Realm Makers Bookstore Takes Fantastic Christian Fiction to New Fans

At homeschool conferences, Realm Makers Bookstore is finding new fans of fantastic Christian fiction.
| Mar 29, 2019 | 30 comments |

Many years ago at a Christian writers conference, I heard an author remark that he wished he could crack “the homeschool market.”

Homeschool students love to read, he said. They’re smart. They’re dedicated. And they often prefer Christian-made books.

Back then—and even more so now, homeschoolers don’t just love books—They love fantasy. And they love Christian-made fantasy.

But somehow he couldn’t figure it out. And I, being a homeschool graduate and conference newbie, didn’t know how to help.

Enter the Realm Makers Bookstore

More than a decade later, we’re “cracking” that market, for God’s glory and to share his people’s fantastic fiction.1

This year, the Realm Makers Bookstore has already appeared at Great Homeschool Conventions in Fort Worth. (I joined them; here’s my mission report.)

Just last weekend, they hosted the store at the same convention, appearing in Greenville, South Carolina.

This weekend (Thu.–Sat., March 28–30) they’re sharing great Christian-made fantastic fiction with new fans at Teach Them Diligently in Nashville, Tennessee.

Scott Minor: ‘These are the stories today’s generation wants to read’

E. Stephen Burnett (Lorehaven magazine) joins Realm Makers Bookstore co-founder Scott Minor in Fort Worth. (Courtesy Scott Minor)

On the way to Nashville, bookstore operator Scott Minor2 told me about their South Carolina success.

“There were about ten to fifteen percent fewer attendees in Greenville, compared to Fort Worth,” he said. “But we sold thirty-three percent more books.”

To date, that means the bookstore set a new sales record at the Greenville conference.

“Everybody who came to the booth was excited to see the books,” Scott told me. “Groups of kids would come by four times looking at books. Then they would come back on the last day and buy the books that they wanted. … Some parents drag their children to a booth to check out something. … It seemed like our booth was where children dragged their parents.”

“Everybody who came to the booth was excited to see the books … Some parents drag their children to a booth to check out something. … It seemed like our booth was where children dragged their parents.”

— Scott Minor

I asked Scott if homeschool students really do uniquely value Christian fiction novels. Absolutely, he said.

“There’s a lot of Christians whose kids are reading these books, who don’t go to homeschool conferences,” Scott said. “The homeschool community is one that talks and communicates a lot amongst themselves when they find something good. They do spread the word pretty religiously. And they go there to buy books. That’s the purpose of going there.”

We both agreed that Christian creatives must share positive joy and win trust with new fans. That goes double when it comes to books with, say, dragons (or even vampires). Some books with these critters rightly trip the discern-alert for a Christian parent (or conference organizer!).

Scott said organizers and parents alike appreciate the bookstore‘s online catalog for homeschool parents. The catalog provides info about each novel the bookstore carries, along with author-supplied notes about the story’s content and themes.

Bookstore staff also reassure organizers that many of these authors were themselves homeschooled, Scott told me.

“They have come through a classical Christian model of schooling, and they are becoming writers,” Scott said. “When they use their imaginations, these are the stories that they come up with. These are the stories today’s generation wants to read.”

At several of these events, Realm Makers Bookstore hosts have met other fantasy authors, such as Andrew Peterson and N. D. Wilson.

Each of these creatives, often with his or her own publisher or organization, shares the goal of exalting Christ through fantastic tales.

“We’re hoping to open up the Christian side and change opinions about fantasy,” Scott said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Well, there’s good fantasy and bad fantasy’! The hard part for Christian parents who don’t read fantasy is knowing one from another. You can’t go reading it all. I try in my conversations to mention quickly for people that we have curated fantasy and sci-fi by Christian authors.”

Gillian Bronte Adams: ‘I loved seeing readers’ faces light up’

From left: novelists Gillian Bronte Adams, Amy Williams, and Catherine Jones Payne at Realm Makers Bookstore’s appearance in Greenville, South Carolina. (Courtesy Realm Makers Bookstore)

Two of those authors joined the bookstore in Greenville: Gillian Bronte Adams (The Songkeeper Chronicles series) and Catherine Jones Payne (the Broken Tides series).

I asked Gillian, “Would you like to write a brief paragraph or two about the South Carolina conference?”

Here’s what she said.

Because of our position in the convention hall, everyone walking down the aisle came face to face with our display full of books with robots, mermaids, fantasy creatures, and spaceships, and I loved seeing readers’ faces light up as they realized what we had to offer and made a beeline over to explore it all. Some of my favorite moments included:

  • Opportunities to talk with parents about how “subcreating” and using our imaginations gives us a unique opportunity to grow in our understanding of God’s character as Creator. One mom expressed her thanks for the comment, explain that she had never considered it in that way before but wants to encourage her daughters in their creativity too.
  • All the readers who came back to the booth to tell us they had already started reading and were “50 pages in” or had “stayed up way too late reading!”
  • The teenage boy who explored the bookstore for a while before migrating toward Catherine Jones Payne’s Broken Tides mermaid series. “I don’t think there are books that are just for girls or just for boys,” he explained, “as long as the story is good!” Having heard many conversations about how most boys prefer reading about only male main characters while many girls seem to enjoy books with both male and female main characters, I was so encouraged by his perspective.
  • The groups of young readers who visited the bookstore every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I understand the pull. When I was their age, I would have pitched a tent by the bookstore if I could!

Lauren H. Brandenburg: ‘It was like we opened a whole new world to them’

(Courtesy Lauren H. Brandenburg

Novelist Lauren H. Brandenburg returns this year to aid Realm Makers Bookstore in Nashville this weekend. She’s joined by writers Kristen Stieffel, Ralene Burke, Patrick Carr, and C. J. Redwine.

Lauren told me that last year’s similar event in Nashville was fantastic.

The homeschool catalogue. Parents loved that there was a place they could go to get detailed descriptions of a book’s content. As a homeschooler and author, comfortably telling parents that the books we provide were not only safe but written by Christian authors was so fun. It was like we opened a whole new world to them. Homeschoolers are readers and quite a few love the speculative genre. Personally, I just loved hanging with Patrick Carr and Rachelle Dekker. It was their first homeschool conference, so watching them being loved on by the readers was really cool. The conference is a special place and unlike any other book signings that I do. Scott and Becky have really stumbled onto something. Authors are fighting and scouring for ways to get books into the hands of the right readers. The Realm Makers bookstore is doing it for them. It’s a win, win.


I’ll hope to share more bookstore updates in the future, perhaps as soon as next week.

Meanwhile, I’ll represent Lorehaven magazine and aid Realm Makers Bookstore again, next month in Cincinnati!

For the future of Christian fantasy,


  1. Several Christian authors of fantasy, such as Bryan Davis and Chuck Black, have been touring the homeschool convention circuit for some years. I hope to catch up with them for any of their comments in the future.
  2. Scott and his wife, fantasy novelist Rebecca P. Minor, also co-founded Realm Makers: the conference.

Speculative Fiction Writers Guide to War, part 20: Transportation: Beastly Power

What are the limits of what a man or beast can transport, even fantasy beasts? How far beastly power can move an army and its supplies is an important consideration in speculative fiction world building.

This post is the first of a two parter that will assemble some basic information on moving troops and supplies to provide details for your story worlds, looking mostly at fantasy-type settings, but also touching on science fiction. (“Beastly Power” is meant to refer to animal or human power in a way I hope sounds interesting.) This kind of thing is invaluable for delving into a number of specific details if that’s what you’re inclined to do. For example, you need info like this if you know two of your cities are so many miles or leagues (or whatever measurement) apart and want to calculate how long it would take Invading Army X to get to City-in-Danger Y. Or in reverse, if you know that two cities are, say, five days of ordinary cavalry movement apart, you can calculate the distance between cities in objective units (and that distance would be about 5 x 40 miles per day or 200 miles / 320 kilometers based on ordinary “beastly” horse cavalry movement, which you will see below).

Note this article only attributes a few sources. Some things come directly from my memory based on a number of years of marching and riding and more importantly from reading about marching and riding. Others bits of info have been checked with various Internet sites, but citing them all would be tedious. Feel free to confirm these figures on your own if you wish, but this article affirms they’re generally accurate (and asks you to trust that’s true).

Let’s start at the most basic form of beastly transportation there is. Troops moving themselves by foot.

How far do well-trained (human) soldiers march per day? Assuming good marching conditions–that is, on well-maintained roads, for an army with a baggage train of food and provisions so they don’t losing time foraging for themselves–an army at maximum marched about 40 miles / 67 km per day.

Troops in top condition can march about 4 miles per hour (about 6.5 km/hr), but over extended distances, a speed of 3 MPH (4.8 km/hr) is more realistic. So a march of 40 or even 50 miles in a day would mean marching 13 or more hours in a single day, taking only minimal time to eat and rest. This kind of maximum march is called a “forced march” and it’s possible to get troops in very best physical condition (troops that routinely march every single day) to do several forced marches in a row–but the army will be normally be exhausted after than and not be worth much for fighting. (Though making them manage to fight well anyway might be something you want to do for story purposes.) Troops who don’t march every single day but are in otherwise good condition probably will need significant rest after just one forced march. (Yes, that means troops in average or poor shape won’t be able to perform even one march that long.)

Of course, we’re talking human beings when we tap into historical examples. Lord of the Rings revealed Uruk-hai (Isengard orcs) able to jog for days on end with virtually no rest, effectively moving at least about 120 miles (200 km) per day (6 MPH for 20 hours) for a number of days in a row. In fact, they may have gone even as fast as 200 miles per day (320 km), but even for a orc, that would be quite a feat. However fast the orcs moved, it was a pace elves were shown to be able to keep effortlessly, and a particular dwarf could keep with great effort–while Aragorn could do the same pace essentially because he’s a legendary hero (though in fairness, there are extreme athletes in the real world who can in fact run 120 miles per day–but it’s a rare person who can). But in general, demi-humans are portrayed as exceeding humans in “beastly power” to move themselves.

Just bear in mind that running for days on end evokes a capacity that very, very few human beings have–it exceeds the limits of ordinary beastly power. You’re generally talking demi-humans, magical beings, or superhumans if you show someone who can do that. Or perhaps aliens or cyborgs.

So if 40 miles per day is a forced march, what’s a regular march? If troops have to forage for their own food as they go, as many armies did in the Middle Ages, 6 to 16 miles per day is realistic (10 to 26 km). “Foraging” does include hunting and gathering food, but often in practice meant “acquiring” food from local peasants, only actually paying for it when being extra nice.

If troops are well-supplied with food, they can march 3 miles per hour for about 8 hours or approximately 25 miles (40 km) per day, giving them time to break camp in the morning, set up camp in the evening, time to eat, maintain weapons, etc. This is a pace troops accustomed to marching can keep up as long as the army has the supplies it needs.

The distance troops can realistically march per day is lower in places where there’s bad terrain. Bogs, swamps, terrain turned to mud because of heavy rain, and dense undergrowth are the some of the worst terrain types for marching troops. Though crossing mountains and wide rivers also will require extra time, as will thick snow for the few armies able to march in winter. In some cases, historic armies in difficult terrain may have moved only 3 miles or 5 kilometers per day.

To be supplied with food, a medieval or ancient-style army that isn’t foraging will have a baggage train carrying supplies (“train” here doesn’t refer to a locomotive, but to a group of wagons, horses, and/or porters). If the wagons are pulled by oxen (who have great strength to pull wagons) then the speed of the army is limited to the pulling speed of oxen. Which is about 2 miles per hour or 16 miles (26 km) per day (in other words, slow).

Since oxen are so slow, you might wonder how much troops can carry on their own bodies if they decide to break away from their baggage train to make better time. On their own persons, troops can carry at most around 60 percent of their own body weight for an extended period–Romans carried about 80 pounds of gear (36 kg) when the average weight of a soldier was about 140 pounds (64 kg)–and they marched around 25 miles a day in all that gear, day after day. In the US Civil War, soldiers carrying about 35 to 40% of body weight was more standard (around 50 pounds or 23 kg for a 140 pound soldier). Note though that unless the army you’re created has access to bodies of fresh water along the way, they will need a minimum (depending on how hot it is) of about a gallon and a half of drinking water per day (about 6 liters) weighing about 12 pounds or 6 kilograms per day. (So the army usually can only be a few days away from the baggage train.)

Credit: Roman Warfare

If the baggage train uses horses to pull wagons or camels to carry loads (I don’t think you can get a camel to pull a wagon by the way–they refuse), then the baggage train can keep pace with human beings marching, even a forced march, without a problem.

Which brings up the question, how far can horse cavalry or camel cavalry move in a day? Much faster than men on foot, right?

Faster, yes, but not as much faster as you might think. The horses or camels or other animals moving by beastly power alone need to rest, drink, and eat for themselves, after all. And a horse cannot gallop endlessly, unless it’s a magical horse, in spite of what some movies seem to show. An ordinary horse in good condition can gallop about a mile or a mile and a half (about 1.6 to 2.5 km) before needing a rest and starts to get seriously exhausted at 2 or 2.5 miles (3.2 to 4 km)–I mean exhausted to the point it can’t go any more and may have health issues and will definitely need extended rest. Some horses can make 3 miles, but for non-magical horses, that’s pretty much it.

And how fast do horses gallop? It depends on the horse, with large, heavy horses generally slower. According to one site, 25 to 30 mph (40 to 48 km/hr) is normal, but the world record for a horse galloping over a short sprint distance was 55 mph or 88 kilometers per hour.

A horse does best at long distances by alternating between trotting and walking. (Cavalry soldiers pushing their horses very hard would alternate between galloping and trotting–nobody ever galloped horses over very long distances.) Doing that, a horse’s ordinary daily rate of travel by beastly power alone is about 40 miles per day (65 km/day). A camel, likewise, makes about 40 miles per day during routine military marches that are equivalent to infantry moving 25 miles per day.

This cavalry movement is equivalent to marching infantry in that it requires adequate roads and access to water and food (though camels can forgo the water and food longer than horses or humans can). Through mountainous terrain a horse might make only 10 miles (16 km) per day  and will do as poorly through a bog or marsh as a human being–or even worse than a human, since there are places people can cross that horses can’t, though such places are relatively few.

Just as humans can be pushed to the limits of beastly power when performing forced marches, horses can be forced to push to their limits in emergency situations. The ordinary maximum distance a horse can go under such circumstances is around 100 miles (160 km) per day. During Indian Wars in the United States, a particular cavalryman fled the site of a battle (seeking reinforcements, he said) all the way to now-Historic Fort Laramie, Wyoming, travelling 236 miles (380 km) over four days over terrain without roads during a winter with relatively heavy snow. His horse dropped dead when he arrived at the fort (I’ve seen the monument to the horse who died there). But note that was “only” 59 miles (95 km) per day. And pushing that hard killed the horse.

So let’s look at beastly power on an animal’s back:

Looking at what a horse can realistically survive, how much weight can a horse carry? We noted that well-conditioned humans can at times carry up to 60% of their body weight for extended periods–so how much can horses carry? A lower percentage, actually. Optimum for horses is 20% according to one online article, though up to 30% is possible (I can tell you from experience smaller horses in general can actually handle a higher percentage than larger horses, though not a higher total weight). And how much do horses weigh? Between 840 pounds (380 kg) for an small-sized riding horse and 3,360 pounds (1,524 kg) for the world-record largest draft horse (from Wikipedia). Or in other words a horse’s minimum weight load under which it can move normally is about 150 pounds/68 kg for the smallest horse a person would probably ride (rounding down) up to the maximum of about 700 pounds/320 kg (rounding up a bit) for a heavy horse breed meant to carry a knight in armor. (Quick tangent: draft horses in Europe were re-purposed to pull wagons after the era of knights in armor ended–they were first bred to carry armored warriors.)

Donkeys by the way, get closer to carrying 30% of their body weight or a bit more…and a donkey weighs on average about 350 pounds or 160 kg. Which means they can be laden with about 110 pounds or 50 kg. A donkey can drag about twice its body weight across relatively smooth, level ground, for a short distance (horses can pull about 1.5 times their body weight). Donkeys are more sure footed that horses but mules used to be preferred over donkeys as pack animals because they carried loads a bit better than horses, could keep up with horses, had good endurance, and could tolerate coarser food than horses can. Mules can weigh up to 1,000 pounds (454 kg) but usually were not loaded above 20% of their body weight (mules pack 200 lbs/90 kg or less).

Among animals widely used as pack animals, it’s no surprise that elephants have the most beastly power–er, total carrying capacity. An elephant can carry about 25% of its body weight according to one estimate. Since Asian elephants weigh between 5,400 and 11,000 pounds (2700 and 5000 kg), that means an elephant can carry 1,350 and 2,750 pounds (615 to 1,250 kg) on its back (tangent: it can carry about 1,200 pounds or 500 kg in its mouth and trunk, in case you wanted to know).

But the grand champion of pack animals in proportion to body weight are camels, which on average weigh (for single hump dromedaries) between 880 and 1,325 pounds (400 to 600 kg), according to a live science article, and can carry loads up to 375 to 600 pounds (170 to 270 kg), which is between 40 and 45 percent of their body weight.

Note that this issue of how much weight a being can carry proved to be a serious limiter of warfare and exploration for Mesoamerican Empires like the Mayans and Aztecs. Because these powers did not use pack animals at all, nor did they have wheels (the wheel ironically had been invented by the Mayans, but was used as a child’s toy rather than for wagons or carts), their limit of beastly power was how much food could a porter carry on his back. Since the corn (or maize) grown in Mesoamerica doesn’t dry out as well as wheat, barley, or rice of the Old World, that also meant the standard food crop carried by troops also weighed more. Since the porters ate from the carried food as well, this prevented the Mayans or Aztecs from, say, conquering all of North America or pushing their empires into South America. The issue of transportation proved to be too difficult for them, limiting the region they were effectively able to control. If they’d invented the pull cart or wheelbarrow, the history of the Americas might have turned out very differently.

Speaking of the limitations of civilizations without wheels, what advantages does the use of a wagon bring?

The advantage a wagon or cart brings is based on the proportion of the radius of the axle to the radius of the wheel. The bigger the wheel is versus the axle, the more advantage the wheel brings (but the wheel also becomes more likely to break the bigger it gets relative to the axle). The attached site explains the wheel/axle ratio advantage in precise mathematical terms.

But for the wagon wheel size that became standard on most wagons and carts, on level ground, the draft weight of a wagon, that is, the amount of force required to pull a “standard” wagon, assuming wheels and axles and road are in good condition, is about 1/10th the weight of the wagon plus its cargo. Note the weight of cargo is usually about 50% of the total wagon weight, even though wagon designs vary a great deal. Draft animals (almost always horses or mules historically but occasionally donkeys or reindeer) generally can pull 1/10th of their body weight for eight hours a day. So to calculate how much cargo a wagon pulled by beastly power can move over long distances, use 1/2 of the weight of the animal pulling the cart (or 50%). So a 1,000 pound (455 kg) mule can pull 500 pounds (227 kg) of cargo–which is about 2.5 times what it can pack.

Credit: Black Diamond Resort

Note the work of pulling a wagon uphill is considerably harder. A weight a team of two horses can pull on level ground will easily require four beasts going uphill. (Note at one point in history hooking eight or more draft animals to a single wagon was not unheard of.) For dystopian worlds in which people are cannibalizing automobile parts to build their wagons, tires filled with air do better than old hard wagon wheels not because they give a better mechanical advantage, but because they are less likely to slip on difficult slopes and provide some cushioning to make the ride less rough than it otherwise would be.

Let’s talk about fantasy beastly power:

In a fantasy work, the number of possible riding mounts are enormous. But I have a recommended model for you to use when considering how far they can move. Use a horse as your model. All you need to decide for yourself is how much your creature weighs and its maximum speed (and I’ll show you what to do with that).

So if you pick a giant flying lizard (we won’t call it a dragon for a specific reason to be revealed in a minute) and say it can fly at fly at the same speed as a site of animal speeds lists the speed of a California Condor (because we can imagine this beast mainly soars, like a condor) or 56 mph (90 kph). Then we’ll look at the proportion of that speed, comparing it to a horse’s top speed relative to how fast a horse normally moves per day in a cavalry unit.

So an ordinary horse can do about 30 mph at top speed, but can move 40 miles in a day on a repeated basis on average. Assuming the same proportions (40/30 = 1.333), you’d just multiply your creature’s top speed by 1.3333 (or 4/3 if you like fractions) to estimate how much it could travel per day without too much stress. To make this easy on ourselves, we will round the speed or our giant flying lizard to 60 mph so we’d estimate (60 x 1.333 = about 80) it can move 80 miles per day on a routine basis. Note of course that cold-blooded creatures can’t sustain effort as long as mammals can if the climate is too cold and are less energetic in general. But your lizard is not necessarily cold-blooded and that calculation gives you and idea, a yardstick to work from if you really want one.

Likewise if a horse can do about 2.5 times in a forced movement what it would ordinarily do (but at great cost) you can take your 80 miles per day for your flying lizard and multiply it by 2.5 to say if in a “forced march” situation, your beastly flying lizard could do about 200 miles per day (320 km/day). 

How much weight could your giant flying lizard carry? Here I recommend departing from the horse model a bit. Or better said, the horse model should be restricted to land animals. Flying beasts should limit their carrying capacity to 10% or less of the creature’s total body weight–and if you wish to be realistic at all about a creature’s ability to fly, the lighter it is in proportion to the surface of its wings the better it will fly. In fantasy we can get away with ignoring the rule about body weight in proportion to wing span–and in science fiction, we can imagine denser atmospheres and lighter gravity to allow lizards fly, as David Adam Collings did with his story Lynessa’s Curse in the Medieval Mars anthology I published in 2015.

How much your flying lizard weighs would be best based on the weight of a real creature you research, whether an extinct pterodactyl or a modern living bird (plus sized) or even a lizard like a Komodo Dragon. But if we imagine it to weigh a ton (2000 pounds/900 kg), it could carry for an extended period roughly 200 pounds or 90 kilograms. An ordinary person and a small saddle.

Sea creatures, by the way, should be able to carry more than the 20%-40% load that land-based beasts of burden can carry. Helped by water buoyancy, they should be able to port up to 100% of their own weight over extended periods. But the other formulas that compare maximum sprinting speed to cruising speed for a “daily march” to a “forced march” will be more or less the same.

There are limits to what beastly power can do, even though there are real variations among known animals and also would no doubt be variations among fantasy animals. For example, a centaur almost surely could carry more weight than a horse because a centaur could go through the mental training that soldiers go through to push themselves beyond what are ordinary animal limits (which is why the Romans could carry 60% of their body weight routinely.)

Magical creatures:

Note that the example I used above of a giant flying lizard I did not call a “dragon.” I didn’t because dragons are really magical creatures. Once you open the door to magical creatures, the guidelines this post describes don’t really apply anymore. But still I recommend you have some guidelines, some landmarks for yourself of what can and cannot be accomplished.

All real creatures have design limitations put into them by their Maker and even fantasy creatures should properly have limitations put into them by the creature who makes them, who in turn was made by the Maker of all (that’s you!).

As Job 12:7-9 says: “But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; And the birds of the air, and they will tell you; Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; And the fish of the sea will explain to you. Who among all these does not know, That the hand of the Lord has done this?” All creatures, real and imaginary, ultimately submit to the Creator, if not now, at the end of time. Whether people realize that or not.

If you’d like to see more on this topic or felt I left something important out of the discussion, please mention it below. Thank you.


Mary Poppins, Second Verse

“Mary Poppins Returns” does not repeat the original film. It rhymes with it.
| Mar 27, 2019 | 2 comments |

When Disney released Mary Poppins Returns – a sequel 55 years coming – I had such faith that I waited to see the film until it had been released on DVD. If I had realized how closely and consciously the sequel paralleled the original, my faith would have been even less. It is, then, with some astonishment that I report that the parallelism worked and was, in fact, one of the film’s best aspects.

You should understand that this is contrary to my instincts. Of all the things that make sequels a bore, the tendency to retread the original leads the pack. As for remakes, there is no point to their existence if they retell instead of revise. Yet Mary Poppins Returns built itself by the plumb line of Mary Poppins, and in that decision it succeeded. This unlikely success was, I think, made by two principal factors.

Crucially, Mary Poppins Returns threads the needle of paralleling the original without mirroring it. As you know, parallelism is the art of pleasing correspondence. There can be a fine line between that and repetition, especially in parallelism’s more elaborate forms. Mary Poppins Returns stays on the right side of that line, with much credit due to the fact that it has the flavor of emerging from the same universe as the original Mary Poppins. I don’t know enough of the P.L. Travers books to know whether Cousin Topsy, the leeries, and the adventure “in china” are inspired by them. But they feel as if they might have been. You feel, within the films, that they are similar because they belong to the same world, where London’s cobbled streets twist into nooks where relatives defy physical laws and proper Victorian nurseries contain worlds hidden in plain sight on the mantelpiece.

Emily Blunt’s delightful performance gives significant support to the movie’s cause. Wisely declining to imitate the inimitable Julie Andrews, Blunt offers a different interpretation of Mary Poppins: less sugar, more spice. Yet it is still Mary Poppins, more of the books than of the classic movie. Blunt adds the distinction, retains the similarity. Mary Poppins still glides through – and over – the world with command and self-possession. And if she is sharper now than when we first met her, still that sharpness was present before; if she was more tender then, that tenderness is yet found now.

The primary reason that the parallelism succeeds as it does is that it is an eternal part of the idea of Mary Poppins. In the first movie, Mary Poppins archly reminds Michael and Jane of all the children she has said good-bye to. Bert – ever canny in the ways of Mary Poppins – is no more surprised to see her go than he was to see her come, and he closes the movie with his farewell: “Don’t stay away too long.” This is simply what Mary Poppins does, simply who she is: alighting where she pleases, working magic and chaos, and all in the spirit of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. Bert assures us that what is about to happen in Mary Poppins has all happened before. Mary Poppins Returns shows us it all happening again.

Mary Poppins Returns succeeds in its imitation because it does not repeat the original film; it rhymes with it. In well-executed rhyme, the sameness of structure and certain sounds is a pleasing thing. We understand, moreover, that Mary Poppins doesn’t really end or begin. We have, in these two films, neither beginning nor ending, but two verses in a song that plays mostly outside our hearing.

Lorehaven Magazine’s Spring 2019 Issue Has Arrived

Explore story layers with Tosca Lee, read book reviews, and get practical help for Christian geeks and parents.
| Mar 26, 2019 | No comments |

Today’s article will be brief, because I’ve just helped wrap the release for Lorehaven Magazine’s spring 2019 issue.

It’s free to subscribe. And subscribers can read the issue here. You can read it in web articles, or download the PDF.

In this issue:

  • We explore story layers with Tosca Lee and her latest thriller, The Line Between;
  • Our reviewers find fourteen other good and great Christian-made fantastical novels;
  • Paeter Frandsen offers practical tips for Christian geeks to glorify God in our entertainment choices;
  • Marian Jacobs asks what in the world of villainy Christian parents can do if their children only want to pretend they’re bad guys.

You can get a complete preview here at SpecFaith. Or, read a few excerpts from reviews here at my own website.

And of course, the spring 2018 issue is open for anyone (not just free subscribers) to read.

Further up and further in!


Books Have Themes?

Using the vehicle of theme, writers say something. Whether that something is trivial and mundane or significant and profound depends on how unafraid they are.
| Mar 25, 2019 | 2 comments |

Fifteen years ago, one of the big knocks on Christian fiction was that the books were too preachy. This complaint seemed to reach writers who then proceeded to ditch any themes, at least ones purposefully crafted. After all, one sure way to not preach is to not say anything at all. In fact, stories should just entertain, never mind this moralizing, philosophizing, and sermonizing.

Themes began to disappear.

Until a number of writers noticed that general market books and movies and even TV shows had themes. Some of them even preached.

The truth is, using the vehicle of theme, writers say something. Whether that something is trivial and mundane or significant and profound depends on how unafraid they are. Yes, unafraid. Many writers are afraid they will limit the scope of their book if they place their story firmly in a particular economic or political or religious milieu. They’re afraid if they take sides in a controversial question, they’ll make enemies and lose readers. Some are afraid they will be labeled “preachy” if they include meaningful themes in their stories.

According to a number of writing instructors, novels that name specifics—details brings a place or a person alive, and that includes specific themes—engage readers in a way that generic stories don’t. Consequently, writers that steer away from presenting a particular view point, whether religious or political, are actually neutering their story. From agent and writing instructor Donald Maass:

What distinguishes our era? What are its look, buzzwords, issues, and conflicts? Fashion magazines, op-ed pages, sports reporting, rappers, corporate websites, and teen slang are all barometers of our times . . . I don’t mean to suggest dropping in brand names or news events. Those are shallow gimmicks. I do mean that an important component of any novel’s grip on readers’ imaginations is how that novel brings alive its times. (Writing 21st Century Fiction, p. 168—emphasis mine)

Certainly speculative novels should do both—bringing alive the times in which the story is set but also bringing alive the themes that will resonate with people living in the real world.

The fear of dating a novel scares off some authors from creating the kind of particular atmosphere that makes a story feel as if it’s anchored in reality. However, stories like The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck bring alive a time and culture through which the author can then say something important and universal, something that applies today as well as to the original audience.

Some writers also fear taking a stand on a controversial subject or saying something significant about an eternal question. And more so in these recent days since “author shaming” or bullying has become a thing on twitter (see L. Jagi Lamplighter’s recent article on this subject). Maass again:

The mysteries of existence are also often avoided in manuscripts. Do you believe in destiny? Do you believe in God? Are our lives random or do they have a purpose? Do you think about these things? Of course you do . . . What about your protagonist? What’s her take on the big questions? Is it pretentious to include them?

Ducking the big questions is easy. So is achieving low impact . . . Is there such a thing as justice when laws are made by fallible humans? Does do no harm have any meaning when medicine becomes guesswork? Is it worth building bridges when their ultimate collapse is guaranteed? Do we teach in schools “truths” that are untrue? Does the accumulation of capital do good or does it corrupt? What are the limits of friendship? Should loyalty last beyond the grave? We read fiction not just for entertainment but for answers to those questions. So answer them. (Writing 21st Century Fiction, p. 169-170— emphasis mine)

A good many writers are afraid of answering these kinds of questions, thinking that by doing so they’ll come across as preachy—that death knell to Christian fiction.

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdBut having something to say does not equate with preachy writing. Harper Lee had some specific things to say about prejudice, but I’ve never heard anyone claim To Kill A Mockingbird was preachy. That’s because Ms. Lee didn’t explain what she had to say: she showed it through her characters.

She didn’t have one of them sum up the meaning of all the events or spell out the ethical implications of why they did what they chose to do. Rather, she created believable people who lived in a specific time with a certain set of problems, and she showed one man and his daughter who lived in contradiction to the societal norm.

Clearly she tackled her subject unafraid, even in the racially charged era of the pre-Civil Rights movement, and the result was a classic story with timeless truths, still being read and studied fifty-plus years later.

Shouldn’t Christian authors be the most unafraid of all? Shouldn’t we be putting spiritual truth at the forefront of our themes? Shouldn’t we do so intentionally, taking care to craft our themes as carefully as we craft our characters?

After all, aren’t the best books the ones that make us think and ponder long after we’ve come to the end and returned the book to the shelf or to our Kindle collection? And shouldn’t Christians aim at writing the best books?

What Wonderful Worlds: Five Fantasy Novels to Foster Your Sense of Wonder

Fantasy author Gillian Bronte Adams (The Songkeeper series) shares five fantasy books she recently enjoyed.
| Mar 22, 2019 | 5 comments |

Opening a book is a magical experience: pages crinkle, a whiff of ink promises adventure, and those first few lines open up a portal into a wonderful new world.

My sense of wonder as a young reader was only heightened by the fact that my sister stole from her current reads to enhance our imaginary games without telling me what she was doing. I played along, blissfully unaware and increasingly amazed by my sister’s endless imagination. Until I eventually read the same books and discovered many things that seemed strangely familiar.

Fortunately, it enhanced my reading experience. There was something delightfully magical about turning a corner while wandering new story paths only to discover a character I already knew.

Magic. Awe. Imagination. Wonder.

Recently, I saw Mary Poppins Returns in the theater, and like both generations of the Banks children, I was reminded to embrace a sense of wonder and imagination in the everyday. I was reminded that it is good to laugh and sing, and that sometimes when the world is turning upside down, we can turn upside down along with it to get a new perspective.

Of course, the movie also got me thinking about books. Wonder is a common tone in middle-grade fiction and is often emphasized in stories for younger readers, but it tends to diminish somewhat in young adult and adult fiction. Grit, shock, and heart-thumping action takes its place. Don’t get me wrong, I heartily enjoy grit, shock, and action as thematic elements, but Mary Poppins Returns inspired me to reflect on fantasy books that appreciate and inspire that same sense of wonder for older audiences too.

I came up with a list of five fantasy reads I enjoyed recently to share with you.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

This series is a staple of the fantasy genre but I mention it now because a recent reread left it fresh on my mind. Of course, it starts off as Middle Grade and ages with Harry and its original audience to Young Adult fiction, but I was struck on my reread with how all the little details fill us “muggle readers” with the same sense of wonder Harry feels.

Rich, vibrant settings like Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Weasley home make Harry’s world easy to imagine. All the class details—from the wide variety of plants discussed in Herbology to the many creatures (both delightful and deadly) in Care of Magical Creatures—forever offer something new to be discovered, and like Harry, I found my eyes constantly widening, struck with the magic of it all.

The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder

Recently rereleased with a new cover and an audiobook, this one is a science fantasy/steampunk story about a magician (showman not wizard) and a young producer who enter a competition as a last-ditch effort to save their traveling robotic show from bankruptcy. The character dynamics between the magician, Carthage, and the producer, Huxley, are tremendous. Honestly, you cannot help but love them and their robot butler.

Still, one of my favorite parts of the story is Carthage’s sense of wonder and imagination. His is a magic of creativity and beauty and wonder, and the way his shows are depicted without nitty gritty details to explain exactly how each trick is performed (a magician never reveals his secrets) leaves the reader with as much of a feeling of awe as his in-story audience. Magic.

The Story Peddler, Lindsay A. Franklin

The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin

In this beautiful tale, Tanwen is a story peddler who can weave tales into crystalline figurines to sell. Unfortunately, she must restrict her storytelling to tales approved by the crown or risk being arrested for treason. Later, she finds out that other gifts—like songspinning and colormastery—are also restricted to depict a singular narrative that paints the crown in the best light. So, when the story that Tanwen tells takes a treasonous turn, she becomes a target.

The way this book approaches creativity is enough to spark wonder in anyone. The way Tanwen looks at the world is a delight. As a reader and writer and lover of beautiful artistry in many forms, I was left so inspired by the read.

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

This one is a new release that just hit stores this week, and it is this month’s choice for the Fantasy Read Along that author Jill Williamson and I co-host on Instagram. If Rhen hopes to cure the illness that is killing her mother, she must enter Mr. Holm’s Labyrinth and compete to win a scholarship in pursuit of a college education in a society where young ladies are expected to stay home.

This is a book of dreams and goals and courage. The magic is woven delightfully into the background and assumed not explained. Throughout the story it remains a delicious mystery so you never quite know how or why it works, like Willy Wonka and his Chocolate Factory. But it does. And that is part of the wonder of it all, so you are left forever anticipating the magical and never doubting it when it occurs. Beautiful.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Granted, I was late to the game on this one since I only read it last summer … and of course, it’s been out far far longer than that, so I will spare you the story blurb and only say here that this science fantasy with its fantastic creatures and its Charles Wallace and its fierce Meg who needs help seeing the wonderful in herself, was such a wonder-inspiring read that it quickly became one of my favorites.

Fostering a sense of wonder

This sense of wonder is something I am learning to appreciate more as a reader, experiment with more as a writer, and enjoy more in this world God has created. Our world may groan under the weight and brokenness of sin (Romans 8:19-23), but our amazingly creative God filled it with wonder and beauty first. Wacky creatures to make us laugh, majestic creatures to inspire us, beautiful sunsets to lift our spirits, and stars to lift our eyes to the heavens that declare His glory (Psalm 19:1).

So, when books fill us with a sense of wonder and we marvel at the skill of the author, I hope we will marvel too at the Author of all things who gifted us with our imaginations to sub-create (as Tolkien said in his essay On Fairy-Stories) and to enjoy the sub-creations of others.

What have you read recently?

Even as I am typing this, several other delightful books come to mind, but I limited this list to recent reads so you could share books that have inspired this sense of wonder in you too!

Why Not More Biblical Speculative Fiction?

Why isn’t there more speculative fiction set in Bible times or featuring Biblical characters? We have reasons why not–but we should work past them.
| Mar 21, 2019 | 21 comments |

I’ve just read Mark Carver’s Speculative Faith article (“Sharper than Any Double-Edged Sword”) in which he talked about the Bible being the ideal guide for Christians in what we watch or read or otherwise partake in terms of stories, with our goal to be more and more Christlike. I’m taking what he said on an admitted (but I hope good) tangent: Why isn’t there more Biblical speculative fiction?

(TANGENT TO THE TANGENT: I personally always capitalize “Bible” and “Biblical.” Under English usage, so-called proper nouns like “Canada” and adjectives derived from such nouns like “Canadian” are capitalized. [Tangent to the tangent to the tangent: I was going to use “America” as an example, but that seemed very American of me. 🙂 ] Common nouns, like “book” and adjectives derived from it, like “bookish” are not capitalized. I would say that there is only one Bible, no matter how many particular translations exist, that the Bible is unique, and that “Bible” is its proper name in English, and therefore it should always be capitalized. Yes, I know people who see “bible” as a common noun for “authoritative book” are not necessarily wrong, technically speaking. But that’s not how I use “Bible” or “Biblical”–and Mark Carver did the same as what I do.)

Granted, there has been an upsurge in recent years in movies that feature Biblical events–and Biblical epics have always been popular in films. Yet stories set in Bible times (usually) feature retelling or amplifying what the Scriptures said (hey I just realized I also capitalize “SCRIPTURES”!!!). Sure, we could say showing Satan watching Christ suffer is a speculative element in the Passion of the Christ–speculative not because Satan is fictional, but because we don’t really know what Satan’s involvement would have looked like if it could have somehow been made visible. And there is always some minimal speculation involved in portraying exactly what people looked like or said or did at particular moments. But that kind of minor, historical-fiction-related-story speculation is not what I’m talking about.

Though (tangent again, but a minor one), there’s something to be said for historical fiction set in Biblical times. Tosca Lee’s Sheba or Iscariot bring light to characters in the Bible who are focused on less in the way most people think of the Scriptures. And of course, Ben Hur would be the classic example of Biblical historical fiction, a sort of book for which there is clearly a market. But why are relatively few historical fiction works set in the era in which the Scriptures were composed? I can’t help but feel there is much more potential for such stories.

But I’m not talking about historical fiction set in Bible times, even though that can be cool and interesting. I’m referring to truly speculative stories. Why are there virtually no time-traveler tales featuring characters going back to Biblical days, for example? Or Biblical figures traveling to the present (or future)? Or why are there so few Biblical tales retold in the context of alien or future culture? And while there have been a relative plethora of stories about spiritual warfare, I don’t know of any set in Bible times.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

I can offer some answers to my own questions, at least to a degree. It seems Christians are a bit afraid of being accused of misrepresenting the Bible by inserting speculative elements in it. So if a writer were to create a book on the spiritual war of angels and demons during the time of Daniel’s Babylon, such an author could be accused of adding to the text of the Bible in a sacrilegious way.

Or such stories might suggest that God was not really in control of the events of Biblical history. For example, some people might see the act of a time traveler, say, trying to kill the Romans who killed Christ–but failing because of the intervention of another time traveler–would suggest that God was not really in charge of events.

Note that certain Jewish storytellers have not felt any such inhibitions. Darren Aronofsky crafted a movie based on a Biblical character, Noah, that had speculative elements.

I’m not one hundred percent pleased with Aronofsky’s vision. But for me, that points out that Christians who think more along the lines of how I think ought to be writing, directing, and producing such movies. Presumably, we could include speculative elements while still showing more respect for what the Bible has to say than Aronofsky did.

A story of angels and demons in Bible times could come with an author’s preface saying that while we know angels and demons are real and their conflict relates to the book of Daniel, “this work is fiction and not intended to exactly reproduce” etc. Or the time-traveler story I mentioned could be written in such a way that God’s providence is evident in the events of the story, including the actions of the time travelers themselves. Or one set of time travelers could be believers–or the story could even feature angels battling time-travelers! (Why not?)

If the Bible is to be our guideline, why shouldn’t it also be our inspiration? Not just in fantasy genre allegories or in Biblical worldviews of good and evil, which are fine and good, but why not also more directly? Why aren’t there more speculative fiction stories set in Bible times or Biblical figures seen in speculative fiction stories? Why can’t we work past the potential problems and objections?

Sharper than Any Double-Edged Sword

Do you get a thrill out of seeing images of darkness or sinful acts in a story? Where does this enjoyment come from?
| Mar 20, 2019 | 17 comments |

This article may come off as judgmental, and I’m fine with that. Any exhortations made are directly from the Scriptures. So with that out of the way, let’s jump into it.

The world of entertainment is incomprehensibly vast, and with mass media and the internet, nearly all of it is accessible anytime anywhere. As with most progressions in the human experience, this accessibility can be both good and bad. Good, in that our imaginations have an endless supply of creative food to ingest and digest. Bad, in that there is a whole lot of filth out there alongside the gems.

As Christians, we are called to a higher standard in our thoughts (Col. 3:1-2) and in our lives (Col. 3:5-10). We are not simply going through life feeding our urges before we die. We are meant to be Christ’s representation on Earth (1 Cor. 5:20) to shine His light to the unbelieving world. We as sinful entities are dead, and it is Christ who lives in us (Gal. 2:20). This means that we should strive to be more Christ-like in everything we do, no matter how monumental or trivial.

The reason I bring is up is because I want to look at an issue I’ve noticed in the Christian creative community, and especially in my own life. This issue is a lack of discernment in the entertainment we consume. This weakness manifests itself in many forms. Personally, I’ve always had an imagination that tended toward darker things. Dark music, dark imagery, dark books and movies. Nothing that outright glorified Satan, but my imagination would get excited by ominous imagery like skulls and weaponry or foreboding movie moments such as when the Ring-wraiths came galloping out of the gates of Mordor in slow motion in The Fellowship of the Ring. Something inside me would grin wickedly and whisper, “Awesome…!” I also channeled my grim inclinations into my early books, trying to be as melodramatic and shocking as possible (I can still vividly see the image in my mind’s eye as I wrote a passage about a disemboweled priest of the Church of Satan crucified on a pentagram in a cathedral). I devoured books, movies, and music that dripped with Gothicky goodness, and while I’ve never been a depressed, gloomy, or negative person, it would be dishonest to say that my creative inclinations were borne out of a Biblical mindset.

As I’ve grown closer in my walk with Christ, I’ve started to examine areas of my life through the lens of Scripture that I used to think didn’t matter, or I deliberately “hid” from God because I was afraid I would have to change. Sinful foolishness, I know, but our flesh is still a powerful influence in our lives, despite the fact that we are new creations in Christ. If the goal is to be like Christ (1 John 2:6), then no part of our life belongs to us. We can’t say, “Yeah God, I’ll give the big things in my life to You, but there are some things that I just really want to hold on to.” We either walk in the flesh, or we walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:17).

Before you get all huffy, I am not saying that dark imagery, fictitious violence, etc. are necessarily wrong. What is wrong is if we enjoy such things apart from our walk in Christ. Do you get a thrill out of seeing someone get killed in a really cool way in movies or TV shows? Do you get a tingle when a demonic or monstrous character displays their full power? Do you cheer for a woman who indulges in promiscuity under the guise of “owning her sexuality?” Ask yourself: where does this enjoyment come from? As believers, the Holy Spirit lives in us (Rom. 8:9) and He is our guide in truth (John 16:13). Do we enjoy the things we enjoy because they bring us closer to God, or do they tickle the sin nature that we are dead to (Rom. 6:2) yet still lingers with us (Rom. 7:20)?

Image copyright New Line Cinema

Some will say, “Dude, chill. It’s just a movie. It’s just fiction. No one’s really dying. It’s not real sex. Those skulls and bones on his armor are just props.” That is all irrelevant. What matters, and what is real, are the emotions and urges that are stirred up within us when we enjoy our entertainment. Everything in our life should be examined through the lens of Scripture and we must heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I found that in my own life, there were things I needed to move away from, and there are still many more that I cling to, but in my heart, I know that nothing I give up for the sake of Christ is a loss. And my imagination is still very active and well-fed.

Yes, there are many levels of discernment, maturity, and tolerance, and it is not for another believer to judge another outright, unless they are indulging in flagrant sin (Gal. 6:1). Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:18) and refuse to open some areas of your life to God’s examination. If your conscience is clear, then praise God. If not, make a change. To borrow from Jiminy Cricket’s catchy tune in Disney’s Pinocchio: “And always let the Bible be your guide!”

Coming Soon: Lorehaven Magazine’s Spring 2019 Issue

Soon Lorehaven releases its spring 2019 issue, featuring Tosca Lee and reviews of fantastic Christian novels.
| Mar 19, 2019 | 1 comment |

Lorehaven Magazine just got back from Realm Makers Bookstore at last weekend’s Great Homeschool Convention.

Next month, we’ll host our own booth at Teach Them Diligently, April 11 through 13 in Waco, Texas.

We’ve added another stop: a return to aid the Realm Makers Bookstore cause next month! We’ll return to Great Homeschool Convention, this time in Cincinnati, from April 25 through 27.

But first, Lorehaven releases its spring 2019 issue this month.

Subscriptions are free online! (Only our debut issue, spring 2018, is free for anyone to read.)

Subscribers will be first to know when the spring 2019 issue is available for download.

Here’s a quick preview of Lorehaven‘s spring 2019 issue.

Book Reviews

  • Richard Spillman’s The Awakened
  • Andrhea Goertzen’s The Aykotah Daughter
  • Shawn Smucker’s The Edge of Over There
  • Bailey Davenport’s Eilinland: Through the Wall
  • M. B. Aznoe’s Elvensty
  • R. A. Denny’s The Emperor’s Harvest
  • Steve Rzasa’s For Us Humans
  • J. S. Helms’s Gods They Had Never Known
  • J. Wesley Bush’s Heir to the Raven
  • Philipp Metzger’s The Sign of the Sibyl
  • Lindsay A. Franklin’s The Story Peddler
  • C. E. White’s The Worlds Next Door

Sponsored Reviews

  • Joshua C. Chadd’s Outbreak
  • Jim O’Shea’s The Reluctant Disciple

The Line Between, Tosca Lee

Featured Review: The Line Between

Tosca Lee’s thriller quests toward truth among apocalyptic madness.

Cover story: ‘Come With Me! I Have A Story To Tell You’

Interview with novelist Tosca Lee

Fanservants: How to Geek Out with Godly Purpose

Paeter Frandsen: Does our investment in stories build the kingdom or waste our gifts?

Fanservants: ‘When I Grow Up, I’m Going to Be the Villain’

Marian Jacobs: Should parents make their kids only play as heroes and good guys?

Subscribe to Lorehaven for free.

Subscribers: get access to every issue, including web articles and PDF downloads.

Authors: share your novels with us for possible review.

Advertisers: inquire within about placing your ad in print or online.

You can also follow the magazine on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, as well as by joining the Lorehaven Book Clubs group.

Lorehaven is a spinoff publication from many Speculative Faith creatives.

Lorehaven serves Christian fans by finding biblical truth in fantastic stories. Book clubs, free webzines, and a web-based community offer flash reviews, articles, and news about Christian fantasy, science fiction, and other fantastical genres. (Magazine print copies are available by request and at special events.)

How Much Is Too Much?

In addressing how Christians are to live—which by necessity includes how we do and enjoy art—we need to root and ground our actions in the word of God.
| Mar 18, 2019 | 9 comments |

Frequently on discussion sites, the issue of “too much” inevitably comes up. Where does a writer/reader/viewer draw the line when it comes to sex or bad language or violence? In other words, what constitutes too much?

The discussion of “too much” for Christians when we create or enjoy art, even pop art, is not something to push aside as irrelevant. In fact, here at Spec Faith the topic has come up often, from one point of view or the other. See, for example, archived articles in the topics of sex, violence, and language. And still, the question comes up about what constitutes “too much.” Almost the question seems to beg for someone to draw the line, to create the box, or to erase the line, to demolish the box.

The next question seems naturally to be, are there parameters for Christians when it comes to our reading and writing and viewing? Is “whatever you want” the right strategy? Or should Christians stand apart from our culture. After all, as many point out, we are to be in the world but not part of it.

Another consideration some may bring up for writers is, for whom do you write? After all, when you want the general market to read your books, don’t we need to “fit in” so that secular readers will pick up our books?

In my article last week I stated,

In truth, God’s word is already apropos to our lives and it doesn’t need our dressing it up or our covering it up so that “seekers” will feel more comfortable with our stories.

God’s word. In addressing how Christians are to live—which by necessity includes how we do and enjoy art—we need to root and ground our actions in the word of God.

Some decades ago, the call was to simply ask, What would Jesus do? Of course the problem with that approach was that no one actually knows if Jesus would always drive the speed limit, write Amish fiction, or watch The Game of Thrones. Our opinions about those things are actually guided by our greater understanding of God and His word.

Often in these discussions, Paul’s statements in Romans and in 1 Corinthians about eating meat offered to idols comes up. There is also a verse in Ephesians which many apply to novels and movies and TV programs:

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (5:3-4)

For whatever reason, we rarely talk about the effect of art on those who respond to the art. One goal writers have is to make readers feel. Yet when it comes to the issues of “too much,” we seem fixated on the do’s and don’ts, but not the why’s and the why not’s.

Recently I came upon a couple verses in Proverbs that may give some clarity— verse 3 from chapter 22 and verse 12 from chapter 27:

The prudent sees the evil and hides himself,
But the naive go on, and are punished for it.

A prudent man sees evil and hides himself,
The naive proceed and pay the penalty.

The questions from these verses are two-fold. 1) Are we prudent or naive writers/readers/viewers; and 2) What is evil?

I suppose there’s a third we could ask: Are we willing to pay the penalty? That’s pretty sad, though, because it means the answers to the other questions are, we are naive and we have determined that what we are writing/reading/viewing is, in fact, evil.

The New Testament talks a lot about abiding in Christ, which doesn’t seem like a place for the naive. After all, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” I conclude that Christians will opt for the “prudent” option—that we should see evil and hide from it.

If you think about it, we have no problem hiding from things that pose a danger to our physical lives. We run from burning buildings (unless our job is to put the fire out), we wear seat belts and bicycle helmets to “flee” injury in case of an accident. We throw tainted food out to avoid food poisoning. We kill or capture dangerous snakes or bears or coyotes. We put up “Stay Out Of The Water” signs when a shark is sighted off the coast. We caution kids about talking with strangers, in real life or on the internet.

These are wise things to do. We see the potential for harm, so we avoid the dangerous situation if possible.

How is it that we do not use the same wisdom when it comes to evil?

Perhaps the problem comes with that unanswered question I posed earlier: What is evil?

Some things are clearly evil for all of us: murder, hatred, immorality, lust. Lust? Yes, according to Jesus. Lust is no different than adultery. That flies against our culture that puts lust-inducing images in front of us at every turn, that has turned porn into an “everyone does it” form of entertainment. But there it is in Scripture.

Other things such as “foul language” aren’t so cut-and-dried. Is bad language “evil”? And which foul words are really foul? Can we write/read/hear some words that mean excrement but not others? Does context make the difference? Intent? Impact, both on the characters in the story and on the viewer/reader? What about the impact on the writer? Is the writer responsible for the thoughts and emotions that his writing might generate within his audience?

Things could get complicated.

From the complexity, I think one thing should be clear: making a list of what’s acceptable and what’s not allowed, really isn’t possible. (And we haven’t even talked about how language changes over time, how words like gay were once upon a time not charged with sexual meaning.)

But there’s something else that should be clear: avoiding danger is wise.

Can language alert us to spiritual danger? I think it can.