Mission Report, April 11–13, Lorehaven at Teach Them Diligently in Waco

Again our belief is proven true: many new fans for excellent Christian-made fantastical novels are out there.
| Apr 16, 2019 | 9 comments | Series:

Team Lorehaven has returned from the Teach Them Diligently homeschooling conference in Waco, Texas last weekend.

Our booth featured writer Marian Jacobs, creative relations Lacy Rhiannon (my wife), and myself (publisher/editor).

We met dozens of families. Usually we asked them, “Hi! Do you all like to read?”

Most people said, “Oh yes.” A few said, “Yes, but don’t have as much time as I’d like.”

I’d say perhaps 70 percent said something like, “Yes, but my children are reading like crazy. And far above their reading level. I can’t keep up!”

Then we shared our mission: Lorehaven finds truth in fantastic stories.

  • Free to subscribe online.
  • You get magazines each season.
  • Print copies are sold at special events.
  • Each issue has 12+ reviews of new Christian fantasy.
  • Also: articles from trusted voices about biblical fiction discernment.
  • We give away free resources, such as bookmarks with tips to discern and explore stories.

Some parents politely nodded or said merely, “Thank you,” before moving on.

But for each one of these less-interested folks, three other parents or students immediately got our mission.

We shared favorite stories. We asked parents what their kids love to read.

And we kept hearing people say things like, “I’m so glad you guys are doing this. There’s such a need!”

Frankly, this encouraged my heart all over again. Until you get out there, and talk to real people, you never really know if this whole “Christians asking one another for good Christian-made fantastical stories” thing is just a strung-out internet fad.1

But yes. Again our belief is proven true: many new fans for excellent Christian-made fantastical novels are out there.

They’re chasing biblical truth. They’re seriously investing in their children’s learning. And they’re training their children to read–not just to read the Bible, or biographies, or textbooks, but to read imaginative fantastical novels.2

We talked to so many people that I couldn’t take specific notes. And yet . . .

Fantastic Christian fans to remember

  • The woman with three children (seen here). They absolutely loved our fantasy creatures, and eagerly drew amazing, imaginative pictures.
  • A young woman (age 20, I believe) who’d grown up loving fantasy novels. Including Harry Potter. We signed her up for a subscription under the pseudonym “Mermaid Queen.” (Yes, you can also subscribe for free with a fictional name! We won’t judge you.)
  • The woman who strode up to the booth and almost immediately said, “Oh yes! You’re Lorehaven. Your magazine reviews Christian fantasy and sci-fi novels.” She’d met us first with Realm Makers Bookstore in Fort Worth, the previous month. She hadn’t signed up then, but she did this time.
  • A man I’ll call “D&D Dad” who asked if I’d ever played the RPG. Thanks to that one late-night introduction at my wife’s family’s house last Thanksgiving, I could tell him yes! We had such a great conversation. Later he prayed for my wife’s and my own future foster-parenting.
  • So many Lord of the Rings fans, and fluent in the finer points of Middle-earth’s origin and mythology.
  • The young couple who really geeked out. And showed us photos they’d taken of a huge Greatest Showman–themed homeschool prom in Dallas, where they’d taken photos.
  • The mother of six children, including two teens, most of whom love fantasy.
  • Another mother of several fantasy-fan daughters! Their oldest girl signed up. Her pseudonym: “Magical Unicorn.”
  • For balance: The other large-family mother who passed by and kindly replied, “Yes, we like to read. But based on the way you’re dressed, probably not what you’re offering.” (Ha ha! Well, it’s only a matter of time. Fantastical stories will eventually appeal to the heart of at least one of your children. Then the only question is: will you be prepared?)
  • And, finally, the mother who’d stopped by earlier but dashed up just as we were packing up the booth. She subscribed! And got a free bookmark.

Next stops: Cincinnati and Realm Makers 2019

As we grow the magazine, and possibly add new items such as books, we’ll be able to visit more locations.

Later this month, I’ll represent Lorehaven at Great Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati. I’ll be there from Friday to Saturday, April 26–27, rejoining our friends with the Realm Makers Bookstore. (The event actually begins Thursday, April 25.) We’re featuring great books, all by Christian authors, in fantasy, sci-fi, and other fantastical genres.

In July, we’ll feature Lorehaven again at the annual Realm Makers conference, returning to St. Louis July 18–20.

Please pray for us. This remains a big step. And it’s a big investment of time and resources for many of Speculative Faith’s creatives.

Of course, if you’re an author or publisher wanting to share your story with new fans, advertise with us.3

Either way, know and rejoice: In an age of closing bookstores and creative skeptics, Christian fantasy’s best days are happily ahead.

Further up and further in!

Stephen

  1. Or if this is just a theory that everyone who wants to be a Writer talks about, in the hopes that their story (alone?) will hit it big and Save Us All.
  2. You skeptics out there (you know who you are): let’s stop even gently making fun of Christian homeschoolers. They’re not backward. In fact, we are, if we insist on fun-house-mirroring all of them in the image of memories from decades ago. Just as Christian fantasy (yes, even with the Christian label) is not just cheap allegories designed to call the reader toward an unseen altar, so homeschoolers are not just legalistic neo-cultists raising their boys for the farm and their girls for the boys.
  3. As a free online magazine, Lorehaven is entirely advertiser-supported. You can advertise in print (and also on the magazine’s online version). You can also choose to feature ads on non-subscriber sections of the website, such as these very Speculative Faith articles.

Are Stories Of Sacrifice Always Stories of Christ?

In most cases, the connection between the sacrificing hero and Christ seems tangible. He willingly puts his life on the line so that another may go free.
| Apr 15, 2019 | 4 comments |

Do all stories of sacrifice point to Jesus Christ? I mean, clearly His sacrifice is the central tenet of Christianity. In His death He bore our sins; by His stripes we are healed; through His resurrection power, we are raised to newness of life.

But in stories, are all sacrifices re-telling, in miniature, this same old story upon which our salvation hinges?

Some of the classic fantasy stories have been tied to Christ’s sacrifice: Aslan in Narnia, Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter in Harry Potter.

But there are any number of other stories that also contain a self-sacrificing hero. Katniss in Hunger Games, for example when she went to the games in place of her sister. The hero in Sally Apokadak’s The Button Girl, who appears to sacrifice himself for the king. Shannon Dittmore’s hero in Angel Eyes, and on and on. In most cases, the connection between the sacrificing hero and Christ seems tangible. He willingly puts his life on the line so that another may go free.

I’ve explored this topic of sacrifice and Christ-figures before. Perhaps more pertinent is Shannon McDermmot’s article “What Isn’t Christian Fiction” in which she says

I’ve heard of a lot of Christ-figures in famous fantasy, whether Gandalf or Harry Potter or Aslan. They usually aren’t; Aslan is the exception that proves the rule. A heroic death, followed by resurrection, holds scant parallel to Christ’s death and resurrection. In the first place, the evil Christ died to save us from was our own; this is rarely echoed even in fantasy’s heroic deaths. In the second, there is nothing extraordinary about resurrection in science fiction and especially in fantasy. Characters in fantasy novels are like witches in Narnia: You can always get them back.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if the “magic” of bringing a character back isn’t in many ways the same magic of spring: the plant dies in the winter, only to come back in newness of life the following spring.

In those cases, though, there is no sacrifice—only death and resurrection. The issue of sacrifice seems more determinative to me in identifying the work of Christ. After all, Easter isn’t just the miracle of Christ coming out of the grave. He didn’t die of old age and then gain new life as an example to us what our future holds.

Before resurrection came sacrifice. Christ died to do what we could not do for ourselves. He died as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Perhaps the earliest picture that pointed to Christ was God killing an animal to provide covering for the sinful pair in the garden.

Clearly sacrifice and death are tied together when it comes to what Christ did for us, but perhaps in fiction the whole story doesn’t have to be represented. Perhaps an aspect—a sacrifice that isn’t a death—can still point to Christ.

I’m not a comic book person or a fan of superhero stories, but the little I’ve gleaned about various stories (or movies I’ve seen), lead me to believe that sacrifice is a centerpiece in many. As E. Stephen Burnett wrote in “Thunders Of ‘Thor’ Echo Biblical Truths, Part 2.”

Naturally this [Thor’s self-sacrifice to save the lives of innocents] reminds me of Christ. Any hero who sacrifices himself to save others will do that. It’s part of the all truth is God’s truth that can get into even pagan mythologies.

Pagan mythologies, Christian fiction, secular fantasy. What about science fiction or horror? Again, my knowledge of those genres is thin. Was Luke Skywalker a Christ figure when he took his ship into a dogfight he had no business winning in an attempt to destroy the Death Star? Was Hans Solo a representative of Christ when he gave up his will to leave the fight and go back to save Luke? Or how about Spock when he apparently dies, only to return in a later Star Trek movie?

Aren’t all these stories echoes of the Greatest Story ever told?

No, they don’t give the details (except perhaps for C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe), but in the same way that spring points to the promise of new life, don’t these stories of sacrifice point to the sacrifice that makes a difference for all time, for every person?

Perhaps Easter is the best time of year to read a great novel, one that portrays a hero’s sacrifice.

WHEN DREAMS GO TO SLEEP: The Story of Stormrise

JILLIAN BOEHME is known to the online writing community as Authoress, hostess of Miss Snark’s First Victim, a blog for aspiring authors.
| Apr 12, 2019 | 4 comments |

Our guest blog this week, part of our From The Writers’ Tool Chest resources, is an article by soon-to-be published YA fantasy author Jillian Boehme. Her first published novel, Stormrise, will come out with Tor Teen in September.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Once upon a time, I swore I couldn’t write novels.

It’s funny, isn’t it, the stories we tell ourselves? I self-published a non-fiction book in 2002—a collection of anecdotal stories about stay-at-home motherhood—and was convinced I was an essayist and nothing more. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being an essayist. It just . . . wasn’t really me.)

Then one day I read a children’s novel and absolutely hated it—and had the notion that I could, perhaps, do better. Fiction was, after all, my go-to for reading pleasure. Especially fantasy.

So I wrote a YA fantasy novel, and oh, what a glorious mess it was. I didn’t realize it was a mess, though, and I gleefully passed chapter after chapter to my two oldest children, who devoured it and created fan art and GIFS and wrote letters to my characters. Just the fuel a write-at-home mom needs to keep the literary fire burning, yes?

I wasn’t just writing, though; I was researching the publishing industry. At the time, electronic submissions were new, and not many agents accepted them. My first stack of rejection letters was comprised of honest-to-goodness paper and envelopes. (I keep them in my bedside drawer tied with a red ribbon.)

I wrote a second novel. And a third. In 2008, I started Miss Snark’s First Victim, a blog for aspiring authors. It was a wonderful way to connect with the vibrant community of writers online, offering them encouragement and advice while continuing to press forward with my own journey. The in-house critique sessions and Secret Agent Contests (with a “secret” guest agent critiquing each entry and offering requests to the winners) created an environment in which participants were not only growing as writers, but also were landing agents—and eventually book deals.

Imagine the headiness of watching other people’s success unfolding as a result of the blog! And imagine the sense, as the months and years continued to pass, of being left behind, as my colleagues went on to publish their debut novels while I continued to despair of ever landing an agent.

Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I declared that I was giving up (my husband never let me get away with that one). But always I kept going. Kept writing. Kept dreaming.

After five (long) years, I finally signed with an agent, who had fallen in love with my YA science fiction novel and was eager to sell it.

He didn’t. We submitted a different novel. That one didn’t sell, either. Neither did the third. As time wore on, friends and colleagues started to counsel me to leave him. “The wrong agent is worse than no agent at all,” they would say. “He’s not selling you; move on.”

I really loved this guy, though. And every time I asked God if I should leave my agent and find a new one, the answer in my deepest heart was “no.”

So I stayed.

Midway through my time with him, my agent hired an assistant who became involved with the editing process of my novels. I loved her immediately! She was bright and talented and very soon began to take on clients of her own. By this time, I was on my fourth novel-on-submission (which also didn’t sell). My new manuscript was a YA fantasy, and I was concerned that my agent wouldn’t be a good fit for it—he didn’t represent fantasy.

His assistant, however, did. And so I asked him, over a sushi lunch in New York City, if perhaps Danielle could take over my next project. He gave me an enthusiastic yes, and several months later, with a completed draft in hand, my relationship with Danielle was formalized.

Five years and four unsold novels later, I was ready for a fresh start. My season of waiting wasn’t over, though; the YA fantasy didn’t sell, either, bringing my unsold total to five.

Not a very impressive track record. And an interesting thing happened at this point: I stopped dreaming.

I didn’t stop writing. I didn’t stop doing everything I needed to do to make sure my next novel was the best it could be. But the wild-hearted hope for a book sale—and a future as a published author—had died. Instead, I plugged on with the doggedness of someone who keeps going because there’s nothing else to do. Quitting was never an option.

Never.

And the novel I wrote without dreaming was the one that sold. Danielle cried more than I did during the big phone call; I think I was too stunned to feel the moment.

Twelve years. Two agents. Five unsold novels.

Honestly? I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything. Over the lifetime of my blog (which I still run), many of my readers were encouraged to keep writing—to never give up—because I kept writing and never gave up. And, let’s be honest—it’s harder to walk away from something when people are watching you, cheering you on, waiting to celebrate your success with you.

I’m thankful for who I am because of this (long!) journey; I’m thankful that I can look other writers in the eye and say, “If I could keep writing for twelve years, you can keep writing for another day.” Because it was always one day at a time, one paragraph at a time, one story at a time.

Now? I’m living my dream—the one that had to die so I could be about the business of writing without emotional encumbrance. Though, really, I suppose it never actually died. Just went to sleep for a while.

Is your dream sleeping? Give it a gentle poke. Your gifts, no matter what they are, were planted in you for a purpose. Making the decision not to give up will be so worth it.

I promise.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Author Bio

Jillian Boehme, AKA Authoress, proprietor of the writers’ blog, Miss Snark’s First Victim

JILLIAN BOEHME is known to the online writing community as Authoress, hostess of Miss Snark’s First Victim, a blog for aspiring authors. In real life, she holds a degree in Music Education, sings with the Nashville Symphony Chorus, and homeschools her remaining youngster-at-home. She’s still crazy in love with her husband of more than thirty years and is happy to be surrounded by family and friends amid the rolling knolls of Middle Tennessee.

You may find her online in these places:
Author web site: www.jillianboehme.com
Twitter: @Jillian Boehme
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JillianBoehmeAuthor/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jillian.boehme/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7234281.Jillian_Boehme
Miss Snarks’s First Victim: www.misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com

Stormrise Blurb

A combat warrior will risk everything to awaken the dragons and save her kingdom in Jillian Boehme’s epic YA Fantasy debut, Stormrise, inspired by Twelfth Night and perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce.

If Rain weren’t a girl, she would be respected as a Neshu combat master. Instead, her gender dooms her to a colorless future. When an army of nomads invades her kingdom, and a draft forces every household to send one man to fight, Rain takes her chance to seize the life she wants.

Knowing she’ll be killed if she’s discovered, Rain purchases powder made from dragon magic that enables her to disguise herself as a boy. Then she hurries to the war camps, where she excels in her training―and wrestles with the voice that has taken shape inside her head. The voice of a dragon she never truly believed existed.

As war looms and Rain is enlisted into an elite, secret unit tasked with rescuing the High King, she begins to realize this dragon tincture may hold the key to her kingdom’s victory. For the dragons that once guarded her land have slumbered for centuries . . . and someone must awaken them to fight once more.

Dreams of Other Worlds

Why do we have dreams of other worlds? Do fictional visions point to a reality beyond our own?
| Apr 11, 2019 | 9 comments |

What I’ve written here is an acknowledgment of the power of fiction and the presence of God wrapped in a type of emotional appeal, an appeal that starts with talking about dreams. Note that I’m not limited to making emotional appeals when I talk about God—I also can make an intellectual case, as I did writing for Speculative Faith with my “Car-Universe Without a Motor” series. But note also that unlike someone who is convinced human beings are nothing more than a product of evolution, for whom emotion has no deeper meaning (much of it supposedly a leftover from our so-called “reptile brain”), a believer in God has grounds to think emotions as well as reason matter in their proper context–that emotion can bring a person to acknowledgement of truth. God created feelings as much as rational capacities and each have the power to point the way back to their Creator.

My emotions were wrapped up in a vivid dream I had as a child in which I extended my arms and a strong wind wrapped around me and lifted me into the sky. The wind followed me, like Elijah perhaps, and whirled around me. But unlike Elijah, who went where the Lord directed him, the wind in my dream carried me wherever I wanted to go, me tilting my arms like a bird to fly wherever I wished.

I awoke from the dream saddened by its loss—but determined to retain that memory forever. I of course only partially succeeded. Now it’s just a faded memory of a memory, drained of all its color, but still retaining a very small portion of its power.

Recently I had a similar dream, of being an acrobat of such effortless skill that my leaps and twists In the air didn’t drain me of energy and left me hanging upward long seconds before coming back to ground. This is of course something I’ve never actually done and probably could not ever do the way I dreamed of it even if I had trained to be an acrobat from my childhood—at least not in the gravity of Planet Earth. On the Moon, or “a” moon, such activity would be much easier.

There’s something in me that is not limited to a desire to fly—or leap—and wishes it could be in a world other than my own. I want to see alien stars. And vistas. And explore strange worlds.

Speculative fiction taps into some of these desires, doesn’t it? We with our protagonists via our imaginations get to hunker down on the neck of our trusty dragon as it glides through the air.

Image credit: Mediablix https://www.videoblocks.com/video/riding-a-dragon-over-snowy-mountains-pov-b-_2tt_2xj0u9zep3

Or we can maneuver our starship to the place we see the entire galaxy stretched out before use like a gem-studded tapestry. Or many other things.

Image Copyright: Tania Gabrielle

Why do I dream of walking on the Moon or other moons? Why do I long to see alien stars?

Why, if I am the supposed product of vast ages of evolution, would I not be much more automatically focused on my own survival, much more interested in keeping myself alive? Why do I long for beauty? And not just the familiar beauty of things I’ve seen, but also the beauty of things I have never seen? The thrill of experiences I’ve never had?

Could it be that fiction that steps out of the world we live in on a daily basis has the power to point out that this world, the one we reside in, is not enough for us? That we long for more because more must surely exist? That we long for a form of eternity and transcendence because God has stored up these things for those in a relationship with Him? That these treasures can be found in a spiritual sense in this life but also in a very literal sense in the next?

Speculative fiction can do much more than point the way to unseen beauty—it can even do harm, by glorifying evil and mocking that which is good. But heroes who stand of for what is really right and true in fiction reflect the genuine struggle that exists between good and evil, a struggle that’s not limited to events our human eyes can see during our earthly lifetimes.

A hero I have never met, because he never existed, of a species which never existed, faced a villainess who tried to overwhelm all sense of anything the group could see beyond the Underworld. “There is no sun” she said, strumming music as she enchanted them. She told them the sun was something they imagined based on lamps, that Aslan was something they imagined based on housecats, that the very “Overworld” was simply a product of their imagination, that the world around them of underground caverns was all that existed. All that had ever existed.

The hero stomped on a fire, burning his marshwiggle flesh, and said, in part:

Credit: lukerichards.blogspot.com

“All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”

Our longing, our dreams of other worlds are worth having, our God is worth following, even if we had no rational grounds to believe in our God or in the real existence of a life after this one. We do have a number of logical grounds, but even if we didn’t, our dreams, our so-called play-world, as Puddleglum said, “licks the real world hollow.” So we should live then for that “play-world,” for its values and the values of its Master, and not for this grungy world of grubbing to survive, advance, and dominate. And the very best speculative stories have tremendous power to remind us of that.

Let this perspective on dreams of other worlds shape what you write, my friends.

The Key to Power

Don’t underestimate the power of small griefs and mundane troubles.
| Apr 10, 2019 | 4 comments |

In my last time around, I argued that Mary Poppins Returns is not a retread of the original film but a second, rhyming verse. Today I will concede that it is still not as good as the first. Mary Poppins Returns never quite achieves the wit or the heart of its classic forerunner. The pathos of Mary Poppins is deeper and truer even while its tragedies are so much slighter; the film makes more of a father’s distraction than its sequel does of a mother’s death. It is worth examining why.

Paradoxically enough, Mary Poppins achieves its power because, and not in spite of, the fact that it scales its tragedy to the every day. For a mother to die while her children are still small is the tragedy of a lifetime; for a man to forget what is really important is the daily weakness of humanity. The sadness of Mary Poppins is the sadness of forgetting, of misunderstanding and being misunderstood, of suddenly realizing how time flies away. It’s not high tragedy. But it’s near to everyone’s life.

The afflictions of the Banks family in Mary Poppins are more universal than those of the new Banks family in Mary Poppins Returns. But more important than the films’ basic ideas is their development. The writers of the first movie were more skilled and subtle in handling their material. Notice how gradual and inarguable is George Banks’ character progression: comically oblivious at the beginning; unexpectedly sympathetic in the second act, a grown-up with no one to look after him in his cage; and finally, at the climax, he becomes the very heart of the story, in his despair at his shattered ambitions and the courage of his lonely walk through the nighttime streets of London.

Nothing in Mary Poppins Returns entirely equals the power of that walk, or of Bert’s gentle admonition of both father and children. The film is not without its own power. There are moments of real tenderness in it, anchored around the family’s grief. Yet what resolution the story offers is artificial, and as such it neither satisfies nor finds its way into real depths. When the film attempts to create comfort in the wake of death, it simply pulls the standard Hollywood pieties off the shelf.

Now the essence of the Hollywood creed on death – at least when Hollywood wants to be heartwarming – is that the dead are not really gone. This is another way of saying that death is not death. It always feels so false. Mary Poppins Returns presents a great tragedy and denies that it’s really as bad as all that. The earlier movie, in its better wisdom, took a lighter grief and told the truth, and through the truth it found power.

Storytellers like to go for the heart-strings. All heart-strings are fair game, even the easy and obvious ones. Just don’t underestimate the potential of small griefs and mundane troubles. And whatever grief you choose, remember that the key to its power lies in telling the truth about it.

Captain Marvel Left Me Baffled and Disappointed

When the credits rolled for Captain Marvel, I didn’t leave feeling empowered or inspired. Instead I pitied her.
Marian Jacobs | Apr 9, 2019 | 32 comments |

I was ready to love Captain Marvel.

After all, DC’s Wonder Woman stands out in my mind as epic and chock full of some glorious common grace. Surely Marvel’s own feminst icon would be the same?

But, sadly, I was left disappointed with Carol Danvers.

Ironically, I viewed the film just after writing the article, “When I Grow Up, I’m Going to Be the Villain” for Lorehaven magazine’s spring edition. In that piece, I argue that the reason villains are often more attractive to children is because the heroes are boring by comparison. They are often stoic and lack sufficient reason to do good. After all, stoicism is an enemy of goodness and, therefore, has no place acting the hero.1

As stated so beautifully by Tyler Daswick in Relevant Magazine:

Brie Larson is a fine choice for Danvers, but Captain Marvel doesn’t give Larson a chance to bring any kind of original flair or panache to the expected hero poses and zingers. Larson has poise for days, but in comparison to Gal Gadot’s singular presentation of Wonder Woman’s idealism, naivete and determination, it’s clear Carol Danvers wasn’t as well-defined on the page. You just can’t describe her. We know Captain Marvel is a hero, but in the MCU, that’s not a personality trait. It’s a job.

As Daswick says, there’s no need to pick on Brie Larson. Anyone who has seen the film Room will know she’s an amazing actress. This is a Marvel problem.

So let’s just say it straight: the writing for this film was a mess. They pitched Danvers’ character arc as first being abused by her so-called commander, Yon-Rogg. He told her repeatedly to suppress her emotions in order to have success in battle. And yet this was not believable. What emotions? She had some simmering-below-the-surface moments here and there, but was she a highly emotional female? Not even close. With a couple small (too small given the situation) emotional spikes when she learned more of her own backstory, Danvers remains, well . . . stoic throughout the entire film.

One could make the argument that it was because of her mental abuse as a Kree soldier that Danvers appeared so devoid of proper feeling. But even in the flashbacks of her life before the Kree, Danvers was not much more expressive.

She seems to overcome this mental block and realizes the full potential of her powers which then leads her to be . . . still stoic.

Shouldn’t she throw off this persona now that she is no longer under Kree influence? Or is this what Marvel-Disney thinks feminine strength looks like? If that is the case, I can’t help but wonder if this is an instance of extreme feminism in which a “strong” woman is depicted as a strong, silent type of man.

(And is this a trend? Didn’t Emma Watson’s Belle in the live action Beauty and the Beast also lack appropriate expression at times? Yet more offensive still due to age was little Milly Farrier in Disney’s new Dumbo.)

Not only was Yon-Rogg’s abuse not believable or backed by Danver’s actual character portrayal, but the idea that one’s head and heart are at odds is a false dichotomy. They demonized the idea of being logical against following your heart. Logic and using your head are good gifts. God is logical because he does not contradict himself. He is not a God of chaos.

What of emotions? Of course there are times when they lead us astray, but that is not because emotions in and of themselves are bad, but because we as sinful people misuse them. We have only to go so far as the Psalms to teach our hearts how to be emotional in a way that glorifies God. When we marry logic and emotions, we better understand who God is. He is both a meticulous planner as well as a passionate father in more ways that we will ever know. And we are his people, made in his image. Unlike animals that were given only emotions ruled by nature alone, humans have the ability to reason and lead our emotions by our intellect.

When the credits rolled for Captain Marvel, I pitied Carol Danvers. She was injured, kidnapped, and abused by an alien race. Yet, instead of learning catalyzing truth, her abuse only directs her into more deception in the end.

  1. Subscribe to Lorehaven for free to read more on the problem of heroic stoicism.

Who’s The Current Go-To Fantasy Writer?

In reality, I just want to pick your collective brains. Do you read fantasy? Who are the authors—general market, Christian, or indie—that you have read recently? What author would you recommend?
| Apr 8, 2019 | 2 comments |

Amazon sends email adverts from time to time, based on a customer’s viewing or buying history. As expected, I get pages with writing books and others with fantasy. The thing is, in the last couple “you might also like” pages that they’ve sent me regarding fantasy, I haven’t recognized a single author or title. Not one.

Use to be, when I would window-shop in a bookstore (if you can actually window-shop when you’re already inside), I would see many books with familiar names: Robert Jordan, J. K. Rowling, Orsen Scott Card, Brandon Sanderson, George R. R. Martin, Stephenie Meyer, Holly Black, Terry Prachett, Suzanne Collins. You know—the authors who hit the best-seller lists or who had their books turned into movies or TV shows.

A lot of these stories were familiar even if I hadn’t read the books myself. Others were talking about them. They were familiar. They had the attention of a lot of readers, a lot of fantasy fans.

Christian fiction has had its own list of authors: Karen Hancock, Donita Paul, Bryan Davis, Jill Williamson, Patrick Carr.

Since the explosion of indie books, I have done more reading of authors who haven’t attracted as much attention: K. M. Weiland, for instance, or D. C. Marino, or Sally Apokedak.

When I received those Amazon emails promoting fantasy they thought I might want to read, I was left scratching my head. Who were those authors? Have they gained popularity and I just didn’t notice? It’s possible. Made me feel out of touch. I mean, this is my genre. I should know who’s writing the good books, who readers are reading.

So I’m wondering: Who would you all consider the good, contemporary fantasy writers? Not those writing superhero books. Or science fiction. Or supernatural. I know that steampunk fantasy became popular in Christian fiction (and in indie publishing) for a time. Was it (is it) also popular in general market books?

I’ve heard traditional or classic fantasy has made a resurgence. Who’s writing those books?

In reality, I just want to pick your collective brains. Do you read fantasy? Who are the authors—general market, Christian, or indie—that you have read recently? What author would you recommend?

Gillian Adams got us started last month in her article “What Wonderful Worlds.” Your turn.

I want to have some working knowledge next time Amazon sends me a fantasy book recommendation. (It’s a little embarrassing for a fantasy writer not to know who is the most popular fantasy writer of the day! But please, don’t rat me out!)

Where are the Hard Science Fiction Writers who are Christians?

Hard science fiction is the subset of sci-fi that tries to be as scientifically realistic as possible. Why do so few overtly Christian authors write in this genre?
| Apr 4, 2019 | 28 comments |

Hi, I’m Travis Perry–yeah, I know there’s a short bio of me with this article, but I think I’d like to introduce myself in a different way. Most of you have most likely seen at least an article or two I’ve written here for Speculative Faith. What you may not realize is how much I like so-called “hard” science fiction. Which has lead me to ask, “Where are the hard science fiction writers who are Christians?” Please allow me to explain the question:

Hard science fiction, in case you didn’t know, is the name for sci fi that treats the laws of physics as if they really matter. Hard science fiction tries to explore things that really could happen in the future, as opposed to space opera, which is really about telling an exciting story with space as a backdrop.

Star Wars is of course classic space opera, widely considered science fiction by most people, but you could just as well call it space fantasy. Not because it would be impossible to make a sword based on highly heated plasma (to pick just one example), but if you managed to to make such a machine and held it anywhere near your face (as Luke Skywalker often did), you’d burn your face off. (Though Darth Vader’s face mask would presumably provide some heat protection, so he’d be okay, I guess 🙂 .) Star Wars light sabers don’t exist because they could work, but because they parallel real swords. There’s something cool about imagining sword fighting returning in a new, sort of space-magic way.

Just because I prefer hard science fiction doesn’t mean I don’t ever like space opera, by the way. I’ve enjoyed Star Wars. Please note that Star Trek is also basically space opera, however, Star Trek at times plays with ideas that relate to real physics. We could maybe call Star Trek “hard science fiction-flavored space opera.” (Ditto for Dr. Who, though Who has somewhat less of the flavor of scientific plausibility than Star Trek.)

Superhero stories are another kind of fantasy. Getting bit by a radioactive (or bio-engineered) spider would kill you, not make you into a superhero. The Incredible Hulk might grow larger in rage, but his own body cannot simply get bigger to become the Hulk, not from a hard science fiction point of view, because the law of conservation of matter would apply so as he got bigger, so his body would become less dense. The Hulk, even if very strong, would have the body consistency of the Stay Puft marshmallow man (from Ghostbusters). (For Hulk to get bigger and weigh more, he’d have to steal mass from another dimension or something. But where does that extra mass go when he turns smaller again?)

Plus wearing Iron Man’s metal suit would not spare him from g-force damage from hard impacts. Or saying a yellow sun gives Superman the power to fly doesn’t even have a hypothetical explanation, but if it did, wouldn’t he have less power at night? Etc. Etc.

I personally prefer fantasy to be forthrightly set in another world or dimension with magical creatures over pseudo science, though I have a little bit of tolerance for pseudo science. One thing I especially like about epic fantasy is the way such stories can contrast the struggle between good and evil in a way that some people may complain is not realistic, since so few villains or heroes in the real world are so wholly good or bad. But by showing the baddest possible bad, an epic fantasy story can comment on what evil actually is, what the nature of true wickedness is–and of course the nature of goodness as well, illuminating moral truth in a way a more realistic story often fails to do. (E.g. no one can turn the power of evil into good, proclaims The Lord of the Rings–the best good can do is put away evil, first by resisting it, then by appealing to the type of destructive event seen at Mount Doom, liberation coming through the hero’s self-sacrifice.)

My favorite space opera and superhero stories also feature strong contrasts between good and evil. In fact, a common criticism of mine concerning superhero stories is they far too often fail to show either convincing villains or sufficiently evil villains.

So having said all that, how is it that I can and do like stories that aren’t hard sci-fi, yet still say I really like it? What’s the reason I like hard science fiction at all?

I used to be one of those dinosaur book readers as a small child and I followed it up by reading about outer space and rockets and history and many things. While fantasy has its appeal, the real universe is cool–things that have really happened in human history and the history of the universe are fascinating. God is painting on a canvas of actual events and through the laws of nature, if we have the eyes to see his working through the real world.

So I read science first and then checked out the “science fiction” section of my middle school library because it had the word “science” in it. Seriously. I immediately ran into stories (from the 50s) that talked about exploration of the moon and other planets. For me at that time, what was interesting about all this was the idea it could really happen–that maybe someday I would get to see another world, that maybe I would walk on Mars myself. These story worlds, these projections onto other planets were inherently more interesting than whatever was going on with the characters–though of course the characters could be interesting, too.

I found myself liking stories driven by ideas that at least seemed very plausible. For example, what if there was a story in which scientists used modern DNA techniques to bring dinosaurs back, so they live today? Of course, I’m laughing as I write that–this idea has already been done in Jurassic Park and its many sequels, a story much more fascinating because of the ideas behind it than because of any of its characters. Though I suppose the characters were at least somewhat engaging, too. Especially Malcolm.

In fact, virtually every Michael Crichton story qualifies as hard science fiction, even the novel he wrote set in the dark ages (Eaters of the Dead) made into the movie The Thirteenth Warrior, in which Crichton in effect sent the closest thing to a scientific observer of the era (the Arab character), into the world of Vikings. And then established a credible scientific explanation for the type of monster known as “Grendel” in Beowulf. 

Ideas that are not fully “hard” have influenced science fiction beyond what you may realize. The novel series Dune has a very medieval feel to it–lots of personal combat, though with knives instead of swords. But why do they fight with knives?–because personal shield technology is so common in the story world that guns are largely useless. The idea of personal shields may not work as far as the technology involved would be concerned, but the story gives a real reason why knife fighting is a thing in a way that makes internal sense to the story. There are many examples of this sort of thing in the history of science fiction.

Image copyright: Colombia Pictures

In films, hard science fiction shows itself in realistic pondering of the effects of genetics testing and engineering on human society in Gattaca. This kind of story that realistically looks at future technology and its effects on society with implications that could easily been religious and which would seem to be a natural zone for Christian authors to engage. But I don’t see much sign that we are.

Hard science fiction is also in many other (but not all) dystopian tales, military science fiction (Starship Troopers is probably the most famous example in film), and in cyberpunk stories or LitRPG tales like Ready Player One (since they are based on actual computer technology or tech-coming-soon). Space opera and superhero tales gather greater box office sales, but stories with more of a “science” quotient in their science fiction represent a major segment of speculative fiction sales in print and in films worldwide.

So hard science fiction or stories that trend that direction are a major, worldwide thing. Yet among those Christian friends writing speculative fiction with Christian themes (or at least not in complete opposition to a Christian world view), how many are writing hard science fiction or even leaning that direction? I know of two, Kerry Nietz, who often writes cyberpunk and in general incorporates hard science fiction ideas in his stories and Steve Rzasa writing things that at times are probably space opera, at times hard sci fi. And Lelia Rose Foreman, who almost always sticks to scientific plausibility, including showing realistic shifts in language and culture. (I suppose I might constitute a fourth such writer, especially in anthologies I’ve published and contributed stories to like Medieval Mars and Victorian Venus or Andrea J. Graham’s WebSurfer antho). And…surely I must be missing somebody, right?

Yeah, I know there has to be others. And I actually do know some short story writers also veering in the direction of hard science fiction. But not many. At the primary conference focused on speculative fiction writers “of faith,” Realm Makers, science fiction of any kind is very much outnumbered by fantasy. And among the science fiction that’s there, most is space opera– the selection of hard science fiction is pretty small, comparatively speaking.

And that brings me back to the question I used to title this post. Where are the Christians writing hard science fiction? Why does my intuitive sense of proportions sense that the percentage of hard sci fi types is much lower among Christians than in the speculative fiction world overall? Am I even correct about that? And if I am correct, what do you think is the cause of this phenomenon?

And who did I forget to mention among Christian authors writing hard science fiction? Let me know in the comments below.

‘Shazam!’ Soars with Humor and a Virtue-Seeking Hero

“Shazam!” is rich with humor, religious symbolism, and a hero’s journey to virtue—Christian fans won’t be disappointed.
Marian Jacobs | Apr 2, 2019 | 5 comments |

I found a lot to love about the new DC film Shazam!

Rich with humor, religious symbolism, and a protagonist on a journey toward virtue—Christian fans won’t be disappointed! It was a fun combo of Superman meets Tom Hanks in Big meets Fullmetal Alchemist!

Thanks to Fandango and Warner Bros. featuring an early access showing, I had the pleasure of viewing the much anticipated DC film two weeks early. And I’m so glad I did.

When foster kid Billy Batson obtains the superpowers of Shazam, he squanders the gift. Meanwhile, supervillain Dr. Sivana, possessed by the seven deadly sins, begins to wreak havoc in Philadelphia. To stop Sivana, Billy must come to grips with both his life in the foster system and his destiny as the good guy.

Lately I’ve been more than a little annoyed with the many Marvel films making carbon copies of Star Lord’s humor with nearly every hero since the release of the first Guardians of the Galaxy film (complete with the recent makeover of Thor for Thor: Ragnarok).

Yet Shazam! was every bit as hilarious without having to emulate the brand of humor of those who have come before. I’m not one to laugh out loud overmuch in a crowded theater—especially when I’m there by myself. But I couldn’t help but guffaw loudly from start to finish.

What interested me most was the underlying Christian imagery throughout the film. I was struck by the implied idea that in one character’s search for someone worthy and pure of heart, none existed. How very unlike our culture to convey that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Then there were the more obvious uses of the seven deadly sins—or the cardinal sins—as the villains, Christian-eque artwork hanging in the foster home, and even Hollywood-ized praying over meals. It also seemed fitting that Zachary Levi, a Christian geek himself, was cast as Shazam.

Although most origin stories take the hero on a journey to obtain a virtue needed to save the day, Billy Batson took that to a whole new level. And understandably (predictably) so. With the safety of Philadelphia resting on an immature fourteen year old foster kid, he had some very big shoes to fill—both literally and figuratively. And that is exactly why the choice of the seven deadly sins–turned villain was so brilliant.

Other reviews out there will tell you that the two separate plot lines didn’t mesh well together. Yet the Christian virtue ethicist in me would insist they weren’t looking closely enough. Shazam may have been battling those anti-virtues with his fists, but conversely, and perhaps more importantly, Billy Batson was battling them with his heart.

Content warning: Shazam! is rated PG-13 mainly due to violence. But perhaps more importantly, this is a film about a child in foster care and could be a trigger for either a child or a parent. I myself found it almost unbearable to watch a scene of a small child separated from his mother.

Announcement: The Future of Spec Faith

Today seemed like the best day to pass on some great news for Spec Faith.
| Apr 1, 2019 | 4 comments |

Today seemed like the best day to pass on some great news for Spec Faith. With the success of Lorehaven Magazine, we’ve made the decision to dive into full book publishing as soon as June. We are happy to announce that submission guidelines are in the works, will soon be published, and open.

Our own Shannon McDermott, who writes for Spec Faith every other Wednesday, has come on board to be our primary acquisition editor. Travis Perry, who already has experience in the publishing arena, will handle the formatting, art work, and production. Stephen Burnett, the publisher of Lorehaven, will head up the promotion for the new SpecFaith imprint.

I and others of our staff will handle the various levels of editing. We anticipate that we will put out our first book as soon as January, 2020. We have yet to determine what our parameters will be, but we know we want speculative fiction that is Christian. Not quasi-Christian, and not secular. There are lots of publishers which already provide avenues for such books. We want to publish books that make no apology for telling stories aimed at helping Christians grow in their walk for Christ.

You can get a good feel for the books we’ll be interested in by reading the Spec Faith Statement of Faith.

Some other ideas we are considering: partnering with Realm Makers to form THE go-to publisher for Christian speculative fiction; working with Enclave and perhaps becoming a subsidiary to their publishing house; coming under the umbrella of ACFW (the American Christian Fiction Writers organization).

We’d love to hear some of your ideas. We’re especially interested in any volunteer help and in art work for the new Spec Faith imprint logo.

How do you feel about this kind of a publishing venture? Do you see a need? What do you think the parameters should be?

One more thing . . . April Fools.