CSFF Blog Tour – Auralia’s Colors, Day 2

My intent was to have an interview, or more accurately, a conversation with Jeffrey Overstreet, author of our January feature, Auralia’s Colors, as part of my posting during the blog tour. I had a specific subject in mind, and interestingly it is the one Phil Vischer raised in his comments to Christianity Today.

To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how to broach the subject because I understand what is behind the opinion that Christian fantasy is … not very good. It is the history of Christian fiction (and by extension, all of fiction).

To be fair, I think you need to know some of what Mr. Overstreet believes, so here is an excerpt, fairly long, from his blog post answering questions about The Golden Compass:

Christians always point back to Lewis and Tolkien as exemplary storytellers. Why hasn’t anyone come along to step into their shoes?
One of the reasons that Pullman’s books are dangerous is that they stand so far above most contemporary fantasy in the quality and majesty of their writing and imagination.

The reason we’re having this controvery and conversation is, in part, due to this truth: Christians have become so suspicious of fairy tales, fantasy, and imagination that we have created an environment in which it is very unlikely that we will see another imagination like Tolkien and Lewis emerge. [emphasis mine]

We have focused our attentions on cultivating “Christian art” that evangelizes, rather than cultivating “imaginative writing.” In evangelical zeal, we’ve created a sub-genre, a whole industry, in which storytelling preaches to the choir with obvious lessons and somewhat shoddy craftsmanship. In our hurry to dot every “i” and cross every “t” and provide all fo the answers, we’ve eliminated the mysteries of God from our art… and people are much more powerfully drawn to mystery than they are to sales pitches. Audiences know the difference between literary works of great imagination and nicely decorated propaganda.

The kind of art crafted by Lewis and Tolkien invites us on an imaginative journey and allows us to discover meaning in an encounter with mystery. We are left to interpret the stories for ourselves.

Tolkien and Lewis wandered into stories and discovered truth. That kind of storytelling is often deemed too dangerous. Many believe we should be able to sum up what the story means ahead of time, and explain how that is going to convince people to accept Jesus, or it’s useless. I prefer the wisdom of Madeleine L’Engle:

    “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

We have become a church of marketers, not artists. And the artists, feeling distrusted, lacking support and resources, are leaving the church to find the freedom and ability to explore imagination and answer God’s call. Thus, most of the great, lasting religious art of our day is on exhibit in the secular square, largely overlooked… and sometimes even condemned… by people of faith.

Don’t you find it interesting that there has hardly been a whisper about these books amongst Christians in the last decade, but as soon as the movie starts getting promoted, suddenly there’s a panic? Kids have been reading these books since 1995, and Christian protesters are acting like they’ve only just arrived. What does this show us about the state of Christian engagement with the arts? Pullman’s trilogy has been making the news and winning prestigious literary awards for quite a while. And some folks who engage with contemporary literature have been publishing warnings for years and years (including Amy Wellborn, whose posts I linked to several years ago). But this just goes to show you that the general audience of Christians in America is tuned in to what is playing at the multiplex, but not to what is happening in the world of storytelling.

I doubt that I’ll ever be a master storyteller like Lewis or Tolkien. But their example inspired me so powerfully when I was a kid, that I decided at seven years old to start writing fairy tales of my own. I doubt anybody will come along to fill their shoes, but I would like to at least shine their shoes. It is a privilege to have had the opportunity to offer Auralia’s Colors as some small measure of thanks to those two writers, and to Madeleine L’Engle, by writing fantasy stories of my own. Thanks to their inspiring example, I’ve avoided writing allegory. I’ve gone forward in the hope that I could tell a good story, and that the story would reflect some measure of the truth on its own. Stories work best when they are not driven by some agenda to persuade.

So Auralia’s Colors, which was just published by Random House’s WaterBrook Press, is not an allegory by any stretch of the imagination. Some are finding “Christian meaning” in it. Fine. I think truth is God’s territory wherever it is found. (I found “Christian meaning” in Pan’s Labyrinth, a film made by a director who specifically claimed to be avoiding Christian storytelling.) I just wrote a fairy tale. I wrote the story to find out what would happen to the characters, not to create some kind of metaphor about God. And I’m still investigating. When someone announces that one of my characters is a stand-in for God or Jesus, well, that’s news to me. I haven’t seen enough evidence yet. But as I follow the characters, I am learning things. If I decided what the story meant ahead of time, I would be very bored by the process of writing the story.

(One reviewer referred to the creature called the Keeper as “God.” Perhaps the Keeper reminded him of God. That’s fine with me… I can see the resemblance. But the Keeper is not God. The Keeper is a mysterious mythological creature who lurks in the background of my story, and to me, it’s still a mysterious animal. I’m still learning about it. I imagine that folks who are eager to define him or equate him with something from the Bible will eventually be frustrated. But that’s just a hunch.)

If we allowed artists to explore their imaginations and pursue their visions with excellence, without making them self-conscious about the evangelical potential (or lack of it) in their work, we might end up with great art within the church again. Artists might have the courage and freedom to discover new visions rather than merely producing work that is derivative of good ideas that have come before.

While Mr. Overstreet says many helpful things in his post, I still take issue with his characterization of the unknown “we” who have this one-sided view of art. And it is this I would like to discuss with him.

As to Auralia’s Colors, see what others might be saying about the book. (Did you notice what Mr. Overstreet said about The Keeper? Now there’s another subject I’d like to explore with him.)

Others on tour this month as as follows:

Advertisements
Published in: on January 22, 2008 at 11:18 am  Comments (9)  

9 Comments

  1. Becky,
    I am so glad you published these comments by Mr. Overstreet! I know you remember me and all of my conundrum about this book when it toured earlier this past Fall. His comments – in light of your insight on this – have allowed a light bulb to go on in my brain! Now if we can just figure out why the Christians writing good stories want to categorize all Christian fiction into the badly written category! Hmmmm?

    I do hope you get in touch with Mr. Overstreet and get to ask your questions. I’d love to hear his answers too! Thanks for this post! It was extremely helpful for me as I struggle with trying to keep myself from trying to strictly categorize books too.

    Thanks!
    Kim

    Like

  2. He said some really important things in that post. Things I’ve been thinking for years. I’d love for you to get to ask your questions too, Becky!. I want to pick his brain more, myself.

    I do thend to agree with this: “we’ve eliminated the mysteries of God from our art…” But then, I see The Church doing that in many areas: science, theology, and even spirituality at times. How close-minded can you be before you stop using your mind all-together?

    I laughed when he was saying about Pullman’s books being basically overlooked by Christians until the movies came out. I was a little blown away, myself at the sudden out-cry. But, you know, they did the same thing with Potter. It was the realease of the first movie that got the people sturred up. I bet if they’d stayed on the page Dumbledore and Potter wouldn’t have gotten much press at all. 😀 It does make you wonder about the direction our emphasis is going, and how aware Christian’s really are about the arts.

    As I’ve spoken to editors on the CBA side of the fence and tried to weed through all the red tape, I’ve become very discouraged. I truely believe that boxes don’t fit with art of any kind. If I can’t be free to express my vision then the vision won’t be true. I’m so tired of being asked what sort of “Christian Message” my story has. Christian Message? It’s about the truth of love. What could be more Christ-like than that? But then you say it has faeries or vampires…*gasp*

    😉

    I’d love to see CBA broaden it’s horizons more. I think there’s hope. This book seems more free. And Eric Wilson is coming out with his vamp books in the fall. I’m interested to see where it all goes.

    Like

  3. I’m rather troubled by parts of this. As to Overstreet himself, if he didn’t mean the Keeper to be a God-figure, he horrifically miswrote the dream in which the Keeper appears. The language requires such an interpretation, IMO. It would be almost like Lewis denying that Aslan was God the Son in another world.

    The other point is the “creativity” business. It’s depressing how many people who invoke Lewis have never bothered to read his work. Creativity occurs within bounds; otherwise it’s wasted. “My vision” indeed! My vision is that I was blind and largely still am; and what should I bother depicting but the Beauty I have beheld? Trust me: you do not want to hear MY story. It’s petty rubbish. But God’s story–that bears retelling again and again.

    Like

  4. I find so many of these articulations by Jeffrey Overstreet to be very typical of the 21st century 30-somethings art-house, coffee house, beatnik mantra. Well, guess what? The same things in various modes have been said over and over again, although Mr. Overstreet is an absolutely beautiful writer.

    So . . . the true artists are leaving “the church”. The “real” writers are those who don’t evangelize in their pieces of fiction. And the most profound of the authors will find a way to express their imaginations without technically or intentionally including God or His Son or especially the Holy Spirit but will use a near perfect artform of illustrative and lovely language to accomplish this magesterial work. And they alone will have fulfilled God’s call in their writing.

    Like

  5. The most powerful testimony of God’s presence is found in a simple yet profound and even provocative fact largely missed by most of humanity:

    We create as He creates.

    Sure, we can line a story with allegory and implications. But even before that, the fact that we have breath to breathe and a mind able to imagine and execute is the most basic and intrinsic testimony of God’s existence and interest in mankind.

    ‘Nuff said.

    CH

    Like

  6. CORRECTION: My first line in the above comment should read, “One of the most powerful testimonies…”

    In my zeal I forgot to proof read.

    CH

    Like

  7. I found this blog post to be very enlightening. When I read Christian fiction, I do find that it’s often not as compelling as that from the secular market. But then again, perhaps the best Christian writers of fiction are toning down the overt faith-content and getting published in by the secular publishers.

    Well, I’m glad to have stopped by on my journey through the CSFF blogs.

    God bless you,
    Nissa

    Like

  8. Thanks for posting this info. Not only does it inspire me, but it also helps me see the joyful goal of creating for God.

    Like

  9. Thanks, all of you, for the great comments. I’m actually hoping to address the issues you raised in my posts the next few days. You all challenge me to stay engaged with this subject

    Becky

    Like


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: