For many years I lived in the middle of nowhere. And there I spun my own somewheres in writing, and I read classic fantasy novels without much exposure to current writers of Christian spec-fic — which is a long way of explaining why I’d never read anything by Bryan Davis until this summer.
Eventually I moved out of the middle of nowhere, joined the CSFF Blog Tour, read Starlighter and a galley of Masters and Slayers by Bryan Davis, and got to thinking:
Why do I like these books?
Because here’s the thing: I read Masters and Slayers all in one sitting, and I was really eager to read it. I’m really eager to read the sequel and the sequel to Starlighter, and yet there are things about the books that don’t suit my usual tastes. Davis’s writing style doesn’t grab me, and the fusion of sci-fi and fantasy elements strikes me as awkward (though it’s better in Masters and Slayers, so there’s a good chance it’ll keep feeling more natural as the series progress). I’m surprised I care as much about the books and the characters as I do, but I DO — and I finally figured out why.
The stakes are high.
Every single character is battling enormous personal stakes. Most of them will die horrible deaths or otherwise lose everything if they fail. Their world is battling enormous stakes. And that’s why I care. Davis is good at this. What’s happening is important. It matters a LOT.
As I thought about that, I realized that high stakes are one of the biggest reasons I like fantasy, period. I suspect it’s one of the major reasons we all like it. Fantasy writers are not afraid to embrace high stakes. We routinely put entire worlds, entire universes, on the line. Fantasy characters don’t have small stories. Even the smallest characters, the Sam Gamgees and Mister Tumnuses, matter in huge ways. They don’t just make decisions that influence their personal lives. They make decisions that tip the balance of everything.
I’ve often thought that fantasy more accurately represents real life than many other forms of writing because it accepts the supernatural. In this thing of high stakes, again I believe fantasy accurately represents real life. The Bible shares this sense of none of us living small stories; of every personal story counting in a way we can’t entirely comprehend (Romans 14:7-8: “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s”).
In the story we’re continually telling with our lives, the story of the kingdom of God, the stakes are not small. We are in a story about saving souls, about saving creation, about saving the universe and things beyond it that we don’t even know about. Fantasy is a reminder of that. It reminds us that our lives count. It reminds us that this story is vast, endlessly complex, supernatural.
Our readers live in a world that saps our sense of meaning and purpose; as fantasy writers, we can serve them by giving it back. By writing stories that cry, “The stakes are high!” — because they truly are.