Christian … or Fiction?

Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson, second in the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy, stirred up considerable discussion. To be honest, I think that’s great. I like, above all else, people thinking about what they read, and discussing their thoughts with others.

In the end, though, the question about Haunt seems to focus on Wilson’s decision to weave together real-world settings, vampire myth, and Biblical history.

One tour participant, Cris Jesse, had this to say:

With the story being set in our world, it just comes too close to reality for the unaware reader to differentiate between Bible truths and fictional elements.

Also, as Sally Apokedak asked in her comment,

Is it obvious to the reader that the undead are make-believe but the blood of Christ is real?

So here we are again—how is fiction to handle God and/or Biblical history? Should it? Or should fiction be fiction and the Bible be the Bible? And if the latter, then can God be part of fiction? I mean, He is real and fiction is … well, not.

You may already know I think God can show up in fiction, but when He does, the author should be consistent with Scripture. I discussed this at some length over at Speculative Faith during the August tour for Offworld.

But what about other Biblical elements? May we speculate about things and people introduced in Scripture, such as the soldiers who gambled for Christ’s robe as He hung on the cross? (The basis of the novel The Robe) Or the fate of the Ark of the Covenant (central to the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark). How about Jesus’s life as a pre-adolescent (Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt)?

What about the tower of Babel or Noah’s experiences on the ark (Bryan Davis’s Eye of the Oracle)? Or the existence of the Nephilim (The Enclave by Karen Hancock)? Or Judas’s blood, Barabbas, the demons Christ sent into the swine and … Christ’s blood—all (and more) in the current work under discussion?

Are all of these free game for the novelist to incorporate in fiction by way of speculation? Or are some things untouchable, if a work is based on the Christian worldview?

My answer may be different from yours and I’ll be interested in your thoughts. Here’s my thinking: I believe some things must be untouchable because to speculate about them would 1) twist the truth of Scripture; or 2) bring them down to the level of the fictitious.

By saying they are “untouchable,” I don’t mean they can’t be included in fiction. For example, The Bronze Bow is a story set in Biblical times and the main character has an encounter with Jesus completely consistent with the Biblical account of the days when Jesus was surrounded by sick people begging to be healed.

The speculation centers on the story of a person in the crowd, not the historical event or Jesus Himself.

There’s a fine line between appropriate speculation and inappropriate, one I choose not to walk. No wonder other bloggers called Eric Wilson courageous.

Your turn. Are there some untouchables if a work of fiction is Christian or written from a Christian worldview?

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 5:03 pm  Comments (13)  
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Haunt of Jackals – A Review, CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3

Haunt of Jackals (Thomas Nelson), the October CSFF Blog Tour feature by Eric Wilson, is the perfect book to discuss as we approach Halloween, especially since it is a part of the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy.

Undead. That concept alone speaks volumes, and to be honest, it should have been enough to ward me off. But no. I decided it was time I see what this vampire story stuff was all about, especially since Eric Wilson, as a Christian, approached the subject from a spiritual-warfare angle, clearly in opposition to the current fad of “good vampires.”

Of course, vampires are imaginary creatures, but the idea that one person gains life by taking from another is hard to justify as something other than evil. As near as I can tell, the “good vampires” are those who deny their desires, which seems consistent with our current cultural bent toward finding strength within.

No, Eric’s vampires (called Collectors) are actually demons inhabiting the bodies of their previously dead hosts. I suspect the set-up is made clear in book one, Field of Blood. Not having read that, I admit the murkiness I found regarding these creatures and those fighting against them was probably my problem. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. At the heart of the Undead trilogy is Gina Lazarescu, a half mortal. She can die, but also can be resuscitated within three days if He Who Knows How can reach her in time.

The story opens with Gina struggling against a Collector who had kidnapped her. She escapes, and the rest of the book revolves around her efforts to defeat or evade or hide from the Collectors as they plot and plan against her and a group of good Undead assigned to protect Mankind.

Strengths. Eric is good writer. In essence, I came into the middle of the story, and yet I could follow the flow. I thought the “What Came Before” section was helpful.

Certainly his villains were appropriately villainous. His protagonists, Gina and her dad Cal, were both appropriately flawed but also likable because of their self-sacrificial desire to protect others.

The theme seemed clear—the blood of Christ saves. This message was delivered in the context of the story and didn’t seem at all forced or delivered by the author to the reader.

Weaknesses. ***May contain some spoilers***

My main problem with this book was point of view. Besides shifting constantly, which is something I don’t like, a large portion of the story was from the perspective of several of the Collectors … to the point that I found myself as much hoping for Erota to unite with Natira and defeat Megiste as I was that Gina and Cal would overcome the Collectors.

At the same time, I had a hard time worrying about Gina, a half-mortal, and Cal, an immortal. They could get hurt, but the stakes didn’t seem sufficiently high because they didn’t seem seriously at risk. The highest tension came when Dov, the mortal teen, or Kenny, the mortal pre-teen were threatened. In the latter instance, however, Gina’s initial sympathy for the attacker weakened my concern.

I also had some issues with the writing, though I tend to think I would have overlooked these if I had a more positive reaction to the story. For example, Gina escaped from Romania and apparently Cal planted the story that she had died. This seemed like a workable device, but lo and behold, the same ploy showed up at the climax, though shown in depth, giving this critical portion of the story a “been there” feel.

And then there was the darkness, the gore. Frankly, I didn’t like being in the heads of the Collectors. I didn’t like seeing them attack their victims or seeing the blood spurt and splash.

I had to think about this a lot because I have some really dark sections in my second book. I wondered what made me think those were okay, even necessary, but these scenes in Haunt were distasteful. I finally decided the point of view issue was central.

One other thing troubled me—the use of Biblical history. Judas’s blood has some power for evil evidently, Jesus’s blood is an actual physical entity, a dagger used for good is made of the bronze serpent-turned-idol, the demons are the same ones Jesus sent into the swine, and so on. As I see it, these twists in the Biblical account weaken Scripture rather than strengthening the fictional narrative. It drags history into the realm of speculation in a way I don’t care for when it comes to the God-breathed record of events.

Recommendation. I don’t know enough about the vampire genre to know if readers who enjoy Ann Rice’s vampire stories would like Haunt of Jackals or not. I’m confident Twilight fans would not care for this book. For me not being a vampire-story fan, this book did not change my opinion. Undoubtedly there is a niche audience who will like the spills and thrills. For them, I recommend Haunt.

Don’t forget to check out the other blog articles discussing the book (a list of these is posted at the end of my Day 2 article).

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 12:13 pm  Comments (9)  
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Eric Wilson, Author – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2

Eric WilsonYou may be more familiar with Eric Wilson as the author of the novelization Fireproof. Or perhaps you know him for his book version of Facing Giants. As it turns out, this prolific author, when writing “from scratch,” creating his own characters and his own plot line, writes speculative fiction.

Okay, he also has a couple suspense novels out there too, but his most recent work is speculative—the vampire novels known as the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy. This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring book two, Haunt of Jackals, but I wanted to find out a little more about the writer.

Happily, one of our tour participants, By Darkness Hid author Jill Williamson, who has met Eric and who wrote an endorsement for the book, interviewed him. In addition, Brandon Barr pointed to a fairly lengthy interview in his tour post.

The thing that caught my eye most, however, was a callout box on Eric’s bio page at his Web site:

I was first inspired to write by the imagination in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. My childhood influences ranged from J.R.R. Tolkien, to S.E. Hinton, to Arthur Catherall. As a teen, I turned to Alistair MacLean, Robert Ludlum, and John LeCarre.

What an eclectic group of writers. But it started with fantasy. Is it any surprise, then, that Eric, in writing about vampires, wanted to return the tradition to it’s original overtones:

“It is really a modern version of ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis mixed with a traditional vampire story,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen a lot of vampire books come out recently with a post-modern approach to vampires where they are not even a question of good or evil or spirituality but just a fictional form of the monster. I wanted to go back to a traditional vampire story …” (“‘Fireproof’ novelist wrestles with the supernatural” by Ken Beck, The Wilson Post)

The “traditional vampire story,” it would seem, calls evil by its name and establishes a clear connection between Christ’s death and its defeat.

So why, I ask myself, do I not like vampire stories? Lots of people do. Eric clearly desires to throw light on God’s redemptive work, at one point equating his work with that of a missionary:

“I see my writing being missionary work but kind of in a tent-making mode (the apostle Paul made tents while spreading the Gospel), telling stories that prod and challenge people to think.”

Fantasy roots, a good versus evil motif, a desire to present the truth of the gospel through story. I should be in love with Eric’s vampire stories. I wish I were.

See who else on the tour thinks as I do and who has become a fan of the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy:

Vampires and Christian Fiction – Haunt of Jackals Tour, Day 1

The Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour is featuring Haunt of Jackals, book two of the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy, Eric Wilson‘s supernatural suspense. Read, “vampire story.”

Apparently this kind of dark speculative fiction is the new trend in Christian publishing, perhaps spurred by Mormon author Stephenie Meyer’s huge success with the Twilight books. But I’ll be honest—I’m puzzled by this trend.

When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, it seemed to have no impact on the kinds of books publishing houses acquired. Acquisition editor and agent alike turned a “read this before” eye to stories that seemed remotely similar to Tolkien’s version of the hero’s journey.

Was this because no new epic fantasy had made it big, breaking out of the fantasy niche in the general market, since Rings? Perhaps.

But I am puzzled as to why Christian publishing houses are now willing to pursue the dark side of fantasy, even with the Twilight success. After all, the “typical” buyer of Christian fiction hardly seems to fit the target audience of dark fantasy.

Did they think the numbers of teenage girls and women who flocked to Twilight would translate into big numbers buying demon-vampire stories? If so, then I think there was a misunderstanding. As near as I can tell, the Twilight books are popular because of their forbidden love theme—love (or more accurately, lust) for the bad boy and in turn, the bad boy restraining his badness for the sake of his love.

John Olson’s vampireless vampire story Shade and Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem Undead Trilogy are far from the Stephenie Meyer type vampire story.

But will the fans of the Dracula type vampire story be inclined to pick up the Christian versions—stories that ascribe supernatural demonic activity to the existence of vampires?

How many readers looking for a good vampire story will go to the Christian fiction aisle of their local book store, or to a Christian store? In short, Christian vampire stories seem like they could languish for lack of an audience.

Ironically, this is the same argument I’ve heard against fantasy for years. So what’s different about vampire stories? I mean, they are popular in the secular culture, though their popularity may now be declining.

The difference in my mind is one of degree or emphasis. In epic fantasy the central motif is the struggle between good and evil. Certainly there are dark sections of such a story. The Harry Potter series had several books that fell under the tag of “dark.” The Lord of the Rings had large sections, especially in the final book, that were dark, as evil appeared to be winning.

The good, however much an underdog, continued to struggle, and there was hope in that struggle. This struggle and the equally important underdog role of the forces of good seem to resonate with people across cultural and generational and gender lines.

Is the same true with vampire stories? You tell me. I’ll be interested in your thoughts.

Also, be sure to check out what others on the tour for Haunt of Jackals are saying about the book and related topics.

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