Fables and Fantasies – CSFF Blog Tour, The Wolf of Tebron, Day 3

I’d planned to do my typical review of this week’s CSFF feature, The Wolf of Tebron by C. S. Lakin, but some of the blog tour discussion connected to my two previous posts has persuaded me to explore the differences and similarities of two speculative genres—classic fantasy and fables.

As a reminder, back cover copy of The Wolf of Tebron invites a comparison (as did the author herself in her guest posts at Spec Faith) between C. S. (Susanne) Lakin’s work and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. However, the genre of The Gates of Heaven series is fairy tale whereas Lewis was doing something quite different.

His work is best described as mythopoetic, or myth-making. Hence, he created a new place and populated it with mythical and make-believe characters, then asked the question, How would God show Himself in this world? The result was most naturally Aslan, king of the beasts.

This latter aspect of his story creation has been called “supposal.” Lewis differentiated this process from allegory, but clearly there are allegorical elements. Aslan’s Christ-like sacrifice is most notable.

One final point about the Narnia books: they don’t follow the broadest description of fairy tales as “narratives centered on magical tests, quests, and transformations … defined by their plots, which follow standard basic patterns.” In fact, the Narnia books all differ from one another considerably. Some may have a fairy tale motif (rescuing a prince—though most fairy tales use a princess—from enchantment, for example), but those points serve the greater Story—Aslan’s rule over what he created and his creatures’ corruption of it.

In contrast, The Wolf of Tebron does not create a tangible world but in true fairy tale fashion, takes place far, far away. In fact, the world is hard to pin down because allusions to real world nursery rhymes, music, literature, religion, and science pepper the story. But so does magic and transformation and the fantastic. So does the extreme North where the Moon lives, the East where the Sun lives, the South where the South Wind lives, and the West where the ocean is.

Without an established world, there is no creative “supposal” a la Lewis. The question, In this world how would God show Himself? is moot because the world doesn’t have a standard set of rules. The sacrificial character himself needs rescuing more than once; the sun, moon, and wind seem to be independent entities; and the mind-speaking magic seems without purpose. These kinds of unexplained elements (who is the Goose Woman; why did the Moon, who is the culprit of the story, send the protagonist to the Sun where he would find help) fit a folktale perfectly fine, but not the creation of a consistent world with a God figure such as we find in Narnia.

In reality, as I thought through the differences of the two works, I felt freed up to appreciate what The Wolf of Tebron accomplished. It took an existent fairy tale, fleshed it out, and turned it into a fable with symbolic Christian elements.

I’ve seen the word “allegory” or “allegorical” used in connection to the story, but I think those terms trip up some readers and cause them to have theological problems with the story. I’ll give an example from near the end.

[SPOILER ALERT]

In order to save the protagonist, the wolf, his faithful companion, mind-speaks that the “young human” needs to kill him—take his knife and stab him, then cut out his heart. This sacrificial act is notably different from Christ’s.

For one, the character in the book loves the wolf and doesn’t want to kill him. Christ’s killers (and yes, the picture is there that we sinners are Christ’s killers) hated Him and opposed Him and denied His authority and relationship. In addition, the wolf who then became a man, only gained a pure heart once he died. Christ, on the other hand, was sinless perfection and had a pure heart at birth, which was why He could be the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.

You get the idea. There are significant differences that keep the wolf from being an allegorical representation of Christ. But he could certainly be a symbolic representation of Him.

If a reader expects to find allegory, the natural conclusion is that the theology of The Wolf of Tebron is skewed, at best. If, on the other hand, the reader expects to find a morality tale—a fable—then he will find a story about anger and forgiveness, despair and hope, fear and love.

From my perspective, how a reader approaches the book “[makes] all the difference.” 😀

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Published in: on January 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for your suggestions on how to read Wolf, Becky, which may help me in a few weeks as soon as I obtain the book. I wonder, though, is the book marketed as a “Narnia” equivalent or successor, or more like an actual fairy tale, as you have separated the two genres?

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  2. All of this sounded a lot like what I was thinking as I read the book. I agree with basically everything you’ve said here. 😛 I also am glad that I’m not the only one who noticed that the Moon ended up helping the protagonist. Now that you’ve reminded me that things in folktales don’t always make complete sense, I can accept it and stop wondering why it happened that way. Lol!

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  3. Thanks for so clearly articulating what was muddying up the whole thing for me. I just couldn’t get my thoughts together on it, but reading your post, I had an “aha!” moment. I agree symbolism fits much better than allegory. I was trying to think of it as allegory and having a hard time. (Could be partly because I’m not a huge fan of allegory.) Gosh, I don’t feel quite as in over my head as I did at the beginning of this tour.

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  4. Rebecca,

    I was just thinking about genre tonight, because I had my 9 year old daughter read the book. She loved it, but when I asked her what kind of book it was, she told me it was a mystery because of the question, “Where is the main character’s wife and will he get her back?” I pushed her on this and asked her if it was like Narnia or books like that and she eventually said “I guess” because it didn’t have enough magic for her to associate it with Narnia or Harry Potter. It’s interesting that even as kids we can make arguments for what genre or classification we think that books should fall into.

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  5. As others have said–that was really well articulated. Thanks!

    Honestly, I didn’t like the heavy comparisons to Narnia and to fairy tales in the marketing even before I read the book. After I read it, I still didn’t like the comparisons to Narnia. To my mind, that sets readers up to expect something they’re not going to get.

    What they WILL get is a very well written work with valuable symbolism, rich language, and a stirring plot.

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  6. Thank you for your post. For me, the book became much more enjoyable once I read it as a fiction/fairy tale and didn’t focus on the hidden messages within. This has been an interesting book to tour! 🙂

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  7. […] For further discussion, see “Fables, Fairy Tales, and Parables” and “Fables and Fantasies.” […]

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