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Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Darkness and Truth - CSFF Blog Tour Day 2

First, if you haven't read the first chapter of Trackers, Stuart Stockton posted it over on Speculative Faith. (Ok, that's a lot of links for one sentence, go here to read the first chapter. And as long as we're sharing first chapters, consider reading the first two chapters of my fantasy novel. And I fully admit that link is shameless. ; )

Here's my favorite paragraph from the first chapter of Trackers:
"Twenty paces high and a hundred deep, the Wall of Traxx ringed the stronghold with a vast stretch of flowers and thorns. The flowers bloomed on the outside—tiny but profuse blooms of roses, lilies, sunflowers, daffodils, and flowers even an experienced tracker like Timothy couldn’t name, all infused with intoxicating fragrance. But beyond the blooms lay a maze of thorns the size of a strong-arm’s lance and briar thickets that a mogged rhinoceros couldn’t pass through. Many men—indeed, full armies—had been fooled by the wall’s enticing exterior, only to be impaled by the thorns and die tangled in the briars."
Yesterday, Becky LuElla Miller commented on the darkness of the imagery in Trackers. A lot of the Christian market shies away from dark imagery. Even Anne Rice, the Queen of Dark Fantasy, felt she had to distance herself from such images once she returned to the faith.

Consider this New York Times quote from "A Once-Feared Kingmaker Called to a Different Battle": "After announcing in 2003 that she would no longer 'approach the altar of God in convolution' by writing books about vampires, Ms. Rice in 2005 published Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, the first of several planned novels about Jesus."

It seems to me that Christian fantasy always approaches the altar of God in convolution. Or is this simply a matter of degrees?

I love literal novels about Jesus, and I love writing poetry about Jesus. Don't get me wrong. But what I love about this genre. Speculative fiction gets underneath people's defenses. Public school teachers read Narnia to their students. Tolkein's faith comes to life through the redemption of Frodo and the shire.

That's the power of speculative fiction.

I read an essay by William Edgar in It Was Good (Square Halo Press) about how Christian artists wrestle with the issue of evil.

Edgar wrote, "C.S. Lewis once said that the Christian writer should have blood in his veins, not ink. What he meant was that if an artist sets out to make a Christian statement in an art object, the chances are it will not be art, but a contrived pronouncement. Rather, the believer, like anyone else, should first be passionate about his chosen medium, work in it, and let any ‘message’ emerge almost as a by-product. . . . Living in the real world, being human, knowing about life and people, believing in truth, and wrestling honestly with the troubles and sufferings that inevitably come along, these are the best ways to prepare to create.

I agree with William Edgar. Too often Christian artists "don’t quite dare walk between the flames trusting that God can guide us and deliver us. We refuse to admit of tension and ambiguity. Because of that we can’t honestly ask with the Psalmist, ‘Why, O Lord?Our artistic production is not surprisingly one-dimensional. Being real in art is only possible when we can be real with God. The slaves in the antebellum South were… They are among the many in ‘misery’ to whom the light has been given. And so they have asked, ‘Why?’ When we have recovered their candor we may be able to say it in our artworks.”

The world is a dark place. Speculative Fiction allows us to discuss that darkness in ways that won't dangle temptations before the reader.

Here's a good example. My wife is terrified by realistic violence in movies. But she adores Lord of the Rings. "Oh, that's fantasy," she says. Somehow, the genre trick of setting the morality tale in another world contains its literal dangers without diminishing its moral power.

That's the power of speculative fiction.

Yesterday I confessed that this market for Christian speculative fiction seems to be wide open. Who can doubt the market for Christian fantasy? Becky emailed me with this comment (because blogger comments were acting buggy),
"It seems evident to me that there is a demand for these books, but publishers who haven't picked up CSFF before are watching the few who have and telling us at writers' conferences that the books don't sell.

"My response is, fans of the genre don't know it's out there and aren't going to Christian stores to look for it, so our first job is to educate the public.

"Once readers find an author like Mackel, I think it will be like the bursting of a dam. But first ... there's this "get the word out" stage."
Finally, I should let the author of Trackers speak for herself on this very issue! Beth Goddard posted an interview, in which Kathryn Mackel says,
"What I love most off all is using the vehicle of fiction to portray the daily provision and deliverance by which a Spirit-led life is blessed. Niki huddling under a piece of shroud to escape the fire of wrath is an exciting scene but more importantly for me, it’s a picture of the covering that Jesus Christ gives me. Fantasy gives the writer so many opportunities to portray spiritual truths—and joys."

"Imaginative literature gives us the tools to show truth in so many compelling ways. People perceive truth in different ways. Jesus knew this, which is why he taught some in parables and others in harsh tones. The apostle Paul geared his teaching for different cultural groups. Certainly Tolkien, Lewis, and Charles Williams used fantasy (and a little science fiction, in Lewis’ case) to great effect."
What do you think? Is there a market for Christian fantasy? Does the Christian market have room for the dark truths of the world?

(And keep your fingers crossed that blogger comments start working.)

Here's that list of participants again: Jim Black, Jackie Castle, Valerie Comer, Frank Creed, Gene Curtis, Chris Deanne, Janey DeMeo, April Erwin, Beth Goddard, Mark Goodyear (Yours Truly), Todd Michael Greene, Karen Hancock, Elliot Hanowski, Katie Hart, Sherrie Hibbs, Sharon Hinck, Joleen Howell, Jason Joyner, Karen, Oliver King, Tina Kulesa, Lost Genre Guild, Kevin Lucia, The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium, Terri Main, Rachel Marks, Shannon McNear, Rebecca LuElla Miller, Caleb Newell, Eve Nielsen, John Otte, Cheryl Russel, Hannah Sandvig, Mirtika Schultz , James Somers, Stuart Stockton, Steve Trower, Speculative Faith, Chris Walley, Daniel I. Weaver

Thanks for this great post Mark.

I do think there is a market for Christian Fantasy and I've noticed that more and more Christian books are exploring the darker truths. After all, it's more 'real'. Our lives as Christians are not always sunshine and roses. We face tough choices and we make bad choices and have to live with the consequences. Our genre should explore those truths.
Great post!

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