Fantasy Friday – Introducing Anne Elisabeth Stengl


I thought it might be helpful to take a look at fantasy authors from time to time. In this case I’m getting to know a new writer right along with you all — Anne Elisabeth Stengl, recent winner of the Christy Award, New Novel division for Heartless (Bethany House Publishers), first in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

First, Anne Elisabeth comes from a family of writers. Her mom, Jill Stengl, is a multi-published historical romance author. Perhaps this connection with writing is what led Anne Elisabeth to study English literature at Campbell University.

She’s obviously a creative because she also studied illustration at Grace College. As things she enjoys, she lists opera, piano, painting, and Shakespeare. It turns out she quilts, cooks, and bakes, too.

But writing is her great love. Her fascination with myths and legends can be traced back to her formative childhood years growing up in England “right next to a great, wild, beautiful Common full of ancient oaks, wild rabbits, a stone church (complete with scary graveyard) and all the magic a 3-to-10 year old and her brothers could possibly hope to find” (from “Interview with Anne Elisabeth Stengl”). Not surprisingly, she identifies her writing style as classic Fairy Tale.

Another of her interests is fencing! Yep, fencing. But you have to understand — she met her husband Rohan in a fencing class she took as research for her novel. Who wouldn’t have fencing as an interest under that circumstance? 😉

Anne Elisabeth and Rohan live in Raleigh, North Carolina where she cares for her “passel of cats” and continues to write. Her second book, Veiled Rose came out this past July, and the latest in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series, Moonblood, is due out in April 2012.

About her goal in writing Anne Elisabeth says

My primary goal is to bring glory to God by writing to the very best of my ability. I believe the whole purpose of mankind is worship, and I believe each of us best worships God when doing what we do best to our very best. Writing is my great skill, a gift from God and a talent for which I know he has plans. So it is to his honor when I study and strive and work and learn to better my craft. And I hope and pray that my desire to communicate truth through these simple fairy tales becomes ever-more evident to those who read them. (from “Interview with Anne Elisabeth Stengl”)

And now the premise of the award-winning Heartless from SqueakyCleanReviews:

Princess Una of Parumvir has just come of age, and she awaits the arrival of her first suitors with much excitement. Prince Aethelbald of Farthestshore, however, is not quite what she had in mind. With a name like ‘Aethelbald’ and perfectly ordinary looks, he can’t compete with Una’s dreams of a dashing prince, and she refuses to hear his offer – or to heed the warnings of a Dragon who is seeking her. When Una gives her heart away to a man unworthy of it, she finds herself heartless and vulnerable before the Dragon King.

If you’d like to learn more about Anne Elisabeth, check out her interview with WhereTheMapEnds.

Fantasy Friday – Tangled


Interesting that I spent so much of the last CSFF tour discussing fairy tales because I just saw—well, last week—Tangled, Disney’s retelling of Repunzal. In fact, the first time we went to see it, we were turned away. Sold out, they said.

Sold out? But the movie has been around for a month already. Sold out? Are you sure? They were sure.

To beat the rush of all the people who were turned away after us, we went the next day to a morning showing.

Tangled was well worth the effort. I understand Disney has decided their run of fairy tales will end. I’d like to see them reconsider, but if it must be, they’re going out on top.

Tangled is simply one unexpected twist after another (pun accidental 😉 ), with a lot of witty, Shrek-like dialogue thrown in.

When I got home, I read the version of the fairy tale in my copy of Grimms to see how the movie was alike and how it differed. Apart from doing away with the prince, the movie version was strikingly similar. But more, so much more.

In the end, the key component is sacrifice. It’s a kind of fairy tale version of “The Gift of the Magi.” And there is redemption, forgiveness, enduring love, hope. Besides, the plot is pretty good, too. 😉

Seriously, gone is the love-at-first-sight—or sound, as the case might be—of the print version. Instead, there is a believable relationship that develops, a friendship that takes hold, a realization that dawns only in the midst of crisis.

And yes, there is crisis. Danger from left and right and down the center. Everything seems opposed to our Rapunzel and her chance for life outside the tower. Well, not quite everything. Rescue comes in a surprising guise.

Script writer Dan Fogelman outdid himself with this one, I think. The story structure is solid—to his credit because he changed such a significant part, one of the main characters. And speaking of characters, each was well motivated and believable (even the chameleon! 😉 )

The animation, as you expect from Disney, is superb. The voice actors played their parts to perfection—nothing over done. Throw in cuteness and it’s a movie kidlets would love. But throw in the writing, and it’s a movie adults will want to see again and again.

If you haven’t seen this one yet, I encourage you to put it on your soon-to-see list. If it’s not still playing in a theater near you, watch for it at your local dollar theater or plan to get the DVD (or borrow the DVD from a friend). Especially if this is the end of Disney’s fairy tales, you won’t want to miss it.

Published in: on January 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm  Comments (8)  
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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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Fables, Fairy Tales, And Parables – CSFF Blog Tour, The Wolf Of Tebron, Day 2


Who knew fairy tales are controversial? The question, of course, arises because the CSFF Blog Tour feature this week is a book touted as a modern fairy tale. I’m referring to The Wolf of Tebron, first in the Gates of Heaven series by C. S. Lakin (Living Ink Books). Precisely, the back cover says “The Gates of Heaven series celebrates the reinvention of the fairy tale in the tradition of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.”

That statement caught me off guard because I’ve never thought of Narnia as a fairy tale. So what exactly is a fairy tale?

Perhaps we should start with what it is not. First, it is not a parable. All reliable definitions (Oxford Dictionary, Columbia Encyclopedia, and others) agree that a parable is a story that illustrates a lesson or moral. However, these are stories that take the every day—setting, characters, action—and create from them a metaphor to illustrate some moral or supernatural truth.

At first glance, those who have already read The Wolf of Tebron may think this definition of parable fits the story. However, parables are unique because they do not employ magic; animals and inanimate objects are not characters in a parable.

Does this mean the book is indeed a fairy tale? Is Narnia a fairy tale?

Here’s where the controversy begins. Some scholars claim that fairy tales are stories written primarily for children while others describe the progression of stories written for adults who believed in fairies, to the for-children happily-ever-after tales we have today.

One component seems to be a constant in all the definitions: fairy tales must include some form of magic. A minority clings to the idea that the stories must involve fairies. Another group of scholars claim that “transformation” is a necessary element in fairy tales (think of Cinderella’s pumpkin changing into a coach or the queen/witch turning into an old woman to give Snow White an apple). A third view is that these stories must involve the fantastic. Oxford explains this type of literature in this way:

a mode of fiction in which the possible and the impossible are confounded so as to leave the reader (and often the narrator and/or central character) with no consistent explanation for the story’s strange events.
http://www.answers.com/topic/fantastic

Using these components, I conclude that Narnia is not a fairy tale.

While The Wolf of Tebron includes most of these elements (no fairies), I wonder if a more accurate categorization might not be the fable.

From the Oxford American Dictionaries:

fable – a short story, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral.
• a story, typically a supernatural one incorporating elements of myth and legend.

Then this from Wordiq

In its strict sense a fable is a short story or folk tale embodying a moral, which may be expressed explicitly at the end as a maxim.
http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Fable

Here’s a short example:

The Bear Who Let It Alone
“In the woods of the Far West there once lived a brown bear who could take it or let it alone. He would go into a bar where they sold mead, a fermented drink made of honey, and he would have just two drinks. Then he would put some money on the bar and say, ‘See what the bears in the back room will have,’ and he would go home. But finally he took to drinking by himself most of the day. He would reel home at night, kick over the umbrella stand, knock down the bridge lamps, and ram his elbows through the windows. Then he would collapse on the floor and lie there until he went to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

“At length the bear saw the error of his ways and began to reform. In the end he became a famous teetotaler and a persistent temperance lecturer. He would tell everybody that came to his house about the awful effects of drink, and he would boast about how strong and well he had become since he gave up touching the stuff. To demonstrate this, he would stand on his head and on his hands and he would turn cartwheels in the house, kicking over the umbrella stand, knocking down the bridge lamps, and ramming his elbows through the windows. Then he would lie down on the floor, tired by his healthful exercise, and go to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

“Moral: You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.”

(James Thurber, “The Bear Who Let It Alone,” from Fables for Our Time)

Does The Wolf of Tebron end in such a statement of general truth? Not structurally, to be certain, but without giving away the ending, I’ll say, I think a good case can be made for the story being more fable than fairy tale.

Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 7:14 pm  Comments (8)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Wolf of Tebron, Day 1


Author C. S. (Susanne) Lakin penned this week’s CSFF Blog Tour feature, The Wolf of Tebron, first in The Gates of Heaven series (Living Ink Books).

Interestingly, Susanne provides Endnotes, something atypical for fiction. The first of these identifies “The Enchanted Pig” from the Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a source of inspiration for her novel. While I didn’t find the story in my edition of Grimm’s, I found what I believe to be the tale that inspired Susanne.

“The Enchanted Pig,” included in Andrew Lang’s The Red Fairy Book, is a Romanian fairy tale, collected in Rumanische Märchen. Happily, it is online here. Those who have already read The Wolf of Tebron will find it interesting to compare the two stories.

Fairytales grew out of the larger body of folklore—the traditions of a culture passed on through art, music, and of course, story. Some stories took on specific features and varying purposes, so tomorrow, I plan to take a little closer look at the difference between fables, fairytales, and parables.

Scholars have studied fairytales originating across the globe and have found common elements, or motifs. Each story, then, has been classified according to the central motif. Other scholars have studied the function of the various characters of fairytales, something akin to Joseph Campbell’s, Hero’s Journey.

Early fairytales were written primarily for adults but did not exclude children. A process began, however, of stripping some elements from the stories, particularly sexual aspects, and eventually children became the target audience. Today most fairytales are aimed first at children, but adults are not excluded.

Movie examples of this trend are the Shrek movies and the more recent Tangled, inspired by the Grimm’s fairytale, Rapunzel. Much of the humor is considerably more sophisticated and consequently more appreciated by adults.

Interestingly, The Wolf of Tebron is marketed to adults rather than to the young adult crowd, not because of humor, certainly, but I’ll touch upon that in my review later this week.

For now, check out what other bloggers writing about The Wolf of Tebron have to say:

Published in: on January 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm  Comments (3)  
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