CSFF Blog Tour – Dragons of the Valley, Day 2

The tour for Donita Paul’s Dragons of the Valley continues. Before I get into the topic I want to discuss in conjunction with this book, I have some posts to recommend from other participants. First, Bruce Hennigan has the best article about the spiritual impact of the book. It falls into the “don’t miss” category.

Second, Sarah Sawyer follows her excellent first day post with a couple polls about the characters. Readers of the book should be sure to weigh in on these.

But best of all has to be Gillian Adams‘ radio interview with one of the tour participants’ favorite characters, Lady Peg. This is really hilarious, especially if you’ve read either The Vanishing Sculptor or Dragons of the Valley.

On to the topic of the day: violence in fantasy, in particular violence in Christian fantasy.

From time to time the question of violence comes up in connection with Christian fiction, but no one gives a good answer why we tolerate it.

When I first started writing The Lore of Efrathah, I came smack against the question of violence in my writing almost at once. I, who had been raised by pacifist parents, was now writing a story filled with physical conflicts. How could I justify such a thing?

Before I answer this question, let me connect my own experience to the book we are touring. All of Donita’s fantasies to this point — the DragonKeeper series and the two books in the Chiril Chronicles — have been “light fantasy.” One person on the tour called them epic fantasy, but I think it’s not quite that. The books are filled with humor and easy victories, some of them bloodless.

As the series have progressed, Donita, by her own admission and her son’s coaching, has worked on her fight scenes. And I thought those scenes were more realistic in Dragons of the Valley, which of course means, not as light and fun because people are injured and dying.

Still, Donita has a way of letting the reader know of the danger without dragging us through the blood. It’s one of the qualities, I think, that her fans may look for in her books. It’s what makes them appropriate for young readers as well as older fantasy fans.

And yet, violence happens. Not in the graphic way it does in The Lore of Efrathah, however.

Is it OK to depict graphic violence in Christian fantasy, or must all Christian writers (must I) take Donita’s approach?

Back to my own experience, I’ve come to believe that my dear aunt who gave me the encouragement to write early on, stopped reading my second book because of the violence. She even asked me once how I learned to write fight scenes.

I don’t know if I ever adequately explained this to her (she passed away last year), but here’s how I see the place of violence in Christian fantasy. As in all fantasy, the struggle between good and evil is the defining element. But for the Christian “good” and “evil” are often tropes for the spiritual struggle, the battle we wage in our hearts and the one being fought in the heavenlies.

In Donita’s stories, for example, The Grawl is not a real “person” but an imaginative creature Donita has invented — an evil creature to be sure. Is he “spiritual” or is he “human gone bad”? The author gets to decide.

I suggest that if he is “spiritual,” meaning that he is representative of the spiritual realm, killing him would be more than the right thing to do (not saying that’s what happened, mind you. No spoilers here, just hypothesizing).

Scripture uses a lot of “warfare” language for the Christian, so depicting warfare necessitates violence. But the Bible also says we don’t war against flesh and blood but against the spiritual.

I’m out of time but may say more about this later. For now, go read what others on the tour are saying. Enjoy.

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6 Comments

  1. Excellent question Becky. When I first began to study how to write “fight scenes” the author of the book I was reading said the scene had to be more than just the fight, it should be a portrayal of who the character is.

    In my own book, one of my main characters is an assassin. I chose this occupation (if you will) specifically for him because it would show his character and the changes that occur in him. There is a purpose to every act that happens in my book. There is no gore unless there is a reason for it.

    One of my pet peeves is when fights, battles, whatnot, do not affect the people involved. Even a hardened general will have a reaction, even if its a calloused view of the war. For first timers, seeing death can be devastating.

    It is the reaction I am going for in my characters and how their lives change, not for the glory of violence.

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  2. Depicting stories without the “darkness” makes the “light” no longer quite as bright, if at all. Now, I have a problem with overly-gory actions/scenes, but one can write/depict a fight without the gore, and have basically the same effect.

    And then there are times when some gore may be “needed,” just to remind us of the seriousness of the moment. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was especially significant because he suffered in extreme pain.

    I’m aware some people, such as your aunt, are not keen on violence, and if they don’t want to read, hear, or see it, they shouldn’t have to. But it is a fact of our cursed world, and it’s strewn throughout the Bible’s writings. We can’t completely ignore it, even if we wanted to.

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  3. I’m wrestling with “violence” in Dragons of the Watch. Specifically, the main characters are dealing with 6-year-old children who have gone feral. Think: Lord of the Flies, but not that violent. My main characters end up in hand to hand conflict with little children (only they are urohm children so they are as tall as their adversaries.) In a society where parents are arrested for spanking their children, what will be the reaction to Bealomondore whacking a child on the backside with the flat of his sword?
    As to violence in earlier books, in DragonFire (I think it was in DragonFire) the lumbering dragon accidently bites off the evil wizard’s head. Yuck and double yuck as the head remains in his mouth and the body falls to the ground. I believe in that instance the reader’s level of acceptance of violence comes to play. Youngsters envision a cartoon type scene. Older, more sophisticated readers may bring up a truly horrid, graphic, gory image. So does the reader’s own imagination protect the reader from more than he can tolerate. Does graphic battle scenes force a younger reader to “see” more than he is ready for? I have had many parents thank me for walking their kids through dark places without harming them. As one mother put it: “I trust you, because although you may take my son to a dark place, you don’t leave him there for long.”

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  4. Morgan, I’m with you. I hate it when something horrific happens and the characters carry on as if they just put down the newspaper or, at most, ran out of gas.

    Violence should be violent to the characters involved.

    I thought Donita did a good job showing that her characters were repulsed by the violence of the war in which they were involved.

    Becky

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  5. I have had many parents thank me for walking their kids through dark places without harming them.

    Donita, I think this is part of your “cozy fantasy” brand. I think it’s got to be hard to write. Older readers tend to want realism and can generally handle more violence, but younger readers shouldn’t be thrown into that world. What a line you walk.

    I guess my point is, if characters are representative of evil, maybe violence against evil isn’t a bad thing. But if the characters are those who can be redeemed, well, it makes it a harder decision for the novelist to kill them instead.

    As to Bealomondore whacking a child on the backside with the flat of his sword, that isn’t a proper spanking — one delivered by a parent in love for the necessary training and correction of a son or daughter. It seems to be more along the line we’re talking about — violence, but restrained because of the age of the opponent. It seems like an exercise of mercy, not judgment, sort of like what Wizard Fenworth gave The Grawl.

    Becky

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  6. […] violence, or lack of it, in Donita Paul’s Dragons of the Valley. Becky LuElla Miller wrote a couple posts about violence in Christian fiction, and particularly fantasy. I’ve decided to throw in […]

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