Some thoughts on Christian fantasy after a conference a few years ago These musings include occasional references to Shadowmancer.
It s time I nailed my colours to the mast I ve been a bit disturbed recently by the musings of a panel about Christian fiction at a conference I attended in Sydney, and also by an article in my church magazine about fantasy writer G.
P Taylor, much praised as the successor to C.
S Lewis Or so the publicity goes On the strength of the article, I at last decided to go out and buy Shadowmancer It had attracted me several times on the bookstore shelves in the past, and then immediately repelled me on the first page with its mini biography of the author G.
P Taylor has spent the whole of his life searching for the hidden secrets of the universe He lectures on the paranormal and folklore and lives in a secluded graveyard Not the sort of description that immediately spells A n g l i c a n m i n i s t e r, is it You ve got to think about old English churches and their surrounds for a moment and what it means to have a ministry to those involved in the occult Anyway, having bought Shadowmancer, I borrowed its sequelThe Shadowmancer Returns The Curse of Salamander Streetfrom the library I took the latter as reading material with me to The Faithful Writer Conference in Sydney where, amongst a thoughtful and incisive keynote address and panels on communication in the age of the internet, another panel of writers attempted to tackle the question What is Christian fiction Unfortunately, only one of the panellists wrote fiction, although the others dabbled occasionally You have to be a passionate and committed writer of fiction to have any hope of understanding that it is, in its way, as powerful a force for evangelism as apologetics sometimes, evenso and unfortunately, the panel didn t have that kind of burning heart for story telling One member mentioned C.
S Lewis and another Tim Winton and in the end, the consensus seemed to be that Christian fiction was what happened when a writer was embued with the mind of Christ Unfortunately, in their view, that didn t often happen at the same time as good writing did Thus, their answer was Christian fiction is fiction written by Christians.
I m not sure that G.
P Taylor would agree with that, but I have a sense that perhaps he does Shadowmancer is a pacey adventure which owes a lot in its melodramatic style and Victorian setting to Philip Pullman sHis Dark Materialstrilogy In fact, at least part of it is clearly a response to Pullman sThe Amber Spyglass , the only children s book to have won the Whitbread PrizeHis Dark Materialsis a profoundly anti Christian epic in which God appears as an impotent, mad drooling sadist Perhaps it s unfair to label it anti Christian, as that is only incidental It is specifically and profoundly anti C.
Lewis Pullman wroteHis Dark Materialsafter readingThe Chronicles of Narniaand becoming immeasurably incensed by Lewis celebration of death and his abuse of the fantasy genre to promote Christian doctrine I have to say here that the first part of this comment alone is enough to put me off sideThe Last Battlethe book to which the celebration of death refers is my all time favourite book It has sat alone on an unassailable Everest for some thirty eight years, while other peaks have risen and fallen around it The second part of the comment demonstrates Pullman s failure to understand Lewis motivation Not that he should be blamed for this Lewis own testimony that he simply started with an image that had been recurring in his mind s eye from the time he was a teenager that of a faun standing with an umbrella near a snowy lamp post is not often believed by Christians either Most people believe he set out to write dogma in allegorical form If you think that, ask yourself this if you were deliberately setting out to write Christian doctrine as a fairytale, would you start with a lion, a witch and a wardrobe Wouldn t you choose something vastlymalleable to the theme Pullman s error in attributing motivation is a common one The writer of the article about G.
P Taylor seemed to make the same mistake, as did the writers on the panel of the Sydney conference The purpose of Christian fiction in many Christian minds should be to elucidate the truths of the gospel in a way our age can understand to slip the verities of Christianity past the watchful dragons of the conscious mind as it was once famously said I shake my head at the naivety of it all And you wonder why there hasn t been anyone like Lewis or Tolkien in the last fifty years Yes, it s over fifty years this November since Lewis died the same day as JFK and Aldous Huxley and, although a number of notable Christians have tried writing fantasy in the meantime, there s never been the same impact on the world as Narnia or Middle Earth Calvin Miller who wroteThe Singerpoem trilogy also wrote The Chronicles of Singreale Guardians of the Singreale and War of the Moonrhymes.
Somehow Miller s image of the redeemer King just didn t cut it for me I think it was those transformations into a moondark creature which bloodily rended the kingdom s enemies limb from limb that were my problem Then there was John White s series which began withThe Tower of GeburahWhite wrote the most exquisitely lyrical non fiction, but his fiction was strangely unsatisfying He seemed to be trying too hard with Gaal the Shepherd to get across the symbolism in that classic tract, Four Spiritual Laws I could go on, multiplying examples which are good but never quitethan good but I m sure you get the point Like those Sydney panellists said, it s hard to find exceptional fiction married to Christian conviction Though there are superb exceptions, of course Madeleine L Engle sA Wrinkle in Timeand Michel Tournier sThe Four Wise Menare two that leap to mind And perhaps Tim Winton sThe Ridersmight just make it in The problem in my view is a fundamental misunderstanding about what Christian writing is Long ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I used to direct an annual camp under the auspices of Scripture Union the camp was themed around the Chronicles of Narnia Some kids would arrive with their tattered, dog eared books, knowing the stories word for word many would read the seven books, only to start over again I observed the same sort of passion amongst friends who would read The Lord of The Rings every six months Inevitably the question arose in my mind What kind of writing inspires this kind of devotion The actual prose, as far as I could see, wasn t a quantum leap better than that of other authors The Christian worldview wasn t that much different to the moral and ethical universes of various agnostic writers Yet, that the singular powerful pull exerted on the imagination by the works of Lewis and Tolkien had something to do with Christian writing whatever it was I had no doubt Tolkien wasn t repeatedly voted most popular writer of the twentieth century for nothing Lewis still isn t the second favourite children s author in Britain and no, J.
K Rowling isn t at the top It s Roald Dahl for nothing either.
The question of exactly what Christian writing was indeed was hotly debated for a number of meetings at the mythopoeic club of the University of Queensland about 20 years ago Finally, at a conference, it was decided to have a panel resolve the issue After a lot of debate, it seemed to come down to Christian writing is writing done by Christians Everyone agreed that there was something inherently unsatisfactory about that why, for instance, was the mind of Christ , if that s what it was, so appealing in Narnia and Middle Earth but so disappointing in Singreale or Geburah After studying hundreds of authors and thousands of books during the interim, I think I have the answer The difference with Lewis and Tolkien is that they worked from a very particular inspiration in the case of Lewis from his vision of a faun in snow and Tolkien from a line of old English poetry about the star Earendil Lewis reported that the Lion suddenly came bounding in to his story, while Tolkien took decades to metamorphose Earendil into an endless variety of grey elves and grey men, culminating in the Grey Wizard Gandalf Lewis, you may know, is from the Welsh word for lion It comes from the name of the Celtic god of light, The Lion of the Steady Hand A faun in English folklore was traditionally called Jack the nickname Lewis preferred from the time he was four years old Is it any wonder that Jack Lewis eventually wrote about a faun and a lion Those symbols were about who he was InThe Chronicles of Narnia , Lewis was re making the story of his name Tolkien was doing the same in The Lord of the Rings.
Names, the Hebrews once believed, had power And Christians know, of course, that Jesus, to whom belongs the Name above all names, has power over everything in heaven and on earth What we don t believe that our own names have power too Lewis re made his name to serve the Jesus, the Lion of Judah, and not Llew, the Lion of the Steady Hand I think that s the part of the Mind of Christ that kids who read and re read the stories love to bits and hold to their hearts with hope It s not consciously articulated, but I believe that s what s at the back of their devotion if Lewis can re make his name, there s a chance for us, too But unless your name is Jack Lewis, there s no formula, there s only guidelines Unless your name is your name is Tolkien, there s no formula in Middle Earth, just lots of pointers Make no mistake about this Lewis didn t get it right first go he made a dozen attempts before Narnia Tolkien spent fifty years with mostly unfinished scraps before he got his Grey Man quite right so it s no surprise that Calvin Miller s initial attempt was so ungainly He has my sympathy the idea of a makeover into a redeemer king for Grendel the limb rending night monster of Beowulf is a most daunting prospect If you re wondering why it should be Grendel and how it is linked to Miller , then I should point out that grendel and grind come from the same word root, and what else do millers do As for the connection between the names Earendil and Tolkien, ask me sometime when you ve got a half an hour to spare to explore some curious but obscure European mythology about Grey Men I simply don t subscribe to the notion promoted by some scholars that Tolkien had a Freudian castration fixation If you know mythology, you ll realise his obsession was with The Grey Man.
Madeleine L Engle s work, not surprisingly, given her name, features angels repeatedly and even Philip Pullman s interpretation of God is no real bombshell once you realise that the horse connection in his name goes back as, strangely, all horse legends do to the sea gods Poseidon in Greece, Neptune in Rome, Llyr in Britain From Shakespeare s time that last was spelt Lear and associated with madness In all the fuss about Pullman s work, a completely unremarked aspect is that, with a few exceptions, virtually all the adults are mad, bad and dangerous to know certainly Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter, the parents of the heroine Lyra love that spelling, don t you virtually gives it away are ambitious, but no one seems to have noted that their megalomania coupled with their largely callous indifference to their child s existence is exceedingly unnatural God may be completely nuts in Pullman s universe, but those who would supplant him aren t backward in that regard either Of Pullman s work and it is brilliant, at least at times, if I disregard a plothole or two big enough to shunt a planet through a flaw shared by G.
P Taylor, so perhaps I shouldn t be overly critical , I m actually rather fond ofThe Subtle Knifemaybe that s because I don t detect any real aspect of Philip or Pullman in it It is very reminiscent in its plot and description toWith My Knife , the first book in Andrew Lansdown s Chronicles of Klarin, which pre dates it by just a few years Now Lansdown is a name I d expect to have something to do with a knife of some kind, since lann is an old word for sword or blade Again, I could go on multiplying examples But what is Christian writing Although I ve concentrated my examples exclusively in fantasy up to this point, I don t think the answer is different, whatever the genre When it comes to fiction, my belief is that Christian writing is that in which the power of the author s name is placed under the Lordship and also in the service of Christ The mind of Christ is not something like Athena s helmet which gifts us with automatic wisdom and insight and enables us to write perfectly about Christian doctrine or within a Christian worldview It is something we have to work out, like our salvation, with fear and trembling it is about the re shaping of spiritual identity, the consequent re forging of name the choice to keep the power of that name in our own hands or place it in the wounded ones of the Lord of the Universe The real reason, in my view, that Philip Pullman utterly loathed the work of C.
S Lewis is because Pullman takes on board Jungian acceptance of the daemon, those familiar spirits deeply connected to name Are Pullman s daemons real He s suggested that he believes in them and I agree with him that they are real I disagree totally about what to do with them Jung s description of the anima animus is correct he wrote of a dark spirit inimical and hostile to humanity, which he incredibly called by the Latin word for life and suggested we embrace In the hundreds of authors I ve checked, this solution is instinctively avoided It s not just a Christian struggle, this power of the name business It is a struggle common to the human condition Lewis, on the other hand, realised finally that you can t kick this lot in the teeth, you ve got to get close enough to kiss, but actually embracing a daemon as Jung advocated is a mistake A wrestle, however, can look like an embrace and Lewis, like Jacob at the ford of Jabbok, worked that Lion of the Steady Hand over so closely that sometimes the outcome was in doubt Yet he didn t accept any dark side, any Jungian shadow or any name that was spiritually contaminated He struggled with his name until God conferred a new meaning on it And in and through that creation of new meaning which the reader witnesses inThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , countless people have been blessed Owen Barfield rightly says that when we can experience a change of meaning a new meaning there we may rightly join hands and sing with the morning stars for there we are in at the birth There is one of the exact points at which the genius, the originality, of the individual writer has first entered the world My conclusion G.
P Taylor has written a couple of rattling good tales, but I can t see kids loving them to death like I ve seen them love Narnia Why is it that The Last Battle has remained so high in my esteem for so long I suspect it s because it s really written for the name Hamilton, not for Lewis Hamilton was a name Lewis briefly adopted from his mother s family many of whom, by the way, were Anglican ministers in NZ as a pseudonym for his early poetry Celebration of death No way It s Ragnarok unragnaroked, Armageddon trans figured Hmm, no wonder someone totally devoted to Llyr would take offence at it nosea Now if you re going out to follow Taylor s admonition to write fiction, then don t try to write doctrine Don t even think about it Pray about finding yourself within the Mind of Christ as you write, transforming the most powerful thing you have to put at God s disposal not wealth, not time, not talent but your name.
Let me start off by saying If you are not a Christian, or not interested in reading a book heavily themed in that area, you should probably stay away from Shadowmancer Most of the negative reviews I ve seen based on this book complain that G.
P Taylor bashes one over the head with his views in God and the supernaturaland that s kind of the point This book is in no way a subtle allegory a la The Chronicles of Narnia It makes it evident that Riathmus is supposed to be God, that he is the source of all goodness, and that without him you cannot truly be saved If reading such material makes you uncomfortable or is a turnoff, you picked up the wrong book I don t know a lot about the author, or what his intentions were when writing this novel, but I can only assume he crafted it for a Christian audience like myself, and that s who is going to enjoy it The book itself is well written and fast paced, with plenty of action and nary a dull moment However, what sets it slightly lower on the scale is the fact that the world is nowhere near as developed as it should ve been It seems like a fascinating place populated by all sorts of creatures and superstitions, but Taylor really only scratches the surface of its potential I found the characters to be the same They were all likeable, but again, we don t learn close to anywhere near enough about them Overall, I found it to be a great Christian adventure novel for those not turned off by Taylor s obvious themes and allegories It s not quite in the same realm as Narnia, but it s still a good time.
I read a review of this book in School Library Journal and the review made it sound like this book was right up my ally The premise is that a priest is striving to become evenpowerful than God, and it s up to three kids to stop him The review warned that the book had religious themes, but that just jazzed me up evenI was picturing something along the lines of His Dark Materials or A Wrinkle in Time a fantasy story that really makes you think about God.
But it didn t take long to realize that good ol G.
P didn t really want his readers to think at all In fact, I don t think he even wanted us to pay attention to the story This is one of the most boring books I ve read in a LONG time I m sure I missed about 1 3 of it because I just couldn t focus Taylor kills all the suspense in the story by letting us know what every character is doing at any given moment His head hopping is atrocious, and the stilted dialog betrays the fact that this was a vanity press book before the big presses came along and picked it up Further, this book is so clearly Evangelical Tarot cards and intuition are from the Devil, you ll only be saved if you belong to Jesus, etc that it feels dishonest to publish it and market it as though it s secular.
Shadowmancer was a terrible read, and I actually regretted finishing it It started off promisingly enough, but it devolves into nothing but a religious sermon saying there is only one god, and everyone who worships any other deity or concept is really just worshipping the devil The major villain, the Vicar of the village, is so stereotypical, I was waiting for him to start twirling his mustache and cackling maniacally All in all, a very poorly written, poorly thoughtout, and way to heavy handed novel Disappointing.
Definitely sucked This book has the honor of being one of the worst books I ve ever read I should have trusted my initial feelings and quit It s so bad, I won t pass it on and risk inflicting another human being with this trash, rather, that s exactly where it s going.
into the trash.
It was heavily religious, and it wasn t even subtle about it God showed up constantly to interfere with things It s one thing to have God appear and go, Blah blah blah, now go do my bidding but here he was as much a character in the story as anybody else.
The writing was okay at best And in my opinion, it marginalized any female characters that appeared in the book.
At the beginning it seemed okay before religion truly got involved If it had stayed as This guy s nutty and evil and using religion to get ultimate power for his own greed it would have been fine But then he was possessed or something and yeah.
If you re heavily religious and don t mind a black and white view of the world, you d like this For me, though, it was too predictable and black and white with no middle ground Everything that wasn t the true god was automatically evil There wasn t even a, well, such and such is just an extension of belief No You re wrong.
It was like being dragged to church Again.
I might quit this book Someone reviewed it as awful on a monumental scale It made me laugh, but it s a bit true.
Just because a book is written for a younger audience, doesn t mean it should be written poorly with no depth.
The author has told me single sentence reasons for why I should care about these characters, but I haven t been given actual motivation The villian reads like an episode of The Smurfs Make me actually care don t just tell me that I should.
Some of the most offensive pieces of writing include sleeping monster awoken from it s sleep Can we please hand this author a thesaurus and the use of like so many as a metaphor, which in the first couple chapters has already been usedthan once.
Funny enough, this book is recommended for readers over the age of 12 At 12 I might have enjoyed this, but I think once I turned 13 I would have been as insulted by it as I am now.
Obadiah Demurral Is A Sorcerer Who Is Seeking To Control The Highest Power In The Universe He Will Stop At Nothing The Only People In His Way Are Raphah, Kate, Thomas And The Mysterious Jacob Crane This Work Takes You Into A World Of Superstition, Magic And Witchcraft, Where The Ultimate Sacrifice Might Even Be Life Itself I thought this book would never end I really try to stick with books, eternally optimistic that a good story will come out of hiding at some point, right up to the bitter end And that s about the only place this story came together, in the very ending which is merely a jumping off point for the next volume thanks, Publishing Industry, for the two book starter contracts ARGH I had high hopes for this book, what a great title On the surface it sounds good, but scratch it and you get nothing but dust and preaching.
I think the Victoriana aspect is what made this a less interesting read for me, much in the way that Golden Compass made my head bleed while I read it Oh, wait, that was the smacking my head into a wall to stay focused that made it bleedright But the whole pseudo Christian evangelizing is what really put me off I think I can honestly say that I finished the book only to find out why the sky was glowing on the horizon I think that it must be explained in Book Two.