brightly. Anyone want to offer some ideas of how the avaricious king becomes a doting husband and father, unwilling to lose his child to the gold-spinning…what? Elf? Dwarf? Alien? Demon? Demi-god? Witch? Wizard? Elemental? Mad scientist? Alchemist?

Why is the gold needed? Why would a woman surrender her first-born? How does spiritual need manifest in this scenario, and is satisfied; and how do the moral questions that arise get answered in the drama (or comedy), so that we feel the second torch’s brilliance in our hearts when we reach the end?

“Perhaps you will have to make your way through thorns and brambles.
Perhaps the thorns will take out your eyes and you will not see anything at all. “

The fairy of Sleeping Beauty. The myth of Oedipus. Thorns and blindness. How do these converge?

Suppose you wanted to retell not just a fairy tale or a myth, but combine them and tell a hybrid tale, a chimera story?

What do they have in common? What do they teach?

In Sleeping Beauty, as I recall, the parents never seek to pacify the cursing fairy. Why? As a kid, that seemed the right thing to do. Say, “Sorry. We were afraid to invite you, but we were very rude not to.” Be nice to people who, when ticked off, can curse you, I say. The fairy was…bristly. Her pride got offended. Why did they not seek the remedy in apology, in redress of grievances of some sort ? No, they seek to bypass the consequence by ridding the kingdom of that which might harm the princess.

Oedipus attempts to avoid fulfilling a dreadful prophecy by leaving his city and family, rather than by doing what seems most logical to someone like me reading the tale: Never have sex at all, or at minimum not with anyone remotely older than you. Never raising your hand to kill anyone, especially anyone older than you. This would probably assure you don’t kill your dad and marry your mom, I’d think. But his solution is simply to think he can outwit fate by just..er…leaving his family.

We know they all failed. The princess pricks her finger. Oedipus does the nasty with mom and kills his pa.

So, the story could focus on a character who thinks his ability are greater than some prophecy, and rather than humbling himself to seek the advice of prophets and priests (or wise woman or oracle) or make atonement to an offended angel/divinity/sage/sorcerer.

All great tales have great lessons. Arachne’s pride led to her eventual spidery state. (Never mind that it seemed okay for Athena to be at least as proud and easily miffed. Greek gods and goddesses were not really terrific role models, what with all the fornicating and vengefulness.) Orpheus’ impatience and lack of trust lost him a second chance to regain his bride. The Witch Queen of the Snow White tale was so vain that it led to great evil actions and her downfall.

What does the Lord teach about pride? (Watch out! Fall ahead!) What do the gospels and epistles say about patience and trust in God’s promises? (Hades promised Orpheus could have Eurydice if he did not look back until he was clear of the underworld.) If Charm is deceitful and beauty vain…what has value? (Fear of the Lord, anyone?)

“Lead her out. Don’t look back…Give her one of your torches….Don’t worry if she doesn’t talk at first. Voices take a long time to come back.”

Orpheus only had one torch. You, believer-writer, have two: Imagination and truth. And you have one more: love of God. The third and brightest. Unlike Orpheus, you can bring the dead out into the light and make them breath again.

Eurydice was myth. Lazarus was history.

But we all yearn for resurrection. That’s a universal. We want to live.

What can you do to a myth, to a fairy tale, to make your SF story ring with the power of those archetypes and moral lessons? How can you make the relevant to the modern reader who, grown old and sarcastic and cynical, doesn’t believe in the tales of her youth, but who, deep down, wants to believe again in princes who will not be stopped by dangers until the princess is kissed and won, and in wives who will wear out one, two, three pairs of iron shoes searching the world for their lost husbands, undaunted until each holds her man again, liberating them all from painful enchantment?

We all want to be set free and we all want to be loved. More universals to consider.

Will you make Eurydice a chatterbox (instead of a silent spirit tugged along by her husband’s undying desire), one who kind of had a crush on Hades, so she’d really rather Orpheus just got on with his life, since it was “til death do us part, dear.” That’s a truth, too. Love can survive death, but marriage does not.

Find your voice. It’s yours. Look at your truths. Be guided by your love of the eternal. Those torches will illuminate for you the form YOUR tales must take.
I hope I got your imagination torch flaring. I hope you write a wonder tale/myth-based story with all your torches ablaze this week. (Unless you’re NaNo-ing, then wait til Dec. 1.)

Question for the coming weeks of this series: What myth inspired a novel by C.S. Lewis? How did he change it to write the truth he needed to tell? What fairy tale(s) are closely linked to this same myth? Ravens? What have ravens to do with anything?

Next Week: Part Three of How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From The Dead & Into The Light

Teaser: Do not throw stones at ravens. 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.

Focusing on The Redemptive

The complaint is often made that “Christian” novels, SF/F ones included, are too full of conversion scenes. As believers, it’s only natural that we like conversion scenes, to a certain extent—they remind us of our own experience, even help us […]
| Nov 2, 2006 | No comments |

The complaint is often made that “Christian” novels, SF/F ones included, are too full of conversion scenes. As believers, it’s only natural that we like conversion scenes, to a certain extent—they remind us of our own experience, even help us keep our own fresh by seeing how others make their journey to belief in Christ.

Are conversions becoming too common? Or is it that the ones we read in popular Christian fiction made common because belief comes too “easy” … and we know that in real life, easy belief is sometimes no belief at all.

It’s my thought that it takes more than a conversion scene to make a Christian novel. For a while now I’ve been contemplating the shift in my perceptions about what is acceptable to me as a Christian and what is not. I realized slowly that it’s more than the absence of “bad” language, excessive violence, and explicit sexual content—as I’ve tried to explain with some frustration to one film company that strives to be family friendly, but still retains other elements that I find less-than-wonderful.

That isn’t to say that I don’t find much objectionable content—objectionable. But I’ve learned to look beyond it in certain works, to find the redemptive.

I looked up the meaning of the word:

redemptive – Serving or tending to redeem; redeeming; as, the redemptive work of Christ.

redemption – the act of purchasing back something previously sold; (Christianity) the act of delivering from sin or saving from evil

So … a comprehensive definition of redemptive could be something that delivers from sin or saves from evil.

I’ve already touched on how what one person sees as redemptive might not be what another does, but it has been an eye-opening experience to consciously look for the redemptive in various things I watch and read, rather than focus on the “ick.” And isn’t that the essence of Philippians 4:8, focusing on the true and honorable and virtuous?

Of course, that probably isn’t news to longtime SF/F, but it was a neat, new way to view things, for me.

Later, I hope to visit particular films or books and look at what I found redemptive about them.

Why I Read Fantasy

This is the third day of the CSFF blog tour highlighting the Christian webzine Dragons Knights and Angels, which features Christian short fiction and poetry in the speculative fiction genre. If you’ve not had a chance to investigate it, I […]
| Nov 1, 2006 | No comments |

This is the third day of the CSFF blog tour highlighting the Christian webzine Dragons Knights and Angels, which features Christian short fiction and poetry in the speculative fiction genre. If you’ve not had a chance to investigate it, I encourage you to do so. I plan to do just that, myself — as soon as I have turned in the final draft of my work in progress, Return of the Guardian King, last book in my Guardian King series, due… um… yesterday. Since things are not going as I had hoped or anticipated, neither with the events in my life nor with the events in Abramm’s… my editor has given me an extension. So now it’s due next week.

Unfortunately, my post for the month here at Speculative Faith is due today. Alas, what should I write?  I have a number of partial ideas, but no extra time or brain cells to develop them now, so I’ve decided to post a piece I wrote up some time ago that I include when I mail out bookmarks and also sometimes provide to bookstores and libraries, called “Why I Read Fantasy.” (Some of you will have read a slightly longer version of it on my website, and on my blog) It echoes some of the sentiments other posters on this blog have expressed when asked the question why they read and write speculative fiction, and I think adds a few additional elements. I offer it now because I continue to be perplexed by people who claim to dislike the genre, having never read it. What better time for a reminder than during a blog tour? Several Christians — and even a bookstore owner — to whom I have given this, responded in surprise, saying they never would have realized there could be such parallels to the Christian life in fantasy had it not been pointed out. I wonder how many others are like that.

Why I Read Fantasy

The Lord of the Rings, The Song of Albion, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, The Wheel of Time, The Farseer Trilogy, Watership Down, The Prydain Chronicles, The Sword of Shannara,  The Belgariad, The Chronicles of Narnia… All are well-known, well-loved fantasy series, many of them my personal favorites. Why do I love to read Fantasy? Because, of all the genres, I think fantasy, by its very nature, most leans toward illustrating important spiritual truths. Even secular fantasies do so—in rather great numbers—despite the fact it is sometimes obvious their writers had little intention of doing so

The typical fantasy is epic, involving great battles for freedom, even for the survival of the world—concerns that overreach the mundane and petty details of day to day life. These battles almost always involve the supernatural forces of evil at war with the supernatural forces of good, usually in a visibly manifest conflict that parallels the invisible supernatural war believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are involved in on earth. Knowing about this battle and our place in it gives our lives meaning and purpose. Even if we must engage in mundane activities, we can know that they have great significance in the unseen war.  Of all the genres, fantasy is the only one that acknowledges the existence of this battle, and for that reason I would claim it is in some ways more representative of reality than more “realistic” stories which, if anything, tend to convey the message that it doesn’t exist.

As there are always certain characters who possess the ability to discern the presence/approach of evil forces in a fantasy story—and defend against them—so Christians, through the filling of the Holy Spirit and the serious, daily study of the Word of God, acquire the ability to discern and defend against the supernatural forces of evil in our own world. Evil which is far more pervasive and subtle than people generally think. The devil, after all, “has deceived the whole world,” is the Prince of the powers of the air, and walks about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. He is a master counterfeiter, appearing as an angel of light, sending out counterfeit ministers who teach people how to be righteous (!) and in so
doing keeps most people completely ignorant of his schemes. And he delights in using the most mundane details of a believer’s life to bring him down.  And just as in many fantasy stories, he will succeed if the believer doesn’t recognize what’s going on and work to fight against it.

The frequent presence of kings and other royalty in fantasy stories is another aspect of fantasy that I enjoy. This set-up provides an obvious metaphor for our relationship with the Lord, and illustrates not only the humility and devotion required of those who serve the king, but also the responsibilities and self-sacrifice required of the king himself. Contrasting characters show the pitfalls of refusing to submit to the rightful authority, and the destructive power of having authority and abusing it. The use of characters who have royal blood also reminds us of our own status as kings and lords in the royal family of God.

Fantasy themes typically include loyalty, courage, self-sacrifice, and the need to be ever vigilant in fighting against the forces of evil. Because fantasy worlds tend to be modeled on our own historical past and their storylines focused on issues higher than any one person’s self-absorbed goals, the characters and societies, at least the good ones, tend to have more respect for virtue and honor, and so cultivate a higher standard of morality.

Best of all, fantasy novels are almost always about great heroes, which I see as illustrative of our Lord, the greatest hero of all.  Courage, confidence, humility, self-sacrifice, virtue, perseverance, love—the qualities of a hero reflect our Lord’s character. They are also the qualities to which we ourselves should all aspire since we have been designed by God to be heroes just like Him in the unseen battle in which we fight. Especially significant to me is the fact that being a hero always exacts a price.

Often the hero is presented in the context of a journey which echoes that of our Savior’s. He typically begins the story as a menial of unknown parentage (often turning out to be a king’s son) who suddenly comes to realize not only that there is a great battle raging—or is about to break out—in his world, but that he has a calling upon his life to fight in it. He also discovers in himself unusual abilities that will be required to win it. After enduring many trials and difficulties (the cross before the crown) the hero and his followers  succeed in defeating the evil and delivering the realm. Justice prevails and the rule of good triumphs, as will eventually occur in our own world.

All of those principles I see as having important bearing on my own life, and I love to see them play out in the different ways authors choose to develop them. I love heroes, love following them through their journeys. They always make me think of my Lord, and often give me new ways to relate to Him. Finally, I love using the imagination God has given me to create in my own mind the fabulous and fascinating realms that others have devised for their stories.  Not only is it just plain fun, it also provides ways of looking at spiritual truths from angles I might not have considered before.

With echoes of the Savior’s life and character, stories that remind me of who I am and why I am here, and themes that provoke thoughts of God’s sovereignty, justice and love—why would I not love to read Fantasy? Add in the elements of suspense, mystery, action and romance that characterize many fantasies, and how could I not recommend the genre to one and all?

The Original Problem

It has been said that there are only thirty-six basic plots in existence, that there is nothing new under the son, that everything has been done before. This can cause issues for both readers and writers who are always looking […]
| Oct 31, 2006 | No comments |

It has been said that there are only thirty-six basic plots in existence, that there is nothing new under the son, that everything has been done before. This can cause issues for both readers and writers who are always looking for the next great, original story. One that takes them places they’ve never been before (or at least takes the familiar and skews it in a different way).

I think the main key of originality is to stop worrying so much about being completely original. For an example of the same premise being written originally by many different authors check out What the Wind Picked Up. It isn’t speculative fiction, but it does prove a point. YOU are a key factor in making any writing done original, the fact is no-one can write a story the same way that you have.

But there is also another way to ensure being original.

Don’t just go with the first idea that pops into your head when something is coming up.  Take that idea and look at it carefully, then see how you can twist the conventional thoughts on those into something believable yet uncommon.

Do this with your characters, your plot points, your ultimate goals. Even if you are writing a basic heroes journey tale with a young, farming lad pulled into a quest to wield an ancient artifact and save the world. Finding little twists to make on the characters and trusting your own instinct will provide a work that is unique.

And don’t be afraid to read widely in the genres, you won’t suddenly pick up all of the unoriginal ideas and have them bleed into your writing, but you’ll come to recognize the conventions that are becoming cliché’ and maybe think of interesting ways to twist them.

There will always be parallels and similarities within the works of those raised in the same culture with the same artistic influences and grand social experiences.  But it is the details that make one work just a mimic of an older tale, and one that forges new territory.

CSFF Blog Tour—DKA Stories and Fantasy Classifications

Our October CSFF Blog Tour features something new—the science fiction and fantasy e-zine, Dragons, Knights, and Angels (DKA). Such a publication offers stories and poems that can satisfy the speculative desires of the busy reader who does not have time […]
| Oct 30, 2006 | No comments |

Our October CSFF Blog Tour features something new—the science fiction and fantasy e-zine, Dragons, Knights, and Angels (DKA). Such a publication offers stories and poems that can satisfy the speculative desires of the busy reader who does not have time for a full-length novel.

I thought it might be interesting to look at some of these stories in light of our discussion of types of fantasy. First, I need to complete the descriptions. I am using the categories established by Philip Martin, editor of The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature. Last Monday we looked at High Fantasy, Adventure Fantasy, and Fairy Tales. There are two more.

Magic Realism. I think of this as Twilight Zone-type fantasy. Martin’s description: “Magic realism produces stories in which magical things happen, often unexpectedly, in the midst of very realistic, everyday settings and events … In these stories magic is more likely to act as an independent character than as a tool used by other characters.”

He points out the varied nature of this type of fantasy. Some stories infuse the ordinary with the fantastic, often crossing over into modern mainstream fiction, though they clearly depend on the central tropes of fantasy: good versus evil and magic. Some magic realism reveals the magical as good. In other stories, it is what causes the character’s downfall as he follows his base desires. Often the distinction between dreams and reality is murky at best.

Martin again:

In magic realism, abstract thoughts and concepts become real. Something intangible is given sudden visible form … One writer suggested that Tolkien fantasy is inherently Protestant, with its reliance on the profound meaning of each individual’s actions. Magic realism on the other hand is more Catholic, with its belief in magical transformation from outside, mysterious powers. In any case, magic realism is fantasy, but one in which the key rules are often invisible to the humans involved.

Dark Fantasy. Again, within this classification there are numerous sub-categories: horror, gothic, dark satire, urban, vampire, and ghost stories.

Martin makes an interesting statement about horror, that I wonder whether it applies to all the dark fantasy:

It’s roots lie in ancient tales wherein the matter of curses is closely linked t religion and taboos. Doing something wrong is bound to lead to awful consequences. These stories are morality plays: often the plot hinges on unraveling the mystery of just what was done wrong—and on discovering the manner in which this can be corrected or reversed. Horror explores the consequences of misguided action, just as the Old Testament of the Bible explores the sometimes horrific consequences of what happens to those who transgress the law.

Does any other genre offer such a varied tapestry? No two fantasy stories have to look alike, and I suggest that fewer and fewer Christian fantasies resemble the large successes of the past.

Take a look at the stories in the most recent issue of DKA, for example. In fact, it might be sort of fun to read these stories in light of Philip Martin’s classifications to see where you might place them.

If you’re game, why not start with “Cold Dragons,” by TW Williams. Read it, then come back here and leave a comment. I’ll enter your name in Mirtika Schultz ’s contest, with the winner receiving a free five-page critique from DKA’s poetry editor.

Which reminds me. Be sure to check out the other blogs participating in this month’s tour:

  • Jim Black
  • Jackie Castle
  • Valerie Comer
  • Frank Creed
  • Kameron M. Franklin
  • Beth Goddard
  • Todd Michael Greene
  • Leathel Grody
  • Karen Hancock
  • Elliot Hanowski
  • Katie Hart
  • Sherrie Hibbs
  • Joleen Howell
  • Jason Joyner
  • Karen and at Karen’s myspace
  • Oliver King
  • Tina Kulesa
  • Lost Genre Guild
  • Kevin Lucia
  • Rachel Marks
  • Shannon McNear
  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
  • Caleb Newell
  • John Otte
  • Cheryl Russel
  • Mirtika Schultz
  • Stuart Stockton
  • Steve Trower
  • How To Bring Myths and Fairy Tales Back From The Dead And Into The Light: Part One

    If you’re scratching your head wondering, “Um, where’s part two of that soul-opening spec-fic thing she was gonna do?”—yes, yes, sorry. I was supposed to continue with that today. However, I’ve not written something that satisfies me enough to post […]
    | Oct 27, 2006 | No comments |

    If you’re scratching your head wondering, “Um, where’s part two of that soul-opening spec-fic thing she was gonna do?”—yes, yes, sorry. I was supposed to continue with that today. However, I’ve not written something that satisfies me enough to post with delight and confidence, so I have to defer the next installments until after NANO. I plan to be on automatic pilot for the next month. I will resume the very difficult subject of the quest to write soul-opening spec-fic in December. I hope that also gives time for some more people to weigh in. The discussion on it was not as muscular as I had hoped. And I do prefer to have more input.

    So, with an apology for postponing that until a later date, I hope that today’s subject does not disappoint. I happen to believe this is one legitimate way to write soul-opening speculative fiction. So, really, it’s not that far afield.

    (It’s also possible I’ll get guest posters for November. I’m assuming I’ll be Nano-Brain-Fried. If you’ve been itching to post on a particular topic here at Speculative Faith, but have been afraid to ask, ask me. I don’t bite.)

    Now, this day’s topic: How To Bring Myths and Fairy Tales Back From The Dead And Into  The  Light, Part One.

    I have to give Veronica Schanoes credit for inspiring that title. I thank her and Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling and Tanith Lee for the work they’ve done in the last 20+ years, work that awakened me tot he power of the retold tale of wonder. (Fairy tales are sometimes referred to as wonder tales, since fairies are not often actually part of said tales.)

    Stylistically, I will be using quotes from Schanoes’ exquisite, allusive, poetic story titled “How To Bring Someone Back Fromthe Dead.” The link takes you to its glorious entirety in the Autumn 2004 edition of the high-quality Journal of the Mythic Arts. I will also refer to one of my favorite fairytale/wonder tale retellings, a Snow White transformed by Tanith Lee called “Red As Blood.” (If you do not own a copy of RED AS BLOOD: TALES FROM THE SISTERS GRIMMER, then you need to eBay or amazon.com or google yourself up a copy ASAP. Brilliant.)

    And so we begin:

    “It hurts tocome back from the dead. And it hurts to bring someone back from the dead.”

    Myths and fairy tales are meant to be repeated, told often, told again. The lesson is always there to be learned. A caution against laziness or vanity or transgressing the laws of divinity or king.. An insight into dark human dealings. A lament over dysfunctional families and the strength needed to overcome early tragedy. A goad to the straggler to continue the quest for identity and truth and rewards. A comfort to the poor and unwanted who dream of being somebody: a beauty hidden in an ash heap, a cloaked princess laboring as a scullery maid, a longsuffering soldier disguised as a filthy vagabond.

    Fairy tales are ripe for reconstruction. Those of us who love speculative fiction would be foolish not to mine the riches of this mountain. Fairy tales let you explore morality without hip sarcasm. You can be earnest, and yet not seem preachy or sappy, because the tales already come loaded with right and wrong. Here’s a place that lets you have a moral and have it unabashedly. Do you want a romantic, happy ending—this is your kingdom. Do you want to explore the fight of the good against the wicked, of men against demons and devils, of the wise versus the foolish: This ground gives birth to such stories.

    But whatever is often told and told and told the same way becomes a tad stale, loses some color, loses some life—at least until a new generation is born and grows old enough to hear them with fresh ears. So, let’s bring them back from the dead.  It’s hard work. It may hurt. But Christians believe in the value of resurrection, and more, in the necessity of it. Things ache to live again. Stories do, too

    “The woods will be the only real place. That is why you must bring bright colors with you-dressing all in black is a mistake. . . .  Do not let the person you want to bring back drink your blood…. She is young and she has cherry-red lips and hair black as the raven’s wing.”

    If, when, you read Schanoes story, you will bump against one allusion to myth and fairy tale after another. They come at you fast and strong, bright feathers flapping. Above she mentions the woods. (The play by Sondheim may come to mind: INTO THE WOODS.)
    Why is the “woods” the only real place?

    Because things that speak of mortal and eternal truths dwell there, and have dwelt there for millenia,  and tales that teach the most important lessons wander there, along with  Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Bearskin, the Devil, Pan, Diana the Huntress, centaurs and trolls. The Green Man peers out of the oldest trees in the woods. Nymphs and fairies gambol among the wildflowers. Elves build cities there, and men seek them out. Owls speak and the moon takes a nap in the branches. Unicorns ride and dwarves traipse to their mines in there, whistling, on the way to work. Princesses get lost there,only to be found and fed. The Months of the Year drink wine and tell stories there.

    Woods can be friendly or menacing, nurturing or destructive. Everything is vivid and everything matters in the woods.

    Now, how can you bring the stories once more to life, clothing them brightly for a new generation with the all the colors of the living God who hangs a rainbow in the sky for a sign?

    You have to go as deep as you dare into the woods of these tales. There you find a character that no one noticed before hiding and watching Rapunzel…for what reason? And who is Rapunzel, anyway? Why does her hair grow that long? Why does a witch care for her and isolate her? What the heck kind of hair products does she use?

    There you find a villain with secrets and deeds with consequences? Why does the Devil want that soldier’s soul more than anyone else’s? Why does he hide his gold in the forest in that tree? Why is picking a rose such a dangerous thing for a merchant? Why was that Beast Prince so cruel? Why were the stepsisters so greedy and mean? Why are the fathers so dang stupid? Or were they? Were they cunning and egotistical and covering it up with sham affection? Was Beauty a clever plotter and her stepsisters maligned? Was the Beast a pervert punished for bestiality? Were the flowers plucked murder, because each flower was actually an unborn child’s soul?

    The woodsman’s magic axe says, “Ask questions. Ask questions you’re afraid to ask. Only then will you get answers that matter.”

    There you find a quest or a conflict or a fear or a love. There you find the truth that begs to be dug up. Don’t tell the tale in the tired old way.  God says a sing a new song. I say write a new tale of the woods and the woodsmen.

    Take Snow White. Or rather, take Tanith Lee’s take on her in “Red As Blood”:

    Speculum, speculum,” said the Witch Queen to the magic mirror. “Dei gratia.”

    Volente Deo, Audio.”

    “Mirror,” said the Witch Queen. “Whom do you see?”

    “I see you, mistress,” replied the mirror. “And all in the land, but one.”

    The mirror does not see Bianca (meaning white), because this version of Snow White is not a lovely, innocent, good, witch-hounded princess, but rather a vampiress.And vampires don’t have reflections in mirrors, right? So a central item in the familiar Snow White tale—the mirror that only sees Snow White—is now a mirror that doesn’t see her at all. Total turnaround. Her pale skin, black hair, and red lips fit the Goth-Vamp ideal. Her lips are red because she drinks blood. Her teeth are sharp. Her skin shows the consummate palor of the undead.

    Snow isn’t the only one transformed in the retelling: The seven dwarves become seven black, gnarled, enchanted trees that do her malevolent bidding. The witch queen is a good witch who goes to church and reads the Bible and tries to bring Snow White into the faith of Christ to save her from her curse.

    And even the prince who is Snow White’s true love changes, becomes the Ultimate Prince, the one who not only gives literal life to the beloved, but transforms the vampires to a thing no longer black with sin, no longer red with blood-thirst, but totally white. Christ rides in and changes Bianca first to a pure dove—white, and only white—a dove that flies back in time and across thewoods, back to the palace, back to her childhood, back to the good Stepmother (another turn of convention) who hangs a  gold cross about Bianca’s young neck. She gets a second chance. The whole kingdom does. And so it ends with the Witch Queen asking the mirror whom he sees:

    “I see you, mistress,” replied the mirror. “And all the land. I see Bianca.”

    I get very moved by that redemptive ending and that beautiful last line.

    Look, you, yourself. Look closely at Cinderella and at Beauty with her Beast and at the Little Mermaid and Rumpelstiltskin and the Seven Swans with the eyes of faith and full of godly truth, what do you see in those stories? What gaps need to be filled? What elements can be changed to retell it with more depth, more characterization? How can these characters be given a faith dimension and not just a “moral”one? How can redemption line up more closely with the redemption that involves blood, thorns, lashes, spears, sacrifice, death, resurrection, return?

    You don’t have to have a Christ, but Lee’s story shows you can, if you do it well. And, okay, if you do it first. Fairy tales have good princes and handsome bridegrooms, and Christ isthe Bridegroom and the Prince of Peace. How can you make our truth work in the forest of myth and the woods of wonder tales without being trite or tired or flat?

    Go into the woods, Christian, and rearrange the burrows and copses. Paint the wildflowers in new colors. Teach a new song to the birds and put wiser advice in the mouth of the owl. Change the owl to something else. A girl become owl. A boy become wind. A mother become the moon or the sun or the water in the well. And ask why? Why must this be so? What truth makes it so? Give the wolves new names. Face off with the witch in a way no one expects. Redeem the stepmother and the witch.

    Go into the woods.

    NextWeek: Part Two of How To Bring Myths and Fairy Tales Back From The Dead And Into The Light:

    Teaser:

    “Perhaps you will have to make your way through thorns and brambles.

    Perhaps the thorns will take out your eyes and you will not see anything at all. “