Fantasy Friday – Visit The Library

Well, I think it’s great to visit the library, be it a city or county library or even a church library such as I enjoy. I cut my reading teeth on my school library when I was in seventh grade and have loved libraries ever since.

However, in this instance, I’m actually thinking of a virtual library, browsing only — one that is just coming together over at Speculative Faith.

Yes, it’s just coming together, but rather than wait until we have all five hundred or so titles loaded, I suggest readers find a time to visit regularly. For one thing, you can start leaving comments about the books you’ve read.

You see, one of the goals for our browse-only library is to let fans of speculative fiction know what titles are worthy of their dollars and days. As we build up reader responses — not long reviews but simple reaction statements — others will know what books or authors they should consider.

Another reason to visit regularly is that the landscape changes. We add more titles and find ways to make your visiting experience more satisfying. You can help by commenting here — tell us what you like and what you wish you could find in a browse-only library.

By the way, while you’re over at Spec Faith, be sure to read today’s guest post by CSFF member Chawna Schroeder. Her article “Of Distant Places & Daring Sword Fights” is one of the best explanations of what Christians can find in speculative fiction. It’s a well-written piece and worth reading.

Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm  Comments (3)  
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What Makes Fantasy Work, Wrap

I’ve read a few fantasy books whose authors are trying to Imitate Lewis. But there’s a catch: their Christ-figures, a la Aslan, aren’t much like Aslan, much less so the Biblical Christ. Sure, they have all the loving-humble-helpful parts, but few to none of the sovereign-holy-kill-his-enemies parts. And these Christ-equivalents exist, not with their own missions, but mainly as sidekicks for the real hero of the story, the Self-Doubtful Often-Angsty Gifted protagonist, who is on a Quest.

Stephen Burnett penned (typed) those words as part of his post today over at Speculative Faith. Interestingly, those lines state, in part, what I wanted to address today.

Fantasy that works says something important.

There are lots of ways that fantasy can say something important. Stephen particularly addressed the issue of stories with a Christ figure. Not every story written from a Christian worldview needs an allegorical Christ figure, in my opinion. But those that include one have set themselves a huge task.

After all, C. S. Lewis created such a strong character that remained consistent with Christ’s nature, that any other may seem either derivative (there’s that dreaded word again!) or inadequate.

Does that mean we should shy away from showing Christ in Christian fantasy? No, I don’t think so. However, I believe that’s a high goal. If an author sets that high goal, rightly the reader must judge whether or not his story works by whether or not he successfully met the goal.

I tend to think that the problem Stephen mentioned in the quote above—that the Christ figure is a “side-kick”—occurs primarily because some authors back away from the high goal of putting Him meaningfully into a story as Lewis did with Aslan.

One secret here is that Lewis said he was not writing an allegory. Today, I think many Christian fantasy writers are writing an allegorical character, if not an allegory.

What was Lewis doing instead? He termed it “supposal.” In a world with fauns and talking animals and centaurs and dwarfs, Lewis asked, how would God show Himself?

Perhaps that’s the question we fantasy writers need to ask more often rather than forcing Christ-by-another-name into our stories.

But I said earlier that I don’t think stories have to have an allegorical Christ figure to still be Christian.

That doesn’t mean I think a story about not telling a lie is automatically Christian because it contains a moral value consistent with Christianity.

Rather, I believe—and this is quite subjective—stories that “till the soil” can be powerfully Christian. Such stories create the longing for the wholeness Christ gives, or for the acceptance His sacrifice made possible, or for the purpose His relationship frees us to achieve. I believe stories can show sacrificial love that is extraordinary and that will create a thirst for sacrificial love. I believe stories can show forgiveness that is pure and unmerited and it will create a thirst for similar mercy.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Instead of putting God into a story, I think it’s possible to put one of God’s characteristics in a story and show it so clearly that it becomes something that draws people, maybe even causes them to say, Wouldn’t it be great to know someone like that?

Last point. I think the biggest thing we Christian fantasy writers have to be careful about is saying the same thing over and over in the same way. No examples on that one. I’ll let you mull it over for yourself (as I mull it over too 😀 ).

Speculative Fiction And Social Media

You may or may not be on Facebook and/or Twitter, but I’ve been hanging out at Facebook for a while now and getting the hang of Twitter slowly but surely.

I see some real advantages to these new forms of communication, the main one being the opportunity to reconnect with people I thought I’d lost track of for good. It’s a kick for me to see pictures of my former students, all grown up now, and to find out where they’re living, who they married, how many kids they have … daily stuff. After all, that’s how we knew each other when I taught them.

Some, I know, do stop by A Christian Worldview of Fiction from time to time, but Facebook allows us to “meet in the hall” and say hi as we used to do. It’s brief and incomplete, to be sure, but still far better than nothing, from my perspective.

And then there are readers who like what I like, or something close to it—fans of fantasy and, more generally, speculative fiction. Some months ago, a handful of us who were writing for the team blog Speculative Faith revived our efforts. We invited new writers to join us and saved Friday for guest bloggers. It’s been a great success.

In addition, our new webmaster set up a Facebook account. For a time, all we did there was link to the blog and invite people to “like” the site.

Then a couple weeks ago, I got the idea to add a daily “Book News” feature. I invited speculative writers to include their book news as they wished if there wasn’t already a news feature posted that day. Or they could send me their news and I’d post it. We’ve had a good response—more people following, more people “liking”—though I think some might be shy about posting their notices.

I have to say, I really like this. Some of you might remember that I’d started a newsletter, Latest In Spec, to pass along news about Christian speculative literature. While it was a good idea, I never made it work the way I envisioned. Too often the “news” was already old by the time it got into the hands of interested people, and to be honest, few people really like to read the personals. That’s what LIS was like.

Now at Spec Faith Facebook, we can include news tidbits in a timely manner. And far more people can become informed since friends of friends may also see the notices.

Today we have another development. CSFF Blog Tour is now on Facebook too. I’m excited about this opportunity to be more visible.

I want to see as many people learn about the tour as possible. I’m constantly finding a pocket of Christian speculative literature fans here and there, many who are still ignorant of the books that are out there for them to enjoy. Any new way of getting the word out is a plus as far as I’m concerned.

Published in: on December 10, 2010 at 6:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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What About Halloween?

My post at Speculative Faith yesterday was a reprisal of an article I first posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction more than two years ago. One commenter asked about the original piece I alluded to that had spurred my thoughts. So this morning I went to work with Google search (did you know you can customize the dates of your search? I just learned that today 😀 ).

In the process of hunting down the article that said disparaging things about C. S. Lewis, fantasy, and Narnia, I came across a host of other similar pieces. It was a little daunting.

One was written by a man who referred to himself as a former witch. He explained in some depth what certain scenes or lines from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe meant to those steeped in witchcraft.

Because of his past experience, I admit, I gave him much more latitude than some of the others. One woman said she’d been a Christian only five years when she saw the same book on the shelf of the library at her son’s Christian school and felt a “red flag” in her soul.

In case I haven’t admitted this here yet, I had a similar experience as a teacher. I saw a student reading a certain book (not one of the Narnia chronicles), and a “red flag” went up. The problem was, I was completely and utterly wrong. The book was not what I feared. At all.

But back to C. S. Lewis. The point that both these bloggers, and others I ran across, were missing is C. S. Lewis’s beliefs about myth. He loved myth before he became a Christian, and one of the tipping points in his conversion was a realization that Christianity told the True myth, that all the others were shadows of the Real story—hints, suggestions, partials, not the Complete. More than that, he believed that the True story redeemed all the other partials.

Consequently, Bacchus, a pagan figure used to symbolize winebibbing, among other things, when redeemed became an example of reveling in God’s creative work, His generous provision. He represented joy and laughter and celebration as God intended.

What does this have to do with Halloween? While I was running an errand (do we still say running when we drive? 😉 ), I was listening to a Christian radio station and the announcer or speaker (you can tell how closely I was listening) mentioned a pamphlet (I think) that discusses Halloween and magic. (Here’s where I became attentive).

Halloween, he said, is second only to Christmas for kids, but it is much more than dressing up and getting candy. This pamphlet would explain the pagan origins of the holiday and the meaning of much of what’s behind the celebration.

So there I was, thinking the people opposed to Narnia and these people peeking into the history of Halloween are thinking the same way. They’re thinking where it came from, not what God could make it.

I understand the Halloween issue from both sides. I grew up believing it was an innocent (though rather stupid) dress up day when you got candy. After all, witches were pretend and so were ghosts (my first costume was an old sheet with eye, nose, and mouth holes cut out).

But I also understand from the other side because I taught at a Christian school that had a strict policy against promoting Halloween. And the rationale was to keep kids from dwelling on the all-too-real dark arts that were fast making inroads in the culture.

Here’s my conclusion. This is a genuine, Biblical gray area. Some people really are in jeopardy because of their understanding and/or past involvement with paganism. For me to pooh-pooh where they are and to tell them how silly it is for them to be afraid of the pretend world of make-believe, is wrong. For them, putting on a witch mask may be too close to reality.

So if I’m right, and celebrating Halloween is a gray area, how then am I to behave? And what does all this have to do with reading books like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? I’ll try to address those questions next time, but please feel free to voice your opinions in the interim.

Standing Up For Magic

Monday being my regular blog day at Speculative Faith, I posted an article yesterday about magic (a reworking of three articles I’d first posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction nearly four years ago). One of the commenters (and fellow Spec Faith poster) Stephen Burnett recounted a question that came up at the recent ACFW Conference. Seems one of the conferees was asking how a Christian fantasy writer is to handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting. But here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … God’s work is miraculous, not magic, someone may well say. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Be that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

Published in: on September 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm  Comments (7)  
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Fantasy Friday – Speculative Faith

Some of you who have been visiting here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction for a while know about the team blog Speculative Faith—a site set up by Stuart Stockton to discuss speculative fiction from the perspective of our Christian faith.

A number of writers participated. For a time Karen Hancock wrote regularly. Bryan Davis did a short series. We had interviews with editors like Nick Harrison (Harvest House) and with writers like Robert Liparulo. We did reviews and had lengthy discussions about books and movies alike. In short, it was a wonderful success.

But gradually, one writer after the other began to pull back. We were a loose organization and no one filled those gaps or took the lead to insure that each day had content.

I was the last of the regulars, and then my computer crashed. When I was back up and running, I had so many things to catch up on, and Spec Faith was low on the priority list. Then the spam set in. When our core group still wanting to see Spec Faith work took a look at the site, the clean-up alone seemed daunting.

In the end, we agreed to start afresh at WordPress. This time Stephen Burnett took the lead and began transferring posts and designing the new site. We began posting a couple weeks ago, with Stephen doing most of the writing. The next step was to secure regular writers, but we also wanted to include a good selection of guests.

I’m happy to report that the schedule is coming together. I’ll once again be writing on Mondays. Stuart will post on Tuesdays. New to the team is Rachel Starr Thomson, writing on Wednesdays (though she may share the slot—this detail is still being worked out). Then Steven will post on Thursdays. Fridays are the designated Guest Blogger Days.

We have invitations (and some acceptances) out to a number of writers. It should be an exciting lineup. All this to say, you are hereby invited to stop on over at Speculative Faith (affectionately known as Spec Faith 😉 ) and join in the discussions. We also are on Facebook and Twitter, so we’d love to have you follow us or friend us on those sites as well.

The Christian and the Church

Recently Ann Rice made news (again) by announcing a shift (again) in her belief system. From her Facebook wall (July 28):

Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

Of course, by inference Ann is quitting the Church though she isn’t quitting Christ. But is that possible? Notice what Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
– Eph 2:19-22

I think it’s necessary to be clear about who is the “you” Paul was talking to. He makes that clear in the previous verses:

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
– Eph 2:13-16

The short answer to the question, Who is the “you” Paul is talking to? would be Jews and Gentiles alike who have been made new by the blood of Christ.

So I ask again, Is it possible to quit the Church and still be one with Christ?

Here are some things I learn about the Church from these verses in Ephesians:

  • A follower of Christ is a member of God’s household.
  • This household is built on the foundation of the Word of God (apostles and prophets).
  • Christ is the cornerstone.
  • The rest of us are being fit together.
  • The whole building is growing into a holy temple (it’s not a holy temple yet).
  • The local church (in this letter, the Ephesian church) is being built together into a dwelling of God.

So what happens when one part of this building decides not to be fitted together with the others? Is he rejecting the Cornerstone?

Not so long ago, books like So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore and They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations opened the exit doors for those who couldn’t wait to get clear of the Church. Or maybe they couldn’t wait to get clear of a church.

At any rate, Church bashing has become a bit of a fad, something soon-to-be-published writer Mike Duran has mentioned on his blog, including in his articles about Ann Rice (see part 1 and part 2).

I found it especially interesting, then, when I looked up an old hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” and found verse three (one I don’t remember singing often):

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her [the Church] sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder
By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.

Scorn, oppression, divisions, false teaching—it’s been with us for a very long time. But saints keep watch. I don’t know how you do that if you leave.

[For more discussion triggered by Ann Rice’s decision, read “No Rice at the Lord’s Wedding?—Part 1” over at Spec Faith’s new site.]

Published in: on August 10, 2010 at 11:12 am  Comments (4)  
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Fantasy Monday?

I suppose I could wait until Friday, but I think these important announcements warrant a special day.

First is the return of Speculative Faith, with a new address and a bit of a makeover. We’re happy to be back in business (though some of you may not have known we were away 😉 ) providing news and discussion about speculative fiction (the Speculative part of the name) from a Christian worldview (the Faith part of the name.)

If any of you have links to Spec Faith, please be sure to input the address change, and of course, I invite any others interested in the genre to add the link to your blogroll.

We’re still “in process.” We’ll plan to have a way for you to subscribe to the blog, and we’ll have accounts on Facebook and Twitter. All kinds of ways to keep tabs on speculative fiction.

Look for a post this week from Stephen Burnett about Anne Rice and her latest change of heart. (You did hear about that, didn’t you?)

Today at Spec Faith I cross-posted about the Clive Staples Award (see below). Though the content won’t be new, I invite you to stop by and give your feedback on the new look (and don’t forget, we’re in process).

Speaking of the 2010 Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction, here’s the latest (most of it) from the award site:

Voting begins today!

Please read these instructions carefully.

CSA is not a popularity contest. The award has been established to recognize the work of fiction which readers designate as the previous-year’s best. Consequently, voters must adhere to these basic rules.

  • You MUST have read at least two of the nominations.
  • You may vote only once for a first, second, and third choice.
  • You may not vote for the same book as your second or third option that you voted for as your first choice.
  • Your votes for second and third options may not be for the identical book.
  • You may mark the “none of these” option if you do not have a second or third choice.
  • Voting will close September 1, 2010.
  • Second and third choice options will only be considered if a clear winner is not determined by the first choice vote.

You’ll find the link to the ballot at the end of the award site post.

And if you haven’t read two of the nominations yet, you still have time since voting will continue throughout the month of August.

OK, back to your regular programing tomorrow. 😉

Buzzing Kids’ Books – The Year the Swallows Came Early

Announcements. I have an unusual number of these, so please bear with me. There is actual content below.

First, I participated in an email discussion about Christian speculative fiction, initiated by Mike Duran. He has posted the first part today at Novel Journey. (Warning: the discussion has taken a turn on a statement I made about what CBA’s target audience—women. Evidently my remark was controversial. Well, I hadn’t intended it to be so, but I’m pretty sure the comment I left, is! 😮 )

Second, I posted a review of an upcoming Marcher Lord Press release, By Darkness Hid at Speculative Faith which I hope you’ll take time to read.

And lastly, you’re invited to vote for the CSFF Blog Tour’s February Top Blogger.

– – –

The Children’s Book Blog Tour, of which I am a member, is featuring Kathryn Fitzmaurice‘s debut novel, The Year the Swallows Came Early.

Tomorrow I’ll give a full review of the book, but today I want to think a little bit about what makes a character draw readers in, perhaps even become memorable.

Eleanor Robinson, AKA Groovy, is just such a character. I found she drew me into the story on the first page:

We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence. But that wasn’t enough to keep my daddy from going to jail the year I turned eleven. I told my best friend, Frankie, that it was hard to tell what something was like on the inside just by looking at the outside. And that our house was like one of those See’s candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice.

So here’s what I learned about Groovy, even before I knew her name. She considered her house perfect. Her father went to jail. She has a best friend who evidently is a boy. She thinks about things more deeply than you’d expect an eleven year old to think and even came to a wise, truthful conclusion. And she doesn’t like coconut.

Only that last part is a negative, as far as I am concerned. That her father went to jail makes me feel sad for her, and curious about why. That she has a boy best friend makes me think she’s not a spoiled-princess type. And that she’s likable enough to have a best friend. The coconut thing, I think she’s just wrong, but I’m willing to let that slide because I know there’s a whole set of people out there who don’t like coconut.

A little further into the story, I learn that Groovy had a special relationship with her father and that her mother loves her. I learn that those two facts seem to be in conflict and maybe in doubt. That she suddenly feels like she doesn’t know one of her parents as she always thought makes her even more sympathetic.

I also learn that she has One Great Desire and a particular talent. Before too long, she comes to realize that others have a similar passion to hers and this changes the way she perceives those of like mind. OK, I’m trying intentionally to be circumspect because I don’t want to give away too much of the story. The point is, Groovy doesn’t have a closed mind.

Eventually she shows that she is also kind, that she appreciates others for their kindness. In other words, she’s aware of others at the character level.

Is she perfect? Not at all. She makes some independent decisions that lead her into a real tailspin, and while it looks for a time as if she might get stuck, she makes another change that is probably the best of all, one that just might make her a memorable character.

I invite you to see what others on the Children’s Book Blog Tour have to say about The Year the Swallows Came Early:

Fantasy Friday – Faith and Fiction

There’s a phrase that appears on judge sheets for some Christian fiction contests: “faith elements.” The term recently came up again in an online discussion. I have to say, that phrase bugs me. It makes “faith” sound like some part of the fiction that needs to be crafted in, as the setting should be or the opening hook.

Pre-blog, when I was spending a lot of my time discussing fiction over on the Faith in Fiction board, I used to claim that the neglect of creating intentional themes led to tacked on “faith elements.” Perhaps.

But as I thought about the question, What are the “faith elements” in my story, I had to answer, all of it, and none of it. All of it, because the story (talking about my short stories as well as The Lore of Efrathah) is centered upon faith. It is foundational. Without the “faith element” there would be no story.

Yet there is no “element,” as in one particular, identifiable article. For example, in The Lore of Efrathah, I have created a world that has no religion. There is no God as our culture thinks of Him. A number of my short stories are similar.

As I thought about this, and how different my stories are to those of the writers discussing “faith elements,” I got to wondering if the difference isn’t one of the ways fantasy differs from contemporary fiction.

Over at Spec Faith, one of our contributors, Stephen Burnett, initiated a terrific discussion because of a review of The Dark Knight. (Just as he did some weeks earlier with a review of The Shack.) One visitor, an atheist, brought up some theological questions that some of those engaged in the discussion backed away from initially. But this commenter pressed the point with this:

the issues raised by the literature [discussed] on this blog [do] tend to raise these very fundamental issues [the origin of the universe; evolution; the existence or not of a good, omnipotent God; the origins of evil; suffering; and so on]

Did you catch that? Not issues raised by the blog. Issues raised by the literature discussed on the blog—science fiction and fantasy. There seems to be an awareness by those in society at large that speculative fiction does more than reality fiction.

As I close in on the end of The Lore of Efrathah (the first revision of the final book), I am more aware than ever of the awesome potential for fantasy to tell the whole truth, to be More Real than reality fiction. To produce an entire faith story, not just a single element.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 4:33 pm  Comments (4)  
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