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Are Fairy Tales a Waste of Time?

This is a guest post by Brent King.

As a Christian urban fantasy author I have been confronted, as have many of my writing partners, by those who doubt that fantasy, or fairy stories, have any anchor in the real world. Worse yet, some have argued that they take their reader far out of this world into an imaginary place that has no connection to reality.

Is this true? Are fairy stories a mindless waste of time? Do they lure our minds away from reality into an anchorless world of fantasy?

What Fairy Tales Do

It’s true, when we experience a good fairy tale it allows us to open up a place inside of us where we can actually believe its enchantments. It is thrilling to go adventuring with Kyran and Posy, or on a quest with Frodo, but does it snow-white-933491really have anything to do with our world?

The answer is a resounding “yes.” Fairy tales:

  • give us a lens to see the world in a startling new way.
  • help us to see our lives not only as they are, but as they could be (or perhaps should be).
  • touch us in their most signature way by how we experience their endings: that sudden, unexpected joy that washes over us in the miraculous grace of what Tolkien called the “eucatastrophe.”

But How Can This Be?

Fairy stories are only successful to the extent that they reflect our world. Who would be moved by a story to which they could not relate? The only reason why the fairy world attracts us is because it is fashioned after the truth of our world.

Indeed the fairy world is our world, a world of wonder we can experience in the real—right now. There is awe, wonder, and amazement in our world. There is beauty and redemption beyond all our evil and brokenness. The problem is that our eyes are often too compromised, shaken, pacified, unfocused, jaded, or injured to see it.

take-532097Where Fairy Tales Shine

This is where fantasy shines. In a world where the simple virtues of God have become routine and expected, a fairy tale catches us off-guard and we are surprised by the truth. It breaks through what CS Lewis referred to as our “stained-glass and Sunday school associations,” and the result is pure delight. This was JRR Tolkien’s point in his lecture on fairy tales:

“The peculiar quality of the ”joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.”

Teaching by Delighting

A good story both delights and teaches, and that is the power of a great fairy tale. It teaches by delighting. This anchors the fairy tale deep in the real world, powerfully connecting it to our lives in ways that are essential to society.

Are Fairy Tales A Waste of Time?

Are fairy tales a waste of time? Only if teaching truth is a waste of time. There is realm of awe and wonder in our world, scenes of beauty and redemption, yet many of us would miss them without a good story, indeed, without a grounding fairy tale.

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Brent KingBrent King is a freelance writer of Christian urban fantasy from Lake Oswego, Oregon. He also works as a massage therapist and health consultant. He has two sons, 20 and 23, who live in British Columbia, Canada.
Brent’s first book, The Grip of Grace: God’s Hand in The Lord of the Rings, was published in January, 2014. His debut novel, The Fiercest Fight, was published in November 2015.
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An Allegorical God

God in allegory. Even though I’m an allegorical writer myself, I often have issues with this one. Well, maybe not issues. Let’s just say I approach it carefully.

God is sovereign. God is almighty and all-knowing. His ways are not our ways. How, then, can any writer really do wood thrushHim justice in an allegory? We seek to know Him, but we’ll never know Him completely. Not on this side of death, anyway. If we did, He wouldn’t be God, right? But if we don’t understand Him, how can we write about Him in a way that will satisfy readers who want to see Him in all His wonderful, awe-inspiring glory?

I don’t have a cut and dried answer for this, really. I only know what I prefer when I read allegory, and the rules I personally follow when I write God into an allegorical story of my own.

MYSTERY

An allegorical representation of God should be as mysterious as the true God. So we don’t understand all the facets of this God-character we write about. So our readers don’t. That’s ok. Use the mystery to good effect. Let the unknown deepen the reader’s experience of this God whose ways are not ours, and thus deepen their awe of Him.

EXTREME

Large or tiny. Roaring or whispering. God is anything but a lukewarm, mediocre Being. C.S. Lewis uses a great lion to represent God in his Chronicles of Narnia. In one scene of my book I represented God as a field mouse, whispering encouraging directions in the ear of the protagonist before a battle. Anne Elisabeth Stengl represents the holy spirit with a wood thrush, which I absolutely love. Whether it be intriguing, awe-inspiring, or even quirky, the character a writer chooses to represent God has to be worthy of the reader’s attention and respect.

aslan roar

FEARED

God is to be feared. We fear His wrath, His judgment, His anger when we have chosen to disregard His Word. But take away that fear and you’re left with little love and no respect at all. That’s not a the type of ruler I’d want to follow. Whatever creature or person a writer chooses to use as her representation of God within her story, it should be one whose actions and power inspire a healthy fear. God has the power over life and death and time and all the earth. Fiction shouldn’t show Him as anything less.

LOVING

Yet beyond the fear, a writer must be sure to show the deep and unconditional love God has for His creation. Fear alone can perhaps turn our heads and keep in our minds what will happen if we stray. But it’s love that binds us to Him, heart and soul. It’s God’s mercy and forgiveness and sacrifice that give us the passion to follow Him to the ends of the earth. So why should an allegorical God be any different?

Do you have any preferences when reading Christian allegory? What are the things you like to see in a symbolic fictional God figure?

A Thing or Two About Unicorns

Unicorn httpwww.reddit.comrunicorns

  1. There are very few mythical creatures considered to be “good” in all different stories, cultures/traditions. But the unicorn is one of them.
  2. The unicorn itself represents many things in different stories. Most commonly, the unicorn is a symbol of purity and virtue.
  3. In the Middle Ages, the unicorn became a religious symbol, especially in art. A beautiful woman (who represented the Virgin Mary) captured a unicorn, and when it was tame it laid its head in her lap. Through the years, this story grew. The unicorn began to represent Christ, the death of a unicorn was likened to the Passion of Christ.
  4. A group of unicorns together is called a “blessing” of unicorns.
  5. A unicorn’s single horn can be meant to represent many different things. Among them: heraldry, unity, the cycles of time, endlessness, and the sword.
  6. Unicorns’ horns are said to be magic. They are harder than diamonds, and have the ability to neutralize poisons.
  7. If you are fortunate enough to see a unicorn, you may be granted a wish.
  8. The tears of a unicorn have the ability to heal both physical ailments and sorrows of the heart.
  9. In the early 1600s, the Dutch theologian, Petrus Plancius, included the unicorn constellation, “monoceros,” on his celestial globe.
  10. Unicorns in real life? Alexander the Great claimed to have rode a unicorn into battle, the famous explorer Marco Polo claimed to have Unicorn www.fanpop.com (12757987)encountered a unicorn (although his description fits that of a rhinoceros rather closely …), Julius Caesar said he saw a unicorn in a forest in Germany, a unicorn “appeared” to Confucius’ mother, foretelling his birth, and later “appeared” to Confucius himself, foretelling his own death.
  11. Unicorns are said to be able to tell the truth from lies. When confronted with a liar, the unicorn will pierce the liar through the heart with its horn.
  12. For many years, unicorn horns were sold for their medicinal properties, although most of these turned out to be the horns of goats, cows, or even narwhals.
  13. Queen Elizabeth I is said to have owned a unicorn horn. And the throne of Denmark was supposed to have been made from unicorn horns.
  14. Legend says that Noah would not allow unicorns onto the ark, and that is why they are extinct today.
  15. There are quite a few references to unicorns in the King James version of the Bible, although more modern versions translate “unicorn” into “bull” or “oryx.” (Numbers 23:22, Job 39:9, Psalm 22:21, Isaiah 34:7, among others).

Being a reader and writer of Christian allegory, I can’t help but imagine some of the ways unicorns could be used symbolically in stories. Can you? I may have to keep that in mind for my next book …

What’s your favorite mythical creature? Does it lend itself to a deeper meaning in a story you might like to read or write?

The Author of the Story

I found it amusing, at first, to know that I was writing a story within a story while penning The Word Changers. Now and then I would smile ironically to myself and shake my head. It was just too much fun. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, The Word Changers is about a girl who falls into the pages of a book. She spends almost the entire remainder of the story within that book (a fairy tale, in fact). Yes, with my dry sense of humor I found it incredibly droll to think about that.

But then I reached the part about the Author.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I had it all planned out. I knew the theme I was aiming for. I knew the meaning I wanted to hide within the Hand writing using quill penpages of my story, the meaning that the Author would be a part of. I knew what I was in for. Or so I thought.

Writing about the Author made me start asking my own author-self some questions. And as I wrote the dialogue between the Author and some of his characters within my book, I began to see something happening that I hadn’t planned on at all.

Not, as you might imagine, a change within my story. But a change within myself.

Because, as an author myself, I do care about my characters. I do want what’s best for them. But many times, in order for them to have what’s best, I have to watch them go through some heartache and pain. If I take control of them and force them into roles, put them in just the situations I want them to be in, like chess pieces in a game, what would that say about me? My poor characters would never learn a thing. And they would end their stories just as they began them. Selfish, heart-sore, bitter and broken. Would my love for my characters be truly shown if I allowed that to happen?

This led me, of course, to look at the way God handles us, his “characters.” He allows us to see heartache and pain. We wonder why He doesn’t lift a finger to help us. But His help is often different than the help we demand of Him. It comes in a form that is subtle, sometimes invisible … many times unexpected.

*Spoiler Alert*

In The Word Changers, Posy is imprisoned. While in her cell, she cries out angrily to the Author. He is the one who wrote the story she’s stuck within, isn’t he? Why can’t he change her story, release her from prison? It would be so simple … he would only need to change a few of the story’s words, wouldn’t he? Posy wants the prison doors to be opened for her. She wants to walk straight out of her cell.

Instead, the Author shines down on her in the form of the moon. Gently, silently. And that single ray of moonlight shining into her prison cell is his answer. At first Posy doesn’t see it. Then she realizes she has to work with what she’s given. Her door isn’t thrown open, as she wished. But the shaft of moonlight shows her the way to escape. It’s a painful and difficult escape, but an escape just open bookthe same.

*Spoiler Alert End*

So writing The Word Changers helped me understand God a little better. It made me focus on His eternal intent for me, as opposed to my own petty every-day goals and desires. It made me understand that sometimes the difficult way can be the best way – the way that helps me to grow and learn and become more closely the person God wants me to be. Writing about the Author in my story forced me, for just a small minute, to enter into God’s way of looking at things. And what a different and infinitely superior way of looking at things that is!

That’s just a small part of what God has done for me through the act and process of writing for His glory. I can only hope that you, my readers, will get half the blessing out of reading my book as I did in writing it.

Introducing the Cast of Characters

Today I’d like to introduce you to some of the characters from The Word Changers. All of these people, save one, are unique in that they portray Characters within characters.

Confused? Yeah, probably!

Let me explain.

Within The Word Changers is another book – a strange, dark fairy tale that Posy, our heroine, finds in her poky hometown library. It’s The Book: the one she falls into and spends the rest of the story within, the one she ends up traveling through and ultimately changing the words to … And within that fairy tale lies the rest of the cast of characters.

So without further ado, here is the lineup of each Character, including a bit about him or her, and even a few pictures to portray what some of them look like (in my head, at least!).

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Posy (Emma Watson)

Emma Watson makes a wonderful Posy. She has the perfect combination of vulnerability, innocence, strength and softness.

Posy: Uncertain of her worth, unsure of her path, she stumbles into something that seems like a dream, but ends up being more like a nightmare. A runaway princess, a forgotten Author … Posy has many things to find. But none as important as finding herself.

Kyran (Ben Barnes)

Dark hair, dark eyes, dark mood … Ben Barnes fits Kyran so well!

Prince Kyran: Haughty and condescending, the prince of the Kingdom is bored with his role in it, and fed up with his parents’ cruelty and manipulation. When he agrees to accompany Posy on her quest beyond the Borders of the Plot, he little realizes the life-changing journey that awaits him.

Falak:  Chief advisor to the king. Head of the council of owls. Oh, and he happens to be an owl himself. He is sharp, intelligent, and not quite all he seems …

Melanthius (John Rhys Davies)4

John Rhys-Davies. Imposing, heavy-browed, striking … in short, King Melathius.

King Melanthius:  Ruler of the Kingdom, Keeper of the Plot. But Melanthius has gone a step too far – he not only keeps the Plot, he now fully controls it along with all its characters. He has usurped the job that only the Author of the story has a right to.

Queen Valanor:  Cold, clever and beautiful. Her husband the king may rule the Kingdom, but she rules him. …At least, she thinks she does.

Evanthe1

Delicate but determined. Give this young model lavender eyes and she’s Princess Evanthe.

Princess Evanthe: She saw the truth of the wrong that was happening in the Kingdom and did the one thing she thought would remedy it … she ran away. She went into hiding far beyond the Borders of the Plot, where her brother Kyran and his companion Posy go to seek her.

The Mist:  A voice … a feeling … a whisper. The Mist is kept under tight control by King Melanthius, and its voice can’t be heard by many these days, at least for any purpose but petty information. Yet it has a power all its own, and a role much bigger than anyone dreams of.

Alvar:  A “common” character, with no large part in the Plot. All the same, he has a strong belief in every character’s importance, and he opposes the king openly – something that’s never been done. He even has plans for forming an army of his own to fight for freedom.

Faxon

Reader Hannah Williams sketched this fabulous picture of Faxon after reading The Word Changers

Faxon: Protector of the Glade. He is the leader of the exiled council of centaurs who were in power before the council of owls. He now lives in the Wild Land beyond the Plot as leader of a rogue centaur army. He helps Posy and Kyran in their search for the dark place they believe Princess Evanthe to be hiding.

Falak2

Falak usually has a particular glint in those uncanny orange eyes

Seraphine, Limnoreia, and Adamaris:  A trio of exquisite mermaid sisters who have been wronged by the King Melanthius and banished from the Plot. They live in an underwater palace full of secrets and darkness. They have a choice – seek revenge for their own sakes, or join Kyran and Posy to fight in the name of justice.

The Wild Folk:  These are the folk native to the Wild Land. They are truly natural creatures who have always lived beyond the Borders of the Plot, and whom have never been a part of the book at all. They are so bonded with the Wild Land forest that they even look like a part of it. They are peaceful and quiet by nature, yet when the King threatens their land with invasion, many of them decide action must be taken.

The Author:  He wrote the story, yes, but his characters haven’t heard from him in centuries. They have even begun to believe he never existed at all, and is only a myth kept alive in tales. But some still believe he lurks somewhere beyond the Borders of the Plot, waiting to lay claim to his story once again.

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What In the World is “Christian” Fantasy?

aslanlucy

Truthfully? I don’t know.

All right, I know how I myself define Christian fantasy, let’s put it that way. But a clear-cut definition that pleases everyone? Not sure that will ever happen.

So, here’s what I think: I think a Christian fantasy story can be one of a few things. For now I’m going to assume that you are as familiar with “fantasy” books as I am, and we will skip the “fantasy” definition and move right along to what makes a book a “Christian” fantasy. Shall we?

1. A fantasy story that has parallels to Christianity.

There are many stories we could look at in this way – even stories that the author herself may not have intended to write from a Christian worldview at all. Perhaps the author wasn’t even a Christian! I think of books like Harry Potter (which, let’s face it, has a lot of Christian parallels if you look at it at the right angle), or even the Lord of the Rings trilogy (although Tolkien himself specifically said this book was not based on Christianity). Did the authors intend these books to symbolize Christ or Christianity? No. Can we as readers see and enjoy the parallels in these beloved stories that compare to our own Christian walk? Yes!

2. A fantasy story that has intentional Christian symbolism in its characters or theme.bright sword

Think of Lewis’ Narnia, think of Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Heartless. There are characters who represent me and you, human and faulted. And there is the One over them all who makes everything right in the end, who reveals to us the characteristics that we as Christians know our God Himself possesses. For some (mostly non-Christian readers), this type of symbolism is too much – too obvious or “preachy.” Me, I like it. Hey – I write it! It gives me a premise I know already, the foundation of a spiritual world I cannot see but which is around me every day, and then inserts characters and situations that are adventuresome and intriguing. Yeah, there’s symbolism – no one’s arguing that. But it’s meant to be obvious, it’s meant to take something you’ve thought of a thousand times and make you see it in a new light.

3. A fantasy story where God is simply represented as Himself, with no parallels or symbolism.

Ok, I’ll admit, I have yet to read a story like his, although I have seriously considered writing one myself. I have heard of one or two books like this, which are fantasy stories that include God as we know Him. Have you read anything similar? Let me know – I’d love to read it, too!

4. A fantasy story where, even if a God-like character does not exist, true biblical values are made obvious in the book’s theme because of the author’s worldview.

This one is much more subtle. What we as Christians call “biblical” values and truths are sometimes claimed by the world as well. Truth, honor, integrity, patience, love … these were created by God, my friend, and without Him they have little value. But some books that include these virtues would require quite a stretch of imagination to label as “Christian.” These virtues, therefore, aren’t the sole criteria for a book to be “Christian” fantasy. So, the final judgment would have to be based on the individual book, and on the author’s worldview and intention in writing it.

I think it’s important to note that there are a multitude of books out there, fantasy and otherwise, that have religious symbolism, even books that have a God-figure in them. This most definitely does not make them Christian. If a book has a world with parallels to Christianity, it needs to be based on what the Bible defines as Christianity. If a book has a character that represents God, he needs to show God’s real attributes as revealed in the Bible itself. The Golden Compass is a good example of the opposite of this – religious symbolism gone wrong.

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