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Friday, August 6, 2010

Secular or Christian Fantasy (part 2) Author Worldview in Fantasy Novels

In a previous post I talked a bit about The Lord of the Rings and what a slew of responses I received! It was invigorating. However, upon listening to the many comments, I realized that I need to break ground at a new point if the discussion is to have any logical continuity.

Each and every one of us comes from a unique background. Whether we admit it or not the way our parents were raised, the way they raised us, and the people we grew up with made us the individuals we are today.

My father was raised in a large Catholic family but became a born-again Christian when he was in his late teens. My mother was raised in a Protestant home with, again, a large family. Not wishing to let the public school system raise their kids, my parents homeschooled me. My father worked long, hard hours to provide for his family, and my mother served as homemaker and teacher. I grew up in the kind of family many kids only dream of. My father was the most patient, kind man I know. My mother was gentle and a patient teacher, but also a consistent disciplinarian. If I were to summarize my growing-up years, I’d say I was raised in a very loving, disciplined home.

Watching my parents I strove to attain their dedication to family and God. They were the finest examples and I attribute my success as an author mostly to them. My father was such an incredibly hard worker that I always felt I could never keep up with him. I wasn’t as physically motivated as he was so I turned my energies into academic pursuits. And when I decided to write for a living, it didn’t enter my mind that I would never finish the project or fail—because by example I had learned that perseverance led to success and that the road is not easy, but it is worth it.

There have been a lot of blog posts, recently, written by publishing professionals warning authors not to set their hopes too high on success. They say that success does not always come, that only a few writers make it into the elite number of full-time career authors, and so it is better to think “realistically” . . . then they proceed to detail all the intricacies of the market, how it’s changing, and remind everyone that there are few very successful authors.

This troubles me to no end. Why? Because I was raised in a home that trained me to believe in my dreams, to KNOW that I could succeed at anything I set my mind to, and these professionals would rather focus on the business end, rather than the passion behind the art.

When in 2008 my novel was rejected by the publisher, rather than letting it bring me down (though I admitted a level of disappointment) I worked hard, studying the intricacies of creating my own publishing company. My goal was to sell a thousand copies of my books, by hand if necessary, getting it out there into the public until at some point a major publisher offered me a contract. And that is exactly what I did. But was it chance that led to my success? Was it that the right wind just happened to catch my sails and push me in the right direction? No, it was perseverance and patience. Consistency was key, consistency in my childhood trained me to achieve and never accept failure.

One of my favorite movies is Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and my favorite line is when Captain Kirk says, “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.”

Well, neither do I. And whenever an aspiring author asks me what they need to do to get published and make their book a success, I tell them it is a lot of hard work but that if they persevere they can succeed (and they mustn’t seek shortcuts).

I say all this to point out that I believe every author has a message in his/or her stories, whether apparent or not, their world-view plays an inevitable role in their writing. Tolkien came from a Roman Catholic background and so his Lord of the Rings and other such works do have an all-powerful god, of sorts. But the Roman Catholic church is strong on form; their worship is full of rites and rituals to which they strongly adhere. So, in The Lord of the Rings, wizards such as Gandalf utter spells that are keyed to certain form, certain ordering.

Donita K. Paul in her Dragon Keeper Chronicles has wizards. But her background is, I believe, Protestant Christianity. Her characters don’t, to my recollection, utter spells. Instead they have abilities to interact with their environment within the confines of Wulder’s will.

J.K. Rowling is, by all accounts I’ve read and from every interview I’ve seen, a secular Humanist. In keeping with her world-view, Harry Potter knows no God, and determines right from wrong based on how the situation affects him and those he loves. He uses the same magic as the dark wizards, just for a better cause.

Bryan Davis author of Dragons in Our Midst also falls under Protestant Christianity (though he would be careful to distinguish his beliefs from the majority). But his protagonists gain special abilities through their dragon ancestry, though at times Merlin seems to wield almost magical powers.

Phillip Pullman is an interesting one. He is an atheist and he once stated in an interview I read that he was using his book The Golden Compass to ‘…kill God in the eyes of children.’

In my own novels I am seeking to be as faithful as possible to my world view. My protagonists have difficult sacrifices to make to reach their goals, and all powers are either from Creator God, or demonic worship.

I have seen many Christian fantasy writers whose work makes me cringe; not because of the writing, but because of their use of magic in the story. I’m sure that the Egyptians looked upon Moses as a magician for all the signs he wrought, but he always attributed credit to God. I find very few fantasy novels have an accurate, pure worldview. And for those of you who think otherwise, yes, I think Tolkien’s work falls into that category. Don’t be offended: he wrote it, you didn’t. I can still enjoy these other works, but I must evaluate them based on a consistent, God-honoring worldview.


Bryan Davis said...

Interesting post, Scott. It has been a blessing to see how hard you have worked. You are a model to follow.

Just to clarify, Merlin never uses magic in my books, and he takes great pains to say so. Actually, I tried to make it a comic-relief situation at times as he gets exasperated with those who says he uses magic.

The young people in my stories often use characteristics that they inherited, but that can't be called magic. Their abilities clearly come from their creator.

Keep up the good work!

Bryan Davis

Bryan Davis said...

Interesting post, Scott. It has been a blessing to see how hard you have worked. You are a model to follow.

Just to clarify, Merlin never uses magic in my books, and he takes great pains to say so. Actually, I tried to make it a comic-relief situation at times as he gets exasperated with those who says he uses magic.

The young people in my stories often use characteristics that they inherited, but that can't be called magic. Their abilities clearly come from their creator.

Keep up the good work!

Bryan Davis

Fair Maiden said...

Excellent post, Scott, and very well put! You are a constant reminder to me to be consistent, and to persevere in the things that I am doing. Thank you! :)

*Your* Fair Maiden

Scott Appleton said...

Hi Bryan! Great to see you here again!

It has been quite a while since I read DIOM, however the scene I thought of was Merlin transforming the dragons into humans. But I know exactly what you mean because he was a prophet, an agent performing God's will in the story.

BTW I am looking forward to buying "Masters and Slayers" (:

Bryan Davis said...

Scott, in that scene, Merlin prays to God for the transformation. :-)

Scott Appleton said...

To: MY Fair Maiden,

I love you, Honey!

Jake said...

Thought-provoking post, Mr. Appleton. :) I suppose I need to digest it a bit before I start the real comment part of this. :)

By the way, one thing I found interesting was that Tolkien meant to have the Valar as angel-sort of figures, as stated in a letter in the beginning of the Silmarillion. :) I'd post it here, but I'm away from home--and therefore away from my copy of the Silmarillion.

But otherwise, I agree with you that LOTR was not meant to be a Christian novel. It was meant to be a made-up mythology, of sorts, though it had definite tones that related to the Bible.

One more thing I'd like to note, however--I know that Tolkien was a Christian, and I know that Rowling is not. That's one reason why I mentally distinct LOTR from 'Secular' fantasy. But the work itself should probably be considered secular.

Scott Appleton said...

Interesting... why are so many protestants calling Tolkien a Christian? I'm going to research his beliefs and get back to everyone on that.

Star-Dreamer said...

Very thought provoking. Yes, I understand where you are coming from. To be honest, Tolkien clearly states that he never wrote his book to be an allegory, but he recognizes the characteristics of a slightly christian outlook put into the story. He was a christian, I believe... actually, I was never sure if he was christian or catholic, but he was one of them.

That being said, I don't try to put too much magic in my book. What some might consider "magic" is never really magic and always points to whoever represents God in my books. I try to make everything balanced.

Thanks for the post Brian. I was homeschooled too! It was difficult at times, but it gave me the boost I needed to jumpstart my writing.


Scott Appleton said...

Hi StarDreamer,
Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic. Which is a works-based faith, rather than only by the work of Jesus Christ. Though, of course, only God knows if he (Tolkien) was saved or not.

Brian Appleton said...

Great post Scott!
I just "happen" to have been raised in a household with the very same values! What a coincidence right? :)

Jake said...

I am slightly offended that you said 'Catholic or Christian'. Catholics are, in fact, Christians. :P Many Catholics, as well as Protestants, can just 'go through the motions' and not be saved. But Tolkien actually helped Lewis become a Christian, if that makes any difference to the question of whether or not he was saved. :)

@Mr. Appleton
Considering the fact that Tolkien was a devout Catholic, I don't think he would, when he was alive, write anything that may be offensive to any Christian because of his beliefs. Which was the point I was trying to make. :)

Chris said...

Scott, are you alluding that you think the Catholic church is not a part of the Body of Christ? I think you should elaborate on that.

I myself have many catholic friends, and I do believe some of them are Christians (followers of Christ). To condemn Tolkien just because he belonged to the Roman Catholic church is not a good thing to do, unless you truly believe all Roman Catholics are going to Hell and have been for quite some time.

As for researching Tolkien's and Lewis' beliefs and how they influenced each other...

It's very hard to find good writing on the subject outside of detailed biographies (and if you wish to read a few good ones, I could give you some titles). However, I did find two sites I think you could glean some wisdom from.

You should pay specific attention to the second page of the second link, as it deals with Tolkien's faith in the Truth of the Gospels.

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Cool post Scott! Enjoyed reading it!

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Cool post Scott! Enjoyed reading it!


"Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones." -Proverbs 16:24

In a world where morality is forsaken and Christ neglected, wholesome books are uncommon. The themes of my writing are love, self-sacrifice, and honor.

I see my generation turning from God to the gods of this world. I see homes torn apart in the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification. Children are murdered by the millions every year . . . without ever seeing the world outside their mothers' wombs. Through fiction I strive to encourage those who are willing, to stand against these things and be heroes and heroines; chivalrous, gentle, full of righteous indignation, and the fear and love of their Creator.