Daniel, Head Magician—A Reprise


When the first Harry Potter book came out, it quickly became embroiled in controversy largely generated by Christians who were opposed to a book about magic written for children. I understand the thinking. It’s not my intention to rehash the issue, but I can’t help but make a comparison: Harry with Daniel.

Yes, I’m referring to the Daniel-in-the-lions’-den Daniel. First, both were teens. Well, Harry was only eleven when the books started, but he grew up before the eyes of his adoring public. Daniel was a teen at the beginning of his true story and became an old man by the end.

Second, both lived as aliens and strangers. Harry was a gifted, powerful wizard living with people who hated and feared him because of it. Daniel lived with people who had captured him and held him as a slave.

Third, and this is really the point of this post, they were both gifted in magic. Harry’s magic, of course, is pretend. He could learn how to mix potions, wave his wand just so, incant spells, fly his broom—things which are make-believe. Daniel learned, too—the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Did that include their astrology, necromancy, sorcery? Hard to say.

We know he interpreted dreams, starting with the one Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t describe. But he had already earned a spot as one of the “magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans” marked for death, because it appeared no one could do what the king demanded.

And Daniel’s reward when he did actually give the king the dream and its interpretation? He was promoted. Among other duties, he became chief of the magicians (see for example Dan. 4:9).

Think about that for a moment. He not only lived among those people who worshiped idols, but now he was head of those who used the dark arts to guide their king in his decisions. Talk about being in the culture!

But Daniel and his three friends early in their captivity made up their minds that they would not defile themselves. At issue in those days was what they were to eat. Seemingly, Daniel knew the Mosaic Law, and he intended to abide by it.

We know years later he was still maintaining a regular prayer life, one that was not secret. He lived, as he intended, in communion with God.

And yet his job was chief of the magicians.

I imagine these were people like the Egyptian sorcerers who matched miracles with Moses and Aaron for a short time. In other words, they had real power—just not God’s power.

And Daniel was their chief.

I find that incredible! Today many Christians run from reading about pretend magic, and Daniel was put in charge of real magicians, people who knew how to read the heavens.

Sure, some of what they did was undoubtedly a scam. I suspect that’s why Nebuchadnezzar came up with his impossible request: they were to first tell him what he dreamed, and only then interpret it. I imagine he was fed up with what he had detected to be party-line interpretations. He wanted to know what the dream actually meant, not whatever flattery those fakes might come up with.

But later if they were all fakes, all the time, and Daniel was their chief, why wouldn’t he simply clean house and get good, honest Jews in their place, men like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego whom he could trust? He could have turned the magicians’ arm of the government into a Christian uh, a department run by believers in the One True God.

Of course, Daniel might have been the only person God gifted with the power of divination among the Jewish exiles. But what did he think of the pagan diviners? That they were illegitimate? That they were tapping into the power of the evil one? That they were just one more evidence of the sinfulness of the nation in which he was forced to live? Did he respect them? Or did he squelch them as often as he could?

They owed him their lives because they were due to be executed, but that fact didn’t stop the from coming up with a scheme to get Daniel killed. Clearly, there was no love lost on their part.

Why all this speculation?

I think Christians today in the Western world tend to run scared when it comes to evil. I know I have. I’ve been places where offerings were made to idols, and I sensed evil in a way that freaked me out. But I think that plays into Satan’s hand. The truth is, he is not stronger than God—that would be He who resides in the heart of every Christian. Why are we running scared? it should be Satan running scared when he sees us advancing on our knees.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in May, 2012.

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Published in: on May 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Gettin’ To Be THAT Time Of Year


I can feel it coming on. I’ve noticed it more the last few years, but no doubt it’s been part of my makeup for some time. Call it the Fantasy Itch.

Yep, for some reason as the “holiday season”–usually defined here in the US as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day–approaches, I begin to have an urge to snuggle in with one of the great fantasies. In recent years I’ve used the occasion to reread the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, much of the Narnia series, and a couple of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books. I even reread the one Harry Potter book I own–which made me realize, I definitely want to visit the library and get a couple more to satisfy this year’s fantasy itch.

The odd thing is, I read fantasy all the time–part of the job now, so to speak. I recently finished Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes, a general market young adult story, and the beginning of a series touted as “ideal for fans of George R. R. Martin and Kristin Cashore.” Then there was Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, another general market YA. Before that was Shannon Hale’s sequel to Princess Academy, Palace of Stone.

Of course I also read all the books the CSFF Blog Tour features and some I judge for contests and others friends send me. With all this speculative fiction coming out of my ears, why would I want to settle down with a fantasy as a special holiday season activity?

I don’t really have an answer. I think I’ve mentioned this propensity before, either here or at Spec Faith, and kindly commenters have tried to help me make sense of it. It’s still a mystery to me.

Somehow, with shorter days and cooler weather (I realize we here in SoCal aren’t allowed by our Eastern friends to say “cold weather” 😆 ), reading becomes a greater pleasure. But more than that, getting lost in a different world, one so rich it feels real, is pure delight.

Which probably explains why I gravitate to certain books–those classics that have a level of worldbuilding that is a grade above most other fantasies.

Some of these more recent fantasies–not the urban kind or the dystopians–seem to me to be a weak imitation of the medieval world, with different countries, and of course some magic or supernatural power. In other words, I don’t feel transported to somewhere else.

Tolkien’s stories, though supposedly happening on “middle earth,” feel Other. Not unfamiliar or strange, mind you. There are familiar things like inns and ponies and roads and a comfortable fire and birthday parties. But peopling this familiar place are hobbits and trolls and dwarfs and orcs and wizards and dragons and elves. What’s more, there are frightening forests and abandoned dwarf mines that once held an entire city and mountains that turn malevolent and secret stairways and deadly marshes. In other words, along with the familiar are places that enchant and intrigue and even frighten.

Harry Potter is similar. Nothing could be more familiar to most of us than a school, though fewer of us have experienced a boarding school, unless you lived in a dorm during college. But mixed in with what seems so normal–homework and tests and boring lectures and athletic contests–is the special world of wizardry with its hierarchy and governance, games and tradition. And history. A dark history in which a wizard utilizing the dark arts ruled.

Ah, yes, I’m definitely ready to settle down with a good fantasy. It’s that time of year!

Processing The Horrific Through Fiction


Scripture refers to itself as a mirror that shows a person his or her “natural face” (James 1:22-24). Today in my post at Spec Faith I wrote that a novel not showing characters as sinners would be suspect of deviating from God’s revealed truth because man sins against man.

That fact was brought home yet again this weekend as the details trickled in about the attack on Norwegian citizens by someone wishing to keep alive the fear and anger generated by terrorists. First a bomb exploded in Oslo killing at least seven people. Then an hour and a half later a gunman attacked a political youth camp, and nearly ninety more people lost their lives.

Of course tragedy doesn’t require multiple deaths. It might be the lose of one person we’re close to. It might be injury or hunger, slavery, abuse, or exploitation. There are all sorts of ways that man sins against man.

Fiction is one way we can process the horror of real life. Some people turn to it as an escape — the escape from prison J. R. R. Tolkien so famously talked about (see related thoughts in “Hope Or Truth”). Others turn to it for an explanation: why do people act in such horrific ways? Still others look to fiction to find a measure of justice they wish they found in the real world.

Of course writers often use fiction to work out the issues in their own lives with which they’re struggling. Anne Rice claimed her vampire novels were expressions of her search for spiritual truth. J. K. Rowling whose mother had recently died explored the theme of death in her Harry Potter novels.

Readers, I suspect, gravitate to the novels that speak to the issues of their lives, whether coming of age or coming of old age.

We often talk about characters we relate to. One commenter to Sally Apokedak’s article, “Harry Potter The Orphan” had this to say about Harry Potter:

He is particularly relatable to the generation that grew up with him (most are in their 20s now). He is the “everyman” for our generation. The story is one of choice and self-discovery. If you remember, the sorting hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin, the house infamous for its output of dark wizards, but due to his protests the hat opted for Gryffindor, the house of heroes. It is that duality that allows us to relate to Harry. Everyone has their darker and lighter sides, and as we grow we choose who we will become. Ultimately, I think Harry’s popularity is a result of his relatability to what is currently a younger audience.

Clearly this commenter’s remarks show the propensity for readers to work out their own struggles through the struggles of the character to which they relate.

Hence, if a reader feels powerless, he gravitates to a character who starts out powerless only to discover he has more power than he imagined possible.

Which brings me to one final way in which readers process life through fiction: they see hope. A reader understands he won’t wake up one morning to learn that he has magical power. But he sees overcoming played out in actions, often actions that stem from nothing magical, but rather from qualities like courage and hard work, loyalty and faithfulness.

Seeing characters behave heroically helps a reader to believe that heroism is still something to be desired. The world may be filled with man sinning against man, but the inevitability of it is brought into question. And that generates hope and longing and pushes us to find real world examples of heroism, or more importantly, the Source of heroism.

Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 6:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fantasy Friday – Is Harry Potter A Character Readers Love?


Of course opinions about literary characters vary from reader to reader, but some general consensus eventually forms. More than one person has said that Harry Potter is a likable person but not someone to love.

I’ve thought about this some and have to agree. But in the same way that opinions vary, so do the reasons for the opinions. My friend and fellow speculative fiction writer, Sally Apokedak, concluded that she didn’t love Harry as a character because he was an angry young man.

That wasn’t on my radar screen at all. In fact, I thought Harry was quite docile in the opening book, even compliant. It is in book one that readers should have fallen in love with him, I think. But I didn’t.

He was in dreadful circumstances and he bore them well. When thrust into the limelight, he didn’t revel in it or try to capitalize on his fame.

Actually, he didn’t do much of anything. Instead, stuff happened to him. He didn’t craft a plan to go to Hogwarts to get out from under his home circumstances. Instead, the opportunity came to him, and he went along with those who told him what to do, whether that person was Hagrid or Mrs. Weasley or his teachers.

Here is the reason I don’t believe I loved Harry Potter as a hero of a series of brilliant novels — he was not the agent that made things happen. Consequently, I feared for him but didn’t get in his corner and cheer him on to success.

Granted, when presented with a definite choice, Harry came through with good decisions. He stood up for Nevile, the brunt of many students’ ridicule, he refused Draco Malfoy’s offered friendship, he chose Griffindor as his house instead of Slytherin, and throughout the series he did things like going back to warn Hermione of impending danger when the troll was in the school.

In the end of the series, he even forgives and rescues Draco and offers Voldemort a “chance at remorse” (Wikipedia).

Yes, Harry had moments when he was angry, generally times when he seemed painted into a corner. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the ministry rep, who later became the headmistress who replaced Dumbledore, didn’t allow the students to learn defense against the dark arts because she and others in wizardry leadership did not believe Voldemort had really returned. Harry knew they were wrong and that their actions laid the wizarding world open to danger. He was disgruntled until he had a plan of action.

Was he vengeful as some believe?

When his godfather was killed, he was angry and when Dumbldore was killed, he determined to destroy the hidden parts of Voldemort that kept him alive. These responses don’t seem untoward or out of the normal range of emotions for someone in those circumstances. I believed his reactions to be realistic and believable, and I wasn’t at all put off by them.

More amazing was how his desire to do whatever was required to bring an end to Voldemort crystalized. The compliant child became the determined savior willing to give up his own life to bring an end to the evil that threatened the rest of the wizarding world.

His actions were admirable. They were not lovable. For me to have gotten behind him in a more meaningful way early on, I think Harry would have had to be a different person. But then the books would have been completely different.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2


I just got back from seeing the last of the Harry Potter movies. As usual, I came away feeling quite satisfied. The movie-makers, unlike those putting out the Narnia stories, did a good job faithfully rendering the book, in this case Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.

My only complaint was that I expected a review of Part 1 at the beginning to orient me to this last half, but that was absent. Consequently, I spent a few minutes trying to remember where we were in the story and what had happened last.

A couple things struck me as I watched it and afterwards as I discussed it with my movie buddy. First, I believe author J.K. Rowling when she said she never set out to write a children’s series. Harry Potter moved into dark and dangerous waters, and this book is the culmination of his fight against evil. Harry faces the greatest task, against the greatest odds, and must pay the greatest price.

In conjunction with that point, I can’t believe I didn’t see sooner (and without having to read it online) that the books — all of them — are about death. From the first to the last Harry is grappling with the loss of loved ones, and he eventually must come to grips with his own death.

Which brings me back to the original point: with such a serious theme running through all seven novels, it’s hard to call these children’s books.

Here are a couple other odd tidbits I thought about the movie.

Somewhere in the first half there were some awkward attempts to lighten the mood with humor. I didn’t think they worked. Rather, I thought they felt inappropriate by insinuating themselves into a serious story. Fortunately there weren’t many of these moments — I don’t remember any in the second half.

Similarly I thought “the kiss” was out of place and ill-timed.

On the other hand, the end, which some disliked in the book, I thought was handled very well. I thought it was appropriately brief but powerful, and it was such a nice tie to the first movie, it made me remember that one with greater fondness.

I also was struck by how the least likely characters ended up playing such key roles: the once-school-joke Neville Longbottom, the silly house elf Dobby, the less than grounded Luna Lovegood, even the apparently traitorous and wicked Professor Snape.

Now that it’s all over, I can’t help but wonder if J.K. Rowling will ever write again. Certainly she doesn’t need to — her fortune and literary fame is clearly established. But did she dig out the answers to the big questions that pushed her to write Harry Potter? Does she have others that might compel her to develop another fantasy world? Could she ever come up with one different enough from Harry Potter but equally as rich? It seems to me, anything less would be a huge disappointment, so perhaps the effort might seem too hard or too risky.

In the same way, will the young actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson be able to break from the mold they’ve been poured into and continue working in their profession? I have to say, of all the characters in the movies, I thought Emma Watson the most improved. She also seems to be interested in growing as a person, so she may not stay in show business. I suspect none of the main players need to work any more if they choose not to. But perhaps their drive to perform will draw them back to the big screen, even as Ms. Rowling drive to write may cause her to imagine another rich story.

Published in: on July 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm  Comments Off on Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2  
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The Disobedient Harry Potter


Earlier this week I said critics of Harry Potter had two main complaints, one being the issues of wizardry and the second being Harry’s disobedience.

It’s true that Harry is not The Perfect Boy, but I wonder about this as a reason not to read the books. As I recall, Tom Sawyer wasn’t the perfect boy either, nor was Huck Finn. Ann Shirley wasn’t the perfect girl and neither was Jo March. To bring the discussion back to fantasy, Edmund Pevensie wasn’t the perfect boy, and his sister Lucy, as lovable as she is, happens to fall sort of being the perfect girl, too.

The point is, if readers are only going to pick books with perfect characters, then we all must stop reading fiction. Stephen Burnett in a post at Spec Faith does a brilliant job deconstructing this argument:

Jesus told parables in which people behave badly, using those to show points about His Kingdom and the natures of those who’ll dwell there…

[Examine this criticism] Harry Potter is a scoundrel. So was King David, the apostle Paul, and every person before Christ saved us (and quite a lot afterward, too!). Even for stories, whence comes this sudden rule that characters must behave perfectly? Jesus did not follow that “rule.” Instead He told stories about ten virgins behaving “selfishly” (Matt. 25: 1-13) and a shrewd money manager (Luke 16: 1-13), not to say “imitate all their behavior” but to say My Kingdom is coming; you’d best respond accordingly. (Anyway, Harry doesn’t stay a scoundrel; he grows, as part of a much bigger story.)

Because Christ Himself in his parables did not follow these “rules” for Christ-figures and moral behavior, why might we expect more of Potter?

Of course there is disobedience that serves to warn and there is disobedience that trumpets rebellion, so one might argue that when books do the latter, they should be shunned.

Does Harry Potter trumpet rebellion? I suppose the answer might be somewhat subjective, but I think I can build a case for the opposite. Harry Potter is not rebellious unless you think standing up to evil is rebellious.

Some of his teachers saw the Big Picture and understood the serious threat that Harry alone was qualified to fight. They counseled him and protected him as best they could, and at times that included extending him mercy. At other times, he faced just punishment. Never was he applauded for disobeying, however.

The overall impression, in my opinion, is that Harry obeyed as best he could.

He was shamefully abused by his uncle and aunt, yet early on he submitted to them. There came a time when he did stand up to them, yet in the end he righted the relationship to the best of his ability. If anything, his relationship with his relatives shows the growth in his character.

Some of the adults in Harry’s life were misguided and some were evil. Some Harry suspected of being evil but didn’t know for sure. Again, as best he could, he obeyed those in authority over him. When he disobeyed, he did so because he believed he was advancing good or standing against evil.

To discuss whether or not he should have made himself the authority to determine who he should or should not obey is similar to a discussion of whether or not Christians should have obeyed the Nazis.

Today the church is fiercely criticized for complying with Hitler’s forces. But I suspect at the time many believed they were doing the right thing to obey the authority over them.

Regardless of a person’s conclusion about Harry Potter’s virtue, I believe the books and movies offer rich opportunities to discuss just such matters. I can’t help but think society is better off if we discuss a topic like obedience after having read Harry Potter rather than something like vampire love after having read a certain set of popular books that escaped the vitriol aimed at the boy wizard.

Published in: on July 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Comments (11)  
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Have You Heard The Latest About Harry?


When I was a kid we sometimes played a stupid game on rainy days called Telephone. The idea was, the teacher (usually) whispered something into the ear of the first student who then turned and repeated it in his own whisper to the person next to him. Finally after what seemed like hours, everyone in the room had passed the phrase along, but it no longer resembled the original. (Ha, ha, ha! So fun sitting there watching other kids whisper! 🙄 )

It was a boring game, but the message got through — repeating a thing can change it, and we really shouldn’t believe what we hear when it’s a rumor. Some kids even intentionally changed the original phrase just to spice up the game. Others filled in gaps when they didn’t hear the whole message clearly, adding in their own thoughts so what they were passing along made sense. One way or the other, the original always changed.

I think some adults need to play a round or two of Telephone. Today, with Internet chatter and email forwarded messages and Retweets, it is so easy to start a juicy bit of something going, and people believe it, often without challenging the veracity. I read it, they say, which makes it so. Or I heard it from my ___ (pastor, hairdresser, friend, spouse, co-worker, boss, or some other person in the know).

Off we go, then, repeating a thing as if it is true when in fact we have no idea if someone someplace along the line of repetition didn’t misunderstand or intentionally change the message.

How does this connect with Harry Potter? Once again, because of the recent release of the final Potter movie, Harry is making headlines. It seems some Christians are once more claiming untrue things about the books, movie, and author. As a result discussion is popping up on Facebook and on blogs at at media sites.

In his article “Pat Robertson Warns Against Harry Potter, TV Witchcraft And ‘Demonic’ Ouija Boards,” Eric Hananoki posts various video segments of Robertson expressing his views about Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling. The latter bothers me the most. Here’s the most troubling line”

“Well, Narnia is different. It’s not glorifying magic and the occult,” Robertson replied. “The lady who wrote Harry Potter [J.K. Rowling], I understand, was deeply involved in some of the occult things.”

Back in 2008, the watchdog site Snopes debunked a letter that was circulating about the evil influence of Harry Potter and how the books were drawing kids into the occult. It seems that much of the source material for the letter came from a satirical article meant to poke fun at the very ideas the letter embraced.

In my article “Harry, Harry, Harry” I concluded that bad logic, an indifference to the meaning of words, or closed ears had to be behind a continued accusation of the occult against Harry Potter and his imaginative author. I’ll add one more likely possibility: people are simply repeating what someone else before then said — never mind that the message may be scrambled or completely made up. Why, after all, should we let a little thing like the truth spoil a good rant.

And ranting against the occult gets attention. I remember when a pre-school director and her staff were mercilessly grilled in court and their entire school torn apart, the yard dug up, because they were accused of ritualistic Satanic abuse. Those people’s lives were destroyed, yet no evidence ever turned up and several witnesses later recanted their testimonies.

We Christians should do better. It’s not a minor thing to accuse another person of involvement in witchcraft. For an influential television personality to do it despite evidence to the contrary, breaks my heart.

After the last book came out in 2007, Rowling finally discussed the religious themes of the series. Witchcraft and satanism wasn’t part of the mix.

Are the Harry Potter books Christian? I have no reason to believe they are. I have lots of reasons to believe they are not entwined with the occult. And it’s time Christians stop parroting uninformed bits of falderal, especial when it slanders someone else. Did we not learn what idle repetition does when we played Telephone?

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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Harry, Harry, Harry


With the final Harry Potter movie at last in theaters, much talk has once again turned to how the stories about a boy wizard should be understood. Apparently there is a die-hard group clinging to the claim that the Potter books represent a threat.

It seems there are two main criticisms. One claims that these stories about wizards advance the cause of the occult. A second claims that Harry behaves in such unrighteous ways, and receives the approbation of his elders in doing so, that he is no role model for young people.

I’d like to consider each of these more closely. Does Harry Potter advance the cause of the occult? I’m no expert on the occult and have no desire to become one, but I do know that the description of sorcery and witchery in the Bible is not in Harry Potter.

In the imaginative books, wizards have power but must learn to use it and control it (hence the school for witchcraft and wizardry). What is it the young people learn? How to fly their brooms, how to make their magic wands do what they want them to do, how to mix potions for desired magical transformations, and how to defend themselves against evil spells.

The students are not taught how to bring up the dead or how to acquire more power from a spirit.

As it turned out, the more the accusations were leveled at author J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, the more Christian leaders spoke up to say the idea was false that the books advocated the kind of sorcery the Bible condemned.

Ted Olsen, Christianity Today‘s online and opinion editor, put together an Opinion Roundup on the subject.

One of the most quoted supporters of the Potter books is Christianity Today columnist Charles Colson, who, in his November 2 Breakpoint radio broadcast, noted that Harry and his friends “develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another—even at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world.” Colson dismisses the magic and sorcery in the books as “purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don’t make contact with a supernatural world. … [It’s not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns.” [emphasis mine]

Even a less than supportive review in World magazine drew the same conclusion as Colson did:

Still, [World] magazine notes that Rowling’s witchcraft bears little resemblance to modern wicca. “A reader drawn in would find that the real world of witchcraft is not Harry Potter’s world. Neither attractive nor harmless, it is powerful and evil.”

Interestingly, Rowling herself weighed in on the controversy:

In a quote from a CNN interview: “I have met thousands of children now, and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, ‘Ms. Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.’ They see it for what it is. It is a fantasy world and they understand that completely. I don’t believe in magic, either.”

Certainly there are pastors and others in Christendom who have spoken out against the Harry Potter books — I heard of another just last week. However, I have yet to hear anyone explain how books written as pretend, with no connection to genuine occult activity, still manage to teach the unsuspecting about the sorcery condemned by the Bible.

That logic is inescapably bad. I can only surmise that someone holding this view cares little for the actual meaning of words or the context in which they appear. Or that they have not read Harry’s story and have closed their ears to all reason.

I’ll look at the second major objection to Harry another day.

More Is Not Better


No, more is not better. Better is better. More is just more. If it’s more of the same, and the same is boring or insipid or unimaginative, then how is more better? It’s not.

Yes, this is somewhat of a rant. Recently I’ve been reminded of some authors who are overly busy because they are putting out several books a year, some in different series and even for different publishers.

This means there is little, if any, coordination between when a manuscript is due and when the book needs to be edited or promoted. There’s also a question in my mind how well an author can write unique characters when she spends so little time getting to know them.

Experts say we only can have three or four close friends at any one time. So how many characters can a writer develop? Seems to me we should know our characters nearly as well as we do our close friends.

Consequently, I feel confident that more characters don’t make for better stories. More books of course require more characters, so it seems to me, every book an author puts out in a relatively short amount of time indicates less time spent with the characters.

There are exceptions, of course. D. Barkley Briggs, for example, is in the process of publishing three books this year. He published the first of a young adult trilogy with NavPress back in 2008, but weeks before the second released — a book that had already gone through the editing process — his publisher decided to end its fiction line.

When he recently signed with AMG Publishers, they reprinted his first book, then three months later published Corus The Champion. The third in the Legends of Karac Tor series is due out a scant three months after Corus, but this elapse of time is not a reflection of how long it took to write the books.

Apart from the obvious — the disadvantage a writer puts herself at by trying to create deep and realistic characters and a story that is fresh and well crafted in such a short amount of time — there’s also reader weariness.

Yes, reader weariness. What if the Harry Potter books all came out within six months of each other? Would readers have been ready to stand in line waiting for a midnight release when they’d done it just six months earlier?

Would so many readers have been clamoring for the next book, or would some give up the effort to be in the mix because after three books, they’d fallen hopelessly behind?

My point is, writers that believe more is better may actually be saturating the market with their own work. Readers either can’t keep up or may grow weary of the writer’s voice.

Not to mention that some writers sacrifice story structure for the more is better approach. The plot twists and twists and twists again in a meandering plot because the writer doesn’t really know where the story is going and is just hoping it all comes out in the end.

Some readers don’t care how convoluted a plot is, as long as there’s a spaceship battle in every chapter. Some don’t care how realistic the characters are, so long as there’s a good guy and a bad guy. I understand — I once watched western movies that had characters like that.

But make no mistake, those stores are not better. No matter how many of them a writer cranks out, more does not make them better.

What Makes Fantasy Work, Continued


When I first posed the question, What makes fantasy work, my immediate thought was, an engaging character. That’s when I realized that there might not be so much difference between fantasy and other fiction.

In some of the fantasy I mentioned yesterday that I don’t think is working, I found two problems with the central character—either she/he was nondescript or whiny.

To make a character seem real, he must have a rounded personality. For fallen humanity, that means weaknesses and needs as well as strengths and things to offer others. At times, however, a character weakness can be painted with too much emphasis. I know because I created such a character.

It crushed me at first when members of my critique group told me they hated my main character. Hated him? I loved him. How could they misunderstand him so completely? Yes, he had problems, but don’t all characters? I mean, isn’t that part of the character arc?

That, in a nutshell, is the balancing act authors must achieve—give the character problems but not let him become embittered, sullen, whiny, complaining, slothful.

In some ways, Jonathan Rogers’ Grady in The Charlatan’s Boy is the perfect character. He’s got a problem—he’s an orphan, but that’s not all of it. The only person who knows anything about where he came from is unreliable—worse than unreliable. He twists the truth at will, however it suits him.

But instead of wallowing in self-pity, Grady makes the most of his circumstances. Here’s where the reader sees his real strengths. He’s loyal, hard working, and humble enough to play whatever part is given him.

So the first thing fantasy has to have in order to work is a main character that is believable and engaging.

The second thing, because this is fantasy I’m talking about, is a well-developed, consistent world. This is the aspect J. K. Rowling mastered. If I were to grade her, I might give her a C or C+ for her character. Harry wasn’t particularly believable in the first book because the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Dursleys was over the top. Nor was he particularly engaging. He didn’t whine but neither did he do anything to change his situation.

But the world Rowling created was unbelievable. Well, believably so. I mean, she did such a great job creating a magic place that the story came alive. She paid attention to detail and didn’t overlook anything.

In Hogwarts, food appeared magically on plates, the ceiling in the dining hall changed to appear like the outdoor sky, persons in portraits moved (and moved from their own frame to another’s), persons in newspaper photos moved too, and so did the figures on the cards that came with certain candy. And those chocolate frogs could actually jump away. The students had to be taught how to fly a boom and how to use their wands. And on and on and on. So many little details, everyday things twisted to fit a place where magic was real.

But there’s still more to this “What makes fantasy work” question, so I see I’m going to need another post on the topic. We’ll just say this continuation is to be continued. 😉

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