Waiting for Dawn

On July 8th, my two younger sisters and my sister-in-law (as close as a sister to me) were in a severe car accident. Even as I write this, my sister-in-law remains at the hospital in a coma, and the doctors have given her a ten percent chance of waking.

However, prayers across the country, even around the world, have proclaimed healing and life over her body, and we trust in God’s capacity to heal above any report of the doctor. Already she’s given signs of rousing, with movements and attempts at speech that have contradicted the report given by the doctors.

And healing has begun to touch my sisters also. They’re at home now recovering, and though they’re in considerable pain and have injuries that will take weeks to heal, I see such beauty in them as they look to God for their strength. We’ve all had moments when the situation seemed overwhelming, but for the most part we’ve had peace and hope that can only come from the God of all comfort.

As we wait for healing and wait for my beautiful sister-in-law to awaken, we cling to the hope of glory and the power of Christ’s resurrection which transforms all things. We’re waiting for the morning to dawn, and for God to release new and deeper joy in our family than ever before.

To frame it in literary terms, we’re anticipating the eucatastrophe, where the sorrow turns to joy. Tolkien spoke of the eucatastrophes that characterized fairy stories, one of the many ways in which they echo eternal truth. He described a eucatastrophe as “a sudden joyous ‘turn’” or “a sudden and miraculous grace” that comes in the moment where all seems bleak and grim. A eucatastrophe gives us “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of this world” and “when the sudden turn comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story and lets a gleam come through.”

The eucatastrophe found in fairy stories has impact because it reflects the reality of life and the world as God has created it. We look to the greatest eucatastrophe in our history, the resurrection of Jesus, and that gives us confidence, even anticipation, of the coming dawn. Right now, God continues to write His story for our family, a testimony of his goodness and mercy over our lives.

Image credit: CoreBum

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Guest Post at Christian Fantasy for Women: Fruit of the Forbidden Tree

Maria Tatham, a fellow writer of Christian fantasy and a blogger over at Christian Fantasy for Women graciously invited me to write a guest post for her blog.

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

The concept of forbidden fruit is a familiar one. Most people know that it stems from the account in Genesis of the fall of man. Before Adam and Eve chose to partake of the fruit, the glory of God filled the entire earth. Man spoke face-to-face with God, and the world was unbroken in perfection.

Although they dwelt in paradise, a desire grew in Adam and Eve for the forbidden. After listening to the serpent’s oracle, Eve looked at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and Genesis says that she saw “the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye and also desirable for gaining wisdom.” She wished to satisfy her desires by partaking of that which God forbade, trusting her wisdom above his own. And we know that measureless pain was the result.

Read on to find out how the concept of forbidden fruit carries over into our reading and storytelling.

And on an unrelated note, I’m excited to announce that Nicole White won the copy of The Dragon’s Tooth! For the rest of you, keep an eye out for future giveaways.

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Christian Fantasy News and Releases, July 2012

Here’s the latest batch of Christian fantasy releases from publishers large and small–just in time for summer vacations. If you know of other new releases, please feel free to share them in the comments. Happy reading!

The Dark Faith
by Jeremiah Montgomery

In the first book in the Dark Harvest trilogy, an epic battle between good and evil pushes three warrior-clerics to the very limits of their strength—and their faith—as they fight to unearth the truth of an ancient evil, a tree rooted in bloodshed, and a fabled book that holds the secrets they seek.

Morumus, a devout monk, has been given the task of his life: translate Holy Writ into the language of those who practice the Dark Faith. His translation could be a great, sweeping sword, used to break its power . . . but as Morumus and two fellow monks begin the taks, dark currents drag them toward a dangerous conspiracy. Will he find the secret to vanquish the Dark Faith? Or will he lose everything?

Liberator
by Bryan Davis

As the long-awaited invasion of human forces looms, Jason, Koren, and Elyssa struggle to alert the soldiers to an unforeseen menace on the planet of Starlight—a deadly illness has been released, one that already has Koren in its grip. Starlighter Cassabrie harbors a secret she believes can counter the devastation being unleashed by dragon king Taushin’s latest maneuverings, but she can disclose little of her risky plan.

As Cassabrie fights to save her people, the dragon Magnar works to move the Starlight prophecy in his favor. His actions could release an ancient race of dragon-like beings, making the plight of humans even more perilous. Wishing only to free the slaves and to bring peace, a few young warriors are poised to face three armies as they battle for control of two worlds. Can love, faith, and courage be enough? Will Cassabrie be the human’s last hope?

The Orphan King
by Sigmund Brouwer

The future of the Immortals is in the hands of an orphan

My greatest fear was that they would find us and make of us a sacrifice beneath a full moon. Now you, Thomas, must help us destroy the circle of evil.

The last words of a dying woman would change the life of young Thomas. Raised behind monastery walls, he knows nothing of his mysterious past or imminent destiny. But now, in the heart of medieval England, a darkness threatens to strangle truth. An ancient order tightens their ghostly grip on power, creating fear and exiling those who would oppose them. Thomas is determined fulfill his calling and bring light into the mysterious world of the Druids and leaves the monastery on an important quest.

Thomas quickly finds himself in unfamiliar territory, as he must put his faith in unusual companions—a cryptic knight, a child thief, and the beautiful, silent woman whom may not be all she seems.  From the solitary life of an orphan, Thomas now finds himself tangled in the roots of both comradery and suspicion.

Can he trust those who would join his battle…or will his fears force him to go on alone?

Rift Jump
by Greg Mitchell

The day Michael Morrison died was the day his life began.

A sinister threat is growing in the void between realities, and Michael has been recruited to stop it. Ripped from his own violent life, he is sent rift jumping to other worlds seeking out the agents of the Dark and putting them to an end by any means necessary. The love of his life, Sara, joins him as he battles Civil War space ships, sea serpents, superpowered humans, and even his own duplicate from a parallel timeline.

But the darkness he fights is growing within him too, calling him to the same destiny as every other Michael from every other world. If he is to change his fate, he must learn to love, to forgive, to trust, and to let the man in the Stetson guide him to become the warrior of the Light he was always meant to be.

The Unraveling of Wentwater
by CS Lakin

When the simple, backward village of Wentwater begins disappearing one word at a time, no one can figure out how to stop it. Not the learned men living up in the Heights nor the superstitious leaders of the village. But those who had attended the baby naming ceremony seventeen years earlier remember the words of the marsh witch, and her pronouncement that the babe would one day cause the unraveling of Wentwater. In their fear, the villagers banish the parents and set their cottage on fire, and the babe was thought to have perished in the flames. But . . . did she?

Teralyn lives in the Heights and wants nothing more than to create beautiful music on her lap harp. When she comes down to the village for a festival, she falls in love with a villager named Fromer, much to the fury of Fromer’s brother, Justyn. Justyn’s jealousy moves him to make a deal with the witch, and when Wentwater vanishes due to a backfiring spell, it leaves Teralyn, the only person left in the kingdom, with a terrible choice. She must leave her life and forget Wentwater, or she can spend seven long years restoring everything back to the way it was, by spinning nettle into thread and stitching the world back . . . one word at a time?

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A Small Change

I’m about to enact a bit of a change here on the blog, so I thought I should let you know why. Some of you are already aware that I’ve been dealing with chronic health issues for years (finally diagnosed in December as chronic Lymes disease). Although I’m in the process of undergoing treatments, it’s been a tough year so far, and I’m looking for things to trim so I can focus on getting better.

So I’m cutting back to two days a week on the blog, and I’ll be posting on Monday and Wednesday. It’s not a huge change, maybe not all that noticeable to some, but I wanted to let those of you who regularly appear here that there will be a bit of a shift. I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I’m back to my regular Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule (can you tell I like order and consistency?).

All that being said, I’ll still be around, and I hope you will be too. I value the conversation that happens here, and I’ve learned a great deal from all of you. Thanks for reading!

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The World of E-books: Booktracks

As the world of books and publishing evolves, perhaps it’s natural that people began to consider the fusion of books and music. For some time, writers have shared the soundtracks that accompanied the writing of their books or suggested complimentary music. And with e-books came them opportunity to integrate the two in a new way with book soundtracks.

Most developers of book soundtracks assume that since music is essential to movies, it will add value to books also and serve to improve the overall reading experience. Yet with films, we’re relying on what we see externally to create the world, not on our own imagination.

While such notions may have floated around for a time in various forms, the idea coalesced over the past year and led to the launch of a small company called Booktrack. They sought to create “synchronized soundtracks for e-books that automatically matches music, sound effects and ambient sound to your reading speed to create an immersive reading experience.” The concept and the technology is interesting, but the trouble lies in the difficulty of synchronizing with the individual imagination–an imagination that fuses its own sounds into a story.

The founder of Booktracks also suggested that booktracks “make it fun to read again.” Perhaps that’s why I’m not the idea audience for such an invention. I’ve always thought of reading as one of the best forms of entertainment, never something dull or boring. If a booktrack interests a non-reader and causes them to read more, it could have some value, but I think it’s less likely to engage long-time readers.

For my part, I enjoy books and music both, but I prefer them separate from one another. I’m not the sort of person who plays even the quietest music in the background when I read a novel. When I read a novel, I’m immersed in that world. The ebb and flow of words provides its own music, and other rhythms would break that fictive dream. Perhaps booktracks might pleasantly surprise me, but somehow I think not. I don’t want an intrusion into the world in my mind, however pleasant the music might be on its own.

What do you think of the idea? Have you ever tried an e-book with music? Would you?

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The Story Warren

As children formed in His image, God gave us the unique capacity to imagine and create–a gift I value greatly. When I find like-minded souls, those who cherish this treasure, it’s always exciting…and it appears many of these creative individuals have banded together over at The Story Warren.

Some of you may be familiar with The Rabbit Room, self-dubbed as “an experiment in creative community.” Fantasy writers Andrew Peterson and Jonathan Rogers contribute, as do a number of artists and musicians. One of the writers of Rabbit Room has launched a new site, entitled The Story Warren. The mission of The Story Warren is “to serve you as you seek to foster holy imagination in the children you love.”

While it has a clear family-centric focus, it offers plenty on imagination and creativity that those of all stages of life should be able to appreciate. My husband and I don’t have children yet, but I appreciate the perspective offered by the Story Warren and the goal of the team there to nurture holy imagination in adults and children alike.

To give you a little taste of the sort of discussion happening there, here’s an excerpt of today’s post:

Rejecting imaginative stories (and play) atrophies the “muscles” we need to love each other, by refusing to see the world from a different perspective. It encourages the assumption that our perspective, our way of life, is most important.

Only after surrendering to a story, walking in someone else’s shoes, can we recognize their triumphs, struggles and sins as fundamentally human, and therefore akin to ours. But if approached with humility, this discovery of kinship can uniquely encourage and convict us.

In my own small way, I hope to nurture holy imagination and creativity amid discussions of story and fantasy and faith. Even more, it’s my joy to point toward others who serve as champions of God-given creativity, and the Story Warren team has made a strong start down this path. So stop by and visit them when you have a chance.

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Stardust and Moonglow

Inspiring Objects

Perhaps the stars and moon can’t rightly be called objects, at least not in the sense that they’re something you collect or use in your home. Yet they’re entities that we perceive and provide definition and boundary to our world. The lights of the sky didn’t need to be beautiful, but the God of beauty created them that way. This stunning tapestry provides enough inspiration in its own right, but speculative fiction takes it a step further, often changing the nature of stars as we know them.

Narnia presented living stars, with the most detailed explanation in the chapter of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on The Beginning of the End of the World. Prince Caspian and his companions disembark on a mysterious island, and there make the thrilling discovery of a star at rest. Ramandu (the star) says, “When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire-berry from the valleys of the sun, and each fire-berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again (for we are at earth’s eastern rim) and once more tread the great dance.”

In a different way, the fantasy novel Moonblood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl uses the unique nature of moon and stars to great effect (as suggested by the title). I won’t detail the creativity of her stars for fear of spoiling the tale, but they become a significant part of the storyworld.

And perhaps stars in our world are also more than we imagined. Scripture says they’re named by God (Psalm 147:4) and also speaks of the song of the heavens (Psalm 19). Now that we have means of capturing the sounds of planets and stars, we hear eerie melodies that blended together form a unique symphony.

In fantasy and reality, stars provide echoes of a greater glory. Without further ado, I give you these creative masterpieces (all images credited to NASA):

Stars

Stars

Stars

Stars

Stars

 

Any favorites among the pictures?  And are there creative ways of using stars in stories you’ve read or written?

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The Unraveling of Wentwater
by CS Lakin: A Review

The Unraveling of Wentwater book coverIn her Gates of Heaven series, CS Lakin has drawn inspiration from beloved fairy tales and used them as a launching point to create new stories. While not an actual fairy tale retelling, The Unraveling of Wentwater incorporates aspects of Sleeping Beauty and The Six Swans into a novel that demonstrates the power of words and the impact of mercy.

I’ve read all four books in the Gates of Heavens series, and each one improves upon the last. Every book incorporates one of the seven sacred places founded by heaven to protect the world, and these places become cornerstones to the stories.

The villagers of Wentwater and scholars who dwell on the heights don’t remember the gate of heaven hidden nearby. They’re blinded by their own values, the things which they hold as sacred. For the villagers, it’s deep superstition that shapes every waking moment. And for the scholars, it’s an obsession with academics and knowledge. Both neglect true wisdom, and this neglect will prove to be their undoing.

As the story unfolds, a young woman named Taralyn begins to breech the gap between the two realms. She yearns for freedom to love and create, for values she doesn’t see fully displayed in the village or on the heights. She travels between the village and the mountaintops, unaware of her true heritage and how her choices will set into motion the prophesy that she received at birth.

When Wentwater literally begins to unravel, Taralyn the only one who can intervene and possibly save that which has been lost. She has a choice–leave and gain her own happiness or attempt to redeem the village of Wentwater through her suffering.

In general, fairy tales illustrate life principles, and this one is no exception. It contrasts mercy and justice, knowledge and superstition, selfishness and sacrifice as Taralyn and those around her make choices for good or for evil.

Not only does The Unraveling of Wentwater explore these contrasting values, it captures Scriptural principles such as the impact of words. By the word of God, our world was created, and by His word it is sustained. Words also have the capacity to nurture or harm, to hurt or heal. And The Unraveling of Wentwater illustrates these  and other truths in vivid ways.

In The Unraveling of Wentwater, CS Lakin has woven a fairy tale for a new generation, one infused with Scriptural principles and the creativity of fresh words and worlds. Fairy tale fans should consider adding this to their collection.

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Book Giveaway: The Dragon’s Tooth
by ND Wilson

In The Dragon’s Tooth, author ND Wilson blends fantasy seamlessly with reality. Although some stock fantasy elements appear, he’s created a unique story with vivid and compelling characters–heroes and villains alike (as Kessie mentioned in Friday’s discussion). Actually, her reference reminded me how much I enjoyed the book, and in preparation for the upcoming release of the sequel, I thought I’d offer a giveaway. It’s a young adult novel, but the story offers something of interest for all ages. Read on for more information.

Book description (back cover copy)

For two years, Cyrus and Antigone Smith have run an sagging roadside motel with their older brother, Daniel. Nothing ever seems to happen. Then a strange old man with bone tattoos arrives, demanding a specific room.

Less than 24 hours later, the old man is dead. The motel has burned, and Daniel is missing. And Cyrus and Antigone are kneeling in a crowded hall, swearing an oath to an order of explorers who have long served as caretakers of the world’s secrets, keepers of powerful relics from lost civilizations, and jailers to unkillable criminals who have terrorized the world for millennia.

Sample of the first page

North of Mexico, south of Canada, and not too far west of the freshwater sea called lake Michigan, in a place where cows polka-dot hills and men are serious about cheese, there is a lady on a pole.

The Lady is an archer, pale and posing twenty feet in the air above a potholed parking lot. Her frozen bow is drawn with an arrow ready to fly, and her long, muscular legs glint in the late-afternoon sun. Behind her, dark clouds jostle on the horizon, and she quivers slightly in the warm breeze pushed ahead of the coming storm…

Book trailer

(As an aside, this is one of the best book trailers I’ve seen.)

 

If The Dragon’s Tooth interests you, I invite you to enter the contest. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post (and make sure the email address you put in the email field is valid, so I have a way to contact you if you win).

The giveaway will remain open until July 2nd (11:59PM ET), and then I will randomly select a name and contact the winner by email. If I don’t get a response to the notification email within seven days, a new winner will be selected.

Disclaimers: Void where prohibited by law. Giveaway limited to the United States.

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Of Villains and Antiheroes,
Part Two

While antiheroes have strong potential for redemption and often arouse reader sympathy, true villains have seared consciences and don’t engage our compassion in the same way. They damage people and even worlds in a premeditated manner and plan to continue in their path of destruction.

Often the fulfillment of their desires will cause others to suffer–and they either want bring about this suffering or they simply don’t care about the fate of those around them.

Our lack of sympathy also springs from the fact that the villain usually takes the antagonist role (although not all antagonists are villains). Since he’s working to oppose and harm our protagonist, we’re predisposed to desire his failure, just as we want the protagonist to succeed.

Although it can be a fine line between villain and antihero, their placement in the story and their inner workings reveal their leaning. As the story progresses, we know if we’re dealing with a villain or antihero as they make their final choices, and their paths are set.

Despite the evil of their deeds, it’s possible to relate to villains as we see what turned them toward wrongdoing. Yet even if we understand their motivations, we see their full commitment to depravity and can’t feel strong commiseration.

They reject every opportunity for change, and they’re apparently satisfied with their condition, whereas antiheroes often desire good (whether or not they will admit it). Most often, the villain feels justified in their malicious behavior and convinced their wrongdoing is right.

This occurs in Once Upon a Time, where the Evil Queen feels that she deserves to enact her revenge on those around her. When she first appears, we witness her power and her determination to destroy others. As the series progresses (not in chronological order), we find that she suffered a serious loss. For a moment, we feel sympathy, but any hope of redemption quickly vanishes. In that moment, the storytellers could have chosen to turn her character toward that of an antihero, but instead they cemented her position as a villain.

The Evil Queen has many opportunities to turn around, but she hardens her heart to pursue her course of corruption. Over and over, she makes choices that allow evil to consume her until nothing remains of the once innocent girl.

Her happy ending–the one she dreams of for years–is  the destruction the happiness of everyone else. Although her motivation is clear, we can’t feel lasting sympathy since her evil grows unchecked until she’s willing to murder the one person she still loves (her father) in order to gain the power to achieve her dream.

With the Evil Queen we’re given understanding of what led to her moral downfall, yet other villains appear unbroken in their evil and we’re not shown why they chose this course. It’s almost implied that it’s part of their natures. They display unbroken cruelty and a lust for dark power, as with Sauron in Lord of the Rings. His course was set long ago, and we’re not shown the reasons for it (aside from bits of backstory in The Silmarillion).  We rejoice in his downfall, because we know Middle-Earth would remain in danger as long as he lived.

When antiheroes turn around, we feel satisfaction, but with true villains we experience relief when they’re conquered and the threat of their presence removed. In this outcome there’s also echo of truth, because we know that a time will come when the ultimate enemy of our world will see lasting defeat.

In your opinion, what makes a a well-drawn, realistic villain? Has any fictional villain made a lasting impression on you? And does a villain ever “steal” your sympathy despite the impossibility of his transformation?

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