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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

God in Fantasy

Warning: Another long post!
This is a concept I've struggled with for several years. In the beginning of my fantasy writing, my writing of God (or Enderel) was clunky and, to be frank, quite juvenile. I can't say I've grown much in my depiction of God in a fantasy world, but I wanted to share a few thoughts I have had.
One of our main concerns as Christian fantasy authors is that our message be presented clearly so that any unbelievers (we're hoping our books will become New York Times bestsellers) who read our stories will be converted, or at the least convicted. On the other hand, we don't want to be preachy. Two good examples of preachy Christian fantasy are The Binding of the Blade series, and the Blood of Kings trilogy. Both of those series are very unwieldy in their depiction of God (and, in Blood of Kings, of Jesus), and are literally quite painful to get through the preachy parts.
So that's why I've always been afraid to include an actual representation of God in my stories (though I have done it, in Amira for example), because when I myself read over it, it seems badly written and very forced, as though I'm saying, "Well, this is supposed to be Christian fantasy, and I'm a Christian, so I've got to include God, no matter how unconvincing it may sound."
Of course, I'm not thinking that. I truly want to have God, the true one and only God, in my stories. My fears also go beyond that, to making all the good guys 'believers in Enderel', and all the bad guys unbelievers. This is going to sound really corny, because in real life, there are good men who don't believe in God, and bad men who do. Not only that, but there are those who say they believe in the one God, but really believe in a false god. How are we going to explain all this tricky stuff in our books, while trying to remain focused on the actual story we're telling?
Another thing is that many people believe that in a story with God in it, He will give his followers the power to do just about anything, and God becomes little more than a 'god from the machine' or 'Deus ex Machina', in other words, a convenient way of escape for the good guys, which kind of negates the whole purpose for there even being a story.
And how do we convey Jesus death and resurrection, and His atonement? It would have to be different from what happened in our world, but similar, as in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
I conclude that Christian fantasy is a lot more complicated than most of us thought it was when we first began writing it. I know I never thought it could be this complex. The theological questions it raises are many and varied. Perhaps we should just throw down our pens and not write it anymore. No one will read it anyways. (Be quiet, Puddleglum! I've got more to say!)
Perhaps there's a way to write it without God being present in a stated way, but still there (the book of Esther comes to mind). But then we put ourselves under suspicion by other Christians for not including God in our books.
One thing that's helped me a lot in my debate over how present God should be (in an experiential way, where the characters know He is there) is a simple argument that I thought of not too long ago.
So many non-Christian fantasy writers are willing to either not include God at all, or include a distortion of Him (His Dark Materials, for one). People will just go right along with this. They can be vocal in their diatribes against God. Why can't we be vocal in our conviction that there is a God, that He is all powerful, just, holy, and yet loving and merciful, and that He can be a central part of our writing?
In 'His Dark Materials', God is simply an angel who claimed that he had created the world (in other words, lied), and in the end he basically begs to be annihilated.
Not many unsaved people are going to be reading our books, most likely (no, I'm not being pessimistic here, it's just a fact), but there will be some. I really, really want to write fantasy where there is a God, but it's not preachy. He drives the story, yes, but He doesn't have to speak with a voice from the sky (even in the Bible, it happened rarely enough). Dreams are a better way to go, but even that can be overused. In the Bible, prophets were basically the only ones to whom God communicated directly.
We need to be creative (and theologically sound) in the way we portray God. How do people know about Him if He doesn't speak audibly most of the time (or at all in the particular story)?  What is the redemptive analogy (click here for an article on this subject) of your world? There may be one true story of the redemption, and then in other cultures there are shadows of that story, which itself is a shadow of the true redemption made by Christ.
It's tricky, I know, and I'm still navigating this myself. How could one aspect of our fantasy have so much depth and so many implications? I think, however, that it's just as important an aspect as character development or world building. And, as Christians, we must strive not only for soundness in theology (even in fantasy!), but also for excellence in the way it's presented. We cannot, we must not, write as though God were merely a sticker on top of a fine painting, a painting which would look much better without the sticker. God must be integral to the story, yet presented without the preachiness which so often makes parts of an otherwise good story cringe-worthy.
Anyone have any thoughts?

NOTE: I don't agree with everything in the article I linked to. I mostly linked it so that ya'll could get an idea of what a redemptive analogy is. Maybe I'll write in-depth about it some time, because I think it's a really good concept, and could be helpful to us as C-F writers.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Joy Light

I came up with the Joy Light some time in 2009, I believe. It came about as a sort of counterpart to the Ramariya, which were several beautiful jewels that were made by a sorcerer. The Ramariya seized people with intense greed and a desire to have the jewels; to get them, most people would do anything, no matter how unethical.
So, one day I was in church, waiting for the sermon to start, and into my mind came the words 'the Joy Light'. I can't remember what I'd been thinking about, but I quickly scribbled the name down on a piece of paper. At first, I thought it would be a sword, but then I had the idea of making it a jewel that had been made by Enderel for his followers, that would put courage and joy into their hearts, especially in battle. The Ramariya were made as mockery of the Joy Light, and obviously were completely opposite in nature, though at first glance they looked similar.
I wrote a whole lot of little bits about the Ramariya and the Joy Light, but I thought I'd post an excerpt from a story I had been writing a while back, but never finished.
Gaelrin is the young king, and he is at war with an emperor who is actually a powerful sorcerer in disguise. Before the war began, a sword was found as some men were mining, and it was given to Gaelrin. He began to become more and more attached to it, until he could not go a minute without having it by him. Here's the explanation I had written:

Several weeks passed, and those closest to King Gaelrin noticed that he wore his sword more and more often. At first, he had worn a sword only on ceremonial occasions, but now he wore it almost all the time. He fingered it when he spoke, though he rarely looked at it directly. Some of them began to whisper that it had become a part of him. "It is a sign," the lord chancellor said. "It is a sign that war is near." "How is that?" asked the chief advisor. "Well, in the old stories," the chancellor said, lowering his voice. "The king always has a sense that something is about to happen. Maybe he doesn't realize it conciously, but he begins to prepare for it anyways. Sometimes, it might be prepared for in a small thing like wearing a sword more often, as in our king's case." "I don't think that that is the reason," the advisor said. He glanced around to make sure no one was near, and lowered his own voice. "He seems to be attached to it, somehow. It began, after all, when he got this new sword. It's like he's always gripping it, or touching it, when he talks. Like...like, well, I don't know. It just seems to me that he depends on it or something. And I don't like it."
At first, he had worn the sword merely because it was beautiful. Then, as time went on, he would almost impulsively wear it. If he resisted the impulse, and went about his regular duties, he felt greatly weakened, and very drowsy as well. After a time, it was no longer an impulse but a habit. As the advisor had said, he felt attached to it. Not attached as one might be to an object of affection or even liking, but just fastened, as if he could not become unfastened. The longer he wore the sword, the longer he felt, without knowing it articulately, that he could not be without it for even a moment. Yet he himself found nothing strange in it, for he did not know what it was. If he had, then he would have been very afraid indeed.

So, here's the scene:
Gaelrin awoke suddenly in the night and felt around for the sword which he kept always in it's sheath. It was gone. He leapt up from the bed and struck a light, startling the guard outside the tent. 
"Your Majesty?" 
"Where is my sword?" asked the king angrily. "Has anyone entered this tent?" 
"No, Sire," the guard replied, sounding very assured of himself. "Of course not." 
The king fell back on the bed, very weakened. He felt as if he had been wounded and lost a lot of blood. Tradian was summoned, and he saw Gaelrin, who had always been strong and healthy, hardly able to move. 
"Sire," he said, bending down and taking the king's hand. "Sire, are you ill?" 
Gaelrin's voice was a mere whisper as he said, 
"I don't know." 
Tradian bit his lip, and called for the physician, who came as quickly as he could. He examined the king all over, and found nothing at all. He asked him questions, but could hardly hear the feeble replies. Shaking his head worriedly, the physician stood and left the tent, telling Tradian to stay with the king no matter what, and to notify him of any change.
For Gaelrin, this was a terror far worse than the battle he had fought. To have been strong and well one moment, and then to be so extremely weak the next. If it was illness, it was of a most strange kind, for he did not feel ill but powerless: as if all the will to do even the smallest thing had left him when the sword did. He was too tired to even connect this in his mind. He could hardly move, and thinking was becoming less and less easy for him.
As Gaelrin lay hardly able to move or speak, he fell asleep. Even his dreams were heavy and confused, and he felt the slow passage of time in them, until the very end. At the end, a clear light shone into his dreaming mind as from somewhere else, and he heard the sounds of battle. All he saw was the light, but he heard a voice which said to him, 
"Gaelrin, arise and fight." 
"I cannot," he said with an effort. "I cannot even awake." 
"Gaelrin, king of the Three Countries," the voice said again. "Arise and fight." 
Then a hand from the brightness reached out to him, and to his surprise he was able to grasp it. He felt himself pulled up onto his feet, and something was thrust into his hand as the hand itself was withdrawn. He looked down and saw a shining stone in his hand, and realized that it was this which had made the light, or else something very like it. It was of all colors of the rainbow, and it held in it the grey mist of morning; the blue and foam of the wave; the gold of the sun; the green glass of a still pond; and the joy of the morning after a night of fear. And he caught his breath as he gazed at it: for surely here was the Joy-Light, the jewel which Enderel had made long ago and which gave joy and gladness to the one who possessed it, and to all those around him. And, suddenly, he was no longer in the dream at all, but standing on the ground in his tent, with Tradian staring at him in amazement. And well he might stare, for the whole tent was lit as by the sun, yet with a different kind of light. It's rays glowed warm and bright in the king's hand, and fell upon his face, causing it to shine with joy and wonder. 
"Sire," Tradian said, at last, in an eager, shining voice (for everything shone). "There is a battle going on. Shall we join it?" 
"Certainly," the king said. "If you can find me another sword." 
"But you are wearing one," the servant said, pointing to the sheath. 
And Gaelrin looked and saw that a sword was there: it's hilt and guard and pommel were of plain silver, except for a single small diamond on it, which caught the rays of the Joy-Light and threw them back in a thousand hues on the wall of the tent. "Come," Gaelrin said, striding out of the doorway.

So, that's what the Joy Light is. Hope ya'll enjoyed it! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Emotions in Fiction

First off, thanks to Mary for this post, which inspired me to write my own post about the emotions we give our characters.
I've read very few stories, short or novel-length, where emotions are realistic and make you empathize with the character. Either you've got the super-dramatic stories, where you're surprised the book doesn't come with it's own waterproof jacket to protect it from the tears (of the characters), or else they swing over to the left and the characters are unrealistically mature and level-headed, even in the midst of terrible tragedy.
So, how are we to make our characters have emotions that actually make the reader sympathize with them? Obviously, the old adage 'Write what you know', won't work in situations where you're writing about someone whose whole family has just been killed. Most of us haven't gone through that (I hope!). So, where do we look to find how our character would respond?
I think, first of all, we have to kind of get a feel for the character. Is he usually very quiet and reserved? Or is he constantly in the middle of the action, giving brave speeches and fighting valiantly? Does he say a whole lot in a few words, or is he dramatic and overblown? Even Aragorn wept when Boromir died, and Aragorn is a stern, fairly silent man.
Also, we can be fairly certain that the emotions portrayed in novels and TV shows are unrealistic in the extreme. Take the Little House on the Prairie episodes. I've seen very few that don't make me feel like I've just been spoon fed a whole bottle of over-sweetened syrup. Everything is calculated to manipulate the viewer into sympathizing, but usually I just go, "Oh, good grief! Give me a break! That is so unrealistic!"
In one of the episodes, Laura gives birth to a boy. Not long afterwards, the baby becomes sick, and Doc Baker (one of my favorite characters on the show usually) tries to save him. When the baby dies, Laura becomes angry with the Doc, and the Doc begins to believe that he's of no use and packs his bag to leave Walnut Grove. All the angst and silly overacting is just too much. And then, of course, the Doc is convinced to stay after he saves the life of some other person. Deus ex machina is all well and good at times, but in Little House, it's done just about every time. And another thing is the theme music, which is perfectly fine at the beginning of the episode, but just when it comes to the most 'intense and joyful' moment, that moment when tears of joy come into the character's eyes and they run dramatically (it should be in slow motion to heighten the drama) towards someone else, and the orchestra is playing the variation of the theme music, you just kind of groan like you've eaten too much candy.
I certainly don't want my characters to imitate movie characters.
I think the safest way to do emotions are to kind of think a while about what it would be like if such-and-such happened to you that is happening to so-and-so in your story. Of course, it makes a difference if the character is male or female. A woman is more likely to cry, while a man gives vent to his grief in words or silence perhaps. But that doesn't mean none of your men can cry, or that none of your women can sort of keep it in and shed only a few tears. But you have to make sure that the reader knows how deep the sorrow is through the thoughts of the character. I hate referencing my own work, since it makes me feel as though I'm holding it up as the greatest thing ever, but I will anyways.
I just wrote short story called 'Amira', and it was one of those stories that I like a whole lot. You can read it here. There are spoilers in the next paragraph, just to warn you.

 I have told it from the first person point of view, and as much as possible I've tried to keep it from getting sappy.
So, how did I do it? First, I had been mulling over the story in my mind for several days. I know a lot of people work better by putting it in an outline, but I think about things for a long time before I actually start writing it. It was one of those stories that seemed to spring almost fully written from my fingers to the computer screen.
But how do I write the emotions of someone whose husband is dying, whose parents have died (one in a terrible way), and who is about to die herself? I've never experienced any of those things myself, so I basically had to try to experience them through the MC. So there are flashbacks and a lot of her thoughts.
Another thing I was able to draw on was a book I'd read: 'Lords of the Earth'. It was a missionary story about these tribes in Papua New Guinea, I believe, where the women were treated horribly. They were not allowed to participate in the religion of the tribes, and their husbands were basically allowed to just do whatever they wanted to them. There were these temples that a man could run to, and, if he reached one in time, even his enemies would not touch him. But, if a woman tried to escape from her enemies by going there, her own tribesmen would kill her. The suicide rate for women was extremely high because they were so oppressed. So, that gave me a good starting place as well.
You can well imagine that in the place where 'Amira' is set, female suicide is pretty high. Who would want their husband to die first in a place like that?
Bother, I feel like I'm not being very clear here. I hope this isn't a waste of my time and yours, because I wonder if I've actually said anything that's worth reading, or if it's basically been an unintelligible post. If it has been, then I ask pardon in advance.
So, basically, we're back to the starting point, which is: make your characters' emotions realistic. Try to get into their shoes and see how they (or most anybody, really) would respond to something. It's often the character's thoughts, not their words aloud, that speak the most about what they are feeling at the moment. This is all the easier if writing in first person, but there are difficulties with that POV as well. Anyways, hope this helped. The next post will be about something easier for me to write about: the Joy Light.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Magic is a touchy subject for a lot of us Christians. I know for me, at least, I've never been able to think of the right way to handle it so that the good guys could wield it. So, the other night I was kind of just mulling over a villain I have in Red Sea Rising, Lord Marthos. I was considering the magic he has, where it comes from, etc.
Then, it was like the light came on all of a sudden. Let's see if I can put this all straight, because I think it's good.
Ok, of course in our world what is called magic is wrong. Hands off! Ouija boards, tarot cards, fortune telling, etc, as well as blood rituals and voodoo, are just plain evil.
But, as I've seen pointed out elsewhere, even in our world we have the miracles of God that may seem like magic to some people. And in The Archives of Anthropos, a series of Christian fantasy written in the 80s and 90s, the good guys wield power from God, which is basically 'good magic'.
So, here's my thoughts:
There is good and bad magic. The bad magic comes from rituals, 'spirits', spells, etc. Things have to be done before anything will happen, and it has to be learned.
The good magic comes from Enderel (my name for God the Son). It may be in an object, such as the Joy Light (hey, subject for my next post!), or it may come directly from Enderel to the person, or it may be something they were born with (I'll have to think on that aspect a bit more before I decide to use it).
I remember a good quote from C. S. Lewis that went something like this: 'Magic is not the way in which quacks pretend and fools believe they control the elements. It is instead, "This is a magical flower. Take it with you, and the seven gates will open of their own accord." '
Magic in a fantasy world is a tool, in a way. A sword can be used for good or ill. So can magic. Enderel's magic can be used rightly, or twisted. All evil magic is just that: twistings or imitations of the true power which comes from Enderel alone.
And, as with any other tool, there are clearly defined boundaries that can't be crossed. Just because the power is different does not mean it can be used amorally, or immorally, without consequences.
The Arvindians, having fled from a sorcerer, are very suspicious of any kind of magic. They would rather just leave it completely alone. A lot like many Christian fantasy writers :) A lot like me, before now.
So, all of you who are unsure or leery about the good guys using magic in your stories, remember: fantasy has fantastic elements. We can't redefine moral boundaries, but we can use magic to make the grass grow, or to put courage in the hearts of men, or to raise a fallen fortress. All of these things can be accomplished (to some degree at least) without magic: the sun and rain make things grow, heroic deeds and words can inspire, and men can build a ruined edifice.
Take courage, and let's use even the magic in our stories to the glory of God, and not make it an amoral thing as it is in Harry Potter. And let's make sure we stay within the God-ordained bounds.
What are ya'lls thoughts on magic?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Author Interview--Mary Pursselley

Hello, everyone! I am excited to bring you the first author interview of this blog. Our guest is Mary Purrselley, a young lady and homeschool graduate. I very much enjoy her writing, and you can check it out in the links below the interview.
And thank you to Mary for agreeing to be interviewed (although I'm sure she had just as much fun as I did doing it)

*Drum roll*
The Interview

Welcome, Mary!
When did you first begin writing? I don't mean, writing with publishing in mind, just scribbling stories in notebooks when you wre six or something like that.
Honestly, I don't remember ever not creating stories in my imagination. But as far as actually writing them down goes, I guess age six was when it first started--on primary notepaper in colored pencil.

So, do you remember the first completed story you wrote, whether five or a hundred pages?
The first story I ever remember completing was about eight or ten pages long, I think, but I did my own illustrations which took up at least half of each page. I don't really remember what the plot was (it might not have had one), but I do remember that the main character was a baby moose named Mindy.

What's your approach to 'moralizing' in your stories? Do you just assume the reality of God, or do you have your characters debate about it at times?
You know in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Aslan says that he is in our world too, he just has a different name? That's the principle I work off of in building fictional worlds. God is the same God in every world. He has different names, and different ways of manifesting Himself, but He is still the same God of the Bible. Now, that doesn't mean that all of my characters believe in or follow Him, but it does mean that He is the Creator, He is in control, and everything that happens is part of His plan.

Yes! I love Voyage of the Dawn Treader! What is the name for God that you use in your stories?
In Reyem, the world where where my current work in progress is set, God's name is Azor (or Hazur, depending on what country you're from), but He is commonly referred to as The Shield, kind of like we refer to God as The Lion of Judah. And the 'Christians' in that world are called the Protected.

What novel are you currently writing for publication?
The title is Son of The Shield, and it's an epic fantasy, first in a series of seven. It's currently in what I hope is the final stage of editing, and (God willing) I would like to start talking with editors/publishers about it this fall.

What role does feminism or the lack thereof play in your stories?
Wow--great question! The whole feminist mindset and attitude really bother me. In my writing, I do my best to follow the Bible's outlines for women's roles in society and family. That's not to say my female characters can't get out there and take part in the action--no way! In Son of The Shield, for instance, I have a female character who is a diplomat, and a female character who's a prophetess. 'My girls' get themselves into all kinds of adventures, just like the male characters do, and I think women in real life should be able to buckle down and deal with problems. But, there is not total equality between men and women either. In Adelfia, the country where Son of The Shield takes place, women are not allowed to join the military, or hold political authority (serving as a political diplomat is the exception). Deborah (in the book of Judges), Anna (the prophetess in the New Testament), and godly women like them are kind of my inspiration for the female characters I write. 

What's another example of how Son of the Shield differs from most contemporary fantasy?
Well, of course it's openly Christian, which automatically separates it from the vast majority of fantasy. But, within the Christian fantasy world, I think Son of the Shield and the series following it are unique because they don't just tell the story of something that happens in a God-based fantasy world. They are the story of the God-based fantasy world. Each book tells its own individual story, but together they tell the story of God's (or, in this case, Azor's) overarching plan; not just the stories of the people in the world, but also the story of the world as a whole.

If you could choose to be one character from anything you've written, who would it be?
Oh boy, that is an insanely hard question to answer! I really love my character Shekiah; she has such a beautiful spirit. But, she was also a really horrible person for the first thirty-some years of her life, so I don't know if I'd want to be her. I guess if I had to choose one character to be, it would be Lhia Oroash, from Son of The Shield (she also makes appearances in later books in the series). She's just a really bright, sweet, gentle personality, very wise and intuitive.

Alright, cliche question time! Which author has influenced your fantasy writing the most?
Well, my answer is going to sound cliche too, but honestly C.S. Lewis is probably my biggest influence in writing. I just love the fact that he was a writer and wrote great works of classic fantasy literature, but he was also a scholar and wrote amazing theological works. Most importantly, he always had something to say. He never 'talked' just to hear his own voice. That's a gift I admire and hope to develop in my own life.

Thank you, Mary, I've really enjoyed this. I hope to see your writings on bookshelves and Kindle someday soon. Keep writing!

Mary's writings can be found on
Apricot Pie
Avenir Eclectia (Science Fiction)
Falls the Shadow (As Co-author)
She also blogs at The Writer's Lair

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Winged Horses of Belvia

Before you read this one, you should probably read the post about Belvia that I made recently.
Also, two things I forgot to mention. The language that the dwarves in Belvia speak is really that of the winged horses.
And the dwarves believe that the spirits of the horses bless Belvia (see below), and that is how they are able to make such wonderful things that they weren't able to make in Erasthinia.

The winged horses are said to be descended from the legendary heroic winged horse Belvi (BELL-vye). Belvi and his sons fought off dragons from the first dwarves who landed in Belvia, and have ever afterwards been revered (and often worshipped) especially by the dwarves, but also by many humans as well. The winged horses can speak and are regarded as highly intelligent. They live an average of twenty-seven years. They mostly stay to themselves in the Gorrian Caves, where the direct descendant of Belvi rules over them. When one of the horses dies, he is carried up into the air by four others and then lowered ceremonially into the sea. It is believed by some Belvians that the soul of the horse returns to the land to bless the inhabitants.