It’s a rather sick feeling. And I don’t think we get ambition points for denying it.
This is a feeling I’ve frequently sensed among fans, aspiring/published authors, publishers, and anyone who has done any internet advocacy for Christian1 fantastical fiction.
Let’s be honest. This economy is slumping; the vehicle is running on fumes.
How do we know?
I know this because I see fans’ laments, such as: “This whole ‘we need more fantastical fiction by Christian authors’ thing isn’t working because …” and out come many theories.
I have also seen storytellers’ laments. Many authors wonder aloud why their books aren’t finding more readers. They voice disappointment with all the methods they try to share their stories with others, only to find lackluster responses. Or else (this is at once both painful and encouraging) they do find help from only a very few dedicated readers who share reviews, promote books, and do whatever they can to get the story recognized.
I’ve also seen independent publishers’ laments. Of course, because I’m not an independent publisher myself, I can only write what things look like to me. But from here it looks like those promises have also fallen short. Some publishers are barely putting anything out there. Others, such as Marcher Lord Press, found an audience but an apparently limited one — and one year ago today, Marcher Lord was sold and later renamed Enclave Publishing.
What could have possibly gone wrong (so far)?
This seems all very dire. Spoiler alert: I’m convinced this is that kind of darkness just before sudden victory (Tolkien’s eucatastrophe) that repeats frequently in great fantastical stories. But before that turn of great despair to greater good, we must try to identify our villains:
1. Shallow reasons to support Christian fantastical fiction.
Even casual readers of SpecFaith know that our articles often explore not just the what or the whether of fantastical fiction, but the whys. Naturally we’re concerned with shallow reasons. Our tagline says, “[We’re] exploring epic [fantastical] stories for God’s glory.” We make this our goal because this is not what we by default desire. We have other reasons for exploring (or loving, or making) fantastical stories — good reasons, but smaller reasons.
- “Better stories should challenge individuals’ un-biblical beliefs.”
That’s a good reason for stories. But it’s too small. It also confuses the biblical goals of stories and human culture with the biblical purposes of didactic sermons and teaching.
- “Better stories should explode the Church’s sheltered approach to culture.”
That’s also a good reason. But it’s merely a spinoff of the above “conservative” attempt to use art first as a Tool rather than first as a joy and thus a means to worship God.
- “Better stories should reach out beyond our evangelical niche groups into the world around us.”
Another fine goal. But it risks assuming an equally sheltered view of the world: that Christians only need to make better Art and then the world will love us.
Ultimately, all of these reasons are themselves tied to evangelical-niche assumptions. They do not naturally lead to Christians enjoying stories “for their own sake.”2 Instead they lend themselves to a mindset closer to that of obligatory donations, fund-raising, and that ever-present S-word present in evangelical activism: Support.
2. Flawed promises in a changing story-world.
I’ve already alluded to some of these. I can still recall images of an e-book revolution that would return publishing power to all those who try it. And yet only a few hit it big, just as in traditional publishing. I can also recall the promises of blogs and social-network marketing. But individual bloggers are overwhelmed by decreasing time and increasing competition, and social networks such as Facebook are putting the kibosh on posts about products that rsemb advertisements (because they kinda are).
Am I right? If so, what can change?
However, I promise one more reason why Christian fantastical fiction may have (so far) not met with the success its fans and makers expected. Lord willing, I will share that next week.
- Note that when I say “Christian,” I am sidestepping the “evangelical niche fiction versus general-market fiction” discussion. I am only referring to stories written by biblical Christians. ↩
- Please note that when I say this, I do not mean that “art,” stories, or culture are “good” by themselves. Instead I am thinking of 1 Tim. 4:1–5, in which the apostle Paul encourages the body of Christ to receive God’s good gifts with thanksgiving, yet also through the word (i.e. the written Scriptures) and through prayer, in order to make the gift holy for our joy. ↩