An Influential Character


cover_Prince CaspianThis blog post is my response to a writing prompt posted in the Facebook group Fantasy Writers and Readers. Please leave a comment or contact me at my Yahoo account for an invite if you are an avid fantasy writer and/or reader and would like to participate in this closed Facebook group.

So the question: what character, as in fictitious person from a story, influenced you either now or in childhood or throughout your life?

That’s a head-scratcher.

When I was a kid, the characters I loved were Mr. Toad and his wild ride, Brer Rabbit and his clever cockiness, the Little Engine That Could and his commitment, drive, and determination. What persistence, that little engine!

Later, I loved the secret heroes—Zorro most of all, but Robin Hood too, the Long Ranger, and Superman. They were not about taking bows or doing good deeds for show. They wanted to right injustice, to help the poor and needy and protect the weak and helpless. Oh my what lofty goals! How do you do such things if you a) don’t have super powers or b) don’t have endless resources or c) aren’t planning to begin a criminal lifestyle?

Another character I loved was Alec Ramsey, protagonist in The Black Stallion by Walter Farley because he knew how to tame a wild horse and endear himself to the animal, for life. In many ways he was the kid version of my other heroes, only he turned his protective instincts toward a horse.

But who has actually influenced me? I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles Of Narnia. In book two Prince Caspian, Lucy and a small entourage are trying to reach what had been their castle, but years and years have passed in Narnia and Things Are Different. The animals no longer talk and a great wood has grown up. Evil men are in control.

At one point Lucy sees Aslan, the High King of Narnia. He beckons her to follow, but she doesn’t. As a result, they take a very long road and almost fall into enemy hands. They have to backtrack and lose a day when time is of the essence.

Again Lucy sees Aslan, even talks with him. In their conversation, it’s clear he wants her to follow him even if the others can’t see him and even if they don’t come along. It’s a critical point—she must act on what she believes, or not.

That was a changing point in my life, too. Lucy had the courage of her convictions, and she challenged me to live the same way. So of all the great protagonists in all the great stories, I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie has influenced me most.

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Puzzle Masquerading As Aslan


If you’re a fan of C. S. Lewis’s children’s fantasy, you’re probably familiar with a line often quoted about Aslan, the Christ-like character in the world of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the four children protagonists learn from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver that Aslan, the king of Narnia, is a lion. Then this exchange:

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

As it turns out, this description of Aslan becomes important in the last book of the series, too. In The Last Battle, a greedy ape cons a weak-minded donkey named Puzzle to wear a lion skin and pretend to be Aslan.

When the imitation Aslan, through his spokesman the ape, begins to make demands on the Narnians that are contrary to all they expected based on the old stories, they remind themselves that Aslan is not a tame lion.

But the ape and his allies, the Calormenes, soon use that same line to explain the changes they attribute to Aslan’s orders—things like conscripting dwarfs to send to Calormene to work in their mines.

When Tirian, the Narnian king, rescues a contingent of dwarfs being marched away, he finds them less than excited about helping him expose Puzzle as the false Aslan:

“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a trick, all a blooming trick. … We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him! An old moke with long ears!” …

“Which of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape’s imitation of the real Aslan. Can’t you understand?” [said Tirian.]

“And you’ve got a better imitation, I suppose!” said Griffle. “No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”

“”I have not,” said Tirian angrily, “I serve the real Aslan.”

“Where’s he? Who’s he? Show him to us!” said several Dwarfs.

“Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?” said Tirian. “Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion.”

The moment those words were out of his mouth he realised that he had made a false move. The Dwarfs at once began repeating “not a tame lion, not a tame lion,” in jeering singsong. “That’s what the other lot kept on telling us,” said one.

What a clear picture of false teaching. Some of the Narnians believed in the re-imaged Aslan—Puzzle in disguise—and others decided to believe in neither the pretend nor the real Aslan.

The only difference I see from Lewis’s imagined description of false teaching and today’s real life version is that, instead of exploiting the not safe or tame aspect of Aslan’s character, today’s false teachers capitalize on the “but he’s good” part of God’s nature.

But God is good, so of course he wouldn’t send judgment.

But God is good so of course he wants you to be rich and healthy.

Two different lines of false teaching but from the same perversion of one aspect of God’s nature.

Though the thread running through both is different from the one Lewis imagined, the effect is still the same—Puzzle is masquerading as Aslan.

Published in: on February 8, 2010 at 4:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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Books That Last – The Nancy Drew Model


Not every book is intended to last. Some writers are perfectly fine writing fast and hard for a market that craves another one just like the other one. Surprisingly, however, even books that don’t intend to last sometimes do.

Nancy Drew comes to mind. Good stories. Fast reads. Formulaic plots. Yet, in the face of many an imitator and many a ghost writer, Nancy Drew has lasted. Why?

I think two factors come into play: tension and a larger-than-life character.

Nancy Drew was a smart, independent teenage girl long before Title IX came into being. She lived an exciting life that many a young girl dreamed of living. And not much has changed. Today’s liberated women have become enslaved by the things men have been bound by for years. So the take-charge Nancy still resonates.

Unfortunately, it’s the plots that suffer in these mysteries. No archenemy steps up to be Moriarty to Sherlock Drew. And yet the authors found ways to create tension. Nancy, captured and tied up. How will she escape this time? Will she find the note in the base of the clock? Can she rescue her friends in time and still stop the thief?

The questions aren’t deep, but there is no doubt what her goal is, so readers hold their breath and cheer her on. The problem is in remembering any of the story the next day, or next week, or next month.

Too many stories suffer plot problems while also lacking a character that resonates. These are the books that will not last. Some of them may actually be initial commercial successes, but unlike the Chronicles of Narnia, no one will be buying them forty years later.

The added dimension that long-lasting books have is depth. There’s a point greater than entertainment to the writing, though entertainment is surely a by-product found in abundance.

And what creates depth? Ideas. Ones that make readers turn the story over and over in their mind for days after they reach the last page.

Back to the beginning. Some writers aren’t aiming to create the Great American Novel. They want to entertain, much as I’m sure the Carolyn Keen ghost writers did. But what would these writers think if they knew young girls today still read their work? Would they be pleased, wishing only that their relatives were pocketing a royalty check? Or would they cringe in horror, wishing they had included depth in their stories?

Probably some of both.

Published in: on September 17, 2008 at 6:22 pm  Comments (8)  
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