Category Archives: Opinion

Robert Treskillard’s Merlin’s Nightmare, more thoughts

merlinsnightmareIs the King Arthur saga so well-worn in our imaginations that we don’t have room for something more on it? Becky Miller has raised this question.

I say there’s room for new imagination. In Robert Treskillard’s trilogy The Merlin Spiral, concluding with Merlin’s Nightmare (which I reviewed here), the author has got some fresh new takes on the characters. Merlin is a blind, lovesick teenager, and Gwenivere is a gypsy. The sword in the stone … well, I won’t spoil it for you. There’s something really wild about that stone, too!

He is able to take us back to Britain in the years after the Romans withdrew, based on a vast foundation of historical research that makes the settings and situations ring true. His Britain is a far cry from the false medieval setting envisioned by early writers of these stories.

In Merlin’s Nightmare, we see a disaster for the Britons unfold. Where they had lived as a majority, many or most of them are overcome by enemies including the Saxons, leaving the survivors a rag-tag band. This group, we expect, will seek to regain their place under King Arthur in future books.

But we know how the story ends: the Anglo-Saxons took over all the Britons’ lands except for Wales and (in France) Brittany.  That’s the thing about writing the Arthurian legend: we know the main characters, and we know how it all ends. But … do you have room for new imaginings here? I do.

Here are the two movie trailers for the first book (and thus the trilogy). The first is from Zondervan, the publisher; the second from the author:

Brad Roth, South American writer?

The Roth family in Peru

I was intrigued by the wonderful book I reviewed yesterday, Rumi and the Savage Mountain by Bradley Roth. Its protagonist is a boy who lives in a village in the Andes mountains, and it’s very convincingly told. In addition, it has plenty of what looks like magical realism to me, a genre invented by South American writers.  So how did such a book come to be written by a gringo with a name like Bradley Roth? So I asked him some questions:

1. Have you heard of magical realism? If so do you consider this book to be in this genre?

Yes, I have heard of magical realism.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende come to mind.  My experience with Marquez or Allende is that their magical realism uses the absurd to pique our moral imagination.  My writing is set in the mythical Andes, drawing from authentic Andean myths and legends, though modified a bit to fit in a few things, like the faith of Tayta Siwar or the story about Junior’s dad.  It’s a different way of looking at the world, but it’s not intentionally absurd as I see magical realism being.

2. Do you envision adults reading your book as well as kids?

Yes, but I’ve tried to gear my story toward the 8-12 set.

3. How were you able to get into the head of someone who lives such a different life from that of the average American?

Great question.  We recently returned from a year of missionary service with Eastern Mennonite Missions in the Cuzco, Peru.  We were based in the city, but as part of our work we travelled out to extremely rural villages.  We got a taste of what life was like in the mountains.  During our time in Cuzco, we also studied Quechua.  A few Quechua words pop up in the story.  And I’m interested in Andean culture, folk beliefs, and history.

If you’re interested, you can read more about our journey in Peru at www.Facebook.com/rothsinperu

I would also add that the voice of the characters is intentionally a bit anachronistic.  Rumi, Kiya, and Junior talk a little like kids in 21st century US.

4. Does Rumi live in Peru?

It could be Peru, or any place in the Andes.  It’s my imagining of life shortly after the Inca Empire was overthrown by the Spaniards–except that creatures out of myth are alive and well and walking about.  And there’s a bit of alternative history woven into the background: the Lamb was born into the Andes, and the faith centered in his life and way is embodied by the Taytas.

5. What literature do you like to read?

I like fantasy and sci-fi that takes questions of faith seriously. There’s scant little of it.  I read Narnia when I was a kid.  Ursula LeGuinn’s Earthsea series and Mary Doria Russell’s Sparrow and Children of God books strike me.  I would like to find compelling fantasy that takes Christian  nonviolence seriously.  I’m working on that.

CSFF bloggers like The Monster in the Hollows

Checking around on the websites of others on this blog tour, I’m finding that others really like or love this book too: The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson, Christian fantasy for middle grade and up.

Often, the third book in a sequential series will meet flagging interest. After all, to fully enjoy it, readers should also read Books 1 and 2. But in this case, many readers are saying they really like the book even though they haven’t read the first two books.

It’s the aspect of heroism, I think. The heroic deeds that are mentioned really resonate with us. And of course the book is very well written!

In the words of fellow blog tour blogger Gillian Adams,

“It is a tale of great depth.  … It is a tale that sings… It is a tale that rings true.”

See source

Some Thoughts

An author recently sent me a middle-grade fiction book to review. I read it and declined to review it. But I wanted to offer some thoughts on it.

The book, which I am not going to name, has the rousing approval of the reviewers of the world. It has a mainstream publisher. The reviewers find it hard to put down, and a great study in character development. One called it “an action-filled survival story aimed at middle grade readers.”

It is all those things, but it’s also very dark. It reminds me of Lord of the Flies, actually. There is such a bleak view of human nature, and not enough in the way of redemptive themes–although there is one character who prays and whose influence is for the good. In fact I cannot imagine my sons picking this up and reading it for fun. They’d read it if a teacher made them, of course, and would identify the themes, and the character development, and so on. All that is very well done.

I love books that aim for joy.

I am hoping to review books that my kids would read for fun. So I’ll let the other folks review the ones the kids would have to read for school.

Lawhead On Tour

I decided to look at what the other Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy bloggers are saying about Stephen Lawhead’s novel Tuck.

Jill Williamson offers a nice summary of the previous two books in the series.  This is a good place to start.

I was amazed to discover that this series has a “sound track”! Here is what Rachel Starr Thompson had to say:

“I also recommend paying a visit to the independent record label Ark Music , home of Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning. Before I ever read The Paradise War , I listened to the music inspired by it — and Johnson and Dunning have been writing and releasing music based on Lawhead’s work ever since. It’s gorgeous stuff.”  It’s eerie music. You can check it out on the Ark site.

Beth Goddard has an interview with Lawhead, da Man. It’s not recent, but hey, it’s very detailed, and tells you what is thinking about his characters.

Since the bloggers on this tour are Christians (many of them writers of Christian science fiction and fantasy), and since this book focuses on Tuck, a priest, there is plenty of conversation about Tuck’s faith, and the faith of the other characters.   Keanan Brand found Tuck’s faith to be woven into the story, not preachy. Tim Hicks calls Tuck “a firm believer in the power of prayer.” Nevertheless, he’s ready with his staff when battle arrives.  “Through it all, Tuck is a pacifist before the fight and a head-basher during it,” says Steve Rice.

It’s not just Tuck who has faith. Other characters are doing their best to live out their faith too.  Becky Miller points out that the false religious ideas and the true ones are presented side-by-side, with no heavy-handed comment from the author–it’s up to the reader to discern. John W. Otte finds the variety of Christian viewpoints to be enriching.

Rachel Starr Thompson has such a way with words. She said it this way:

“Faith is a very real force in Tuck. Nearly every character claims it, be he villain or hero, priest or Norman soldier or Welsh king. Most believe themselves to be on God’s side—or at least sincerely hope they are—and most are wrong in some respect. God is on His own side, after all. But the men and women of Lawhead’s eleventh-century Britain never make the modern mistake of thinking that God is not involved at all.”

So, what genre are we in? Lawhead seems to have moved from fantasy to historic fiction in recent years. What is he up to?  Brandon Barr answers that question with a quote he fished out of Lawhead’s Web site: “I don’t see strong boundaries between SF, fantasy or historical novels, at least not as I’m writing them. Regardless of the particular genre, I am trying to evoke a sense of wonder through the story.”

Everybody agreed that the story is a worthy one, written by a master.

Check out the posts of the others!

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Keanan Brand
Rachel Briard
Grace Bridges
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Terri Main
Margaret
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Caleb Newell
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Epic Rat
Steve Rice

Crista Richey
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Some Thoughts on Blaggard’s Moon

This month’s Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour involves a number of bloggers writing about the novel Blaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivka. Here’s what some of them are saying:

Chawna Schroeder is concerned that the story doesn’t have a proper hero, one that the reader can bond with. Delaney is the story teller, and is off center stage for most of the book. Damrick functions as the hero, performing daring deeds, but he’s got clay feet–we can see his motivations of “self-preservation, anger, mercilessness, and vengeance-type attitudes.”  Then Jenta, the heroine, is “driven by the story rather than driving it.”

(In short, it’s a story about sinners. But I agree, we readers don’t get that close to Damrick.)

On this topic, Rachel Starr Thompson says she thinks the distance gives Damrick and Jenta a mythic quality.

Chawna identifies two themes:
* reaping what you sow, and
* learning to live so as to die without regrets.  (I would reword this as learning to change for the better.)
The resulting tale, balancing these two, is a dark one, she finds.  (I agree that this book has many dark moments. )

Rachel Starr Thompson comments on the sadness aspect too. She finds it “a lament for a world gone wrong, for a world where good people can suffer while evil men prosper. It’s the lament of Ecclesiastes and Job and some of the Psalms, and like them it asks us to find hope in the goodness of God while never asking us to pretend that hope negates the sadness.”  (Well said, I say.)

Personally, I like a book whose characters learn to lean on Jesus, so to speak. I don’t see that happening in this book overtly.  But as they shift, learning to make right choices no matter what the consequence, a Christian can identify the work of the Holy Spirit.

Others have mentioned that they find this book to be in some other genre besides fantasy. It’s a sea tale set in another land. There’s no magic.  It has a very historical air to it, with myriad details.

So, read this book!  Tell me what you think!

Check out the other CSFF blog tour participants :
Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Melissa Carswell
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Magma
Margaret
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespack
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Master of the genre: J.K. Rowling

The Masters: J.K. Rowling

The third and final fantasy master of our time I am naming as J.K. Rowling, for her Harry Potter series.  However, I hope you discuss worldview and witchcraft with your teens when you talk about these books.

When the Harry Potter books first started coming out, many Christians were concerned that these books would draw kids into the world of Wicca and ouija boards by making witchcraft appear desirable.  It wasn’t crystal clear then whether Harry, the young wizard, was really on the light side. Or was he learning the occult?

However, as the series matured, it became apparent that Rowling’s is another fantasy world, not related to the principalities and powers discussed in the Bible. Like other fantasy works, there is a deeply evil (and memorable) bad guy. There is also a young, fumbling protagonist who works for good and who eventually gets more adept at it. It is clear that Rowling’s worldview is a moral one.

Along the way, Harry Potter does use incantations and so on, which are bound to make us Christians nervous if we are aware of the Biblical ban on witchcraft in Leviticus 19:26 & 31. This would be a great thing to discuss with your teens: what exactly is it that God is forbidding in consulting mediums and necromancers? Where is the idolatry?

At the same time, Harry’s use of words as instruments of power is an echo of Biblical truth.  God creates using words.  Jesus is described as the Word made Flesh. There is something we can learn or re-learn here, and that is that our words, what we say, really do matter.

Another reason some Christians object to Harry Potter is because he attains some great powers. Is he becoming godlike?  Will this aspect lead our kids astray somehow?

Well, the Superman comics portray someone with godlike powers as well. I used to love reading Superman comics when I was a kid.  IT was fun to imagine being able to fly and so on.  But of course I knew it was fiction. So do Rowling’s readers.

Rowling’s genius is in her broad array of memorable characters.  There are Hagrid, the half-giant who loves strange monsters; Dumbledore, the wise schoolmaster; and many more.  Rowling’s world is the work of many years of imagining characters and details. In my opinion this puts her in a similar league to George Lucas. —Phyllis Wheeler

Master of the genre: George Lucas

The Masters: Lucas
I am naming the second of the three fantasy masters of our time as George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars film series.

Lucas has a magnificently large imagination.  He also had the genius to tap into the imaginations of others. Lucas is unique in that he drew a broad framework and then allowed others to add their imaginative input. This took the form of a variety of details in the films, with animals and aircraft and everything in between carefully imagined and portrayed.  It also took the form of books–the set of books he authorized for the time period after the fall of the Empire, as Luke and Leia enter adulthood. The assistance of others gave Lucas’ work a breadth that it would not have had otherwise, unless he had devoted his life to the story as Tolkien did. Lucas’ resulting set of tales spans many centuries and worlds.

In contrast to Tolkien, Lucas is not a Christian. His galaxy long, long ago and far, far away has a deity of sorts, the Force, which can act for good and for evil. It appears that Lucas is offering an Eastern idea of God, which sees the life force as equally good and evil, yin and yang.  This is also not a personal God as we Christians truly know Him to be.

But we all know “the force” isn’t real. This is fantasy, a backdrop for the story. Lucas isn’t trying to sell his audience on a new religion. Lucas’s characters behave in moral ways, good guys fighting against overwhelming odds to defeat evil in the end.  Then there is Lucas’ keynote plot twist:  that the ultimate evil villain turns out to be the father of the young hero.  This tale has picked up a lot of resonance in our culture.

Master of the genre: J.R.R. Tolkien

The Masters: Tolkien

The fantasy genre is an old one–it started with myths and fairy tales at the dawn of time.  We humans love stories that play out the moral struggle within each of us as a struggle of the forces of good and evil, shown on a larger stage. How much better if the struggle contains memorable fantastic creatures and characters!

I see three masters of the fantasy genre in our time.   All of them created an amazingly complex fantasy world with a solid, believable, detailed history to support unforgettable characters and situations.  The first one I am going to talk about is J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien is my favorite.  He was a Christian. The worldview of his work echoes his faith–Middle Earth is a moral world governed by a benevolent deity.  The weak are able to succeed in the battle against evil where the strong cannot. But this is only with the help of apparent coincidence, for example the assistance of Gollum in destroying the One Ring. We Christian readers know this is no accident.  In addition, unseen benevolent forces resurrect Gandalf and send him back to finish his work.  Against all odds, good triumphs over evil.

The most unique feature of Tolkien’s work is the detailed historical backdrop he invents for Middle Earth, including languages. Readers of The Lord of the Rings experience the history of Middle Earth in hearing tantalizing songs that describe heroes of earlier ages without complete explanations. The heritage of song provides the illusion of a real world. And the characters speak in several languages, which certainly seem to me to be reasonably complete tongues.

Tolkien worked most of his life on some aspect of the story of Middle Earth, beginning in childhood by constructing the language that eventually became one of the Elvish tongues. His work is a towering achievement for a man with persistence, focus, and vision. What a blessing he has been to me and to many others!

There ARE New Christian Fantasy Authors Out There …

Did you ever wonder why your kids aren’t finding much in the way of Christian fantasy books in the library or the bookstore?  There’s plenty of fantasy reading to be found, but the worldview requires lots of discussion, shall we say.  There are plenty of Christians who are fantasy fans. There’s a wonderful legacy left by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. So why is there so little Christian fantasy easily available?

Snooping around the Internet, I found Marcher Lord Press, which specializes in publishing Christian fantasy books.  The founder, Jeff Gerke, tells his story: he was editing fiction at traditional Christian publishing companies, and was unable to satisfy his yen for the weird.  The companies, he said, target consumers who love chick lit.  That’s who buys books at Wal-Mart and Christian bookstores, apparently.

It’s true. My sons who are Christian and who are fantasy fans do not look for books at Christian bookstores or at Wal-Mart. They look in the library and in the big chain bookstores.  So any books the traditional publishers might publish will not reach my sons.

So it remains to ask these questions: why aren’t libraries buying recent Christian fantasy books?  And why aren’t Borders and Barnes and Noble local stores stocking them?

Marcher Lord Press and other similar outfits have decided to go directly to the consumer using the Internet.  They sell through Amazon and other online bookstores, and through their own Web sites.

It remains to be seen whether this is a way to reach kids like my 16-year-old sons. So far, I’d say they aren’t Internet consumers. None of them has a credit card. They know how to check prices on e-Bay. That’s about it.

I looked on Amazon for the top-selling Christian fantasy books. The top one, featuring a soccer mom as main character, falls more or less in the chick lit category and is in fact published by a mainstream Christian publishing house, Navpress.

The second one in line is self-published and sold over the Internet only (like many similar books). It would likely appeal to my teenage sons: Heroes of Old, first in the Heroes series by Jay L. Young, which apparently has quite a following. This book is described as a cross between the Bible and the X-Men. This author is definitely not available in our library, nor in the local Barnes and Noble.

There is a disconnect here. The marketplace isn’t providing for the teen Christian fantasy market.

For one thing, i think we need to lobby our libraries to buy the best Christian fantasy books. They’re certainly buying the non-Christian ones. We need to demand our share of those library dollars!–Phyllis Wheeler