My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

04 July 2006

Maybe You're Imagining Things

In the comments section awhile back, we had a discussion about the propriety of fantasy literature in the Christian's library. So it goes unsaid that I believe fantasy literature to be, in and of itself, not a problem. More than that, though, I think it can be quite the benefit to the Christian; fantasy develops what some have called the moral imagination - note this comment from Mars Hill's website about Alan Jacobs' book on C.S. Lewis (The Narnian):

...Lewis's thought and imagination were integrated in a way foreign to the modern mindset, which relegates reason to the public sphere and imagination to the private with neither informing the other. In a disenchanted world, Lewis cultivated a willingness to be enchanted. He trained his imagination on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, probing the images and feelings that thus arose for the thoughts and truths they embodied.
With that foundation, here are some notes on fantasy I've read lately.

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Neil Gaiman, Sandust

Despite being enormously popular, I've only read one other of Gaiman's books (Neverwhere - a great gift from my brother). I stumbled upon Stardust and decided to read it, especially in light of the "Christian" fantasy I've been reading lately.

Stardust is a great little book. Tristran, a young man from the village of Wall, foolishly promises to bring a fallen star to his crush. To do this, he must leave the village of Wall and do the adventure-travel thing in the land of Faerie. (It turns out that the fallen star isn't a burned-up meteors, but an odd young lady.)

While the plot is nice and simple, Gaiman's ability to effortlessly infuse imagination into every part of this world is the highlight of the book. The reader gets the sense that this world has existed long before this story and will continue long afterward.

Caveats: This is not a parable or even an especially moral story. Some sexual content and the lack of the typical moral backbone make this book more suited to adults than kids.

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DragonSpell, Donita K. Paul

I picked this one up on a whim and I'm pretty glad I only paid for a used copy. Dragonspell falls self-consciously under the heading "Christian fantasy" (not a good sign) and doesn't improve from there.

The story of a young slave girl named Kale who is freed because of her gift of finding and protecting dragon eggs (she's a dragon-keeper). Dragonspell consists of her training, travels with new friends (Paul eschews the typical human, dwarves, elves, etc., formulation in favor of inventing 14 new races for us to remember), and a couple battles in which she doesn't really co much.

My beef isn't that books shouldn't be theological or even parable-like; but if you're so concerned to get your point across, you probably ought to just write a theological book. On top of that, if you're going to be this theological in a book of fiction, your theology ought to at least be right. In several scenes, it's fairly clear that Paul is leaning heavily on a charismatic, individualistic version of Christianity. The book also falls short of the others in literary quality. There are probably better books to purchase with your time.

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Eragon & Eldest by Christopher Paolini

In short: poor kids finds a dragon egg, it hatches, they become "linked", they go on adventures against the evil emperor, bad stuff happens to good people, bad stuff happens to bad people. I'm assuming the good people will win in the end.

I spoke of Eragon awhile ago and I still really like it. Then I read Eldest, the second of the trilogy, and liked it, too. Detractors say that these books are highly derivative, but being derivative is really a compliment when your source material is Tolkien. If you've read Tolkien, you'll recognize the world where young writer Christopher Paolini has taken up literary residence (orc-like urgals, immortal elves with pointy ears, dwarves that live in caves, etc.). But the story is still very enjoyable and creative, even without the more established Christian worldview that Tolkien had. A lot of kids around church are reading it now, which makes me cool again, right? Right?

Eragon the movie is slated to come out this winter. Hopefully, it'll rise above Willow status and do the book justice. The movie looks like it has some good talent.

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Shadow in the Deep, by L. B. Graham

This is the third of seven in the "Binding of the Blade" series, a fantasy series being published by P&R (Presbyterian & Reformed) publishing company. Set in the land of Kirthanin, spanning a couple generations, this series has a very strong, epic scope to it. Good, realistic characters, fun action, dragons and talking bears (who doesn't like talking bears? Especially talking bears that can beat up the bad guys with big sticks??)

The author is clearly writing from a Christian perspective, but thankfully his story doesn't suffer for his theology - in fact, it enhances it as good theology ought to do. I've reviewed the first two already, so I'll skip the plot summary and just recommend this book. I'm sure I'll buy the next four whenever they arrive.

2 comments:

Sir Ryan said...

I just finished Shadow in the Deep last week! I don't remember you reviewing these books before... I read the first two around Christmas this past year. How did I miss that in your blog?

Gail Schoonmaker (formerly Prichard) knows the author, I'm told. Gail recommended them to my mom, and my mom recommended them to me. I wonder if we get autographed copies...

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