Mackel Tour; Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 13

So I finally tracked down the other bloggers who are posting about Kathryn Mackel’s newest release The Hidden. If you take some time to check out these other posts, I think you’ll get a good feel for this book and for Mackel as a writer.

Jason Joyner – Spoiled for the Ordinary
TL Hines’ blog
Cheryl Russel – Unseen Worlds
Jim Black’s blog
Mimi Pearson’s Mimi’s Pixie Corner
David Meigs’ The Curmudgeon’s Rant
Kevin Holtsberry’s Collected Miscellany
Linda Gilmore’s blog
Gina Burgess’s blog
Bonnie Calhoun’s Bonnie Writes
Valerie’s In My Little World
Jezreel Cohen’s Jezreel’s Reviews
Chris Mikesell So Much Stuff I Can’t Recall
Tina’s Scraps of me

I’d also suggest you take the time to look at Mackel’s own web site which will give you more background and a feel for the scope of her writing.

As to fantasy, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about good and evil, partly because of Mackel’s The Hidden. In this book there are some characters who believe that the amnesia victim, who main character Susan Stone stumbles upon, is the perpetrator of violent crimes. Susan, on the other hand, believes he is himself the victim of abuse.

I won’t do a total spoiler and tell you which is the case, but I think this leaving the reader suspended, uncertain of who is good and who is evil leads to ambivalence about the characters. I wonder if it also doesn’t confuse the issue of good and evil.

More and more, novelists are convinced that in order to paint all characters as three-dimensional, there must be a section in the antagonist’s point of view. Of course, Mr. Bad Guy has to have believable motive, because after all, he is the hero of his own tale.

So we the readers must endure the rapist giving his reasons why he is right in doing what he does. Or the murderer. Child molester. Or whoever perpetrator of whatever crimes the writer has assigned the character.

I don’t buy the idea that this even-handed treatment of the antagonist is necessary, or even good in Christian fiction. Mr. Bad Guy does what he does because he has a sinful heart like everyone else and has chosen sinful means to attain his sinful desires.

This idea that we need to “understand” the bad guy has cropped up because of the humanistic philosophy of our culture. Without some trauma or some wrong choice or unfair treatment, the humanistic reasoning goes, Mr. Bad Guy could have ended up more nearly like Mr. Good Guy. You see, left to himself, without the ills of society (as if people don’t make up society), our poor victim would certainly have followed his good nature.

Uh, no, since it is not in existence!

And yet we as Christian writers seem to be buying into this approach. Either that or the devil made him do it (see supernatural suspense, i.e. horror).

Fantasy, the classic kind or the adventure kind, doesn’t have a problem painting bad as bad and good as good. Yes, for this to work, evil characters must be painted realistically, in 3D. To me that also means assigning motives, just not mixed ones. He does what he does because he’s greedy or selfish or power-hungry. Those are all believable.

The impact on the reader is a removal of ambivalence, freeing him up to root for the good wholeheartedly. The way we should root for God to win over Satan.

Am I the only one who thinks this way?

Published in: on May 31, 2006 at 5:00 am  Comments (8)  

Mackel Tour; Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 12

First, check out other bloggers highlighting Kathryn Mackel this week. Ones I know include the following:
Jason Joyner – Spoiled for the Ordinary
TL Hines’ blog
Cheryl Russel – Unseen Worlds

Since I don’t have an interview with Kathryn Mackel to post, I decided to check out pre-blog tour interviews already posted online. I found a pretty comprehensive one at Infuze Magazine that covers a number of her books, including The Hidden.

Gina Holms did a nice interview last October on her blog Novel Journey. I like that one in particular because it highlights Outriders, the first in Mackel’s science fiction/fantasy series, The Birthright Project.

Ah, fantasy. Just the subject I was wanting to get to.

It dawned on me that one problem with Christian fantasy is the target audience. You see, those in the know say that most book-buyers are women, so the majority of books that make it into print are targeted to women readers. On CBA shelves, you see many more romance, chick lit, and women’s contemporary books than you do anything else.

So is this another chicken-or-the-egg conundrum? I mean would we really expect a large number of men to be buying romance, chick lit, or women’s contemporary for their own reading enjoyment? 🙂 So maybe the reason men don’t buy a lot of Christian fiction is because there isn’t a lot of Christian fiction out there for them to buy.

But marketing people want to provide product for their current customers, and there are only so many publishing dollars to be had. It would involve some risk-taking to really attempt to capture the men’s market.

I say, Why not take the risk? Aren’t the guys worth it? And here’s where fantasy comes into play. Fantasy aims at a cross-section of society and has at least as many men as women who read it.

Think about this: Are the Harry Potter readers only girls? Hardly. How about the Narnia readers? Nope, that’s a cross section, too. Dragons in Our Midst? A healthy number of both boys and girls.

So why am I mentioning series initially targeting young people? Because they grow up. What are the fans of Harry Potter, Narnia, Dragons in Our Midst going to read as adults?

And don’t be shocked by this—they already are becoming adults. The first Harry Potter book came out, what, eight years ago? So those thirteen-year-old fans of the first book are now adults—never mind the older teens who devoured every word.

So what are those boys-turned-men reading now?

No wonder fantasy movies are so popular.

Would that Christian book shelves had more fantasy as an alternative.

Published in: on May 30, 2006 at 5:00 am  Comments (7)  

Blog Tour—Kathryn Mackel

For May the Blog Alliance directed by TL Hines is featuring Kathryn Mackel and her newest release, The Hidden (WestBow, 2006).

    The Hidden

I will hopefully point you to other sites featuring Mackel later in the week. I do know that Cheryl Russel at Unseen Worlds is participating. I suspect others will jump in after the holiday.

When I first saw Mackel’s name on the list of blog tour stops, I was admittedly excited. I’d heard some real positives about her previous book Outriders: Book One in the Birthright Project, a unique cross between apocalyptic sci fi and fantasy literature that garnered some very nice comments from Publishers Weekly.

Unfortunately, The Hidden takes a left turn away from fantasy into what is arguably the horror genre, but for sensibilities’ sake is referred to as supernatural suspense.

I say “unfortunately” because I have never been a fan of this genre—not from secular writers, certainly, and nothing I’ve read from Christian writers has moved me to change my mind. That makes me a poor judge of this book because, clearly, I am not a part of the target audience.

Here’s what I can tell you. Mackel’s writing is inviting. I had no trouble entering into the story or getting to know the characters. I didn’t have to struggle to stay interested, and my mind did not wander as I turned the pages. The descriptions were vivid and were relayed to the reader as part of the action, so I felt as if I were part of the scene or on the edge at least, allowed to partake as an embedded witness.

I thought the backstory was artfully included. There was never an intrusion diverting us to the past until I wanted one to answer the questions the narrative had invited me to ask. The discussion of faith was certainly natural, but here’s where I would have to say my problems with the book began.

Remember, this is not my genre. Consequently I found the story very dark. The characters were all melancholy, the situation was dire, their lives were sad. It made perfect sense, then, when the main character stated at one point: “Your God let it happen. So He’s either very absent or very incompetent or—” Susan’s voice broke. “Very cruel.”

Jump cut to a new scene. In other words, that statement is left to lie there, unchallenged. I suppose someone could argue that the resolution to the story challenges it, but my point is, this is the mood of the story the whole way through.

If this is the kind of story a reader is looking for, then I’d recommend The Hidden. I would say, however, to read with particular discernment because there is some angel/demonic involvement that is cloudy at best.

Is this the kind of story where a reader is to suspend belief and say, That’s the way the author wants it to be, so that’s acceptable. Or is this the kind of story that a reader should say, That’s not the way the Bible shows it.

I don’t know. I’m just not familiar enough with the genre, but I do believe the reader should be aware of what the Bible says about angels and demons. While fiction might cause a reader to ask questions, even stir his heart to seek Truth, it is not the place to garner facts upon which to build a belief system.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. In the movie The Sixth Sense, the viewer starts out thinking this is a “regular” contemporary story. With the surprise ending, he realizes that he needs to accept fantastical elements as if they could actually happen. If he accepts them, the story is brilliant, a surprise that delights.

I could make that leap of acceptance because the author was not a Christian, so I didn’t expect Truth. I never once thought, Could that really happen? Do dead people really walk around the earth not realizing they’re dead?

Now when a Christian writes about the supernatural, what are we to expect? I don’t know. Is it OK to ask, Do angels really do that? Is that what spiritual warfare really looks like? Or should we just say, It’s fiction, a world the author created in her imagination and I accept it for this story.

My conclusion: If this is the kind of story you enjoy, you will find The Hidden a positive reading experience, but in the reading, use discernment.

Published in: on May 29, 2006 at 5:00 am  Comments (10)  

Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 11

Yes, I do know it is Memorial Day weekend and that most readers are off having picnics and such, but I figure at some point, people will want to see what’s happening in the blogsphere.

Housekeeping first. (Like I really do that at home! 😉 ) I finally have in my possession a book with my name ON THE COVER! Ah-hem—as part of the title not as the author.

Still, I am very excited about The Secret Life of Becky Miller, Sharon Hinck’s debut novel. I read the first chapter this morning and … well, I think you’ll want to be sure to check back here June 1st when Sharon will be the guest blogger.

I may post a little excerpt, too. That first chapter is a great one, especially for the moms who make up the target audience.

Also, next Monday through Wednesday I’ll be participating in a blog tour for Kathryn Mackel’s latest release, The Hidden. I think I can still work in some discussion of fantasy—at least that’s the plan for some of the time. 😉

Speaking of which, another fantasy movie came out this week. X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Dr. Marc T. Newman of had some interesting things to say about our culture and the movie’s message over at Agape Press. Here’s a sample:

The ambivalence felt by the audience during the film stems from this major premise: in a world that rejects any kind of transcendent morality as binding on its decision making, how do we determine right from wrong?

Just another bit of evidence that we need fantasy written from a Christian worldview. I mean how twisted—a genre that thrives on conflict between good and evil is questioning how we determine good and evil.

Which brings up a point that needs to be addressed. Obviously I am advocating Christian fantasy, but at the same time I am not saying, Stay away from all secular fantasy. How can I hold both views?

There are three factors. One is that much secular fantasy does not view good and evil in a warped way. The writer, and consequently the characters, see that parents should love their children and rulers should be just and generous. That the downtrodden need help, that the strong should protect the weak, and so forth. These are “understood” because God’s natural law is in us (Romans 1:18-20). So a reader can read a secular fantasy and see good striving against evil and as far as it goes, it is true. It is just not complete.

Then there is fantasy that is off base, like The Lion King or the Nietzsche-fied X-Men, where the story is filled with wrong philosophy dressed up as right. Insidious stuff, but I see such stories as an opportunity for us to engage the culture by exposing what these stories are about. We need to use our critical thinking, identify what’s right and what’s wrong and refrain from categorical judgment.

I said there were three factors, but I forgot the other one. Hopefully I’ll remember it by Monday! 🙂

Published in: on May 27, 2006 at 12:13 pm  Comments (6)  

Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 10

Purpose. Fantasy, above all types of fiction, tells a story with purpose.

If you didn’t catch Mir’s comment to the last post, I encourage you to go back and read it. She is absolutely right about fairytales of old.

Interestingly, the “enlightened” culture of today has begun stripping them of consequences. (After all, we don’t want to traumatize children with such violence—so the wolf no longer eats Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, that sort of thing.)

Here’s what Philip Martin (a non-Christian, if I am to judge by what he writes), editor of A Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature, says about purpose:

Fantasy helps us develop good, if idealistic, goals. Fantasy stories reach for truth inside us, plumbing the deepest wells of belief and wonder. As children or adults, we still ache with pleasure when we read a story that reminds us that life is worthwhile and home precious, that the world is filled with good creatures as well as foe-beasts.

Fantasy is about journeying to strange worlds, but it is ultimately about arriving, in a state of surprise and grace, at a place inside ourselves….

Fantasy deals with Truths so large, so pure, that they can be expressed no other way.

Good goals, the truth inside us, belief and wonder, life as worthwhile, and home precious. This is why readers and moviegoers by the millions are drawn to fantasy.

Yet much of what’s in the marketplace is missing one ingredient—the Person who stirs us with the longing for more than we have now. He who is the Good, He who is Truth, who is the Cause of belief and wonder, the Giver of life, the One who makes His presence Home.

Good fantasy leads a reader to desire God, though he may not realize this is what he longs for. Christian fantasy leads a reader to desire God and subtly points to Him: “Here is He whom you seek.”

Yes, it can also achieve lesser goals—reinforcing important cultural and spiritual values. But the possibilities of fantasy in the hands of Christians …

Published in: on May 26, 2006 at 10:10 am  Comments (3)  

Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 9

I want to garner some more thoughts from The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature, edited by Philip Martin (The Writer Books, 2002).

Interestingly, Martin’s comments indicate that the perception of fantasy as a genre appropriate only for children is not unique to Christians, but that some parents, not exclusively believers, worry about its effects on their sons and daughters. His response:

Might reading stories about dragons and magicians warp a child’s mind to confuse fantasy with reality?

The answer is no. Fantasy is unmistakably metaphor—even to a child. As C. S. Lewis wrote:

    We long to go through the looking glass, to reach fairy land ….[But] Does anyone suppose that [a child] really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale—really wants dragons …? It is not so.

    It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his lifelong enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it new dimension of depth.

    -C.S. Lewis, from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” in Of Other Worlds, quoted in The Game of the Impossible: A Rhetoric of Fantasy, by W.R. Irwin

Martin continues with what I think is one of the most salient arguments against objections to fantasy on spiritual grounds:

As one writer noted, it makes no more sense to believe that children will turn to witchcraft because of reading Harry Potter than that they would feel they need to talk to furniture after reading Goodnight, Moon.

Adults and kids alike “get” metaphor. If we didn’t, then I think Jesus would have sought a more “listener friendly” mode of communication than the parable.

Some people argue, of course, that many of Jesus’s listeners did not understand his intent, and I would concede that point, with this explanation: spiritual things are discerned spiritually. They require God’s Spirit to lead us into the truth of what God has revealed. For reasons we cannot know, God chose at that time to harden the hearts of many in the crowd. It wasn’t the “fault” of the parables.

Not to mention, fantasy writers are not writing Scripture. We are writing in metaphor that hopefully points people toward Truth. Martin again:

Once we believe—even if only within stories—in the chivalry of King Arthur’s knights or in Harry Potter’s struggles at Hogwarts, once we have stood with the brave small creatures of Redwall against the foe-beasts, or swayed with Frodo on the edge of the Crack of Doom, we begin to see the forms of good and evil. First as children, later as adults, we come to believe that even creatures as small as ourselves can play a role, that the world is affected by the actions we take.

In other words, we begin to see how we fit into the bigger picture.

Published in: on May 25, 2006 at 11:07 am  Comments (10)  

Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 8

I did a little online research and learned that the Narnia books have sold anywhere from 85-95 million copies worldwide.

In addition, 11 million DVDs have been sold since right before Easter. That compares to 10 million DVDs of the latest Harry Potter movie.

Speaking of Harry Potter, as of Oct. 2005 those books had sold 300 million copies worldwide. According to Wikipedia the online encyclopedia:

Over nearly a decade the books have garnered fans of all ages, leading to two editions of each Harry Potter book being released, identical in text but with one edition’s cover artwork aimed at children and the other edition’s aimed at adults. The world wide success of Harry Potter including sales from the books, as well as royalties from the films and merchandise, has made Rowling a billionaire and by some reports richer than Queen Elizabeth II.

Why the fixation on numbers? Because sales—how people actually spend their money—translate into what people really like and, from my perspective, what they want to see more of.

Speculative stories are popular, and as the quote above indicates, this interest is not exclusive to children. Consider the top grossing movies of all time. Nine of the top ten are either science fiction or have sci fi/fantasy elements. Only one of those films, Shrek 2, could be considered a children’s movie primarily (and even then the humor is targeted mostly to adults).

Wikipedia’s list:

1 Titanic $1,845,034,188
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King $1,118,888,979
3 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) $976,475,550
4 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers $926,287,400
5 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace $924,317,558
6 Shrek 2 $920,665,658
7 Jurassic Park $914,691,118
8 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire $891,719,985
9 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets $876,688,482
10 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The next ten is similar. In fact all ten belong in the spec fic category. And the next ten? All but two.

The love of fantasy, the fascination with imaginative places or extraordinary creatures, is a part of our culture.

And here’s the point. If Christians do not enter into this arena in a meaningful way, non-Christians will have the say-so regarding the focal point of fantasy—the good/evil conflict. Non-Christians will define the terms and ultimately determine the winners.

Take one example—The Lion King. A harmless little animated children’s film, right? Here’s what a writer at said:

It’s not only animated, it’s also pretentious! Yes, the “circle of life,” a sort of kiddified Social Darwinism, comes across as “philosophy lite.”

I’d also mention the heavy New Age themes and a few more problematic issues. But what should we expect from writers and film makers who do not believe in the God of the Bible?

So why should Christians care about fantasy? Because the rest of our culture does. Because fantasy has great capacity for good but also great capacity for evil.

It depends on who wields it.

Published in: on May 24, 2006 at 1:10 pm  Comments (14)  

Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 7

I admit it. I got totally distracted and almost forgot to post on the blog today. YIKES!

So what was the distraction? I was actually working. I, along with the other finalists in the ACFW Genesis contest, must put together a proposal for the story we entered. I had made the decision to wait until the announcement of the first round results before working on this. My first priority has always been to complete The Chronicles of Efrathah. But now that I’m moving on to the next round, I have this deadline.

So I’ll let you voice an opinion if you care to. Here is my proposal intro, the overview of my story, horribly named The Only:

What happens when an orphan becomes king? Novo, a poor yeoman in the king’s service, wants to restore his people’s worship of their ancient God. When he comes of age and exhibits the sign of the true king, his guardian puts in motion events that bring Novo to the throne. Now he must decide to keep the illegitimate wealth he obtains, in order to accomplish his goal, or to restore it to its rightful owner, losing his chance to achieve his life’s work. Through symbolism The Only portrays a Christian’s spiritual struggle to do what is right, sometimes in the midst of success.

Thoughts? Does it bore you? Is it in need of tightening? What’s missing?

Back to our discussion of magic and especially my proclamation that we should not outgrow pretend. Remember, I believe that our imagination is part of the creative equipment God gave us when He made us in His image. So to me, saying I will outgrow pretendis like saying I’ll outgrow the ability to love.

Unfortunately, as adults we get so focused on the stuff of our physical world—things like making a living and raising a family—we kill off our imagination, or at least allow it to lie dormant so long it is pretty weak when we try to exercise it.

Fantasy allows us to exercise our imagination in a useful way, a spiritually engaging way.

But there’s another reason Christians should care about fantasy. We’ll look at that next time.

Published in: on May 23, 2006 at 2:00 pm  Comments (9)  

Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 6

I am happy to announce the winner of the autographed set of Bryan Davis’s Dragons in Our Midst books: Timothy Hicks. (Timothy, congratulations. You’ll find the contact info for Bryan here, so you can let him know the mailing address you wish the books sent to. Mention you are the Fantasy Blog Tour winner from A Christian Worldview of Fiction.)

Now that the first stop of the tour is officially over, I’ll help you locate the fantasy poetry contest. You still have a little over a week to participate (I posted my offering Sunday.) The contest is the brainchild of Sally Apokedak, and she introduced it last week at All About Children’s Books.

One more bit of news. I received a letter from the Association of Christian Schools International confirming the three seminars I’ll be teaching in the fall at the Anaheim Convention Center. That includes my fantasy topic! 🙂

Magic. Real power, but also the stuff of pretense. Here are the questions. First, in order to keep from endorsing what is not of God, should Christians stay away from reading books that include magic? Secondly, should adults grow beyond pretend?

No and no. Or at least, not necessarily and no. Here’s where critical thinking becomes crucial. If a book glorifies power opposed to God, or paints evil as right, then I believe Christians should consider not reading that book. It is not true.

In the case of Christian fantasy—books written by Christians, written from a Christian worldview—power opposed to God is put in its proper place. For this reason alone, Christian fantasy needs to have a place in literature.

Authors of Christian fantasy acknowledge that there is a spiritual realm, that there are spiritual forces opposed to God, that we humans are mixed up in a battle for our souls.

We may choose to show this battle using muted symbolism, overt allegory, or something in between. Hidden behind the story or tromping through it, something or someone represents evil. Just so, something or someone portrays God, portrays good. In the middle stands the protagonist, in some way struggling with or because of those conflicting forces.

This is life depicted in its truest form—the spiritual entwined with the physical—but made understandable because the concrete represents the abstract.

Next time we’ll look at why we should never outgrow fantasy.

Published in: on May 22, 2006 at 6:00 am  Comments (4)  

Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 5

In case you’re wondering how we got to Part 5 in this discussion, I’m adding in the last three days of the blog tour because I shared pertinent thoughts about magic.

But before returning to that subject, I want to highlight a couple people. First is Jeff Gerke, fiction acquisitions editor at NavPress and founder of Realms, the brief fantasy imprint for Strang. Jeff is probably the most fantasy-friendly editor in the CBA. I thought belatedly that I should invite him to join the blog tour, though his blog posts are … sporadic, at best. 🙂 (Averaging once every three months, as near as I could figure).

I did contact him Friday, and he seemed supportive of our endeavors. He reminded me, in fact, that he also is a fantasy writer. You can check out an excerpt of his work at his blog.

In his e-mail, Jeff put in a plug for one of his authors at Realms, Miles Owens. Tim Frankovich reviewed Owens’s novel Daughter of Prophecy, something I hope to do, too. I think Miles is one of the best, up-and-coming Christian fantasy authors I’ve read. I’d buy more of his work whenever possible.

On to magic. Let me wrap up the serious side of the issue with this conclusion: if Christians shy away from writing and publishing fantasy because it deals with magic, or supernatural power, we are, in essense, yielding the megaphone to those without a Christian worldview who wish to speak to the topic. Writers who want to say stuff such as man has power—the true magic—within himself.

Let’s face it, in stories dealing overtly with a good/evil conflict, we need writers who define “good” as “of God” and “evil” as “anything opposed to God.”

Doesn’t that pretty much wipe out all secular fantasy, and a good number of other genres as well, if we were to look deeply? Yes … and no.

Yes, because stories that are not “God-centric” are false. No, because we need to look at what is not “God-centric” and identify it for what it is. Which might be garbage or good art as far as it goes. In other words, we need to bring our critical thinking to bear on the subject and not give an unreasoned view because the word “witch” is in the title, or a dragon appears on the cover.

And this brings me to the lighter side of magic. When I was growing up, there was a great world of pretend out there, things and places and people that were made up, that existed in our imagination. Santa Claus and the North Pole. The Little Engine that could. Brer Rabbit and his briar patch. Cinderella’s fairy godmother.

In this day and age, it seems we have lost an understanding of pretend. To pretend means to play, to suspend belief and accept new parameters. Casper the Friendly Ghost, then, ceases to be a symbol of evil. Gandolf the wizard is not an agent of the devil. And magic doesn’t have to represent power opposed to God.

Which brings me back to critical thinking. Somewhere we have lost the ability to identify what is a real spiritual threat.

We’ll pick up the discussion there next time.

Published in: on May 20, 2006 at 9:52 am  Comments (9)  
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