CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 1

Because we missed touring in February, the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring a second book in April—Raven’s Ladder, the third book in Jeffrey Overstreet‘s Auralia Thread adult fantasy series.

As is my want to do during our tours, I’ll digress a bit to something the book made me think about. In the case of Raven’s Ladder, that something is fantasy itself, and in particular, fantasy settings.

While fantasy in general continues to sell well, and Christian publishers are slowly adding more titles and authors, there lingers a perception that fantasy is for a select few who like unpronounceable names and unrealistic stories.

Certainly I don’t agree with that perspective, but it does bring up the question: can a fantasy setting be too “dense” to allow access by readers less inclined toward the genre? And if so, when does an author cross that line?

After all, isn’t one of the joys of fantasy the chance to imagine new and different places? But of course all fiction opens the reader to new and different places. I’ve been to Russia, China, Israel, and Germany, all through novels. I’ve lived in the eighteen century, the early twentieth, and even the twenty-fifth.

So imagining new and different places isn’t reserved for fantasy. Why then does fantasy cause so many to associate the genre with “strange,” rather than imaginatively new and different?

I don’t have any hard evidence one way or the other, but here’s what I suspect: fantasy that doesn’t connect the reader to the real world gets labeled “strange.” By “connect to the real world” I don’t mean that all fantasy needs to be about a character from this world. Nor do I believe it must be set in this world.

Tolkien’s heroes were Hobbits, not humans, and Lewis’s Narnia was clearly a world apart from this one, yet those two authors are arguably the most popular fantasy writers of all time.

What, then, are the elements that help a reader connect to a fantasy world? I think there are several that help me.

Accessible names. These aren’t necessarily familiar names but they should have a familiar feel to them. Bilbo, Samwise, Aslan, Taran, Dobro Turtlebane, and Cal-raven from Raven’s Ladder are accessible, though different. The vowel-consonant combinations aren’t unfamiliar to English speakers.

An understandable society. Recently I saw an old Star Trek: Next Generations re-run in which Worf brought to the forefront how impossible it was for Romulans to understand Klingons because they do not place the same value on honor. The conflict made perfect sense to anyone who’s viewed the show for any length of time because that cultural distinction had been clearly established.

More importantly, the idea that a culture would value an ethical or moral attribute more than life itself doesn’t seem bizarre or stupid. Different, perhaps, but in an admirable way. Clearly the culture is one readers can relate to.

So too, in Raven’s Ladder when the king does away with old segregation lines and no longer follows the rules of old, readers can understand the conflict such a change could create.

Certainly there are more ways a writer can create a unique world that feels new and different yet retains the sense of familiarity that will draw readers in rather than repelling them. What are some ideas you’ve see in your reading or included in your writing?

Once again, I invite you to see what others touring Raven’s Ladder are saying about the book:

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

9 Comments

  1. Really sorry I missed this one; I like this series.

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  2. Interesting thoughts. I agree with the names… need to be something we can pronounce in our heads (or out loud if we are reading to others :)).

    I also agree with the understandable society.

    I would also point out characters who we can understand and empathize with. For example, I will probably never possess an evil ring that needs to be tossed into Mt St Helens (closest thing I can come up with for Mt Doom :P), but I empathize with Frodo. He isn’t purely good, but struggles with the evil he carries. And actually in the end, makes the wrong choice.

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  3. It helps when the themes are also things that resonate with us. Honor, yes, but also temptation, longing, love, etc. The more real and deep these things are, the more we’ll connect and care about the story. Great post, Becky!

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  4. Names should be something we can handle, not just a bunch of random letters pushed together. But the whole point of speculative fiction is to present something which is not everyday. So names should suggest some alienness. That’s a hard set of criteria to meet at the one time.

    I find inspiration at the supermarket checkout. I encounter young checkout chicks and chaps with names like Ritu, Fendi, Hasiba, Jasreen, Khush.

    Writers with some familarity with languages can handle word creation better than others. Or else you just resort to a set of plastic cups full of Scrabble letters, which you pull out one by one. Alternate sets of vowels and consonants and you will be amazed at what you come up with.

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  5. for a long time I actually stopped reading “true” stories because I don’t want reality lol.
    Great points Becky!

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  6. This doesn’t answer your question, but “Orthodoxy” by GK Chesterton sheds some good light on fantasy (or as he calls it, fairy tales) and it’s impact on people. I highly recommend it!

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  7. […] Today, take a look at what others on the tour think. You’ll find the list with appropriate links to the various articles at the end of yesterday’s post […]

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  8. […] Take some time to start formulating yours by reading some of the other participants’ views. You’ll find the list with links to specific articles at the end of Monday’s post. […]

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  9. Just a correction on the links list, there is a post for the second day on my blog as well, the list only has days one and three. 🙂

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