CSFF Blog Tour—Landon Snow, Day 2

OK, I’m going to rant a bit today. I didn’t realize I even had strong opinions about this subject until I started reading some of the posts on the CSFF Blog Tour for November. Our feature is Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum by R. K. Mortenson (Barbour Publishing), released last month.

    Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum

So what has me steamed? It is not anyone on the tour. (No fire-fights here—or flame wars, if you will 😀 ) However, some folks have quoted other reviews or descriptions. I’ve read that the Landon Snow is a cross between Alice and Wonderland and Narnia, that it is a Christian Harry Potter, that it shows influences of The Phantom Tollbooth (a book Mortenson has yet to read).

The thing is, why do we (is it just Christians?) feel the need to compare Mortenson’s work to someone else’s? I understand when a writer pitches the book to a publisher, this identification can serve as a sort of shorthand so the aquisitions editor understands the premise. But this seems like something more to me.

Was J. K. Rowling up against this when she first published? Were people saying, At last a secular Narnia, or some such vacuous comment? I might have missed it, but I heard no such label. Is this because her world of Hogwarts was so fresh, so new that it reminded readers of nothing? I don’t think that either. I actually couldn’t help thinking about Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride from time to time when I saw the first movie.

So what’s my point? Writers borrow all the time—from the news reported in the paper, from the classics, from the people in their own world. And in all the borrowing, if the writer puts the material through the wash of his own life, out comes a brand new creation. That’s what I believe R. K. (Randy) Mortenson has done.

I mentioned in my post at Speculative Faith yesterday that I think Randy has a unique “voice,” that nearly intangible something that makes a writer so unique that a reader, without knowing the title of a book, could still identify it as one of his.

Randy’s voice is fresh and fun; it’s his strongest quality, in my opinion. Listen to a little section from Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle.

The Weigh Down. These letters didn’t brush off [the sign on the top of a hill which Landon and his new buddy, Melech, a chess-piece knight newly rendered “live,” have fallen onto and wish to leave]. In fact, they looked as if they’d been printed on the board years ago and had faded over time. Landon grabbed the board from beneath and tried to lift …

“What does the sign say?” said Melech.
“The Weigh Down,” said Landon. Hadn’t he told him that before?
“Hmm.”
Landon looked at him. “Hmm, what?’
“Well,” said Melech, “if weigh means to find how heavy something is, and down is down, I’m wondering why you are trying to lift it up. Merely a casual observation.”

I could go on and on, but I’ll let you discover the delights of Randy’s use of language, of his unique voice for yourself. Is he like Lewis Carroll or C. S. Lews or J. K. Rowling or …? In my book, he is uniquely R. K. Mortenson and well worth discovering.

– – –

If you drop over at Mirtika Schultz’s site and leave a commnt, you will be eligible to win the first three books of the Landon Snow series. As always, Mir has made some truly engaging, informative observations. Well worth your time.

Others on the tour this month are these fine bloggers:

Published in: on November 14, 2006 at 1:05 pm  Comments (14)  

14 Comments

  1. Hey, Becky! I appreciate your thoughtful remarks. Even the publisher promotes Landon as “all the magic of Harry Potter” without the sorcery and whatnot. In a reverse way, I feel the same thing for poor Harry (well, okay, not so poor, but you know). Meaning, if I were him I’d sure be tired of all these other books being compared to me. So I wish we could wipe the comparative slate clean, and let Harry be Harry, Narnia be Narnia, Alice be Alice (I did use her–and her alone–in my initial pitch to Barbour), and alas, Landon Snow be Landon Snow.

    Amen.

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  2. Ok, ok so I’m guilty of saying it was tonally similar to Disney’s Alice (think the actual book was much darker…) and to some old adventure games I used to play. :p

    Sometimes it is just easier to say, “It’s like Alice in Wonderland.” than it is to say “It is the tale of a young lad who falls into a strange and literal world through a giant book. A story written with great wit and charm.” But then easy isn’t always better.

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  3. Hahah—I’m creating all these guilty consciouses. Not intended. Stuart, I haven’t visited your blog yet, so you did not trigger my rant.

    I forgot one of the comparisons I read—to Lemony Snicket. Uh, somewhat similar packaging but I think that’s as far as that one goes.

    I think you’re right about “easy,” Stuart. Maybe there’s nothing more to it. I see a trend toward celebrity-ism in Christian publishing and wonder if there isn’t a little of that “be like Mike” attitude being passed around. So Mortenson is good because he’s like __ [fill in your favorite celebrity]. Maybe I’m making more of this than I need to. Wouldn’t be the first time! 😀

    Becky

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  4. Becky-I think that secular publishers and reviewers do that too. Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shanara has been compared to LOTR.

    I love both books but I mean, really…

    Chris

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  5. I’m sure you’re right, Chris. I have heard Terry Brooks compared to Tolkien, too. But I don’t think that was true of Stephen Donaldson.

    So here’s a question. Do some people write in a derivative style that should be pointed out?

    So maybe there are at least two reason people make these comparisions and we need to be able to discern the difference.

    What do you think?

    Becky

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  6. Oh definetly some people write in a very derivative style. Dennis L. Mckiernan’s first written book in his Mithgaard series is very, very similar to LoTR. Which he freely admits, I believe.

    I’m not so opposed to comparisons as I am to substitutions or “like” statements.

    There are only a few Authors who manage to “create” a genre through the power of their writing and their sales. And then anything that comes after is instantly compared against that, right or wrong.

    And being similar in tone to something isn’t necessarily a bad thing. People who yearn for more of Middle Earth can find a bit of the longing sated in the hundreds of books that have come after that fall into the template set by that.

    And isn’t that what Genres and Sub-Genres are? Books that have similar structure or premises, set apart by specifics?

    I think the key distinction that has to be made is: Does a book evoke a reaction or emotions like those you got when reading another book? Or does a book make you think of the other book and how it did everything better?

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  7. Heh, I was thinking of talking about this too!

    I just got my copy of LS:IoA, and noted the publishers handout that talked up “Harry Potter without all the evuuuulness” or somesuch. In one sense, I am disappointed by that in that it feeds the Christian ghetto attitude (I can’t be tainted by the world, so we’ll have Christian music, Christian Harry Potter, etc).

    However, the point that references do help make people expect a little more what they’re going to get. Someone who doesn’t like fantasy can then stay away (although the way too cool cover should tip them off).

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  8. I noticed too that the comparison to Harry Potter was played up in the press release and have chosen not to use that *info* on my blog. The press release (I think) wasn’t really designed for us–folks who already love fantasy. It’s to convince a reluctant bookstore owner to take a chance on carrying these books, something she/he can say to their customers to assure them that these books aren’t evuuuuuul (to quote Jason!) When you’re preaching to believers (us in this case) you use different wording than when you’re trying to convert a reluctant someone (the bookstore buyer).

    Just trying to see both sides! 😛

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  9. I believe there’s a very simple reason for such comparisons. New readers. I’ll be quite honest. Before this tour, I’d never heard of R. K. Mortenson nor his novels. If I were to come across a review or a blurb on the books themselves providing comparisons to works I’d read and liked by others, this would help me make a decision as to whether to purchase a novel by an author I was unfamiliar with. Of course, it can work in reverse. What if you don’t like the Potter books or LOTR? This is the chance one takes with comparisons. Still, I believe it’s more helpful than harmful.

    Just my humbly submitted .02 cents.

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  10. Stuart,

    GREAT points. You’ve hit it. Capturing a reader and taking him on a journey that is similar to one he loved is a good thing. Taking him on a ride that makes him wish he’d repeated the previous one because it was not only the original but by far the better, is sad.

    I think that’s the biggest reason NOT to write derivative fiction. But sadly, fantasy writers are accused of that all the time. Oooohh, you’re writing a journey quest story—another Tolkien knock-off, eh? As if all journeys have to be like Tolkien’s. That’s like saying a romance is a knock off of [insert popular romance author’s name here] because it’s a love story.

    The thing is, fantasy has more flexibility, so not all will have a journey. Not all will take their story lines from Tolkien or Lewis or Rowling, and those should be appreciated for their own merits.

    I guess that’s really why I ranted.

    Becky

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  11. Jason, good points about the ghetto mentality. The crazy thing is, I don’t think Landon Snow is anything like Harry Potter, so I am surprised Barbour is touting it like that. Maybe the anti-Lemony Snicket. It’s that age group I think LS is more apt to capture.

    Valerie, I’m glad you’re injecting balance—always good when someone is off ranting. 😉 Issues are rarely one-sided, after all. Yes, I can see using the comparison lines to sell the book to stores. Selling is undoubtedly competitive. But what troubles me about this is false or overblown claims. I’ve heard a half dozen or more authors ascribed with the mantle of the next C. S. Lewis. Well, are they? I have yet to read one that has anything like the feel of C. S. Lewis, let alone the impact on society. Isn’t that a tag best reserved for AFTER God has used an author in a similar way—if He even choses to do so.

    Todd, I understand about the new readers idea, too. But let’s face it—how many of them actually believe the “Christian Harry Potter” tag? I mean, I think they did with … what was that book that was pubbed that way and zomed onto the NY Times best-seller list, only to drop just about as quickly because, by all reports, it was bad writing? The title escapes me. It seems, though, that from that moment on, readers became skeptical of all such claims. Rightfully so. But what do I know—marketers are still using that approach, so they must believe it’s getting some results.

    If we could come up with something different, that would be fresh and interesting, now that would sell books, I think.

    Becky

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  12. Landon Snow…unlike any book or character or story or genre or idea ever before! He’s not the “Christian answer” to anything! He’s completely, utterly, underivatively, purely original! Buy the entire series now!

    Hmm. Yeah, that’ll fly.

    Just poking fun, you know. I’ve appreciated everyone’s participation. Blessings to you all,
    Randy

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  13. Becky,
    I have to agree with you. We need more originality in all of Christian fiction. Our type of fiction should be setting the standard for the future. I think we are seeing more “cutting edge”(for lack of a better term)fiction in the Christian market. Based on some of our writers(I won’t name them because I would forget someone) are stepping out of the “let’s copy what we see in past Christian fiction books” and are moving to the front line. I am confident that we are seeing a move to take back the fiction market.
    God bless,
    Jim

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  14. Jim, I love what you said. I agree that Christians should be setting the standard and leading rather than following. It’s what J. K. Rowling did. She found something new and now people are claiming to be her with a twist.

    I like Lewis and Tolkien as leaders, but it’s time for someone new. The “next Lewis,” as so many writers are being called, will be a visionary, someone others will emulate. That’s why I don’t think we’ll instantly know who the real “next Lewis” will be until others start claiming to be “like Mortenson,” or whoever.

    And Randy, you are so clever. ‘-) You don’t think your name alone would sell books? So how was Harry Potter FIRST marketed? That would be worthy research, I think. How did that first book capture readers’ attention? Controversy helped it get media attention, but how did the publisher first introduce it?

    It seems to me there is a way for new things to be presented without attaching them to the old, but I don’t know if I’m right or how it would be done.

    Becky

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