Another set of interesting posts in the CSFF Blog Tour for Captives by Jill Williamson, including an enjoyable interview with the author. Be sure to check out the other blogs featuring this intriguing, in some ways, disturbing, young adult dystopian fantasy.
From my perspective, Captives is an example of what Christian speculative fiction should be. There’s been some recent discussion at author and friend Mike Duran’s site about speculative fiction. In the concluding paragraph of his post, Mike says
if Realm Makers [the recent conference for Christian speculative fiction] is about simply reproducing CBA-style fiction for speculative readers, I believe we’ve failed. (emphasis in the original)
Later, in one of his comments, Mike adds
Without some type of extensive vision, which would include, for lack of better words, a “theology of Christian spec-fic,” we’re just mimicking ACFW, replacing Amish / Romance fans with spec fans. In order to compete with other professionals cons or associations, I believe we would have to address some of the same issues Christian fiction faces re: culture, theology, and art.
Further on he calls for “more intellectual rigor”and then goes on to say
I believe the Christian publishing industry needs a Fiction Reformation of sorts. Our “theology of art” keeps us beholden to an ultra-conservative readership and stymies creativity. While I don’t believe Christians should ever have to apologize for their beliefs, I do think Realm Makers could benefit by actively distancing themselves from the existing industry and its strictures, determine to represent a larger swath of beliefs, and have a bit more of a “broad tent” approach regarding authors and audiences.
Because I’m invested in speculative fiction, fantasy in particular, this discussion has been of considerable interest to me. I’m also a Christian, believing the Bible to be true and authoritative and inspired by God Himself. From some people’s perspective, I’m hamstrung as a fantasy writer because I have this box constructed by my theology that keeps me hemmed in.
I’ve refuted that notion from time to time, but as I read Mike’s remarks, I realized I don’t want to be in a “broad tent” with “a larger swath of beliefs” if that means cozying up to falsehood.
I guess you’d say my theology of art means that I aim to show truth through the means of beauty. Not that I write about beauty or that my writing must be poetic and lyrical (though that isn’t a bad thing, either). Rather, the novel art form needs to be “pulled off” well. The story needs to be entertaining, the characters well-developed and properly motivated, the setting fully created, and the theme tightly woven throughout.
Which brings me to truth. What Jill has done, in my opinion, is show this world, our world, as it is by creating the dystopian world of her story. Shannon McDermott put it this way:
the dual worlds of this dystopia are not too unlike the dual worlds of our present time.
The world is not as dissolute or libertine as the Safe Lands; the Christian community is not as strict or isolated as Glenrock. Yet the parallels may be drawn long.
The Christian community, like Glenrock, has a sternness – you could almost say a harshness – that stands against the looseness of worldly ways. “Take the straight and narrow path, or you’ll go to hell;” “Don’t do that, don’t go there, don’t even think about that.” A Christian is called by the unyielding will and holiness of God to a web of commands and duties.
And the young, brought up in that web and looking out, see the world – all awhirl, glittering with lights and flashing with colors. It promises all you could ever want.
So the Safe Lands were to Mia and Omar, and they believed the promise. But as the whole book shows, the beauty of the world is shallow, and beneath the foam of pleasure is an ocean of despair.
The lessons of Captives – how one can be corrupted by bad company, how the small falls make the large ones easy, how deceptive the world’s seduction is – are good for anyone.
So here’s the thing. Jill showed the fallacies of both worlds and of the different characters. She also did it within the “strictures of the CBA,” meaning that she didn’t use cussing as we know it, she didn’t gratuitously linger on the violence, and she didn’t have graphic sex scenes. Does that make her story lacking in “intellectual rigor”?
She created a story that qualifies as a “beautiful novel,” in the sense that it excelled in each of the structure elements. It also was a truthful novel–truthful about our world and truthful about God’s truth (which we really ought not to see as two different things, in my opinion). So what intellectual rigor is missing?
In the end, I guess I’m saying, I think it’s a false assumption that a Christian writer can’t honor conservative mores and still create quality literature. I think it’s a false assumption to say that “CBA fiction” all falls into the category of lacking intellectual rigor. It’s no more true than that all general market fiction achieves intellectual rigor.
But here’s the thing. Only the people who read Christian speculative fiction are in a position to know whether it is “second class” because of the strictures to which it must adhere. I for one didn’t find Captives wanting in any way compared to the last three general market young adult fantasies I’ve read.
I think this book says a lot for Jill Williamson as a writer, but I also think it says a lot for Zondervan and their new Blink imprint. This “isn’t your grandma’s fiction.”