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The Bible And Speculative Fiction

So often Christian speculative fiction authors fear the accusation of “preachy” that they don’t want characters doing what actual Christians do
| Oct 8, 2018 | 4 comments |

Does the Bible belong in Christian speculative fiction? Of course there are various ideas behind what Christian fiction is and what it can and should accomplish, so much of the discussion about the Bible and its use in Christian speculative fiction will undoubtedly depend on a person’s philosophy about what a Christian can and should attempt to accomplish in fiction, and speculative fiction specifically.

Add the fact that speculative fiction is an umbrella category that covers a wide variety of genres. Here’s a look at some of the types and ways authors have used Scripture in their stories.

Biblical Fiction

Perhaps the category that can use Scripture most extensively is speculative fiction set in Biblical times. These stories borrow liberally from what the Bible says, but add from imagination what the Bible does not say. Similar to the alternative history approach of books such as Stephen Lawhead’s Bright Empires and Robert Treskillard’s retelling of Merlin’s story in his Merlin’s Spiral series, this type of fiction speculates on the times of Noah, such as Brian Godawa did in his Chronicles of the Nephilim Series, or follows the plight of Jonah or the Apostle Paul, and more.

Alternative Bibles

Some authors use a variation of Scripture, often creatively disguised by another name. For example, in her Restorer series, Sharon Hinck constructed an entire religion around knowledge and use of the Verses. A number were artful rephrasing of Scripture. As I recall, Donita Paul does something similar in her DragonKeeper Chronicles, and more recently Sally Apokedak uses Precepts which guide her protagonist in her award-winning young adult novel, The Button Girl.

Supernatural Suspense

Biblical Characters

Perhaps the most common use of the Bible is the imaginative use of Biblical characters—demons, angels, the Nephilim. In fact, there are so many books in this category that the genre “Supernatural suspense” has come into being. Here are a few examples. Tosca Lee’s debut novel, which launched her fiction, was Demon: A Memoir. Karen Hancock wrote a science fiction-ish novel that incorporated the Nephilim. Shannon Dittemore wrote her Angel Eyes YA series, featuring very Biblical angels and demons. Kathryn Mackel wrote Hidden, an eerie story about chained fallen angels who break free.

Biblical Places
Other supernatural stories are so bold as to delve into angelic realms or into the depths of hell. I’ve read some of these books, but titles elude me right now.

One that incorporates the suggestion of “Biblical places” is Tom Pawlick’s Christy Award winner, Vanish. Some titles in Bryan Davis’s Dragons in Our Midst series involve both going into and surviving hell.

Dystopians

David Gregory’s novel The Last Christian may not deal specifically with the Bible in his dystopian world in which a missionary returns home only to find that Christianity has died out, but Bryan Litfin’s Chiveis Trilogy makes the Bible the focus of his story in which Christianity is wiped out along with technology and the world as we know it. When the protagonist finds a portion of the Bible in a ruin, forces line up to suppress it or to bring it to light.

Stories with Biblical Themes

More often than not, stories that do not use the Bible in an overt way but do contain Biblical themes, are called Christian worldview stories. Any number of novels fall into this category—fantasies, science fiction, horror. I think of Patrick Carr’s Staff & Sword series and Jill Williamson’s stand alone science fiction, Replication.

Allegory

I know of a few true allegories in the vein of Pilgrim’s Progress that have recently seen publication. One such is Walter Cantrell’s Disciple’s Quest series. In these books, the author puts Scripture in his own words from time to time, and also uses verses taken from the King James Version.

Clearly the Bible can and does play an integral part in Christian speculative fiction. I don’t doubt that there are stories set in contemporary or future times, or even past, in which the Bible is simply the Bible. It hasn’t been lost or reworded. It isn’t waiting in the wings or the catalyst that initiated the story. Rather, somebody in the story believes it and reads it. I can’t think of a title that uses the Bible in this way, but I think it’s a legitimate way the Bible can appear in a story.

So often Christian speculative authors fear the accusation of “preachy” that they don’t want characters doing what actual Christians do—things like, praying and going to church and reading the Bible. But those activities are as real as a character doing drugs or sleeping around. There’s less hesitation, I’d suggest, to show characters who are immoral than ones who take the Bible seriously.

Sure, there are stories in other genres that show characters doing religious things, holding conservative views, but do they wrestle with the truths of Scripture? Do they show the characters going to the Bible for answers or comfort or guidance?

Nearly two years ago, Stephen Burnett wrote an article here at Speculative Faith about Christian fiction and the need to make it “more Christian,” not less. I wonder if including the Bible might not help to accomplish this.

Is Netflix ‘Not Safe, but Good’ for Narnia?

Netflix had acquired all rights to make films based on C. S. Lewis’s magical world of Narnia. Let us take the adventure that Aslan sends us.
| Oct 5, 2018 | 16 comments |

This week, The Chronicles of Narnia’s Facebook page announced the unthinkable: Netflix had acquired all rights to make films based on C. S. Lewis’s world.

Was this fake news? Oddly enough, this page had been hacked before. Yet other sources quickly verified: NarniaWeb,1 Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and, of course, Netflix itself.

Let’s presume we’re all lifetime Narnia fans here, and get down to speculating.

I myself have a few immediate questions, like:

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

“Remember, remember, remember the book.”

1. What about ‘The Silver Chair’ film?

No media sources I found mention what this deal means for the just-past-rumored development of the fourth Narnia film, based on The Silver Chair.

It is (or was?) a real project. It would be (have been?) produced by Mark Gordon (Murder on the Orient Express, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) and directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger). David Magee (Finding Neverland, Life of Pi, and this winter’s Mary Poppins Returns) was writing the script. And C. S. Lewis’s stepson and head of estate, Douglas Gresham, had praised the early script as recently as this past February.

Gordon and Gresham are, of course, named in the announcement. It’s not like the series has radically changed hands; Netflix will simply finance and distribute these stories. But would-be director Johnson and scriptwriter Magee are not mentioned.

2. Related: will Netflix reboot the entire Narnia series?

Netflix could take two paths here:

  1. They won’t shelve all current work. The recent films are still fresh enough in fans’ minds to make it safe starting with The Silver Chair. Pros: use existing creative work that’s already been done for this film adaptation, and save a bit on the budget (more on this below). Cons: pick up in the middle of a series, making the first three books difficult to adapt later.
  2. They’ll reboot the whole thing, likely starting with the first story in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Pros: name recognition, and the ability to carry forward with the whole series. Cons: this is a big-budget story.

My prediction: Netflix will use The Silver Chair as a “soft reboot,” aligning with some of the film’s creative voices existing statements about the film’s intent.

3. Will a Netflix budget do these stories justice?

If Netflix starts with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—or bows to pressure from certain fans and decides The Magician’s Nephew is the best starting point—that’s challenging. These stories “for children” are epic in scope. They have imaginative worlds, magical-portal travel, and creatures galore. Aslan figures prominently in both tales. Even in the first series of three films, the budget is occasionally strained under the relative limits of animation technology available from 2005–2010.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) cost $180 million to make.

However, Netflix has proven its willingness to fork over tens of millions of dollars for past productions. And with projections for Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings production likely starting at hundreds of millions, Netflix is incentivized to compete.

Still, as I mentioned, Netflix could start with The Silver Chair. Budget-wise, this is far more reasonable without compromising the book’s themes. In fact, barebones budget fits perfectly with the story itself. Here, for the fourth Chronicle, Lewis actually “gritty reboots” the series somewhat. Gone are the many delightful creature comforts of Narnia, in favor of a tale about strict duty and obedience.

As I noted back in 2013:2

Gordon will likely face less-expensive film construction and a struggle to market The Silver Chair. In fact, a new film’s journey may be like that of the story’s two English schoolchildren — the new Narnia friend Eustace Scrubb and the trust-averse Jill Pole (perhaps Lewis’s best heroine) — and their optimistically pessimistic Marsh-wiggle guide Puddleglum, trekking into the wild lands around Narnia to seek a long-lost prince.

But such hardship may be exactly what a fourth Narnia film needs: a lower budget, tighter focus, less input from those with film investments to lose, and more faithfulness to Lewis.

4. Will Netflix make Narnia films or Narnia miniseries?

Left unanswered in the early news is whether Netflix will make Narnia feature-length films, or miniseries, or both. Oddly enough, I see advantages to both approaches. Stories such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as The Silver Chair and The Magician’s Nephew feature relatively simple, accessible narratives. However, all the other stories, especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, are quite episodic.

5. Who would star in a ‘Silver Chair’ film?

Actor Doug Jones "likes" my Twitter comment about playing Puddlegum in a film version of The Silver ChairWho among you loved The Voyage of the Dawn Treader film? Yes, I see those three hands. The film itself sunk. But Will Poulter as Eustace Clarence Scrubb totally deserved this role. (And a better story.) Alas, by now eight years have passed, and Poulter is too old to return to the magical land of Narnia.

This marks a perfect chance for Netflix to go full into the realm of the “soft reboot.” They’ll re-cast all characters. I’d suppose they’ll likely choose another voice—besides Liam Neeson—for the great lion, Aslan.

Other than my earnest desire for Sir Patrick Stewart to voice Aslan (he’s done it before!), I’ve no firm convictions for particular cast members. With one exception:

Make sure you note the Like from actor Doug Jones himself. It also turns out he himself floated the idea back in 2011. And who else could he play but Puddleglum?

6. Would Netflix de-claw Aslan and weaken Narnia’s faith?

Short answer: very possibly. Netflix has a lot of great fare, including among its original series, such as Erased and Lost in Space. It also has a lot of terrible content—not just exploitative (like Altered Carbon) or laughably hijacked for religious Progressivism (like Anne with an E), but simply poorly made.

At the same time, I take some comfort in this truth:

  • Douglas Gresham is involved. This man has spent his life working to get Lewis’s world turned into films. He’s also fought to preserve the “supposal” Christian elements that permeate Lewis’s stories as naturally remixed classic mythology.
  • By all accounts, Netflix does tend to honor creative control. That, not just some monolithic “liberal agenda,” means its content can end up all over the place.
  • My guess is that Gresham and Gordon saw this Netflix arrangement as the best way to make more films how they want. Now, the creators don’t necessarily need to compromise for the sake of the silliness demanded by the “children’s fantasy franchise motion picture” template (e.g., “believe in yourself” insipidity).
  • Netflix’s involvement also removes a huge cost factor: physical distribution. Films can market themselves thanks to fan interest, and momentum remaining from the previous three films (two distributed by Disney, the third by Fox).

7. When will we get to see the new Narnia film or series?

The statement doesn’t mention production or release timing. That’s also been a key element always left unanswered by creative voices talking about The Silver Chair.

However, based on previous announcement-to-release timing, I’d venture we’ll at least know of a Narnia film or miniseries release date/year by the year 2020. In either case, I’m almost certain my family will personally be up for hosting a long-overdue NarniaWeb moot—not in theaters, but in our house. We will hope to enjoy the awaited release of whatever adaptation we get. And if it ends up terrible, well, we can try to work with that too. In that case, we’ll just make sure to invite Bacchus.

  1. In the past I’ve served as a moderator for NarniaWeb. Once a mod or moddess in NarniaWeb, always a mod or moddess in NarniaWeb.
  2. Yes, The Silver Chair has been rumored for that long!

Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War, part 5: Psychology of War: Essential Fears

Essential fears shape much of what humans do on a battlefield, driving them to fight, flight, or surrender responses.

Especially in epic fantasy stories, human beings or demi humans like elves or dwarves are often portrayed as fighting to the death with total disregard to fear. Creating larger-than-life struggles is part of the appeal of epic literature, but an author should be aware of what takes place behind the scenes in a warrior’s psychology, of what’s normal, to be able to better portray the abnormal. Because people don’t usually fight until the death–they fight until the flight or the surrender.

Many people are familiar with the so-called “fight or flight” response, a state of stimulation caused by danger that can alternatively drive a person to fight or to run away. But as documented in the book On Killing, when fighting members of their own species, not only human beings, but all social animals in creation have a third response–to surrender.

Who is the alpha here? (Credit: Living with Wolves)

So wolves in a pack fighting to be the dominant member of the group–the “alpha”–don’t usually fight until one is dead, but until one surrenders or yields dominance, which is signaled in a specific way by members of canine species, i.e. lowering its body, tucking its tail, and/or exposing the belly. Human beings also have a surrender response as part of what I would call the “common operating software” that the human brain shares with many other living creatures. It’s strongly influenced by culture, but humans usually signal quitting combat by raising up empty hands, showing themselves weaponless.

Essential fears

Fear or a sense of being intimidated are the essential emotions that trigger the surrender or flight responses. And there are specific stimuli that trigger this reaction in human beings. Our species tends to be intimidated by opponents who are taller. Which gives a reason why Greek, Roman, and other soldiers wore plumes on the top of their helmets or wore tall hats–in addition to making someone easier to identify on the battlefield, such devices make a warrior appear to be taller. Looking taller didn’t help a soldier fight better in the slightest, but it did increase the chances an enemy will feel the urge to run or surrender. I believe ancient warriors understood instinctively that a helmet plume helped them fight, without having identified the reasons why. Note that tall hats and plumes disappeared when weapon effectiveness from a distance made their payoff in intimidation not worth how much easier a target a soldier using such a hat became. Note also how often speculative fiction has focused on tall warriors—from the cyclops of Greek myth, to giants, to Mobile Suit Gundam, Pacific Rim Jaegers, and Godzilla.

Goliath (Credit: James J. Tissot–public domain)

This understanding adds depth to the Biblical account of David and Goliath. Goliath’s size not only made him more powerful, it made him more intimidating. Note that the Bible records that Saul had been in many battles and was a noted warrior long before Goliath challenged his army to send a champion to single combat. Yet in spite of his battle conditioning, Saul had no desire to face off against the Philistine giant himself. This probably went beyond a calculation of the threat the giant posed. The feeling tapped into natural fears–Saul seems to have found Goliath’s height intimidating on a level deeper than reason. And David marked himself as a hero by his ability to overcome that instinct through his confidence in God.

Likewise early firearms, while they had the ability to do devastating damage, were difficult to aim, so had a practical range less than that of bows and crossbows of the same era. Not only was their range more limited, their rate of reload made them slower to operate that crossbows and much slower than bows. In terms of the ability to kill most enemies, bows or crossbows were significantly more effective. But as a weapon of intimidation, firearms that roll like thunder and shoot flames like mythical beasts (the word “gun” is short for “dragon”) were intimidating to enemies in a way arrows could never be. Early guns triggered panicked flight and open handed surrender to such a degree that the gun was far more effective on the battlefield than bows and arrows, even though it was an inferior killing weapon at first. In other words, it replaced the arrow as the distance weapon of choice primarily for psychological reasons. (Note this isn’t true with cannons–cannons actually do more damage than the catapults they replaced.)

Any weapon or method of fighting that taps into instinctual human fears has a greater chance of inducing a flight or surrender response. Some of the main things that humans are afraid of include falling from heights, burning in fire, drowning in water, and loud noises. One of the reasons a cavalry charge was generally effective against foot soldiers came from the intimidation value of the charge itself, horses taller than footmen galloping their direction, their hooves making a roar like thunder. This often caused men on foot to break and run, or surrender, before the horsemen even reached them.

Human beings can be so intimidated by an opponent, especially an opponent with a reputation for ruthlessness and torture of enemies, that they surrender even before any battle has begun. Note that Sun Tzu believed that height of strategy to win a battle based on intimidation alone (The Art of War 3, 2).

If it comes to an actual battle, warriors have proven more likely to surrender rather than run when attacked from the front and behind simultaneously, i.e. when surrounded. When a route of escape is evident (as Sun Tzu recommended a victorious army provide, The Art of War 7, 36), there is a higher tendency for an intimidated army to run. Running triggers an instinctual response in opposing forces to chase after those fleeing the battlefield (like a wolf chases prey or an angry, territorial bull chases intruders on his terrain). Many warriors in ancient and medieval battles were killed after they psychologically broke and were in the process of running away. Ancient Roman armies employed cavalry primarily for hunting down and killing enemies fleeing from the battlefield, rather than for direct combat.

Breaking morale on the battlefield

So the clash of two armies on a battlefield, with both lined up against one another, was not really about who killed the most enemies. The battle almost always ended when one side perceived they would lose and morale broke. And often, especially in ancient and medieval times, more people were killed on the battlefield after an army broke and ran than during what we would consider normal combat, as their enemies chased them down and killed them as they fled.

As a general rule, troops who are poorly-trained are more likely to break. Troops that are highly disciplined and trained over and over again that surrender is a dishonor, surrender far less often, but still do. For example, while all Japanese troops in WWII believed giving in to an enemy was a grave dishonor and many refused to do so, a certain percentage still actually surrendered.

Japanese troops surrendering (Credit: Quora)

Soviet and German troops facing off against each other in WWII had a greater likelihood of fighting to the death than is normally the case, not only because of soldier discipline, but because of the high likelihood of troops being killed upon surrender by the other side. A “take-no-prisoners” approach stiffens an enemy’s resistance to giving up. But even so, soldiers under the strain of battle, even when they knew surrender would likely result in death, even if they were highly disciplined and had been ordered to fight to the bitter end, even then still surrendered sometimes. That’s how strong the surrender instinct is in a terrified human being.

Remember when writing battles that armies don’t fight like video games, with the winner strictly determined by who survives after each side doing the maximum physical damage they can. In almost all battles, the side that lost was the first to break psychologically (which often but not always corresponded to the side taking the most damage), which caused them to surrender or to run away.

Essential fears, morale, and battlefield responses in Prince Caspian

Here are some illustration on the topic. The psychology of warfare is a broad topic with a lot of possible rabbit holes. Like a good engineer, I feel it useful to distill and restate, then proceed with application (sorry fans, no X-Y plots this week). First, Travis P described 3 possible reactions to the stress that comes with combat: Fight, Flight, or Surrender. Second, we provided several explicit examples of factors that may influence each of those reactions, either encouraging the response or dampening it, by tapping into a culture/species’ core fears.

It was an age of lost memory, when the hard people of Telmar came ashore and took control of portions of the ancient kingdom of Narnia. With no Son of Adam or Daughter of Eve to sit upon the throne at Cair Paravel, it looks inevitable in hindsight. But the Telmarines are not ignorant. They know to fear what lives in the woods. Myths and fairytales to frighten children, beasts and demons who haunt that primeval land.

Sound familiar? C. S. Lewis provides us an interesting context for warfare in Prince Caspian, the second book in series order of the Chronicles of Narnia. The Telmarines are castaways who found Narnia by chance but don’t fully appreciate or understand the native creatures, living in an awkward stalemate against further expansion. Telmarines fear the Narnians, fear the legends of the Narnians, even as history passed into legend. That changes when Prince Caspian escapes his evil uncle Miraz and ultimately rises to lead the Narnian forces against Telmar, alongside the returned Kings and Queens we all love.

Both book and movie describe battle quite well, though I will probably rely on the movie for visual effect. After a failed attempt to stop King Miraz in his castle, the Narnians prepare for a last stand at Aslan’s How and the Second Battle of Beruna. King Miraz shows no fear, nor do his nobles appear to, when faced with these legends come to life. His soldiers though… They appear stalwart but have some indications of fear leaking through. The primary weapons to be used against the Narnians are all stand-off: catapults, trebuchets, and ballista. Best to cause damage from afar rather than close with the enemy. They wear masks to intimidate their foes, but maybe it is to give them a sense of equality when faced with minotaurs, centaurs, fauns, and the like. “We are dangerous too” it seems to say.

Masked Miraz, dressed to intimidate (Credit: WikiNarnia)

Before force-on-force battle begins, King Peter and King Miraz face off in single combat, each resplendent in their fine armor. Miraz’s high crest, golden scowled mask, and armored, broad shoulders show a man trying to intimidate his enemies with size. Narnia has similar tactics, with the King’s marshals chosen for size: a bear, a giant, and a crested-helm-wearing centaur already too tall and decked in steel. Who would stand against that?

After treachery ends the single-combat and opens the battle between armies, we notice that the Narnians, a mix of old enemies from the First Battle of Beruna, do not appear to significantly impact the Telmarine soldiers. Maybe some of this happens in the periphery, but by the by, most of the human units fight with coordination and skill. Maybe the Telmarine training regime, combined with a strong desire for revenge against Narnia’s earlier irregular warfare tactics, have caused the soldiers to deaden their flight response.

This changes once the tree show up. When the dryads awaken and the trees come to defend the Old Narnians, Telmarine soldiers flee. We witness some visual evidence of the trees grabbing soldiers on the run, whether because they were easy targets or because, being on the field, they were still considered combatants, we don’t know. The commanders urge their troops to fall back to the river ford, a place where a second stand might be accomplished. It’s hard to distinguish troopers running from tree roots from those conducting a calculated retreat to stronger positions.

Telmarine fear of water (Credit: iCollector.com)

Once the river god destroys the bridge across the Ford of Beruna, escape is cut-off for the Telmarines and the soldiers surrender. We witness the expected reactions: hands raised, weapons laid down. We also witness a form of calculated surrender later, when Aslan allows any Telmarines who wish to start anew to leave Narnia for the land of their ancestors. Give the adversary a line of retreat, make it appealing, and they’ll likely take it. Narnia ensures future peace by weeding out any who might later be tempted to stand against the natives in retribution (my martial analysis says… I know Aslan authentically wants them to start anew and prosper).

For authors, I believe an important takeaway is in how we portray the difference between humans fighting humans, and anything other than that. How will people of different cultures, or creatures of different species and natures, act when pressed into battle against one another? In general, for the human race as created, we don’t like killing each other and will take alternate paths out of danger when possible: flight or surrender being preferable to fighting against sorry odds. However, against an adversary not like us, against a cause that will lead to death regardless, you may find well-trained warriors who will press the attack and fight until the end. It may also be a function of degree; the more alike we look, the more likely we are to react in the same manner. Difference may be the key to driving a sacrificial attitude. We might surrender to an elf but press on a hopeless attack against orcs. Alternately, a robot or AI-empowered force might be programmed to never make that decision and always fight through to the logical endstate. How can you flip that? The Machines of The Matrix realize they must ally with the humans to survive a greater third-party in Mr. Smith. In Bright, we see tension between elves, men, and orcs in a modern setting where all three live in the same society and find the main characters navigating that complexity. You have the opportunity to provide the logic of combat responses in any created beings, and have the responsibility to guide your reader into an understanding of how that logic plays in your world.

Who Says We Can’t Play In the Genetic Sandbox?

Who gets to say what the human race can and can’t do when it comes to tinkering with the planet?
| Oct 3, 2018 | 5 comments |

I missed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in theaters so I had a chance to see it on Blu-Ray this past week. Those are two hours that I will never get back and I will have to answer for it on Judgment Day. How this film became the 12th-highest grossing film of all time is baffling to me (actually, not really). There are thrills and laughs and scares and preposterous leaps of logic and idiotic dialogue and flagrant disregard for the laws of physics and even more dino-hybrids engineered to be killing machines and sell toys at Walmart.

Image copyright Universal Pictures

While I would love to go T-Rex on this film and rip it to pieces (volcanic pyroclastic flow vs. Chris Pratt…guess who wins?), I would like to draw attention to the most interesting character of the whole series, Dr. Ian Malcolm, the unlikely conscience in the midst of all the teeth and technobabble. We’re all familiar with his meme-worthy reservations expressed in the first film, and in Fallen Kingdom, he is testifying before a Congressional committee about the merits of saving the dinosaurs from their exploding home island. His appearances begin and end the film, and he gets the ignoble honor of uttering the most ridiculous closing line that I have ever heard. (You can tell that I really hated this movie). Back to the point at hand: Dr. Malcolm conveys the same disapproval for mankind meddling with Mother Nature that he felt in the first film, albeit with less memorable soundbites.

In his hearing, Dr. Malcolm states that the dinosaurs should be allowed to become extinct (again) and that this is a “correction.” A Congressman asks him if God is “taking matters into His own hands,” to which Dr. Malcolm replies that “God is not part of the equation.” He goes on to say that humanity has attained a “landmark technical power” and that we have “consistently proven ourselves incapable of handling it.” I’m not sure how failing to adequately install computer firewalls and keep grandkids out of harm’s way and re-open a dinosaur-overrun park before proper safeguards can be put into place correlates with abuses of genetic technology. As far as the application of this landmark technology goes, the scientists hit it out of the park (see what I did there?). They didn’t create mutant abominations; they brought dinosaurs back to life. The science was a success; the chaos and death that followed was caused by greed and haste and betrayal and hubris.

Image Copyright Universal Pictures

Dr. Malcolm goes on to predict “man-made cataclysmic change” as a result of this technology. This is actually what technology has done since the dawn of the Industrial Age, although one man’s cataclysm is another man’s profit. What I don’t get is Dr. Malcolm’s reasoning for fearing this change. Since God isn’t part of the equation, as he claims, who makes the rules? Who gets to say what the human race can and can’t do when it comes to tinkering with the planet? He uses the invention of nuclear technology and its subsequent proliferation as an example of what kind of impact genetic technology will have on the world. Is he saying that the world should never have discovered nuclear power? Yes, horrific events occurred because of it, but what about all of the positive uses? Is our world an irradiated wasteland? Of course not. So why should the human race balk at messing with the powers of nature if we are the ultimate judges of what we ought and ought not to do?

God gives mankind dominion over the Earth (Gen. 2:28). Yet this in the context of a perfect world, and sinful man’s concept of “dominion” is a far cry today from what God intended. We don’t have the capability to resurrect the dinosaurs but we have made substantial strides in genetic technology, and I’m sure many lines have been crossed that we the public are not even aware of. If you were to ask people on the street whether it would be okay to merge the DNA of a human with a horse, everyone would adamantly refuse. But what if you were to ask them why? Is it wrong just because it feels “icky”? Because it would foreshadow perceived cataclysmic change? Or is it because while our world is fallen, it was still created by God and His order must be preserved? These scientific debates that take God out of the equation are as useless as debating how hot is too hot when it comes to pepper sauce: it’s just a matter of opinion.

C. S. Lewis Fifty-five Years Later

Lewis showed me what a writer could do with fiction. He made me want to put truth in stories so that readers would grasp profound realities because of a simple line

The week of the fiftieth commemoration of the day C. S. Lewis died, I used the occasion to write about his influence in relation to the other famous men who also died that same day. That was five years ago!

Now we are approaching the next milestone of remembrance, the fifty-fifth year since his death. I’m not sure why, but no one stands out to me as a better example of Christian writing. I like Tolkien’s stories better and some of the contemporary apologists better. But Lewis had a breadth that others lack. He had both a simplicity and a grasp of complex arguments. He painted memorable pictures with words. He took the profound and made them live. Consequently, I’m happy to run this article and quiz again as my tribute to the man and what he has meant to me.

And the quiz? More to stimulate thought and discussion than anything. Have fun with it.

          • *
            October_23,_1962-_President_Kennedy_signs_Proclamation_3504,_authorizing_the_naval_quarantine_of_Cuba

Five years ago this November, the media began their expected tribute to President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated November 22, 1963. Two other famous men died that same day—both writers. The one was Aldous Huxley and the other, C. S. Lewis.

I’ve asked the question over the years, which of the three will history remember as having had the greater impact? Of course, that’s the kind of thing no one can truly quantify. But as much talk as there is this week about President Kennedy and how “everything changed” after he was killed, I don’t recall a great deal of discussion about his ideas or influence over the past ten years. Some.

Often politicians invoke President Kennedy’s memory as part of their election campaigns and the media will mention “Camelot” in wistful tones or Marilyn Monroe’s birthday song to him with knowing winks. And of course there are the conspiracy theory discussions. But President Kennedy’s influence?

BraveNewWorld_FirstEditionAldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, has fostered even less discussion though his dystopian fiction fits in quite nicely with the high profile young adult dystopians of the past few years. He also embraced such ideas as Universalism, pacifism, mysticism, and “Vivekananda’s Neo-Vedanta” or Neo-Hinduism which has seeped into mainline western thought.

I certainly don’t want to take anything away from the impact that President Kennedy or Aldous Huxley had, but C. S. Lewis’s legacy seems to grow year after year.

Though the subject of their admiration was, among other things, an Oxford scholar, a literary critic, a poet, a writer of more than 30 books and countless shorter pieces and speeches, a war veteran, and even a broadcaster, to many it is Lewis’ contributions as a masterful Christian apologist that most endears him to readers and endures a half-century after his death. He made the complex simple and the brain-bending breezy. An estimated 200 million copies of his books are in print, and today they continue to sell about 2 million copies annually. (“C.S. Lewis: Even 50 years after death, his work deeply inspires,” Christian Science Monitor, emphasis added)

Chicago Tribune columnist Cal Thomas has weighed in on the question, and he sizes up the influence of these men the same way I do:

Of the three, it was Lewis who not only was the most influential of his time, but whose reach extends to these times and likely beyond. His many books continue to sell and the number of people whose lives have been changed by his writing expands each year. (“Kennedy, Huxley and Lewis”)

C.s.lewis3Certainly the Narnia movies, though a disappointment to true C. S. Lewis fans, sparked a renewed interest in Lewis’s fiction, but his reputation has never stood upon his storytelling alone. I personally have loved his fiction most, but I appreciate his non-fiction greatly.

Of his works, my favorites are Till We Have Faces; The Great Divorce; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Last Battle; Screwtape Letters; Surprised by Joy. Of those, only the last is non-fiction.

By today’s style of writing, Lewis’s fiction fails miserably. He writes in the omniscient point of view, uses far too many adverbs, and tells more than he shows. Yet his stories resonate with truth, and consequently they stick. In fact, for me, they have revolutionized my understanding.

I came to see my relationship with God in a different way after reading about Aslan and his relationship with the kings and queens of Narnia. I grasped the reality of heaven like I never had before after reading The Great Divorce, and I recognized the way temptation draws me away from God upon reading The Screwtape Letters. Mostly I apprehended to a greater degree God’s love and sacrifice and demand for our surrender to His way.

And of course, Lewis showed me what a writer could do with fiction. He made me want to put truth in stories so that readers would grasp profound realities because of a simple line (E.g., the overly used but nonetheless profound quote from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver […] “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” [excerpt from Ch. 8: “What Happened after Dinner”]).

Noted scholar Clyde Kilby concluded his book Images of Salvation in the Fiction of C. S. Lewis with an insightful observation about the truth Lewis made pivotal in his stories:

throughout all of Lewis’s Christian works we find a great difference in eyesight—or better, spirit-sight—between the saved and the unsaved. How very blind poor Orual was, and that for most of a lifetime. How well Psyche saw, even from early childhood. How clearly Lucy Pevensie saw always, and how blind was her sister Susan, even in the very presence of Aslan. How blind were all but one of the passengers on the bus from hell to heaven. How eternally clear sighted was the Green Lady and how myopic Weston. How often blind are the so-called great in any age and how seeing the humble and quiet of spirit. Lewis’s insight into this difference between sight and blindness is no less explicit than that presented in the Bible itself.

Even his poetry is filled with these themes. Here’s a sonnet of his centered on this truth:

The Bible says Sennacherib’s campaign was spoiled
By angels: in Herodotus it says, by mice–
Innumerably nibbling all one night they toiled
To eat his bowstrings piecemeal as warm wind eats ice.

But muscular archangels, I suggest, employed
Seven little jaws at labour on each slender string,
And by their aid, weak masters though they be, destroyed
The smiling-lipped Assyrian, cruel-bearded king.

No stranger that omnipotence should choose to need
Small helps than great–no stranger if His action lingers
Till men have prayed, and suffers their weak prayers indeed
To move as very muscles His delaying fingers,

Who, in His longanimity and love for our
Small dignities, enfeebles, for a time, His power.

(from Poems, C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper)

Just for fun quiz:

  1. Which of Lewis’s books did he dedicate to J. R. R. Tolkien?
  2. To whom was Screwtape writing?
  3. Which of Lewis’s books is his spiritual autobiography?
  4. In the quote above from Dr. Kilby, he points out Lewis’s use of sight as a metaphor for spiritual understanding. Name at least one other character besides Susan from the Narnia books who suffers from blindness to Aslan’s reality.
  5. How different do you think Lewis’s fiction would be if he had never become a Christian?

Feel free to leave your answers in the comments below. 😉

What impact has C. S. Lewis had on you as a reader or as a writer? Are you more familiar with his fiction or nonfiction? Which books are your favorites? Have you read his poetry?

Mind Games

Readers are [often] confronted with dystopian futures in which young characters are constantly being manipulated and used against their will.
| Sep 28, 2018 | 21 comments |

Mind Games

by

Rebecca D. Bruner

 I recently went to see the movie version of Orson Scott Card’s science fiction classic, Ender’s Game. While no adaptation of a book is ever flawless, I felt the film captured the essence of the main character’s journey. The performances and the overall look and feel of the show lived up to my expectations.

However, the movie reminded me of a disturbing trend in science fiction for young audiences, one that has cropped up lately in a number of popular titles. Not only in Ender’s Game, but also in the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, and The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins, readers are confronted with dystopian futures in which young characters are constantly being manipulated and used against their will. They are unwitting tools in the hands of an evil establishment. Someone playing mind games. Often, the young people have no clear understanding of who their real enemies are until it is too late.

As an author of speculative fiction, I find myself wondering, where is Ben Kenobi? Where is Gandalf? Where are the wise mentors with the power to make a difference, as well as the willingness to sacrifice themselves in defense of the helpless? If writers abandon such archetypal figures, what will be the consequence?

Young people are already predisposed to believe that no one really understands them. Stories like those I’ve mentioned reinforce that pessimistic outlook, but they go a step further. They imprint young minds with the destructive belief that no one can be trusted, least of all their elders or people in authority.

Certainly, there are adults who misuse their power to manipulate, control, and abuse. But the idea that everyone is a user with ulterior motives does nothing to help those young people who live under such tyranny every day. What they really need is the reassurance that there are people who can and will come to their rescue. Instead, we have offered them the cynicism of despair.

Rebecca D. Bruner is the author of six books, including Welcome, Earthborn Brother, a YA science fiction novel from Splashdown Books, My Fairy Godfather, a collection of short stories, and The Pre-Med and the Frog Prince, a twisted fairy tale. Her non-fiction book, A Wife of Valor: Your Strategic Importance in God’s Battle Plan, was a finalist in the Excellence in Editing Award competition in 2017. Rebecca has two grown children who make her very proud. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two cats. Connect with her online at her website or on Facebook.

Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War, part 4: Spectrum of Conflict

The spectrum of conflict shows many shades of color when we use the term “warfare,” as illustrated in Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Travis P here. Last time we talked about levels of war (tactical, operational, and strategic) and mentioned a number of different types of war (siege, aerial bombing campaigns, etc). This time we’re looking at something called “Spectrum of Conflict.” In my experience working with engineers, they like diagrams and images. Travis Chapman is no exception, established by the fact he’s provided three diagrams of the concept we’re discussing! To which I’m actually adding one image I found on my own, the first one below, because I feel it gets across well why the word “spectrum” gets used for this military topic (from Heritage.org):

Credit: Heritage.org

Just like a spectrum of light has a variety of shades of color, warfare can come across as a spectrum of activities that nations can perform, just like the diagram I just used shows. To make sure everyone understands the concept, let me use the Cold War as an example:

The United States and the Soviet Union, for approximately forty-five years, assumed roles as global adversaries. The two nations each had a section of divided Berlin, each had masses of troops in its own version of Germany (and Korea, though that also involved the Chinese). Each had strategic nuclear weapons capable of killing the majority of the human race, competing with one another as to who would have the most such weapons. Each had a global navy and an active competition in outer space; each extensively spied on one another; each supported revolutions in other nations (often with covert action); and each engaged in smaller wars on the periphery of areas they controlled, with the other side supporting the opposition–in Vietnam and Afghanistan in particular. The closest they ever got to direct war was when Soviet “advisors” to the North Koreans were actually flying MIG jets that US pilots (in South Korea under a United Nations mandate) engaged in aerial combat.

Most Cold War war activities would be in the “gray zone” of the diagram I’ve shared. Some covert actions would get into the “irregular” zone of covert operations. “Hybrid war” I’ll talk about in a bit…and a “limited conventional war” is what the USA might call our war in Vietnam. No “theater conventional war” (as in, all of Asia, i.e., a theater) happened during the Cold War.

Credit: The Maritime Strategy, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 1986, via Sam Tangredi at Air University

Let me show another diagram (from Air University) that helps illustrate how two modern countries have a variety of possible responses to one another. Note the axis of probability on the vertical versus the violence axis on the horizontal, which shows that under modern-day conditions, less violent actions are more likely to be a nation’s first response over more violent ones:

The reason this is the case for major modern nations (note the chart tops off at “Strategic Nuclear War”) is because the entire dynamic of national interactions is different when strategic weapons are around, since we really don’t want to blow ourselves up. If we diagrammed Genghis Khan’s spectrum of conflict, it might have only have two points on it–”call on foes to surrender” or “invade.” (Ahem.) Though even though modern nations generally have more options, most nations over most of the world’s history have had a variety of actions they could take against other nations. These include such things as a trade embargo or denial of access to strategic areas (like closing off the Soviet fleet’s access to the Mediterranean in the Cold War).

But the two charts I’ve shared so far still don’t fully account for all the possible actions that can be a part of war’s spectrum. Here’s another:

Credit: Victor Castillo, “Why An Army? Full Dimensional Operations and Digitization” from On Point.

What’s nice about this chart (from On Point) is it shows a wide variety of activities modern nations can engage in–and in all of which the military has a role to some degree–peacetime roles being as important as wartime. (The chart even color codes recent military conflicts according to “red” or “blue” action.)

Modern U.S. Army doctrine (“Unified Land Operations,” ADP 3-0) looks at the spectrum of conflict a bit differently. It says all forms of warfare consist of three things, offense, defense, and “stability operations” (which means activities a military performs when not in direct combat to maintain peace). It’s a bit like mentioning a television uses three primary colors in various mixtures to create every shade of color you see. Though whether or not these three colors cover all possibilities is perhaps debatable–for example, the Art of War extensively talks about offense and defense but also mentions peace negotiations as an element of war (Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Ch. 3, 17).

Credit: Jason Rivera at Small Wars Journal

Let’s share one more diagram, because it will help me illustrate “hybrid war,” something I said I’d talk about but haven’t yet (from Small Wars Journal):

The point of this oscillating diagram isn’t to talk about hybrid war, it’s to demonstrate that modern nations can and do perform actions that perhaps have hostile intent, but which fall short of war–and also clearly perform acts of war–and also do some things that lie in-between. While this chart is geared towards modern nations, the principle of different actions performed at various levels of hostility would apply to most nations found in speculative fiction.

But let’s look at some of the elements that are very modern on this chart. Like cyberwarfare. Or a nation sponsoring a terrorist attack. These are elements of “hybrid warfare,” which is quite a modern idea. It’s the everything-including-the kitchen-sink approach. Russia has used variations of hybrid warfare against Georgia and Ukraine–they messed with elections, knocked out electric power, crashed key servers with cyberattacks, shut down the airwaves, put military personnel in civilian clothes and had them conduct strikes (that would seem to be terrorist attacks), funded actual insurgents, and followed up with conventional military attacks. In other words, they did as much damage as possible while maintaining plausible deniability of their involvement, which had the effect of increasing the effectiveness of their regular military when they rolled in.

Futuristic science fiction stories should include hybrid warfare as something that nations (or planets) would at least know about, if not perform. But while these ideas are modern and aren’t likely to be going away, let’s not rule out fantasy worlds having their own versions of hybrid warfare. Because story worlds that include the practice of magic could have lots of nasty ways to strike out at an enemy covertly while maintaining plausible deniability. Though of course, not everyone would want to fight a hybrid war, even if they could.

Remember what I said above about Genghis Khan as a bit of joke? (and what’s not funny about a brutal invasion? Hey...just kidding) Where I said he’d have only two possible actions? That example shows that nations are not just shaped by their technology, what they are capable of doing, but by their culture, what they’re interested in doing. And it gives a speculative fiction writer some room to be creative with alien and demi-human or magical races. Aliens or demi-humans etc. might have very different ideas about what is and is not legitimately part of a war (or peace) than humans have–and what methods can be considered “fair game” in war. And obviously if that race even wants to play fair. Which is something worth considering when thinking about your aliens/demi-humans/magical creatures.

Travis C here: Hopefully it’s clear that when you hear “war” it could mean almost anything. If you are an author, you will need to define what you mean and try to stay consistent. If you are a reader, you’re already mentally doing the analysis to figure out “What exactly is going on?” and hoping the author gives you enough detail to draw a conclusion. Even with a sweeping multipart epic like Game of Thrones or The Stormlight Archive, it’s challenging for an author to paint the entire spectrum from peaceful military-to-military training all the way through “No, really, this is the end!” Armageddon-esque battles.

As an example of a spectrum of conflict at work, I’d like to use a softball: J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. Tolkien’s writings are extensive and provide sufficient material to draw from, but for those who haven’t enjoyed the pleasure of The Silmarillion, I’ll draw from the Peter Jackson envisioned story as told in each trilogy: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (or as I call it, “A Movie About a Book I Once Read Called The Hobbit That I Can’t Remember That Well But Thought Would Be Cool In Three Movies…”) I digress…

Let’s look at the easy side first: Everyone Not Mordor.

What’s this ranger doing Bree? Peacekeeping operations? (Credit: New Line Cinema)

Middle Earth in The Hobbit and early in The Fellowship of the Ring displays many evidences of what we’d consider pre-crisis activities. There is “a shadow growing in the East”, but many people are getting along with their lives just fine. Tolkien’s vision of the Shire is perfect in this regard. What brewing conflict? More importantly, I’ve got to get these garden plots taken care of…

Through seemingly miraculous means, the good people of Middle Earth unite against the orcs of Angmar and goblins of the Misty Mountains. Some of these forces are clearly prepared for combat (elves & dwarves), and given their long lives they have experience on their side, so we’ll assume there’s some active training happening in the background. The humans of Lake Town appear disorganized yet motivated to defend their own, having suffered the consequence of fighting against Smaug those many years ago.

Fast forward to The Fellowship of the Ring. We see several former allies acting as nations might during a time of peace that anticipates future conflict. As we leave the Battle of the Five Armies, we have an agitated group of elves all intent on vacating Middle Earth (well, many of them). The dwarves have withdrawn to their strongholds. Yet each of the major kingdoms of men realize conflict is coming.

Garrisoned at Osgiliath, Faramir’s efforts to secure the border between Gondor and Mordor have failed. Border security has morphed into a limited war on the Pelennor. (Credit: New Line Cinema)

The most obvious is Gondor. We see evidence that Gondor, more than any other nation, has experienced a progression from the low intensity end of the spectrum. What were initially peacekeeping operations across the river from Osgiliath have now become border defense. Orc raids test the defenses and consume Gondor’s waning resources and attention. Military-to-military ties with Rohan have been broken due to a classic case of “Where were you when…” Lord Faramir’s efforts to hold Osgiliath, and his brother Boromir’s actions before that, have clearly escalated from peacekeeping and surveillance of the enemy to shows of force (i.e., having troops garrisoned at the ford) and limited engagements.

As the story progresses we see Gondor’s posture change from light defense to besieged, fully recognizing that Sauron’s timeline for a campaign is much shorter than the Steward anticipated. In the opening battle of the campaign, Sauron’s forces rout the garrison at Osgiliath, then fully circumvallate Gondor. It’s only through active intervention by unexpected allies that Gondor is saved as full-scale combat operations break open on the Pelennor Fields outside Minas Tirith.

We saw a similar situation in The Two Towers, as Rohan’s roving horse warriors, the Rohirrim, react to increasing threats to their borders by orc raids. As Éomer (and his cousin before him) try to press King Theoden to escalate their actions, he is met with resistance and ultimately must chose exile to maintain a semblance of border protection. This quickly progresses to the siege at Helm’s Deep and the quick deployment of Rohan’s army to support Gondor.

Now let’s change places to the less-easy, but beautiful, examples of conflict spectrum provided by Isengard and Mordor.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, we witness the rise of Isengard as Saruman extends his influence and schemes in concert with Mordor. As his tower Orthanc becomes a seat of military power we watch, quite truly, the shaping of Isengard’s forces and resources as Saruman prepares to leave diplomacy and scheming behind and embark upon a conventional war against his enemies. Orc raids, seen in Fellowship, extend into Rohan. Human allies are sought and brought into his armies in what we’d call coalition operations. An information campaign aids Saruman in winning discontented men to his side, and he wields his most effective weapon, Wormtongue, against the only significant threat in the region. Once Theoden is free from his prison, the clock winds down to the Battle of Helm’s Deep and the retaking of Isengard by the Ents.

What we don’t see in The Two Towers is a progressive escalation up to the conventional battle. We know Isengard has been active, but it’s not shown on the screen (and not significantly developed in the book). In my opinion, that’s alright. Tolkien was trying to tell a different story that one of a military escalation of force. Yet, we have seen similar events in our own time, when a nation throws the majority of its eggs in one basket and embarks on a military objective knowing that, if successful, their single credible threat would be eliminated long enough to secure the ultimate purposes of the nation. The risk of failure doesn’t outweigh the value of success. Would that Saruman might have sent his forces elsewhere.

Lastly, we have Mordor. I’d like to go back in time a bit though, and let’s think of how we arrived here. Sauron crafted the Ring and its kin. Nine kings gave their kingdoms and lives in service to Mordor. That’s a powerful alliance. Mordor’s strength, while thrown back in the Battle of Dagorlad (the opening sequence to The Fellowship of the Ring), continued to grow in its protected realm.

Sauron observing the Battle of Dagorlad from Mordor, an example of a limited war escalating into a theater war against a combined army of allies. (Credit: LOTR Wikia)

Then we witness the stirring of Sauron as he puts a new plan into motion. The dragon Smaug is tempted to align his strength with Mordor (at least in the cinematic interpretation). The Nine are found again and given back their fell powers. Orcs and goblins have joined forces against men, elves, and the scattered dwarves.

By the time Frodo and Sam enter the picture, we have an active Mordor pressing the borders of Gondor. Sauron’s emissaries have successfully brought Umbar and the Easterlings into alliance. With forces moving in the open, we witness Mordor showing its strength to any who would see.

By The Two Towers we watch Sauron’s campaign against Gondor unfold, going from raids and strikes to a persistent attack against Osgiliath, to the opening movements that signal at least a limited war (taking Osgiliath as a foothold) and ultimately the Battle of Pelennor Fields (Gondor) and later, the Battle of the Morannon (Battle of the Black Gates) when Sauron is overthrown.

Whew.

Hopefully you’ve seen a few examples in the canon of Tolkien to quench our literary thirst. Certainly we could make our analysis even deeper, but space limits us here. Tolkien created a world where war escalated quickly yet contained many elements of a spectrum of conflict. Another example might be Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive, where we enter a world already deep into a protracted war, with flashbacks that help the reader understand how it reached that stage, with clear progression of military actions, as well as brilliant examples of hybrid warfare that involves information and public opinion among the participants. .

I also hope we’ve piqued your interest in the subject. It was always a favorite of mine in my strategy & war classes. I recommend searching for “spectrum of conflict” to see other examples that may be helpful in how you plan your next book or series with war as a key element. Now back to those X-Y plots and charts I’ve got brewing….

In ‘The Twilight Zone’

So ‘The Twilight Zone’ opens, solemnly making it clear that you, the viewer, are not in Kansas anymore.
| Sep 26, 2018 | 7 comments |

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition …

So The Twilight Zone opens, solemnly making it clear that you, the viewer, are not in Kansas anymore. Debuting on CBS in 1959, The Twilight Zone was not the first sci-fi TV show, but it was, perhaps, the first fully respectable one. In its own day, it worked. Perhaps more surprisingly, it works in our day, too.

The very conception of The Twilight Zone brings with it a disability. Twilight Zone is that rare bird, an anthology show. It is, essentially, Astounding Stories translated into the medium of television – an amalgam of short stories with no connective tissue between them. The stories share little, not even necessarily a universe; they share only the somber tones of Rod Serling’s narration. A new cast of characters is presented on the stage and then ushered off every episode, and this tends to a chilling effect. Attachment between viewers and characters can’t be developed to any real power when the characters are so ephemeral. You can’t begin any TZ episode with a sense of who the characters are, or any particular affection for them; they’re all strangers to you, after all.

The Twilight Zone‘s reliance on the short-story form leads it into other hazards. Like so many of the short stories published in science fiction magazines, Twilight Zone often depends on the twist at the end. The savvy viewer knows this and frequently spends the episode looking for the trick. Whether this decreases enjoyment by detaching one from the story or increases enjoyment by turning it into a game hinges on the individual viewer. The more serious effect is that when the story is about the twist, the twist is not always enough to sustain the story. In some Twilight Zone episodes, the story is stretched thin over the required twenty-five minutes, going in circles because it’s too soon to go to the end. And though it is only natural for victims of the Twilight Zone to wander around confused, you sometimes wish they were quicker in the uptake. (“Face it,” you want to say to the man who jumped in front of a truck before the scene cut and now wonders why nobody seems able to see him. “You’re dead.”)

And for all this, The Twilight Zone works. With all its limitations it has a liberty that it fully, skillfully exploits. When all characters are one-shot characters, anything can happen to them, and it often does. The fatality rate among Twilight Zone protagonists is high. Because the show doesn’t have to resume next week where it leaves off this week, it is free to go in directions and to extents that would prove impossible for more conventional shows. It indulges ideas that could not fit into a universe less fluid and shadowy than the Twilight Zone. The show shuffles among subgenres: science fiction, folk lore, moral fables, horror – anything that might be called the fifth dimension.

The Twilight Zone is a serious show: often philosophical, moralistic to its core. Some episodes are written around morals; others have their lessons attached in the closing narration. Religion is unusually present in The Twilight Zone. A handful of episodes traffic in ideas of devils, angels, and hell, but far more notable is the repeated, reverent invocation of God’s name. (God’s name, in this era of television, was not abused, but it was generally ignored.) The Twilight Zone wants to tell you stories, but it is also quite conscious, sometimes, of the desire to tell you an idea, and maybe even a life lesson.

There is good reason why The Twilight Zone is a rare bird. It sacrifices the history and emotional connection of the well-done serial, and that is no small loss. At times it’s a little bleak, or a little overwrought, or a little stretched. But it holds a persistent fascination, fueled by a serious and sprawling creativity. It is good to venture into the Twilight Zone, where the normal rules are always suspended, and let the ride take you where it will.

‘Antifa-ntasy’ Puts God in a Box

In 1982, fantasy equaled Satanism. In 2016, Stranger Things received praise from Relevant and Christianity Today. What happened?
| Sep 25, 2018 | 9 comments |

I grew up in the Stranger Things era. Dustin, Mike, Will, and Lucas would’ve been my friends in school. Except my mother bought into the Pat Pulling/B.A.D.D. nonsense. Pulling was the primary leader of the crusade to villainize “Dungeons and Dragons” (D&D) and other uses of the imagination as well. Pulling’s tragic story involves her son’s suicide, sketchy research, and a need for something to blame.

But despite an “Antifa-ntasy” mindset, there was flexibility in my home. Star Wars was fine; D&D was not. Star Trek was okay; “Magic: the Gathering” was evil. Lord of the Rings books were acceptable but any role-playing games, collectible card games, and high fantasy was off the table. Oddly enough, Willow was fine.

Even as a child, that didn’t make sense.

Christopher D. SchmitzThis week we feature Christopher D. Schmitz and his novel Wolf of the Tesseract in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about these stories.

Why was Willow okay but Castlevania or Astyanax harmful? I realized that if my parents liked it, it got a pass—Mom liked Star Trek, so it’s fine, and Mom really liked Val Kilmer, so Willow passed.

Though I was young, I realized that most Christians bought into hype. We had corporate triggers; the primary one was fear, and it’s understandable. In October 1989, Jacob Wetterling was infamously kidnapped eighty miles from my home. Christians, Americans, wanted to keep their families safe.

Even rural America became dangerous. It transformed from free-ranging kids on bikes in cul-de-sacs to indoor models. It seemed dangerous to walk to school. The world got small.

It stayed small for many years.

And then came the Internet and the world exploded in size! Information from across the world became readily available. I learned that, in many parts of the world, believers were less confused. And in other parts, Anti-fantasy reached epidemic levels. (Some claimed that even C. S. Lewis was a satanic plant.)

A generation grew tired of the illogical screaming—tired of accepting other people’s word as fact. Christians finally became skeptical and tested what we’d heard against scripture, discovering that not everything was as we’d been told.

Instead of dogma, we ought to have been trained to discern right and wrong: something we ought to innately know about—a byproduct of being sealed through the Holy Spirit, (see Ephesians 1: 11–14). 1 John 4:1 says that we ought to test whether things come from God or false prophets, and 1 Thessalonians 5: 19–22 indicates the same and demands we defend what is good.

How do we really know the difference, especially on relatively modern things where Scriptures may be silent? How do we test? Acts 17:11 tells us: be like the Bereans who examined scripture daily. Don’t just know about God. Know Him. That involves communicating to Him (prayer) and hearing his words (prayer and reading the Word.)

As smart as modern Christians can be, the majority of us are lazy. Most of us are not Bereans. Many simply open our brains and ask for info-dumps from folks we think are smarter. This enabled a new Phariseeism to rise: those who will pretend to be godly and claim a gift of discernment (1 Corinthians 12:10). They dictate right or wrong and put a stamp of “sinful” on things. They say, “do not handle … do not touch!” giving “merely human commands and teachings.” But as the apostle Paul goes on to say, “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship …” (Colossians 2:21-23; this spells out the holier-than-thou attitude indicative of Phariseeism).

It is impossible to run around and wrestle every Pharisee (and we would risk simply replacing them). But we can excel at discernment, and we can be sure that fantasy is not somehow spawned of Satan.

Wolf of the Tesseract, Christopher D. Schmitz

“Despite its sometimes confusing plot . . . Wolf of the Tesseract is a satisfying adventure.” — Lorehaven Magazine

Theologian Peter Leithart said, “The Devil has no stories.” No matter how dark, no matter how uplifting, all tales borrow from deeper, truer stories. Everything else is a shadow copy of the divine, and stories (whether they are parables or fantasy epics,) help us comprehend the incomprehensible—that is the beauty of what God gave us: imagination. Only through imagination and the creative bent of mankind can we comprehend the concept of infinity.  Imagination is partly how we relate to aspects of the divine. Limitless creativity is a reflection of an infinite, creative Creator.

What we can be certain of, Scripturally speaking, is that nothing inherently demonic can glorify God. Many fantasy tales are stuffed full of characters who wrestle with morality, the human condition, allegory, religious symbolism, divine foreshadowing, and even outright theology.

Researchers widely point to the minister and fiction author George MacDonald as the first writer of “modern fantasy” and he inspired future greats such as G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, Madeleine L’Engle, and C. S. Lewis. Some would point even further back to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress as the first work of modern fantasy. Thoroughly a Christian allegory, it was also the first novel written in the English language.

Would Jesus approve of fantasy? That probably depends on the goals of the writer. Jesus used story to connect people to greater truths. Fantasy didn’t exist as a genre in his time, but he did use many genres to relate to the crowd, including common sayings, poetry, parables, and the popular apocalyptic genre among others. Paul did likewise and even used Greek theology to glorify Jesus (Acts 17:23). No genre is beyond the ability of an all-powerful God to use for his glory. And no person, either. I’ve seen many “Pharisees” come to this understanding; nobody/nothing is irredeemable.

I understand those with a knee-jerk fear of fantasy. I want my kids to be safe, too. But I also want them to freely exercise their limitless creativity and to play in an infinite sandbox; it enables growth and interaction with faith concepts.

Demonizing fantasy (or music styles, hobbies, activities, etc.) or anything not banned by Scripture is a way to shrink God and make idols of personal preferences, fears, or comforts. Following Jesus is not, and has never been about, putting stamps of approval on day-to-day activities, types of entertainment, or people—it’s about living in relationship with an all-powerful Creator. Truly, locking our eternal God into a limited box is the ultimate act of fantasy, and one far more fictitious than Narnia.

“Despite its sometimes confusing plot . . . Wolf of the Tesseract is a satisfying adventure.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Explore Christopher D. Schmitz’s novel Wolf of the Tesseract in the Lorehaven Library.

Read our full review exclusively from the summer 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!

Twelve Responses to Abuse Accusations in Christian Conferences, Part 3

Consider going back to “old ways” of ethical conduct. Don’t slander people who know, or defend, the accused abuser. Be shocked when accused men “repent” to everyone except God. Lament that these situations often come with no-win scenarios (for now).

How can Christians respond to patterns power and sex abuse, like those reported Sept. 12 by Publishers Weekly?

This series aims to answer some of those questions with responses to what went wrong before. In part 1 and part 2, I suggested we:

  1. Listen to abuse victims.
  2. Don’t respond with particular lines.
  3. Reconsider whether victims must “forgive” the accused.
  4. Don’t make judgments about salvation.
  5. Don’t treat a conference or Christian group like a church.
  6. Encourage all Christian leaders to act “above reproach.”
  7. Don’t reject all the accused person’s creative work.
  8. Don’t totally “shun” the person accused of abuse.

On a personal note, I have literally lost sleep over this issue. I’ve yelled a lot too.

But that’s nothing compared to what victims have gone through—even as they try to figure out how or whether they should share their concerns with someone else.

Here are the final four responses to abuse accusations in Christian conferences:

  1. Consider going back to “old ways” of ethical conduct.
  2. Don’t slander people who know, or defend, the accused abuser.
  3. Be shocked when accused men “repent” to everyone except God.
  4. Lament that these situations often come with no-win scenarios (for now).

9. Consider going back to ‘old ways’ of ethical conduct.

For this one, I’ll narrow my focus to one series of accusations in the article. This relates to what can only be described—quite generously—as a pattern of nasty, sexually charged “propositions,” often in a “joking” manner, that one person shared in various circumstances, both one-on-one to women and among a group.

Some women persuaded themselves they could just deal with this. But they could not, and by sharing with others, they believe they found a dangerous pattern.

Sinners gonna sin. No “rule” here, whether man-made or biblical, can stop them.

But it’s worth noting that the apostle Paul (him again!) specifically told us this:

… Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.1

"Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting ..." (Ephesians 5:4, KJV)

“Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting …” (Ephesians 5:4, KJV)

Christians, even if we aren’t abusive, we have gotten entirely too lax about this rule.

Yes, I will call it a rule. This isn’t “legalism.” What an insipid notion that would be. It says: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place.” These are absolute terms. They hit me between the eyes, particularly the part about “crude joking.” Paul says that in no way does this fit “among you,” God’s people.

By the way, Paul does not say, “Instead, pray and fast and study the Bible.” He says, “instead let there be thanksgiving.” This is the best kind of party—a celebration, not of evils that “must not even be named among you,” but of our God-given gifts.

Sure, we can debate about whether this kind of “crude joking” belongs in our fiction. Or we might quibble what “must not even be named” means (after all, Scripture itself “names” sexual immorality and other sins). But don’t miss the point. Paul is saying: Don’t. Even. Go. There. It’s not about “legalism.” It’s about holiness.

It’s time we got back to that standard, to please God, “legalism” claims be damned.

And as one reader speculated about such a speech guideline among Christians: “It won’t prevent [abuse], but [the rule] does expose [abuse]. Because if we all draw lines earlier, it becomes more evident who is NOT drawing lines.”

Also, literary agent Steve Laube (who also oversees Enclave Publishing) wrote this:

Earlier this year I helped a conference director craft a “Conference Code of Conduct” and have adapted it as a statement for our agency:

Every person involved in our agency is expected to act in a manner that reflects biblical values and to act in a manner that pleases God. We are expected to be respectful and treat everyone the same – regardless of rank, gender, or socioeconomic position. Christian men and women are expected to maintain the highest moral standards as a reflection of God’s holiness. While much of today’s culture has abandoned these precepts, the biblical principles for behavior are essential. Our actions and words are a testimony of who we are as Christ followers.

(Ps. 51:9–10, Phil. 4:8, Ps. 41:12, 1 Cor. 6:19–20, Ps. 24:3–5, Gal 1:10)

This is not a debate. There should not be a question about how we behave as followers of Christ. Our words and behavior are indeed a testimony to Him whose name we proclaim. … In our weakness, we must rely on Christ who gives us strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). That is why we are urged toward sanctification (Romans 6:19), to the “holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9), and to “walk worthy” (Ephesians 4:1).2

10. Don’t slander people who know, or defend, the accused abuser.

Briefly here: the Holy Spirit is ridiculously patient. And some decent Christians are ridiculously naïve and sheltered about what abuse is, how it works, and how they ought to respond when someone says so-and-so has a pattern of power-abuse.

We must be patient with these people until such time as they may finally get it.

What we can’t do is get angry, or yell at them over social media, or (this happens most often on Twitter, no doubt) say that they’re guilty of the exact same sins as the original abuser. That’s not true and not helpful to teach that person. And on a practical level, it doesn’t work. It only feeds the persistent myths that a victim who accuses someone is only doing this for attention, or herself is guilty of leading him on, or any of that nonsense.3

Unless you yourself are a victim, still struggling with the harm and in need of protection, engage with this naïve defender of an abuser. Love that enemy. Dump some verbal coals on his head, Romans 12–style. Don’t confuse the defender’s bumbling naivete with the actual abuse done by a twisted perpetrator.

11. Be shocked when accused men publicly ‘repent’ to everyone except to God.

If you retain nothing from this article, remember this part.

In many cases, when high-profile Christians are reputably accused of abusing their power, they tend to minimize their offense. They talk about how they’ve hurt their own family, or their church. They may say this was a one-off sin (when other victims may beg to differ). In many cases, they only emphasize the human harm.

But they don’t speak anything like David’s repentance at his own sexual sin born of power-abuse: “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned / and done what is evil in your sight …”4

No expression of repentance before God.

No mention of Jesus or the gospel or the fact that any sin, no matter how terrible it is to human victims, is foremost a sin against God almighty.

No mention of God or their own professed Christian faith.

That really bothers me.

It bothers me almost as much that it took me so long to see the missing piece.

Without such expression, these statements of regret have nothing to do with Christ. Frankly, they sound little different from lip-biting apologies formed mainly to CYA and make the lawyers happy. They sound like PR 101, not Gospel Confession 101. PR 101 says “repent” for the bare minimum only as people find out. The gospel says to repent for everything on exactly the scale as the offense is known or damaging.

Christian leaders, if/when we do sin, we must show that we repent first to God.

As my Speculative Faith colleague Rebecca LuElla Miller wrote:

Repentance is more than saying sorry. I think there should be some awareness expressed that these sins are against God and have hurt His name, that they are betrayals of those to whom they should have been faithful (family and friends–aren’t there wives and even children of these men who are being affected by their sinful behavior?) I think an admission that these sins are not some small thing, that they aren’t wrong merely because they were caught, that they aren’t wrong merely because the consequences are grave, but rather they are wrong because they are an offense, first, against a pure and holy God–seems to me that’s most like David crying out to God in Psalm 51.

12. Lament that these situations often come with no-win scenarios (for now).

In pondering these accusations, praying for victims and friends, and planning how or whether I ought to even say anything, I have felt much like Dr. Stephen Strange.

That’s because I can’t help trying to plan out alternate scenarios to defeat this evil. What about this verse? That verse? How is a church like/unlike a conference? Is there any way we can identify potential power-abusers (who themselves might have witnessed or been subject to power abuse) and put them through discipleship first? What did the local church do? Not do? How can we do better? How can we plan, train, or program to get the level of power-abuse down to zero percent? How could we possibly avoid the threat of digital “mob rule” or false accusations?

In Avengers: Infinity War, our heroes are desperate to save the universe from the mad genocidal titan Thanos. Dr. Strange magically gazes forward in time to view alternate futures. What if our heroes did this? Or that? Or this? Strange witnesses 14,000,605 possible futures. But they achieve victory over Thanos—in only one.

Despite all we do, we’re facing a no-win scenario. We can’t out-moralize, out-think, or even out-disciple our way into a Church, much less a world, in which Christian leaders won’t be abusing their power to harass, assault, or even try to rape victims.

There’s only one way—one possible future to put an end to mad maniacs for good.

That’s the return of Jesus. When he returns, to wrap up this era and redeem his creation, he’ll put all things right. Everything sad will come untrue. All our “light and momentary afflictions” (2 Cor. 4:17) will be only the cover and the title page, as the story advances and finally, at last, we will enter the never-ending adventure.

Yes, saying this in the middle of grief and abuse may sound tacky. Again, it’s like reminding the grieving parent that she’ll see her child again at the resurrection when she’s still weeping against the red and blue flashes of ambulance lights.

That’s why we don’t say this truth there. We say it here. We proclaim it, explore it, and celebrate it, in our articles, in our casual comments to each other, in our church teaching and sermons and friendships, in our writers’ conferences and publications and books. And we explore and celebrate this truth in our fantastic stories.

  1. Ephesians 5: 3–5.
  2. Steve Laube, “Integrity In All Things,” Sept. 24, 2018, SteveLaube.com.
  3. Another myth is that the accuser may only want media notoriety. This myth presumes the accuser is only affected by a single cultural space, “the media,” which supposedly only rewards #MeToo whistle-blowers. (This is not always true, especially when many #MeToo accusations go against powerful media figures.) This myth also presumes the expiration or irrelevance of sheltered religious environments, where people who accuse a popular leader or religious figure will only face more harassment or blame. For example, see Rachel Denhollander’s tweet thread about her experience.
  4. Psalm 51:4.