Theophanies and Suffering in Christian Fantasy

It’s been a mainstay of skeptics since—well, shoot—since the beginning of time. Forget the skeptics; it’s been a weapon of the Enemy’s since the beginning.
on Jul 17, 2020 · 6 comments

I have a confession to make. I’m always a little scared to portray God in my books. I mean, I do it anyway, but it’s frightening. I tend to feel a “prickle” on the back of my neck especially when I’m writing a fictional dialogue for God in any of his three persons (so cheeky). Careful, the voice in my head says, He’s watching, and what you “make” Him say matters. Mess it up and ZAP! After all, one does not just misrepresent God and get away with it. And yet, showing the character of God through writing is necessary. So, he is active and personal in my books—portrayed through no metaphor or abstract concept—showing up in all three persons of the Trinity. This poses a problem, however. How can there be a sense of urgency or danger when the omnipotent God of the universe (and beyond) is a main character in a story? And why, for that matter, would an omnipotent God allow his heroes to suffer when he could easily fix their dilemmas? Here we stumble on the reason it’s worth the risk to show God to the world through fantasy. Those questions are the same many level at God.

How can a loving, omnipotent God allow good people to suffer?

It’s been a mainstay of skeptics since—well, shoot—since the beginning of time. Forget the skeptics; it’s been a weapon of the Enemy’s since the beginning. One could even interpret Satan’s question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat of any tree in the garden’?” as “If God was loving and good, would he really keep you from that? A loving God wouldn’t keep you from enlightenment, would he?”

In the third book in my series, Daniel and the Serpent’s Abyss (buy a dozen copies on Amazon please) this topic is explored through the story of Raylin. Raylin is a supporting character who is currently under the possessing power of her sword: the Voidblade. It’s a black, ugly weapon with the ability to suck in the souls of vanquished foes and grant its wielder their power. She is warned from the start of the series that the dark spirits within the blade will eventually possess her. Her desire for revenge against the Enemy is so strong, however, that she can resist its influence, and that its power will be enough—no matter the Voidblade was created by him in the first place.

So, we see a predictable dilemma: a human making destructive choices out of ignorance, anger, and revenge because she doesn’t want to heed God’s warning. The result? Bondage, despair, insanity, and utter dependence upon God to provide salvation. Then, he swoops in and undoes all her bad choices and their consequences, right? Not quite. At this juncture in the series, the only way for Raylin to be truly saved is for Daniel and his friends to somehow get Raylin to the bottom of the Serpent’s Abyss, where they can use the Abyssal Staff to permanently free her from the power of the spirits possessing her. Even that won’t work, though, unless she willingly relinquishes the Voidblade and repents of her sin. Oh, did I mention the Abyss is where Satan (in his true form) dwells? It’s a harrowing and painful experience, but necessary. Why? A quick internet search for verses on repentance gives us one of the answers. Repentance brings freedom from sin, and repentance is something we must choose. Whether God has manifested himself in blazing glory (á la Paul), a sermon, or that still, small voice in our minds, he calls us to repentance and waits for our reply rather than bulldozing over us. Ezekiel and Peter are helpful.

Ezekiel 18:30-32 ESV
“Therefore I will judge … every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions …. For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone … so turn, and live.”

2 Peter 3:9 ESV
The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

All of this is to say, when I portray God as omnipotent, omniscient, and terrifying-but-loving, he must also be portrayed as working salvation by patiently allowing his children to bumble their way through mistakes, pain, and ruin to (hopefully) find freedom through repentance. He is not a tyrant of hearts and wills.

To illustrate this, here is an excerpt from Daniel and the Serpent’s Abyss. The Triune God has arrived in the Abyss at the moment of Raylin’s opportunity to repent. I’ve shortened it from how it appears in the book for brevity sake, but I hope it will still exemplify the point of this article.

“What do you want with me?” the Serpent and his incarnations demanded in one unified, whining voice. “Have you come to torment me before my time? Will the Father also descend from his Mountain to cast me into the Lake of Fire?” All the Enemy’s forms took one enormous breath. “It is not my TIME! What do you want with me?” they screamed again.
The Son raised his hand, and the Enemy fell silent, except for the constant scraping and scratching noise of his myriad scales, claws, and horns rasping against the ground.
He turned to Raylin. “I am Alpha and Omega. First and Last. Beginning …” he paused, and at that moment, the veil between them and reality drew apart. The Father’s Mountain appeared behind the Son. “… and End,” the Father said in his cosmically deep voice.
The Abyss shook violently.

Raylin lifted her eyes and stared up at the Mountain. “I don’t understand.” Her voice was flat and confused. “He fears you. He bows.” She limply gestured toward the Enemy, shaking her head. “Why don’t you destroy him now? If your power is this great, why did you let me suffer? Why didn’t you rescue me?” Tears streamed down Raylin’s face, and her voice fell to a shaky whimper. “I was scared.”

Daniel didn’t have to guess at Raylin’s meaning. He knew she now spoke out of her childhood trauma—the terror of being sold as a slave and exposed to atrocities he could only imagine. Even with never knowing his biological parents, Daniel had never experienced even half of what she went through. He let his eyes drift to his biological mother, then to his mom and dad, all still praying fervently for his protection. If he had ever thought his life hard, one glance at Raylin’s blew that notion right out of the water. He’d been sheltered and protected. She’d been exposed to the worst of reality.

“Some are called to suffer, Raylin,” the Son said, still standing at the base of the Mountain. “Among the Three, mine was a path of sorrow.”

Images flashed through all their minds. A life of ridicule and poverty. Foreknowledge of an inescapable, painful death. The Enemy in various guises, haunting every step like a nagging ghost, kindling every demeaning comment. Unjust accusation. Torture. A Roman cross soaked in blood. Descent into the darkness of death and hell. And, worst of all: separation from the Father.

But then …

Light. Life. Inheritance. Redemption of countless people—a vast sea of children pulled out of darkness and into a world of light, an innumerable host of men and women flooding the plains of Heaven. All because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son. In one burst of understanding, Daniel saw the terrible things experienced by the Son as unworthy of comparison with his great work of redemption.

“Your suffering was not purposeless, either. Nor will it be in vain. Through it, you will find compassion for others who suffer, and you have won immense strength. Repent of your anger, Raylin. Sin no more. Come to me and find rest.”

When we read or write stories of the omnipotent God, fantastical or otherwise, remember that his character is not impugned by the suffering brought on by the Enemy’s will and our sin. His omnipotence and goodness do not require him to filter out all the consequences of sin in the world, as much as we wish they did. As the Son explains to Raylin, because of that physical and spiritual suffering we become aware that we are on the path to eternal destruction. As the child knows the pain of her stove-burned hand means she must pull it back or else lose it to fire, so too we (and the characters in our stories) rightly interpret our trials and suffering as evidence of our need to run to a redeeming God. I will, foolishly or bravely (you decide), continue to write stories where God shows up unapologetically omnipotent, and yet allow his creatures to struggle. It’s my hope that, by doing so, readers will have a clearer perspective on the meaning of their own trials, and the deceptive attacks of the Enemy will fall on deaf ears.

Terraform Comics: Changing the Landscape of Comics

Terraform comics seeks to produce high quality stories that are mostly stand-alone and are not limited to superheroes. They treat contributors well and are accepting submissions!
on Jul 16, 2020 · 1 comment

About a year ago, I set up as a vendor at the Indie Author Book Expo here where I live. While I was at the event, I met Brian K. Morris, an indie author who runs a small press called Rising Tide Publications. Brian runs a few podcasts every week (Clever Title Pending and Nevermind the Furthermore). When I got a chance, I listened in. Through those podcasts I met indie author Rob Andersin and comic book writer and artist Luke Stone.

Terraform logo

Within the last month, Brian, Rob, and Luke joined forces with Varian Grant, Erik Hodson, and Meredith Loughran to form Terraform Comics (, a new comic book publisher. Among them, they have over 100 years of experience in comic books, publishing, and marketing. Although not a strictly Christian press, they’re governed by those principles. Brian has joined me today to chat about this new venture.

Cindy: There are many book and comic publishers out there. What makes Terraform unique?

Brian: We’re combining a number of aspects that we believe will make us attractive to readers and creators alike. For one thing, we don’t go for long, drawn-out storylines. If a story takes more than one issue to tell, it’d better be an epic. For another, we’re looking forward to working with skilled storytellers, both in terms of writing and in visuals.

Terraform’s direction is decided by six people who share similar goals; and while we each have a specific function in the group, our skills overlap to a degree where we speak a similar creative language. For instance, I’m the “face” of the team, but with my own Rising Tide Publications, I can talk editorial, art, promotion, and overall business with the rest of the team.

Also, no one who works for Terraform does it for free. We have a business model that while we don’t pay upfront, the creators will get paid. There will be contracts. There will be oversight. Expect ethical treatment.

A Terraform Comics cover.

Cindy: Ethical behavior is a critical need in so many businesses these days, and it’s good to have overlap in skills. You can compliment each other and make sure that no one person gets buried.

I noticed that Terraform is looking for submissions. What do you look for in a good one?

Brian: Although Luke goes over the majority of submissions, the ones that make it to perusal fr

om the rest of the team are judged on how skillfully the story is told, both in words and in pictures.

Me, I look for a cohesive story told in a visually-stimulating way. I want to have enough information that I can understand the characters, whether I’m rooting for them or not.

A Hybrids cover.

Cindy: A coherent story is so helpful. I’ve read works in a number of genres and media types that are just too far all over the place in the story-telling department.

Because of the comics I collected when I was a kiddo, I usually associate comics with superhero stories, but I have since seen other sorts. Do you focus on a particular genre or are you open to a variety?

Brian: Our brief from Luke has always been we want to produce and publish “good comics.” We hold ourselves to the same standards we expect of others.

The initial wave of books from Terraform include all-ages humor, zombie horror, pulp adventure, and superheroes. While the comics field is dominated by the “long underwear” books, there’s plenty of variety out there and I don’t think any of us want to pigeonhole the company into one specific genre.

Cindy: Diversity is good. There are many good stories out there that would fit in the comic book style but don’t involve phenomenal cosmic powers. What are some of your current projects?

Brian: One I’m personally involved with is my co-creation, Scarlett Trace. It’s a nod to the great pulp heroes of long ago. Scarlett Trace fights off big crime in the early 20th Century and a number of the wrong people seem to know who she really is. However, the right people don’t, one of whom is Scarlett Trace. By the way, I’m thrilled to have Luke Stone as my penciler and co-creator.

Cindy: I’ve read some of your other pulp action tales including The Original Skyman Battles the Master of Steam. Good stuff! I can’t wait to see what happens with Scarlett Trace.

If everything goes according to Hoyle, what goals will Terraform Comics achieve?

Brian: World peace.

Cindy: That’s a lofty goal to aim for, but who needs easy goals, right?

Where can folks find out more about Terraform Comics?

Comedic Terraform…

Brian: Our delightful website at where you can read all about us and submit your work.

Cindy: Lots of interesting stuff happening there.

What question do you wish I’d asked?

Brian: What the heck do I do around here? What were they thinking when they asked me to join? ?

Cindy: I think you’re the Chief Fez Collector and Bowtie Organizer, right? As for what folks were thinking, I don’t know. I’m afraid my telepathy gene is on the fritz. Probably safer for everyone that way.

Thanks for joining me today.

You can find out more about Terraform comics (including submission info) on their webpage and connect with them on Facebook.

Terraform Comics main brands

The Decision of Meaning

A story stands as it was created.
on Jul 15, 2020 · 4 comments

The happiest person in Romeo and Juliet is Rosaline, who had the good sense to be uninvolved. Romeo spent his initial scenes declaring her matchless beauty, his undying love, that there would never be another woman for him, etc., up until he met Juliet and immediately began saying all those things about her instead. Romeo needed some sort of productive occupation. I would like to think that Shakespeare presaged Juliet with Rosaline as an ironic comment on the transitory nature of even passionate feeling. More likely he included Rosaline simply because the 1562 poem Romeus and Juliet did.

I take Rosaline to be the inheritance of an older source, thoughtlessly carried over, because she is out of place within the new work. Romeo and Juliet is not ironic in its tone. It takes itself and its lovers seriously. That Romeo replaces Rosaline as casually as people replace light bulbs undermines the love story. None of his dramatic declarations of undying love were true. He believed them, but they weren’t true. That they become true when he starts spouting them about Juliet can only be taken on faith, and some of us are skeptics. Yet I don’t think, given the tenor of the play, that we are meant to doubt.

I also think that, whether Shakespeare intended it or not, Romeo’s histrionics over Rosaline add a grain of salt to his histrionics over Juliet. The war over authorial intent has been waged and, for the moment, decided. A story’s interpretation is not presumed to be dictated by the author’s intentions. As much as I approve, I willingly admit the merits of the defeated idea. There is a kind of fairness in giving the creator the decision in the meaning of the work. And literary interpretation could do with more objectivity. That is the inescapable conclusion of sitting in college literature courses, listening to people give suspiciously faddish interpretations of books you suspect they merely skimmed.

But although it would be the well-deserved death of a thousand lazy essays, I can’t give the decision of meaning to creators. They’re interpreting, too. The literary evolution of Romeo and Juliet proves the point. Shakespeare based his play on Arthur Brooke’s Romeus and Juliet. The story is essentially the same in both works; Shakespeare repeated Brooke in every event of importance. Yet if Shakespeare took it for a love story, Brooke took it for a morality tale. Brooke, who probably did not suffer fools, advised his readers that the “most unhappy death” of Romeus and Juliet stood as an example to them of what comes of “unhonest desire”, neglecting the authority of parents, and getting your advice from drunken gossips and superstitious friars (“the naturally fit instruments of unchastity”). (Perhaps Brooke was harsh toward superstitious friars. Nevertheless, I give him credit for hating Friar Lawrence.)

We are all interpreters of stories, the storytellers as much as the rest of us. The special power of creators is in deciding what will be interpreted, not how it should be. Readers sometimes work out a story to its implications farther and more clearly than the author himself. A story stands as it was created. It is not, in the end, what the author meant but what he said, and that anyone can know.

That requires, however, reading the book. It’s only fair.

Realm Makers Begins Virtual Conference This Week for Hundreds of Fantasy Creators

This annual conference serves faith-based authors in fantastical genres.
on Jul 14, 2020 · No comments

POTTSTOWN, Pa., July 14, 2020—Realm Makers, the leading organization to serve faith-based writers of fantasy, science fiction and other fantastical genres, will start its first virtual conference this Thursday, July 16.1

Hundreds of writers will use a custom Discord server to enter a digital convention center, chat and lounge, and make their way to partitioned classrooms and meeting areas. In a virtual vendor hall, publishers and other creatives can mingle with other members. Using other platforms, such as Crowdcast and Zoom, conference-goers will explore and help develop the growing market of Christian-made fantastical novels—whether published independently or from traditional Christian publishers.

Authors will also gather in the simulated grand ballroom for keynote addresses.  Three authors will serve as keynote speakers: Thomas Locke, whose books have sold over 8 million copies worldwide and have been optioned for TV adaptations; C. J. Redwine, New York Times bestselling author of YA fantasy novels such as the Ravenspire series; and N. D. Wilson, bestselling author of the 100 Cupboards trilogy and Ashtown Burials series. They will be joined on the conference faculty by many imaginative and bestselling fiction authors. Our 2020 Realm Award winners will join our faculty in a public event called Author LIVE, a virtual author Q and A on Saturday, July 18 from 4–7:30 p.m. (EDT).

Attendees will choose from nearly forty classes taught by industry professionals, including agents and independent publishers, who will cover the business and creative sides of novel writing. Teen writers can also sign up for their own course taught by Bryan Davis (Dragons in Our Midst series, Let the Ghosts Speak).

At 7:30 p.m. (EDT) on Friday, July 17, anyone can join attendees and faculty to view the awards ceremony. Guests can wear costumes and enjoy dinner (from their own homes or meeting sites), while Realm Makers organizers announce nominees and winners in several categories for the best novels released in 2019.

Explore more at

Realm Award and Parable Award nominees

The Realm Award celebrates the best in 2019’s fantastical fiction in eight categories. Each title will compete for the Realm Award in its category. Meanwhile, the top five overall scores from all categories will be judged for a final Book of the Year award. The Parable Award honors the best book cover designs.

Realm Award, fantasy

  • Fire Dancer, Catherine Jones Payne, Fathom Ink Press
  • The Story Raider, Lindsay Franklin, Enclave Publishing
  • Seventh City, Emily Hayse, Hayse Publishing

Realm Award, horror/other

  • Amish Werewolves of Space, Kerry Nietz, Freeheads
  • Last Hope, Joshua C. Chadd, Blade of Truth
  • Solitary Man, Eric Landfried, Ambassador International

Realm Award, science fiction

  • A Single Light, Tosca Lee, Howard Books/Simon & Schuster
  • Brand of Light, Ronie Kendig, Enclave Publishing
  • The Line Between, Tosca Lee, Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Realm Award, supernatural/paranormal

  • As Far Away as Possible, Barry Napier, Elk Lake Publishing
  • Mercury on Guard, Steve Rzasa, independent
  • The End of the Dream, RJ Conte, independent

Realm Award, young adult

  • Romanov, Nadine Brandes, Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins
  • To Best the Boys, Mary Weber, Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins
  • Fire Dancer, Catherine Jones Payne, Fathom Ink Press

Realm Award, middle grade

  • The Lure of the Grove: The First Hymn of the Starsinger Canticles,
    Sharon Keller Johnson, Rhino Smacker Press
  • Iggy & Oz: The Plastic Dinos of Doom, J. J. Johnson, Dark Side Geeks
  • The Clockwork Dragon, James Hannibal, Simon & Schuster

Realm Award, children’s

  • Hello Ninja, N. D. Wilson, HarperCollins
  • The Knight in Battered Armor, Brianna Tibbetts, Redemption Press
  • Willoughby Goes a Wee Bit Batty, Pam Halter, Fruitbearer Publishing

Realm Award, debut

  • Circus Phantasm, Naomi P. Cohen, independent
  • Keen: Banshee Song Series, Book One, Laura L. Zimmerman, Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing
  • Fyrian’s Fire, Emily Jeffries, Sheepgate Press

Parable Award nominees

  • Airfoil: Origins, Steve Rzasa, cover by Kirk DouPonce
  • Heart of the Curiosity, H. L. Burke, cover by Austin Lord
  • The Story Raider, Lindsay Franklin, cover by Kirk DouPonce
  • Thirst, Jill Williamson, cover by Emilie Hendryx Haney
  • To Ashes We Run, Just B. Jordan, cover by Damonza

About Realm Makers: Realm Makers began in 2013, and from small origins has grown to serve thousands of Christian fiction authors at annual conferences, whose faculties have included bestselling novelists such as Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee, Brent Weeks, and N. D. Wilson. Realm Makers exists to help creative Christians in their journeys, providing education in craft, connections with industry professionals, and strategies for finding readers who love these kinds of stories. Meanwhile, the Realm Makers Bookstore offers a curated collection of speculative fiction from Christian authors, traveling to events such as renaissance fairs and homeschool conventions.

  1. This article is taken verbatim the official press release for Realm Makers, announcing this week’s conference. Edited since the original posting.

Well, Duh! The Disappointing Thing About The JK Rowling Mess

Rowling mentions that she has “deep concerns about the effect the trans rights movement is having” on her charitable foundations directed toward children and women. She also mentions that she’s concerned about what’s happening to free speech.
on Jul 13, 2020 · 50 comments

You may be aware that J. K. Rowling is in some hot water with the left side of western culture. Over a month ago she made an effort to reclaim the term “women” to refer to biological women, excluding transgender men who have adopted the persona of a women.

Likely that very explanation comes across as “offensive” to the transgender community. But it is what it is. Rowling thinks “men” in the guise of transgender women are hijacking the feminist cause.

After her initial tweet that started the kerfuffle, she doubled down by writing an essay to explain her thinking.

Included in her cogent article, Rowling mentions that she has “deep concerns about the effect the trans rights movement is having” on her charitable foundations directed toward children and women.

She also mentions that she’s concerned about what’s happening to free speech.

There’s a lot more, but needless to say, she’s received quite the backlash. The leftist side of the culture quickly came to the “defense” of the transgender community, as if Rowling had attacked them. She did not. More than once she made it clear that her concerns were not meant to deny the experiences of individuals.

Of course, she doesn’t include God in her thoughts or reasons for her position. Just the things she learned from doing some research.

So in many ways, Rowling’s essay is filled with facts, data, personal experience, and a logical approach consistent with her staunch feminist beliefs.

But the backlash.

I guess she’s received a lot of supportive mail, but also much that is hateful, via Twitter and other sources. The stars of the Harry Potter movie series spoke out to support the transgender community. Many have burned her books.

Most recently she signed a letter that spoke against the “cancel culture” thought that seems to stand against free speech. Some 150 other writers and thinkers signed the letter also, but some are now backtracking and apologizing because they didn’t know who all else would be signing. I don’t know if they had Rowling specifically in mind or not.

Even Stephen King has come out against what Rowling said. The media monitoring organization slanted toward LGBTQ issues said Rowling “has now aligned herself with an anti-science ideology . . .”

A friend of mine recently said, The left eat their own, meaning that those in their camp who don’t go far enough to the extreme are painted as enemies. Of course, the right does the same thing, but in this case, Rowling, who is an extreme feminist, sympathetic to transgender issues, is “the enemy” because she has thought out her position and holds consistently to feminist values.

The sad and disappointing thing about this mess is that it will now be harder for Rowling to publish her books and to get movie deals to turn her stories into great films. Maybe.

Thinking back to the beginning of the Harry Potter series, I realize those books were steeped in controversy. But the kickback came from people identifying as Christians. Not much clout in the publishing industry or in the film industry or in media in general. In some ways the stand against books about a boy wizard increased their visibility and their sales.

Will that happen now? Or, more likely, I’m afraid, will the publishing industry and all that’s tied to it take a step back from Rowling and her stories?

Up to this point, I’ve loved her stories. They are fun and interesting and rich in detail and imagination. And they include some thought-provoking content. They are not perfect, but I would be very, very sad if Rowling “gets cancelled.”

Of course, if that does happen, it would prove her point about freedom of speech.

The Female Don Quixote and Heroism for our Times

Arabella, The Female Don Quixote, shows us something about why we need a world with heroes.
on Jul 9, 2020 · 12 comments

I’ve been blogging for over ten years. While the blog has lain dormant at times, there are still hundreds of posts to sift through. When Travis Perry asked if I could share one of my old posts as a guest blogger for him, the task seemed a little daunting at first. However, my attention was soon caught by two old analyses of The Female Quixote I discovered in the “similar posts” prompt below the one I had landed on. I had written the same post twice with over a year gap between them. I copied and pasted them into Word for comparison. There were big differences in how the paragraphs were composed, but the sequencing and conclusion were the same in both posts. Why my mind gets stuck on certain subjects is a mystery for a brain scientist to solve; why it can’t remember what I write is also a mystery. The fact is, though, the subject of these posts is one I still care about to this day. It’s a big drive in my current fiction writing: restoring the heroic mythos we lost during the Enlightenment.

The Female Quixote was written by Charlotte Lennox in the mid 18th C, over a hundred years after Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote. In Cervantes’ novel, you can already see the rupturing of heroism — the protagonist is well-known for being a fool who tilts at windmills as if they were monsters instead of, say, for being a knight who rescues princesses after slaying dragons. Don Quixote is a fool precisely because he has read too many heroic stories. On his deathbed he renounces heroism, even adding a stipulation to his will that his niece will lose her inheritance if she marries a man who reads chivalric romances. Conclusion: Believing in heroism is madness that can’t exist in a modern rational world.

A rational view of Arabella. Image source: Goodreads

In The Female Quixote, the protagonist Arabella is very like Don Quixote, albeit the female counterpart. Arabella views the world through romantic French novels and expects adventures around every corner. Why no villains have yet attempted to kidnap her, nor any heroes fought duels to win her heart is a mystery to her. In short, she believes French chivalric novels are historical texts. This is presumed to be madness, and a rational-minded doctor is called in to talk sense to her.

She asks the doctor this question: “The Fables of Aesop, said Arabella, are among those of which the Absurdity discovers itself, and the Truth is comprised in the Application; but what can be said of those Tales which are told with the solemn Air of historical Truth, and if false convey no Instruction?”

The doctor is forced to admit that the novels which have formed her thoughts can’t be defended. Intent on reforming her mind, he asks her many leading questions, e.g.: “How is any oral, or written Testimony, confuted or confirmed?”

She responds, “By comparing it . . . with the Testimony of others, or with the natural Effects and standing Evidence of the Facts related, and sometimes by comparing it with itself.”

This isn’t the response of a delusional person; it’s, in fact, reasonable and intelligent. Yet the novel moves forward with the idea that, while Arabella is insane, her madness is a result of a poor education. What she needs is a proper education that matches the rationalism of the modern world. Eighteenth-century England is no place for knights to run around rescuing imprisoned girls. It’s a country of science, of the Royal Society, of microscopes and telescopes, of businessmen who marry their daughters off to the landed gentry (and vice versa).

While the setting straight, or healing, of Arabella’s mind might be of some relief to other readers, as well as to Arabella’s honorable suitor, Mr. Glanville, I can’t help feeling let down, as though I, as well as the heroine, have lost something beautiful when she realizes that chivalry, adventure, and the divine art of love are fantasies. Although I’m always disappointed in the end of The Female Quixote, I refuse to conclude that Lennox merely meant to instruct society on the type of novels young women ought to read, favoring the moralistic and rational Richardson over Madeleine de Scudery.

No, the following exchange doesn’t support this interpretation:

The doctor claims that “[Arabella’s] Writers have instituted a World of their own, and that nothing is more different from a human being, than Heroes or Heroines.” Her writers — and yes, he gives Arabella ownership of them — have created their own worlds. They exist as false worlds within false words and create false notions within minds, especially the minds of young girls.

Arabella gives a frank reply to the doctor: “I am afraid, Sir, that the Difference is not in Favour of the present World.”

A more romantic Arabella, with the hero of her mind.

This is a far cry from the conclusion of Don Quixote, where irony subverts the ideal of the heroic. Heroism isn’t realistic and, hence, not what humanity needs because…realism is what we need, surely? Yet, while epic heroes might have gone the way of ghosts as the 16th C turned over into the 17th, villains didn’t disappear. Evil men still march their way through history, devising plots to kidnap and imprison others, to steal from them, to overthrow kings and chop the heads off princesses. I have to agree with Arabella; the difference is not in favor of the present world. More than two-hundred years have passed since Lennox first published her novel, and our hyper-rational, post-enlightenment society has not yet eradicated villains, even if the heroes have fled from our collective unconscious.

One of my blog commenters responded: “And this is why I’m in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Heroes are possible there.”

They’re still possible in literature, too, and I have a feeling I’m not alone in wanting to restore heroism in what I write. The Enlightenment has done a lot of damage (it has also done a lot of good, which I wrote about here), but it can’t ultimately destroy the human soul, which needs heroism to thrive. Why does it need heroism to thrive? The short answer is the Sunday school answer: Jesus. Jesus was the ultimate hero, who broke our chains and set us free from the roving dragon of sin and death and evil. When we as humans lay down our lives and act as heroes for others, we are following Jesus’ model. When we tell stories of heroes in our books, we’re feeding the soul that longs for Jesus.

This is the reason I get stuck on the subject, and it doesn’t actually take a brain scientist to figure it out.


How Do the Fishmen and Pirates of ‘One Piece’ Subvert Systemic Racism?

The popular anime’s Fishman Island arc dove deep into pro–racial harmony: “If you hurt somebody, or if somebody hurts you, the same red blood will be shed.”
on Jul 8, 2020 · 2 comments

Ten thousand feet below the surface of the sea, trouble is brewing. Ancient racial hatred is simmering, growing dangerously close to boiling over.

This is the situation in the Fishman Island Arc of the long-running anime/manga One Piece when the main characters, the Straw Hat Pirates, arrive at Fishman Island. In the midst of the action and humor of this pirate adventure story, author Eiichiro Oda gives us an unexpectedly insightful glimpse into racism and its effects upon a culture.

Readers, ye be warned: there be spoilers throughout.

Fishman Island, deep beneath the ocean, is inhabited by a race of undersea beings who are both stronger and more-varied than humans. Some are beautiful, such as mermaids. Others are huge and powerful, like shark-men or octopus-men, massive creatures who can crush a human with a single blow. The loveliness of the first and the fearsome destructiveness of the second have made the fishmen into hot commodities at the slave markets of Sabaody.

Pirates often descend to their home island, deep under the sea, in order to kidnap fishmen and their children. Fishmen pirates return the favor, terrorizing humans and destroying their towns. This clash of races has been going on for generations.

In the midst of this racial animosity, two inhabitants of Fishman Island saw the toll it was taking on their society and vowed to make a change. They both saw the same suffering. Their reaction, however, could not have been more different.

The Mugiwara (Straw Hat) Pirates of One Piece, with friends from Fishman Island.

Otohime’s quest for harmony

The first fishman to attempt to change their situation was the queen of Fishman Island. Queen Otohime was a goldfish mermaid, a very beautiful and delicate creature. Her heart was filled with love for her people. She particularly loved the children of her country.

As she looked around her, she saw the tremendous hatred of her people toward the humans and visa versa. She could not bear to think that this hatred would be passed on to the innocent next generation. Despite her delicate state, she determined she must find some way to improve her people’s situation.

Otohime became convinced that what kept the humans and the fishmen apart was distance. Humans lived on land. Fishmen lived ten thousand feet beneath the sea. Humans seldom saw fishmen, unless they were either attackers or slaves. Fishmen seldom saw humans, unless it was pirates who came to raid them and capture slaves. Otohime thought that if the fishmen, who could breathe both air and water, were to move to an island on the surface of the sea, the two races might come to know each other and their old hatreds could be put to rest.

To do this, however, she needed to convince her people to move. Specifically, she needed to bring a petition to the World Government that demonstrated that a majority of her people agreed and would be willing to relocate.

To this end, the beautiful queen traveled far and wide across Fishman Island, giving speeches and asking for signatures for her petition. Everyone loved Queen Otohime. She was beautiful and kind. Their love for her, however, was not as strong as their hatred of the humans. They did not want to go live among them.

For years, Otohime moved among her people, pleading with them to think of their children, their next generation, and to make a change, but almost no one would sign her petition.

They were embarrassed. They looked away.

In many stories, a beautiful, well-loved queen would be instantly persuasive. Otohime’s experience in the Fishman Island Arc, however, is not so different from that of the real early abolitionists here in America. By the time of the Civil War, many in the North wanted to end slavery, but it was not always the case. Originally, abolitionists were a fringe group, as looked down upon as any fringe cause today. Like those real abolitionists, who persevered until more people grasped the importance of their cause, Otohime did not give up.

Through a mixture of courage and luck, Otohime was eventually able to reach her people. Suddenly, many were willing to sign the petition.

Then tragedy struck.

Queen Otohime was shot and killed.

When the dead body of the murderer was dragged before the people, it was a human.

Hordy’s journey of hatred

With Otohime’s death at the hands of a hated human, all effort to get her petition signed was forgotten. Instead, hatred of humans grew.

Enter Hordy Jones, a young great white shark man who is the leader of a gang. Hordy, too, looked at the hatred and violence between the humans and the fishmen and hated what he saw, but his reaction was the opposite of Otohime’s.

He wanted to conquer and enslave the humans. He felt that the greater strength and speed of the fishmen, and the fact that they could breathe both air and water, made them the natural superiors.

Like Otohime, Hordy meets with resistance. Fishmen may hate humans, but they don’t necessarily want to conquer them. The reaction of Hordy and his gang was to turn their anger against their fellow fishmen.

Hordy and his gang set out to conquer Fishman Island, as their first step toward conquering the world. While they claim it is the humans they hate, it is their own people whom they are terrorizing and harming. A stolen drug makes them stronger than their fellows, and they begin to do great damage to the island.

In the midst of this struggle, Otohime’s son, the prince, comes face to face with Hordy and learns of Hordy’s past. What he learns horrifies him.

In One Piece, there are a number of fishmen who have been truly harmed by humans.

Hordy Jones is not one of them.

“Take over the resentment. Okay, Hordy?”

Hordy was never a slave. He never suffered at the hands of a human. Instead, Hordy adopted attitudes of others around him. Hordy hated humans because he saw humans hating his people, and his people hating the humans back.

He was exactly what Otohime had most feared—a child who had bought into the grudge of his elders.

Hordy went on to say that he thought Otohime’s methods were making the fishmen weak. He needed the fishmen to hate humans so that they could destroy the humans—which is why he believed Otohime had to die.

Otohime had not been shot by a human after all.

It was Hordy who killed her.

With the help of our heroes, the Straw Hat Pirates, Hordy and his gang are defeated. All across Fishman Island, fishmen, who are grateful that Hordy was defeated, sign petitions to fulfill Otohime’s dream.

The future of the fishmen

One of the fascinating things about the Fishman Island Arc is that in the 900-plus episodes of One Piece, we are shown fishmen who truly suffered at the hands of humans: but Otohime and Hordy were not among them. They did not themselves face great prejudice. Instead, they were presented with a world that already held such prejudice, and they had to decide whether to accept it.

Captain Hordy Jones with The New Fishman Pirates.

Hordy chose to continue the heritage of hatred and violence. He was not a victim. He voluntarily embraced a heritage of violence. Otohime, on the other hand, chose not to accept it but to stand up to it. Her choice was not a popular one, but she refused to be daunted. Yet Hordy’s position is stronger than it might first seem. Even if Otohime’s vision is realized, will it really help? Will fishmen and humans ever learn to live together?

Can such terrible hatred and prejudice ever be overcome?

Perhaps, not, because it is very difficult to lay aside prejudice.

Or, perhaps so.

Because difficult as it may be, people can change their minds.

In fact, in the course of One Piece itself, we, the audience, have been led to change our own minds about the nature of fishmen.

Back when all fishmen were evil

The Straw Hat Pirates did not meet their first fishmen at Fishman Island, or even at the slave markets of Sabaody. They met them much, much earlier.

The Fishman Island Arc covers episodes 523 to 574 of this long-running series, but the first fishman appeared in episode 31. Arlong was a brutal sharkman who terrorized a village of innocent, defenseless humans. For years, he and his crew of fishmen pirates rob them, destroy their houses, and, upon one occasion, presented a young mother with the choice of disavowing her adopted children or facing death. When she would not desert her children, Arlong murdered her in front of her two little girls.

One of those girls grew up to be the navigator for the Straw Hat Pirates.

Nami, our navigator, started the series hating all fishmen. As the story continued, however, and she learned of the plight of the fishmen at their home island, Nami—and the audience along with her—began to see fishmen less as made in the image of Arlong and more as individuals in their own right.

It was not fishmen who murdered her mother and enslaved her town; it was Arlong. Other fishmen did not deserve to suffer for his crimes.

As Nami’s understanding of fishmen changed, so did the audience’s. We learned that fishmen were not brutes. They were people like us: some good, some bad.

At the conclusion of One Piece‘s Fishman Island arc, fishman Jinbei donates blood to save his friend (and future pirate captain) Luffy. During a montage of violent moments from One Piece‘s hundreds of episodes, a narrator solemnly observes, “If you hurt somebody, or if somebody hurts you, the same red blood will be shed.”

Otohime’s vision: a world of shared blood

This process—looking beyond the exterior characteristics to see the individual—is exactly what Otohime hoped for. She hoped that by spending more time among each other, humans and fishmen might start seeing each other as individual beings.

We ourselves will never see a fishman or a giant, but we live in a world that is not so different from that of Otohime and Hordy. Around us, we see people who have been the direct victims of racism, but there are many more—especially children—who have not suffered directly but who see all around them the hatred expressed by others. To this end, each of us must ask ourselves a question:

Will we choose to follow the path of Otohime?

Or of Hordy?

The Fishmen and humans of One Piece have a long way to go, but one girl, Nami, has laid aside her hatred, and one inhabitant of Fishman Island, Otohime, has opened the way towards a more harmonious future.

May our choices be as wise and as brave.

I’m Teaching About Fantasy Magic and Pop Culture at SoCal Christian Writers Conference

Should Christian fantasy include magic? How do fantasy writers put popular culture in its place? E. Stephen Burnett teaches on these topics at this week’s SoCal Christian Writers Conference.
on Jul 7, 2020 · No comments

Realm Makers rolls quickly upon us! That event for Christian and faith-based fantasy creators begins, virtually of course, next week.

For Realm Makers, I’m mentoring aspiring authors, and hosting a panel discussion about “cancel culture” and Christian creators. Check for updates here at SpecFaith and on my Facebook page. You don’t want to miss this awesomeness. (Even virtually.)

First, though, I’m actually teaching two sessions—via the ol’ Crowdcast—exclusively for attenders of SoCal Christian Writers Conference.

Here’s what I’ll explore for SoCal attenders.

Popular culture doesn’t have to be a burden. The Pop Culture Parent by Ted Turnau, E. Stephen Burnett, and Jared Moore, equips mothers, fathers, and guardians to build relationships with their children by entering into their popular culture–informed worlds, understanding them biblically, and passing on wisdom. Download a chapter now, before you can buy it!

Should Christian Fantasy Include Magic?

Explore fictional magic and its pros and cons for Christian fantasy authors.

Christian fantasy writers are often asked about biblical texts that warn against the occult, or readers who feel tempted. Come explore with grace and truth the nature of evil versus Christ’s power. We’ll discuss a Christian author’s responsibilities, and consider how best to love Christian family members who believe differently.

Putting Pop Culture in its Place

When TV and internet disrupt your writing, start redeeming these gifts.

You’re trying to hit your writing goals. But that smartphone won’t hush and your favorite TV drama just dropped new episodes. What’s a Christian author to do? Come learn the biblical purpose of popular culture. Seek its beauties. Smash its idols. And start redeeming this corrupted gift for God’s glory.

Mike Duran will teach about general markets and postmodernism.

Writing for the General Market

Should a Christian author aim for the ABA or the CBA? What are the potential pitfalls of both approaches? Must a Christian author sacrifice their “message” in order to write for a secular audience? This workshop will address these common questions and discuss reasons why Christian writers should consider writing for secular audiences, some ideas for crossing over from Christian to the general market, as well as the practical and theological issues they will face doing so.

Specialty: How to Write to a Postmodern Culture

As Western culture has drifted away from a Judeo-Christian worldview, storytelling itself has changed. As those who believe in Eternal, Transcendent Truth, Christian authors now face the difficult task of engaging readers whose very concept of Reality is skewed. This workshop will discuss the obstacles postmodernism has created and how Christian authors can leverage that for their advantage.

Janeen Ippolito will teach about sci-fi and fantasy writing.

Scifi & Fantasy: Do It Well (and Have Fun Doing It)

Ready to tackle speculative fiction? Scifi & Fantasy: Do It Well (and Have Fun Doing It) offers an education on and celebration of this dynamic genre. Go beyond the basic “but should we?” and dive right into “how can we do this excellently?” Divided into areas on serving God (everyone has an agenda), serving the story (yes, your world building matters), and serving the reader (know thy subgenre), this course invites you to take your speculative fiction seriously—have fun geeking out. Great for speculative fiction newbies as well as seasoned writers who want a refresher to make sure their fundamentals are on point.

SoCal will return … ?

I believe event registration is now closed. But if you didn’t register, now you know what you missed. Recordings, however, may be available. See the continuing sessions (including Janeen’s) here and the workshops (including Mike’s and mine) here.

Lord willing, next year the conference will return to reality in southern California.

From The Writers’ Tool Box: How Important Are Details?

Do the details in fiction matter? Actually, yes, they do. The details give the story a sense of credibility.
on Jul 6, 2020 · 5 comments

Are details important?

In more than one article critiquing the 2013 Mark Burnett/Roma Downey TV mini-series The Bible, reviewers pointed out “picky” details—Adam portrayed as a European-ish white guy, not an African or a Middle Easterner. And beardless. More than once I read remarks about the angels outfitted much like Ninja warriors.

My first thought was, Come on, people, quit being so picky.

But hold on.

Aren’t the picky things noticeable when they pull readers (or viewers) out of the story? Some time ago I read a post by agent Steve Laube about inconsistencies in novels that editors don’t catch but readers do. It reminded me of a book I read in which basketball details were wrong.

For example, Team A faced off against Team B in the NBA finals, with Team B hosting game 1. Some pages later the series is 3-2 and game 6 is being played at Team A’s home court.

But hold on. Fans of pro basketball would know that at that time the NBA finals were a 2-3-2 format—games 1,2,6 (if necessary), and 7 (if necessary) were to be played at the home of the team with the best over all regular season record. Games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary) were played at the home of the two-seed. So no way could game 6 be played on Team B’s home court if game 1 was at Team A’s.

There was a similar stumble earlier connected with basketball (in the NBA only one free throw is allotted when a technical foul is called but in the book two were allowed). Still another one occurred with the weather (in Southern California a week of rain in May? Right! Doesn’t happen!) And yet one more on a cross-country drive. Three days, the character determines, for the length of the trip. It will take three days to reach her destination. She starts out on a Sunday and arrives … on a Sunday. O-o-kay.

But here’s the thing. If I were writing a review of this book, I would feel like I was being overly critical to point out these slips. I mean, did any of those matter in the long run? No. Will people who are not basketball fans, or residents of SoCal, even notice? Probably not. Does the day of the week really matter? Not really. Then what’s the big deal?

Do the details in fiction matter?

Actually, yes, they do. The details give the story a sense of credibility. I’ve said before, one of the things I think J. K. Rowling did so well was construct an incredible fantasy world. Others say she merely played off British boarding schools, and that may be true. But through the details Ms. Rowling included, the world of magic came alive.

Horseless carriages that convey themselves, a sorting hat, a whomping tree, portkeys, food that appears in dishes on the dining tables, portraits that talk, a ceiling that reflects the weather outside, broken wands mis-repaired that send spells incorrectly—on and on, each detail woven into the story with a high degree of consistency. There weren’t three school houses in one book and four in another. The new students weren’t placed in houses by the Sorting Hat in one book and by the Sword of Gryffindor in another.

Of course, the longer the book, the greater number of details there are to keep straight. An epic story like the seven Harry Potter books requires a great deal of work to keep all the details straight.

But I’ll come back to the point—why does it matter? I said credibility or realism, if you will, and that’s perhaps the greatest point, but in tangent is the fact that inconsistencies may pull readers out of the “fictive dream.” Rather than living side by side with the characters, the reader stops: Wait a minute, didn’t she say the trip took three days, and didn’t she leave on a Sunday? Then how can they be arriving on a Sunday? Did I miss something?

Lack of clarity can do essentially the same thing. The details might be right, but if they aren’t expressed clearly, the reader is still stopping, still looking back and checking to see why what she thought had been conveyed actually was something different.

So yes, details matter. At least they should.

Originally posted at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

Looking Forward to Re-Creation in Eternity

Will heaven be a renovation of what we know or a re-creation? I don’t know, but realize what I hope for has more to do with my heart than my head…
on Jul 2, 2020 · 5 comments

I owe E. Stephen Burnett some public thanking. First because he asked me to take this regular Thursday slot on Speculative Faith, which I’ve used to talk about what I want to talk about. Second because he sincerely strives to be a decent person in how he treats me and others (which isn’t to say he’s a perfect person, but who is?) And third, because sometimes he says some things I sharply disagree with, but which get me to thinking in a way that in the end benefits me by getting me to clarify and solidify things I’ve been thinking for decades. Such as what I’m going to post about today. What I’m calling Re-Creation.

Randy Alcorn on Heaven

E. Stephen has posted numerous times on Speculative Faith about what heaven will be like (such as: Heaven Will be the Happiest Place on Earth, The Top Six Myths we Believe About Heaven, When You Long For New Earth, Start Biblical and ‘Normal,’ Then Dream Bigger) His thinking has been influenced by Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven and Alcorn’s thought in general (as set forth for the public by Eternal Perspectives ministries) as evidenced by a post E. Stephen did on Heaven all the way back in 2011.

Alcorn in short believes the New Heaven and New Earth will be substantially like the Planet Earth and heavens we have now–only without sin. He has applied certain passages of the Old Testament that most Dispensationalists say belong to the Millennial period as pertinent to what he believes eternity will be like. Perhaps he was correct to do so, because while I do believe in a literal Millennium of Christ’s rule, perhaps conditions in eternity will parallel the Millennium–or perhaps they will not. That “perhaps not” is really the center of my disagreement on this topic.

If you want to look at a rather detailed and technical-about-the-Bible view of my main disagreement with Alcorn and E. Stephen, check out what I say in the comments section of When You Long For New Earth, Start Biblical and ‘Normal,’ Then Dream Bigger. In short, I think there’s a degree of uncertainty about future things and so there’s a range of things that could be true. The concept of “Start Normal,” as in the New Heaven and the New Earth of eternity (Rev. 21) being highly similar to the Earth we know today (well, actually an update of this Earth, according to Alcorn and E. Stephen) is a possibility, I would say. But its also possible the New Earth will be dramatically different from the Earth as we know it–in fact, the Bible drops a few hints that could be interpreted as it being dramatically different (e.g. the Bible seems to say neither darkness nor sunshine will exist in eternity–which is nothing like the Earth we know: Revelation 22:5).

It’s possible to overstate the differences between Randy Alcorn/E. Stephen Burnett and me. I agree the Bible clearly teaches some similarities exist between the New Heaven and New Earth and the heaven and earth we know. I agree that the New Heaven and New Earth in essence undo the curse of Genesis chapter 3 and point back to the blessing of the Garden of Eden, fulfilling God’s original purpose in the creation of the universe (Rev. 22:2-3). However, it’s entirely possible from my point of view for this current world to be completely wiped out and then created once again and still fulfill God’s plan for the creation of the universe. God has the power to utterly obliterate, then bring back from nothing. Re-Creation, if you will.

Will This World be Destroyed?

In fact, this parallels what happens to some people who die–sure, some people leave bones in a grave that could be dug up and examined. But others, due to exceptional circumstances, are destroyed in death in a way you could not find the tiniest scrap of that person anywhere–all the constituent molecules and atoms are completely separated from one another and absorbed into other things. Yes, God knows what became of all those atoms and molecules, but when he re-assembles a person in the resurrection, does it really matter if God will use all the exact same atoms that were in your body? Couldn’t the carbon, oxygen, hydrogen (etc) atoms you will be made of be drawn from physical substances which never part of any human before? Wouldn’t the end result would be just the same? Wouldn’t that be rather like God making Adam from the dust of the earth in the first place?

Image source: Bible info dot net

Likewise, is it really important if this world will be entirely destroyed before God’s “Re-Creation” of a new one? What’s the difference between letting part of the planet survive and re-building it versus wiping all out and engaging in re-creation? I don’t see any important difference.

So all that matters is what the Scriptures say God will do…and the Scriptures don’t say with crystal clarity from what I see. I think II Peter 3:10-12 implies complete destruction of all things, including the destruction of chemical elements in verse 12 and beginning over. Mr. Alcorn insists II Peter 3:10 prevents the Earth from being destroyed because the “best Greek text” says the Earth will be “laid bare” or “exposed” instead of “burnt up.” I think relying on one Greek text, even if the best, is in general not a good idea–even if I for sake of argument concede his preferred text might be the best in this place. Revelation 21:1 says the old heaven and earth will “pass away”–whatever that means, but that seems to imply they won’t be hanging around in any significant way. Isaiah 65:17 says God will create a new heaven and new earth–and the former things will not be remembered, which by referencing forgetting the “former things” seems to be saying the new work will not be connected to the past. As a re-creation. Or that’s one way to read it.

Psalm 102:25-26 talks about changing the heaven and the earth like changing clothes–which seems to show the New Heaven and New Earth are of a similar pattern as the old, but are new in substance (new clothes may be similar to old clothes, but are literally something physically different from the old). Isaiah 51:6 likewise talks about the old earth wearing out like clothes–in contrast to God’s salvation, which is eternal (and which will be expressed in the re-creation of new earth, according to elsewhere in Isaiah).

All of these could in fairness be read in more than one way. God could in effect heal a sick Planet Earth, like healing a person struck with leprosy. Or could in effect raise the planet from the dead by reassembling every single particle, as will happen with certain human bodies which have been completely destroyed. And what’s the difference? None really, except a healed patient will presumably not become a superbeing of some sort. The healing will only go up to “normal” but not beyond–but could go beyond if God chose to perform that type of re-creation.

So will this current Planet Earth endure, only to be majorly renovated? Or will it be replaced, like a new piece of clothing? I’m not sure–furthermore I don’t think it matters–and object most to insisting this is some point of massive importance. If the physical continuity of this creation into eternity were of extreme importance, the Scriptures would have stated things more clearly.

But on a Personal Level, Why do I Like the Idea of Re-Creation?

Having presented an intellectual case as to why I don’t know for sure if Randy Alcorn (or E. Stephen Burnett) is right about the New Heaven and New Earth, there’s another element here if I’m fully honest with myself. I don’t want Alcorn to be right. I don’t want heaven to be “normal.”

The reason starts, as with so many things for me, as a teenager voraciously reading science fiction (with some fantasy on the side). And running into a lot of the skepticism about any Christian worldview from the science fiction writers. Robert A. Heinlein specifically criticized the very idea of heaven by asking if there was anything at all anyone could do that you’d like so much that you’d want to do it eternally? For ever? “Won’t you get bored?” asked Heinlein.

As a teen who at that point knew I believed in God and Christ even though I hadn’t been to church since age eleven, someone who hardly knew the Bible at the time, I first tried to answer this by wondering if eternity might be a timeless state. Perhaps we will live in one eternal moment of joy, I was thinking. An idea itself influenced by concepts of time being flexible I borrowed from science fiction. But that idea doesn’t square up very well with how people are described as actually doing things in eternity. Such as events around the throne of God in Revelation or the description of the Tree of Life in Revelation 22 giving 12 fruits in its season (a clear reference to the passing of time). Things I learned about later.

But I realize now, thanks to E. Stephen Burnett’s steady dropping of posts on this topic over a long period of time, which caused me to confront my own thinking, that I in fact have carried with me a science fictiony view of heaven into my subsequent very serious study of the Bible. That I have carried with me an expectation that there will be a science fiction aspect to heaven–there will be things about it which are very much unexpected, surprising, shocking. That God will  place us into a world unlike our own, one that will delight us with its freshness and cause our minds to be filled with awe and wonder. A very complex and intricate “otherness” that will never wear out, even over the vast stretches of eternal time. Because God will make his re-creation so complex and so beyond our ordinary experience.

My Emotional Longing for the Strange

The idea of being surprised about what God has in store for us in eternity is so appealing to me and the idea of “Earth 1.2” is so unappealing, that this lead me to some further self-discovery.

You see, with certain exceptions, I don’t like urban fantasy very much. And I think superhero stories, while they can be interesting at times, are far from the most interesting types of speculative fiction stories.

I am at heart a xenophile. Even though I find comfort in familiar things at times, I am most interested in things that are unfamiliar and unusual. Or exotic.

In particular, in a speculative fiction story, I expect to be dropped into a story world unlike what I’ve read before. I don’t like returning to the same type of setting over and over again. Which explains why I usually don’t read long series of fantasy books that keep returning to the same imaginary universe over and over again. I don’t like that–I want new imaginary worlds.

So I don’t actually want to think of the New Heaven and New Earth as “normal.” Normal is not fun or interesting! I want a re-creation, an eternity with familiar touches, but which overall is completely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced!

This bit of my internal makeup may relate to why I find a great deal of stories by fellow Christian speculative fiction writers lacking in the story setting department…because I want a story world to be unexpected and odd, not warm and familiar…

Longing For the Familiar

Having said that, I do love certain places, foods, and people from my past. I can understand wanting to see them again in eternity.

So I assume that my occasional longings for familiarity coupled with a general preference for novelty are flipped in most people. Most people occasionally want novelty but generally prefer nice things they are familiar with. A favorite restaurant, a favorite pet, friend, food, and place. Favorite art.

And this is what Alcorn is offering, at least in part. He’s imagined a vision of heaven that isn’t strange and off-putting for many people. He instead has focused on aspects that resonate with our past and suggests heaven will be full of the best of this life…with a slice of the unknown added to spice things up a bit. Which is pretty much exactly like the title of E. Stephen Burnett’s post on starting normal when thinking of heaven, then dream bigger.

But I want to start with a big dream of a re-creation that’s mind-blowing, then add familiar slices afterwards.

Heaven Both Strange and Comforting

The four-faced alien-looking seraphim will sing in heaven, we know this for sure. The Bible describes transparent gold in the New Jerusalem, iridescent gates made of what appear to be a single pearl, foundations of shining gemstone light, and all darkness disappearing. The massive city of New Jerusalem would jut out of the atmosphere–yet people seem to breathe there with no trouble.

Four seraphim faces: Image source: Quora

The kings of the earth will enter in and bring their glory–what that means exactly I don’t know. And furthermore am happy not knowing.

But on the other hand, heaven will also feature people we know and love, saints from served God in the past, singing in a heavenly chorus, praising God, eating the fruit of the tree of life (and perhaps other things to eat), pure water to drink (and perhaps other things to drink).

Will we remember the art of this world and be able to re-create it, but even better? Maybe. Will we have the literal art of this world just as it is now? I doubt it, but maybe. Will we have our pets and trees we climbed in and vistas we once enjoyed? I don’t know. Maybe.

Renovation or Re-creation?

Will the baseline of heaven be a renovation of what we have now, or a re-creation of something almost entirely new? I would say I don’t know for sure, not enough definite information is given by the Bible. But certainly God will comfort all of us, no matter who we are. Perhaps our personalities will change even–in fact it’s certain they will to get rid of sin, but perhaps even more than that.

But personally, I’m hoping for a re-creation. An eternity with a lot more unfamiliar things than we’ve been told about. A place stranger but also more marvelous than we can imagine. A place sharing a lot in common with mind-blowing science fiction and fantasy…


So what do you think, dear reader? What kind of thing would you most like to see in heaven? Are you looking forward “re-creation” (my made up word)? Or are you more interested in seeing the familiar, beloved things of this world again in eternity?

(Note the Army Reserve will have me out of town for the next 5 weeks. I’ve arranged for some friends to post in my place, though. 🙂 )