Spoof: CSFF Blog Tour – Night Of The Living Dead Christian, Day 1

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos.

Who writes spoof these days? Matt Mikalatos, that’s who. Matt Mikalatos, author of Imaginary Jesus, which is being repackaged and re-released by his publisher (Tyndale) as My Imaginary Jesus — a much better title, in my opinion.

But I’m getting far afield. I was talking about spoof — “a humorous imitation of something … in which its characteristic features are exaggerated for comic effect.”

Spoof is precisely what Matt writes, as his newest book, Night of the Living Dead Christian, demonstrates.

The interesting thing with Matt’s writing, though, is that he has married spoof with allegory. Now that takes some doing! Yet, in my opinion, he’s pulled off the upset. He’s writing this quasi memoir-ish, urban fantasy-ish spoof that has blatant, purposeful, in-your-face spiritual parallels, and it works.

The thing about spoof is that it taps into what’s going on in pop culture, but also exploits an undercurrent that most people might not realize exists. In this case I call it vampire fatigue.

For some time, in a large part because of Twilight and company, vampire stories were white hot, but as happens with more frequency in our capitalistic society, what sells, promoters stuff down the throats of the public until we are gagging with the excess.

Enter the spoof. At that point when society has had it’s fill, the subject is then ripe for a little ridicule fun-poking.

Matt’s brilliance as a writer is that he spoofs himself as much as he does the vampires, werewolves, and zombies he writes about. His humor is contagious, and I found myself laughing out loud in places, while chuckling out loud in others.

But there’s more. The addition of allegory spreads the spoof. Not only is there fun at the expense of the fantasy/paranormal elements he uses as the foundation of the story, he’s also doing an adequate spoof of the Church.

In this case, however, the ripe-for-ridicule tendencies are a result of the ways in which the Church and individual believers have been infected by tradition and the distillation of God’s Word into systems of thought superseding the way of Life.

Matt taps into this expanded material in a manner that does more than raise a few laughs. His spoof/allegory hammers home weighty thoughts about weighty subjects, even while cushioning the blow.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at some of those weighty subjects, then Wednesday I plan to give my review. In the meantime, see what others participating in the tour for Night of the Living Dead Christian are saying. (Check marks link to articles that have been posted already).

Fantasy Friday – Introducing Chuck Black

Speculative authors come in all shapes and sizes and from any number of backgrounds, but apparently flying planes stimulates the imagination. Along with former astronaut candidate Austin Boyd, fantasy writer Chuck Black joins the ranks of military men who love Jesus Christ and choose to influence others through story.

Born and raised in North Dakota, Chuck grew up wanting to fly planes. He studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering, receiving a degree from North Dakota State University in Fargo. Soon after, he entered the US Air Force and eventually became a fighter pilot.

After nine years in the service, he returned to North Dakota where he now works as a product design engineer and partner in a plastics company. More importantly, Chuck is husband to his wife Andrea and father of their six children who range in age from 14 to 24.

Because of his role as father, Chuck became a writer. He’d never envisioned doing more than crafting a story for his children, but after he completed his first Kingdom series book, Andrea encouraged him to look into publishing. With additional encouragement from a group of objective readers (Chuck used a pen name), he agreed to pursue publication. Because he didn’t want the long wait associated with traditional publishing, he chose to self-publish.

During the next five years he completed three additional books in the series, and apparently sold enough copies to catch the interest of Multnomah Publishing which reproduced all four titles and contracted two more. Since then, Chuck has added six additional books in the Knights of Arrethtrae series.

He is now working on an ultra secret new fiction series while at the same time penning a non-fiction book of advice and encouragement for dads.

Several things set Chuck apart from other writers of fantasy. For one thing, he is not a big fantasy reader. As far as influence is concerned, he mentions science fiction by John Christopher and Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. He also seems to purposefully steer away from traditional fantasy elements such as magic and wizards.

In addition, he is not shy about the fact that his work is intentionally allegorical and that he wants to communicate truth through story. During adolescence and into his early adulthood, Chuck struggled with doubts and questions about his faith. God rescued him, he says, through prayer, study of God’s Word, and wise counsel. In turn, he wants his writing to point young people to truth.

I wrote Kingdom’s Edge, the third book in the series but the first book written, for one reason only — to inspire my children to study the Scriptures and to create a zeal for God’s Word … The Kingdom Series provides an action/adventure story for our youth that teaches Biblical character without the use of magic, witchcraft, or wizardry. The romantic medieval time period provided an excellent setting to write an allegory that children from ages eight to adult simply love. Each scene and character are directly symbolic to Bible stories. (from an interview with Shelley Noonan of Second Harvest)

While some might think allegory is a kind of second rate type of writing, I disagree. I think it’s hard to do well, but in my review of Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione, I found the truths to be “well-woven into the lives and actions of the characters.” In other words, the allegory did not feel in your face so that it detracted from the story. That may seem surprising in light of what Chuck hopes his readers will take away from his books:

I earnestly want to inspire and excite young people in their faith in Jesus Christ. I hope to impart to them a keen sense of the spiritual warfare that is being waged around them. I hope to help them understand that they have an important role as a child of the King to take up the armor of God and go to battle tearing down spiritual wickedness in high places. I hope these books help them realize that they can have a deep personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. And finally I hope that they grasp that there is a greater purpose in life than to grow up, get a job, work, and die…we are all eternal kingdom builders…Knights of the Prince! (from “Interview & Giveaway – Chuck Black”)

It requires skill to write a good story that simultaneously conveys rich spiritual truths, but that’s what Chuck does. Good for him! It’s time more readers discovered his books.

Published in: on January 20, 2012 at 6:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Use of Allegory – CSFF Tour, Day 3

I wanted to title this “The Use of Allegory in Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3,” but it seemed like it might be a bit long. 😉 However, that’s really where I want to start.

Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow by Christopher and Allan Miller (Warner Press), of course, is the March CSFF Blog Tour feature, and in my review of the book yesterday, I mentioned the allegorical elements and my intention to write about them in more detail today.

First a little background. When the CSFF administration team first discussed whether or not to include Hunter Brown on the tour, one reaction to the short plot synopsis was that it was so transparently allegorical. And sure enough, that same statement appeared on the tour, as a weakness.

As I added my comments to the ongoing discussion, I realized wrong assumptions about allegory might actually become one of my pet peeves! 😮

In actuality, true allegory is a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy. Here’s an excellent definition:

Allegory is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy.

Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.

– from Ted Nellen’s Cyber English

As Wikipedia notes, allegory often is present in parables and fables and often has a rhetorical purpose.

Of late, allegory seems to have fallen into disfavor, at least by Christians. I suspect one of the great fantasy writers may be partly to blame. Evidently J. R. R. Tolkien made a strong statement against allegory in the introduction to the second edition of the Lord of the Rings: “It is neither allegorical nor topical….I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” (from Wikipedia, allegory) Interestingly, he made this statement because many were seeing the story as an allegory of World War II.

But here’s the point: because Tolkien didn’t like it does not mean allegory is bad. The use of an extended metaphor is not bad. Writing about one thing with a secondary meaning beneath the surface is not bad. Even if the metaphor is fairly obvious.

Wikipedia includes quite a list of works considered allegorical, but in my thinking few are true allegories, in which the metaphor permeates the story and is maintained throughout. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is a superb allegory, as is Animal Farm by George Orwell. The first is religious, the second political.

Other examples of allegorical works or ones with strong allegorical elements listed by Wikipedia include the following:

Dante Alighieri – The Divine Comedy
Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene
Jonathan Swift – A Tale of a Tub [and Gulliver’s Travels, I might add]
Joseph Addison – Vision of Mirza
Herman Melville – The Confidence-Man
C.S. Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia

    “generic allegorical elements of good and evil, as well as many Christian themes, expressed in a narrative with strong fantasy fiction elements and credible characters: not fully an allegory.

    Modern allegories in fiction tend to operate under constraints of modern requirements for verisimilitude within conventional expectations of realism.” (Wikipedia, allegory)

Albert Camus – The Plague, The Stranger
John Irving – A Prayer for Owen Meany
Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials
Franz Kafka
Frank Herbert – Dune.

Allegorical films include:
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis
Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey
Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country – The Cold War
The Matrix – a retelling of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

So what does all this have to do with Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow? Clearly, the Miller Brothers used allegory in Hunter Brown. However, the story isn’t allegorical. Yes, the Author is clearly God. Yes, the Author’s code is the Bible, and yes Codebearers likely represent Christians.

But who is Evan or Sam or Gabby or Hope or Stretch or Belac or Faldyn or Ephraim? These are simply characters in an adventure fantasy acting in ways consistent to the personality the authors gave them. They don’t step out of character to preach to the reader. They are authentic and tell Hunter what fits the occasion. Sometimes he believes them and sometimes not. Some of them help and encourage him and some don’t. Some are friends and some are formidable foes.

Here’s the bottom line. One genre trope in fantasy is the struggle between good and evil. How can we who believe in a loving, supreme God not equate Him with ultimate good, no matter how the author intended to write it? Consequently, whether Tolkien determined to show spiritual truths or not, I see God and His Son Jesus Christ when I read about Gandalf and Aragorn.

That the Author in Hunter Brown was fashioned by Christians who most likely had God in mind when they wrote in the part should not disqualify the story from being good, exciting, entertaining. I don’t see that putting God in stories and having Him act as He acts is considered a weakness. Having Him show up allegorically is really no different.

Of course, one problem with using allegory is that some readers will interpret all elements allegorically and find some wanting. Check out Steve Rice’s post about the weaknesses he sees in Hunter Brown. And be sure to visit the other bloggers listed (and check marked with post links) in Monday’s post.

Thoughts on the Most Popular Post

😮 Picture me surprised. The post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction that gets the most hits—a steady number each week—is Myths and Legends, Fairy Tales and Fables … Oh, My.

When I first notice that post was receiving traffic, often from search words, I reread it to see what profundity had captured the minds of blog searchers near and far. What I discovered was … nothing profound at all. A throw-away post, I thought. Some good comments, but nothing controversial. Nothing that led me to explore the topic in more depth. In fact, the comments made me think categorizing fiction into kinds might be a waste of time.

This week I notice that this post had surpassed the previous high traffic article, so I reread it yet again, hoping this time to discover the magical element that brought readers to the topic. Nope. I still don’t see it. If anything, I ask more questions and give few answers.

The one thing that intrigues me about the post is that the definitions for the different fantasy types seem to indicate a differing purpose lurking in the minds of the authors. Was Lewis intentionally passing on lessons in the Narnia stories? Was Tolkien intentionally making a statement about the supernatural as he constructed a history of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings? When Stephen Lawhead embellished the stories of Robin Hood in his King Raven series, was he intending to take the reader away from the old traditional stories for a particular purpose?

In all these types—fairy tales, fables, legends, myths, and add in allegories—it seems the theme is a strong thread holding the stories together. In some cases, the thread is quite plain, while in others it is more subtly woven as a highlight, though it changes the entire tapestry with its presence.

What I’m wondering now is, Are some of the current so-so fantasies missing the mark because they are missing the theme element? Just wondering.

CSFF Blog Tour – Auralia’s Colors, Day 3

Yesterday I posted a rather lengthy excerpt from Auralia’s Colors author Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog Looking Closer when he was discussing The Golden Compass. Today I want to give my reaction, starting with the lines I emphasized:

Christians have become so suspicious of fairy tales, fantasy, and imagination that we have created an environment in which it is very unlikely that we will see another imagination like Tolkien and Lewis emerge.

I view this kind of rhetoric as self-fulfilling prophecy. Jeffrey Overstreet is a respected voice in Christian circles in the discussion of culture, and here he is saying Christians are suspicious of fairy tales, fantasy, and imagination. What editor, then, is going to rush right out and acquire a book that is what the professionals declare to be the very thing Christians are suspicious of?

And without editors acquiring fairy tales, fantasies, and books of imagination, how can we possibly see anything like Tolkien or Lewis emerge?

First, I argue that “Christians” are not suspicious of the imaginative. Perhaps a vocal minority has been in the past, with a few still tenaciously clinging to that view. In my comment to an earlier post, I identified these as people who are perhaps legalists (and therefore not really Christians) or perhaps Christians coming from a lifestyle they fear to fall into again (such as the occult). There are others too, those that have not been introduced to good fiction. It could be because of their schooling, their family culture, or the lack of child-friendly books when they were growing up. There also might be those who have never been taught to look for depth in fiction.

The point is, these are not ALL Christians. From time to time on this blog I have pointed to evidence that Christians, just like others in the culture are engaging works of fantasy—books or films. The most telling statistics are the Barna Group report from several years ago showing that 76 percent of Christian kids from the ages of 14 to 18 (I think) had seen or read Harry Potter. How much might that figure have grown by now?

In reality, all we need to look at is the sales success of the Narnia books to know that Christians do want quality fantasy. A half a century after they were published, these books are still some of the most loved and top many best-selling lists.

Why would anyone think Christians at large are suspicious of imaginative literature as a body in light of these facts and a growing number of others I could cite (though I’d be repeating myself ad nauseam 😉 )?

The next critical issue, I think is, What does it take for an imagination like Lewis or Tolkien to emerge? For one thing, these men were well read. They were also scholars. That says to me that they understood the underpinnings of a story, they knew how language works, they had a grasp of history, and they were more than conversant in theology. In other words, the worlds they created were not accidents of their imagination. They didn’t employ some kind of stream of consciousness writing, and from that emerged this intricate fantasy, with a Christ-like super-protagonist.

I’m overstating Mr. Overstreet’s position to make a point. Certainly Lewis and Tolkien, by their own words, did not write allegory. However, that does not mean they wrote without intention or purpose. Allegory is not the only way to show spiritual truths. Instead, both classic writers employed types and symbols, something I suggest Mr. Overstreet himself does, though he seems to be denying it in the excerpt I quoted.

Now you know why I want to have a conversation with him. 😀

For actual discussion about our featured book, Auralia’s Colors, spend some time at these other blogs:

Brandon Barr Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Jackie Castle Carol Bruce Collett Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour Gene Curtis (Not on the list posted at CSFF). D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Jeff Draper April Erwin Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Creative contest underway. (Not on the list posted at CSFF). Heather R. Hunt Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Kait Karen Carol Keen Mike Lynch Margaret Rachel Marks Shannon McNear Melissa Meeks (Holding a book give-away). Mirtika or Mir’s Here Pamela Morrisson Eve Nielsen John W. Otte John Ottinger Deena Peterson (Holding a book give-away). Rachelle Steve Rice Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Rachelle Sperling Robert Treskillard (Not on the list posted at CSFF). Donna Swanson Steve Trower Speculative Faith Jason Waguespac Laura Williams Timothy Wise

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