Monday, September 30, 2013

Release the Kraken!

 I've wanted to write a post on sea monsters for a long time--specifically, I wanted to write one on the kraken. Unfortunately, it got lost in a host of my other ideas. After much ado, I've finally returned to the tentacled beast of terror.

Krakens are almost always beasts. I've never seen anyone do a sentient kraken; I'm sure it's been done somewhere, over the rainbow, but that's really not the point. This squid is almost always non-sentient.

Although modern movies have shown the kraken lurking in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, the monster is of Norse decent. I will never know why it appeared in The Clash of the Titans; especially since the monster in the story of Perseus and Andromeda had a perfectly good Greek name (Cetus). But I desist. The kraken is the kind of monster that the Vikings faced, because they were tough and manly.

The kraken first comes into the picture in the epic adventures of Orvar Odds where the author describes a hideous creature called the Hafgufa. The Hafgufa was said to be the "greatest of sea beasts", and it could "swallow ships, whales and anything else it can reach".  The references to the kraken are mostly scientific after that. On old Norwegian scientific work from the thirteenth century refers to the kraken as being a monstrous creature, more like an island then an animal. None of these references mention it being a giant squid, which is a bit odd, since we are so used to the idea of the kraken being a giant squid.

It isn't until Carolus Linnaeus, the man who invented the classification system, that we have any mention of the kraken as a giant squid. Pause for a moment, to consider the fact that one of the first great modern scientists included the kraken in his classification of animals. Pure awesomeness. He defined the kraken was some sort of monstrous squid, rather then just some vague sea terror, like Charybdis.

That's all there is to say on krakens. Hope you all found that entertaining!

"Below the thunders of the upper deep 
Far far beneath the abyssal sea
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The kraken sleeps" - Tennyson 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Alien Abduction

To add variety, I'm going start posting a few fiction excerpts, mostly to add variety to my writing. I really have to practice what I preach, and write some fiction. So without further ado--the completely novel concept--writing.

              The library was quiet. 
              All libraries are quiet to some extent, due to their purpose. But this one--it wasn't the quiet of people, trying to breath quietly and tread softly, it was a dead, heavy silence that seemed to poison everything it touched.  There was no gentle hum of an air conditioning system. No sound of whispers. Not even the ambient noise that most people take for granted. No, this was absolute silence. Reverend Bell couldn’t hear anything except the sound of his own breath.  Even that was muted. 
           It was like being deaf. 
           He was in a library unlike anything he had ever seen before. There were books, but they were arcane and strange, covered in esoteric languages he had never seen before. Everything else was white plastic: clean, pristine and untouched by any human hand.  It was like someone had found a way to make things out of bleach. The lights overhead shone brightly, making it hard to see. 
         “I’m deaf and blind,” Bell muttered to himself. His words echoed, though he had barely whispered.
          No-one answered. The minister was alone, in a library full of books he couldn’t read. 
         Then they walked onto the scene. Two tall, thin creatures with grey skin and almond eyes. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what they were. Bell had watched enough sci-fi movies to recognize them. Aliens. 
 There was something disconcerting about seeing something in real life.  The barrier of safety was gone, and what had been an interesting concept in the safety of his living room, was suddenly terrifying when manifested in the flesh. No television could convey the utter eeriness: their absurdly silent movement, their unblinking eyes, the odd grey color that was their skin. He might have been more prepared as a medieval peasant.
         They stood, one on either side of him. They both whispered to each other in a weird, unintelligible language. Honestly, it was hard to tell whether they were talking at all. Sometimes it just seemed like their mouths were moving. 
         Then, for some reason, they decided to speak in words that he could understand. 
         “Reverend Jonathan Lewis Bell,” said the one on the right. It's voice was cold beyond all reckoning.
His name was uttered so quietly he could barely recognize it as his. 
        “Yes?” he whispered back. It seemed obscene to reply in a normal voice. 
There was a long pause, a full minute of quiet. For one minute, he worried he had offended these strange creatures. Then the left one spoke. 
        “How does it feel….” he whispered, “To be human?”

Friday, September 27, 2013

Different Angles

Cubes - Jean David

After I posted last time, a lot of you made the excellent point that writing on the spur of the moment actually had its merits. You guys are right, and honestly I should have made it clearer in the post. However, when I wrote the article I was primarily approaching the subject from the perspective of trying to defend careful pre-novel planning. When all of you commented, it occurred to me that you could take writing from a different perspective, and make a case for seat-of-your-pants-writing, or for heavy revision and editing.

You all had different angles on my original take. 

I have a theory--well, better yet, I have a theology--about the nature of truth. Okay, be patient with me as I wax a little philosophical. Truth is absolute and unchangeable, but it is many sided, like a diamond. For instance, right now, you know that your hand exists (hopefully), and you know that absolutely (we're going to ignore postmoderns), however, you can view that hand from many different perspectives: you can look at the back, you can look at the palm, you can make your fingers point straight towards you, you can cover your face with your hand. All of these give you a different perspective on what your hand looks like. This is something that God built into the nature of reality: different things can be true depending on your perspective.

Now lets be clear here, I'm not claiming that everything is true depending on your perspective, but rather you can approach an absolute truth in different ways. You can view you hand from many different perspectives, but it will always be a hand and never a tentacle.

Fiction writing can be viewed from various perspectives too: you can look at it from the perspective of sub-creation,  from the perspective of telling a story,  from the perspective of self expression. Your method of writing will be influenced by how you you view writing itself vastly.

You can view the craft of writing from different perspectives as well, and hence, I think, our confusion. I was looking at it from the perspective of careful planning, which is one methodology. You can also view it from different perspectives, and both seat-of-your-pants-writing and ruminate-on-the-concept-for-a-few-hundred-years have their advantages.

Which is all a really complicated way of saying that there are a lot of different ways to go about writing: Heart of Darkness was written in the seat-of-your-pants style, and The Lord of the Rings was written in the ruminate-on-the-concept-for-a-few-hundred-years method. Now, while both my editor and I like Tolkien better, Joseph Conrad was a talented writer (especially when you consider that English was his fourth language, and there are some words I don't know). There are facets to reality, and you can choose which one to depict. Use your talents accordingly.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seat of your pants.

Writing on the fence - Norman RockwellI've often heard it said, by many modern great authors and writers, that the way to write a great novel is to quite simply... just to write. To plunge yourself into action of writing, and that, with practice and time, somehow you will become a great author. I really hesitate to criticize this thesis, seeing as so many good writers would oppose me here. However, given the quality of modern literature, I honestly think there might be something wrong with this approach.

Imagine this; you're an officer going into battle, and your general tells you not to plan at all, because planning is cowardice. He tells you to fight like a madman and hope for the best. You would probably protest. You might even call him an idiot, blockhead, fool, dummy, moron, nitwit, imbecile, cretin, ignoramus, muttonhead, dunce, pinhead, ninny, dumbbell, nincompoop or twit. Not that I claim to be an expert in either military tactics or strategy, but something tells me that capering headlong into a battle with nary a care in the world--tends not to work so well.

I know there is something to be said for impromptu writing, and some of my best friends seem to come up with wonders on the seat of their pants, but I am not one of those people, and my writing tends to take a lot of thought. I need time to sort out my ideas before I put my hands to the plow, or else all my work ends in befuddlement. These blog posts are usually the child of my unspoken, daytime rambles. Now, far be it from me to suggest that everyone should write the way I do; however, isn't there something to be said for planning? 

A lot of the great novels and classics had planning put into them. Some works, like Lord of the Rings, had almost an inordinate amount of planning. C.S. Lewis first conceived of the Narnia Chronicles in 1939, but he didn't finish writing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  until 10 years later. Most authors, until relatively recently, seemed to consider planning an essential part of the novel process. This seems to have been largely replaced by the seat-of-your-pants-style. 

 My point is, it's okay to put some time and effort into your novel to make it good. Be patient! There's a place for planning and intellectual effort in your book: it's beforehand. You don't have to feel bad if you're not writing at this exact moment. That's no excuse not to work on your book. You just don't have to work on the writing right away; plot matters too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The old gods.

The Muses Leaving their Father Apollo to Go Out and Light the World - Gustave Moreau

A better title for this article might have been 'The Dark Gods.' From a Christian perspective, all false religion is darkness. In this blogpost we'll examine the broiling potion of contradictions that is paganism.

This is the interesting thing about paganism; oftentimes we mistake it for anti-Christian hostility, and in a sense it is, but only because it doesn't honor God. When we assume that paganism is one vast, unified arsenal aimed to destroy Christianity, with only minor logical flaws here and there that our characters must cleave to in order to make any headway at all--we draw not on the data, but on our own experience. The more modern religions that we face today (especially secularism and Islam) were, in a sense, formed in opposition to Christianity. Paganism was not so. Odds are, it formed long ago in opposition to true worship of the Creator; however, a lot of time passed between the initial rebellion of paganism and foundation of the true Faith.

Since paganism was not formed in opposition to Christianity, it didn't have some elements of religion that we tend to take for granted today. For example, it didn't even attempt to be holistic. Most world-views today center around one core truth, or universal mystery. That's because most (although not all) either sprung out of Christianity or were heavily influenced by it. Even modern paganism tends to be centered, consistent and orthodoxic to a point. Neopagans today talk loudly about how God is everything and everything is God. Such pantheism was foreign to most pagans of old.

The reason for this is that true pagans don't try to explain the world. Religion is not always a method of uncovering the world we live in, contrary to the claims of some atheists. Sometimes it is the world we live in. We have an inherent sense of the supernatural, and when left alone with both our sin and our concept of the otherworld, we tend to make something like paganism. It's scattered, and distorted, and vague, with no one answer to the question of existence if you ignore the intervention of God or demons in religion (there is Biblical evidence for both).

I think one of the ways God prepared the earth for the coming of Christianity was that paganism had no one answer for the universe at large. Questions about existence, such as 'why are we here?' and 'what is our purpose?' often went unanswered. If you wanted to know something like that, you went to the philosopher, not the local priest.  A second way God prepared the pagan world, was that until Christianity, morality (someone's concept of good and evil) wasn't tied to the divine. Good and evil was a something that philosophers figured out, not gods.

In that way, pagan thought was very different from that of Christianity or other modern religions . It wasn't skeptical. It didn't try to figure out the way the world worked. It just saw the world as certain way and didn't question it. Often, when Christianity was introduced to these places, the pagans saw it as a dangerous and radical grain of thought that went against the traditions of the elders.

So when we write about pagan religions, we need to grasp the fact that paganism isn't a set religion. It's a chaotic stew of ancient man's thoughts, feelings, imagination and views. The only thing that keeps it together is tradition.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Wyrm

Dragon - Utagawa Kuniyoshi

I know, I post inordinately about dragons, but hey! It's called Theology and Dragons for a reason, right? That in mind, this post is on writing about draconic villains. It sounded like a fun idea, so I'm going to do it. After all, the evil dragon is a time honored archetype, even if it has become increasingly rare. So, how do you write a draconic villains?

Let's analyze the enemy. If you make a dragon your villain, it's going to fall into one of three categories: the Beast, which is just a basic animalistic dragon, the Sentient, which is a dragon with a humanoid mind, and the Demon, which is self-explanatory. These three all make very different villains, despite their external similarities.

The Beast bears the characteristics of all monsters. Its primary role is to cause destruction: and a lot of of it.  Since it's an animal, the protagonists have to be a lot smarter then it is, which means the emphasis has to be physical destruction. That's the only advantage it has over the protagonists is physical strength, so milk that for it's worth. Make it breath fire, make it's tail a smashy instrument of death: not to mention venomous teeth, claws that can cut through metal like butter-- don't be afraid to overdo it.

The Sentient is more complicated, because psychology comes into play. I could write quite a lot on the mind of a villainous dragon. The Sentient is neither bestial nor numinous, so the authors have a wide range of personalities they can play with. Villainous Sentient dragons are usually proud and overconfident like Tolkien's Smaug; however, what writers sometimes forget that an evil dragon could be given a range of personalities. This dragon can be selfish and insecure, perhaps insane, maybe it desires admiration and infamy. The Sentient dragon works as a human in a dragon's body, and, given it's human mind, the scope for creativity is enormous.

Last of all comes the Demon, the most subtle and deadly of all. Some other time I might try and write about Demons, but that will take considerable strength of will. As it is, we're just dealing with the draconic Demonic. Here's when the numinous comes in. Don't make your demons overly physical. A Demonic dragon will not be slain by stabbing it in  the heart, like the two others before it. No normal weapons can kill this villain. Spiritual creatures require spiritual warfare to slay.

I hope you have enjoyed my largely incoherent how-to's on how to create (and slay) dragons. I hope they can be of use to you!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing with humility.

Ezra Kneels in Prayer - Gustave Dore

I'm back! Yes, I'm finally feeling up to snuff again. Oh boy, I can't tell you how good feeling up to snuff feels. Perhaps sometime I will do a post on how to write when one is sick. That will have to wait till another time, because there's another idea that's been on my mind for awhile. It's writing with humility.

When I told my editor I wanted to do a post on writing with humility... she seemed to find it really amusing.  I'm not the most humble of people. I swing like a pendulum between arrogance and insecurity. Both are obstacles to good writing, or at least, to good christian writing.

To be sure, the arrogant and the insecure can write (Metamorphosis, Old Man and the Sea). Often they have a lot to say because so much emotion goes into their ego or lack thereof. The writing of any man who focuses to much on himself will always be stiff and wooden, whether it takes the form of fear or confidence. For a long time this was my greatest obstacle to writing, and honestly it still is. My concerns about what other people will think often take precedent over enjoyment.

That's the problem. To make good art, you have to lose yourself in what you are doing. It was never intended to glorify the artist. It was intended to glorify God. Or at least, if you are not a christian, to glorify something outside oneself. All the greatest works of art do so. No-one reads Dickens because of his interesting self analysis, or admires Michelangelo for his self portraits. We find their works beautiful because they take us outside of ourselves. All beauty does, in a way. To make anything beautiful, you must first foster a some sort of sense of humility.

We need to get over ourselves. One of the biggest illusions we have about writing is that it's about us--it isn't. Good writing isn't about sharing our vision with the world, it's more about seeing God's vision of it played out. To write well, you need to lose yourself in your work the same way you lose yourself in reading a book. Once we get out of ourselves, then we find out that our writing is as marvelous and terrible as the world around it: lost echoes of the greater creation. That will give you greater fulfillment and greater enjoyment then anything you can produce on your own.

"Humility is the mother of giants. One can see great things from the valley; only small things from the peak." - G.K Chesterton. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Taking a Break.

Resting on the Vine - Carl Spitzweg

Hey folks!

Alright, I'm going to be taking a break from posting on Theology and Dragons for a few days. The main reason is, I made some poor choices for employment these last few months that have really taken a toll on my health. I need some time to sleep and get back up to snuff health wise. This is by no means a long term sabbatical, it's just a breather so I can focus on a bit of the school stuff that's come up. Thanks all for understanding!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Perfectly Proper Punctuation.

Illustration for the book Living Word - Ivan Bilibin

And here's the post where I'm a hypocrite.

To be honest, as some of you have been awesome enough to point out, punctuation is not my strong suite. It's not that I don't know the rules of the English language, it's more that I'm not always as mentally organized as I should be. So this is the post where I'm going to tell you all not to be like me. Don't do what I do and make tons of typos and grammatical errors everywhere. Write English good--or well. Whatever works for you.

So my hypocrisy aside, why on earth is grammar important? This is a question I struggled with for years. For the longest time, my friends, most of whom were writers, all seemed to possess better grammar and punctuation than I, and would correct me all the time. It started to get disorienting, like that feeling you get when you stumble around in the dark trying to obtain a midnight snack. Once you've stepped on a lego, tripped over the cat, and nearly killed yourself by sticking your hand into the electrical socket you start to realize there was something you should have done in the first place.

You should have turned on the light.

For grammar, having a well ordered mind is like turning on the light. If you're anything like me, the first thought that pops into your head when you think of a 'well ordered mind' is "yeaaaaaaaaaaah, that's... not me." I understand, that's not me either. If you're the sort of person who's naturally organized, kudos for you. You don't need this post. But if you're like me, you are probably more spontaneous then you are neat. And that's really okay, that's who you are, but it's still no excuse not to be orderly. You can be yourself without the messiness.

One thing that Paul exhorts us to to develop as Christians is an organized mind. It isn't impossible. After all, our God is a God of order. An organized mind helps us to understand both His word and His creation. And grammar is a way that we demonstrate to others that we have an organized mind. 

To all you lovable grammar Nazis... you've probably noticed quite a few errors. Oh the irony. Well what can I say? I'm definitely a hypocrite here. I have a lot to learn. Physician heal thyself! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Let there be Truth.

Chardenal Dictionary - Max Weber

I'm pro-reality.

In our day an age, that actually seems like an odd thing for the fiction writer to say. Isn't fiction supposed to be about escape? About fantasy? Isn't it a way to get away from the real world and do something else for a change?

The answer is, no it's not.

If the point of fiction were a lie, then the proper duty of a Christian would be to avoid fiction like the plague. Fiction would be a licentious pursuit, utterly devoid of meaning. Why? Because truth is important. Like, really really important. If fiction were about lying then we would be justified in abandoning it. God never asked us to lie for a living. If the point of fiction is to lie, then we're much better off without it.

However the fact is, that's not the point of fiction. To use an example let's go back to the definition of the word 'fantasy'. It's definition it our capability to imagine things. Not to escape reality." But wait Brendan!" You cry. "Doesn't imagination imply escape from reality?". Not at all.

The only reason imagination has such a bad rap in Christian circles is all the latent empiricism which managed to seep in in the 1920 to 1950s. Imagination is basically conceptualizing that which is not directly observable to the senses. If you don't believe in anything that doesn't come from the five senses, then that manes imagination must not be real in any meaningful sense. For some reason, Christians, even though we believe in the spiritual and non-physical realities have been influenced by this view, and that has contributed greatly to our intellectual poverty.

The thing is, fiction from the Christian prescriptive is simply another way to communicate reality. Instead of using a statement of straight facts, it uses the language of story to help communicate human experience at a depth that normal language can't handle. That's the real reason we write Christian fiction, not to escape reality but to show it for what it is.

Friday, September 13, 2013

From Otherworlds

So I was going to write a post about mythology, then I figured I wasn't in the mood, so I'm going to write post about aliens. More specifically, writing aliens from a Christian point of view. That was sort of them theme of my last post, but that was a description of what I was writing. This post though is the help you write you own aliens.

Now, writing Aliens is a somewhat controversial subject in Christian circles, I have heard it said before, and probably will hear it said again, that extraterrestrials have no place in a Christian cosmology. They make the legitimate case that it's impossible to work aliens in, in a Christian framework. I don't deny the point, it is difficult to work aliens in to a Christian cosmology. But I'm going to make the case here that doing it is a good idea.

Christianity suffers a dearth of good sci-fi, I've blogged about this before, and perhaps may blog about it again. We have yet to produce anything the likes of Asimov. And why is that? I answered part of that question in an earlier blog post. But here I'm going provide an alternative explanation. What if it's because we simply don't want to answer questions about extraterrestrial life or artificial intelligence, and those are two of the primary themes of sci-fi.

It's true that you can write fiction without resorting to aliens or AI, but the limitations run deep. It's like trying to write fantasy without any magic or mythical creatures, or trying to write war novels without any graphic violence. It can be done, but it's hard to do and it the restrictions make it difficult to write anything. Sci-Fi exists to tackle certain questions about the nature of the universe. And its' really difficult to tackle those questions when we certain questions are forbidden.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pyramid of Stars

Planet - Victor Hugo

Alright. I'm going to interrupt our normal broadcasting to give you idea of one of the projects I'm working on. It's a Christian Sci-Fi novel, that I'm really happy with.

First there was Creation. Nine Worlds sprang out of nothing. And with them the host of heaven. Rebellion. The light of the stars became corrupted. One third of them fell. The starlight changed, and then came the creature. 

First of the Creatures were the Guardians. First they were created, and so first were they tempted. The Guardians were a Reptilian race, snakelike, tall, long armed and broad shouldered. They were pious and they were proud. They took the fruit from the tree of knowledge because they were convinced that God had allowed them. 

Second came the Monastics. Humble, calm, slothlike creatures. They fell because of curiosity. They explored the wrong possibility. 

The third race were the Inquisitors. The Inquisitors are pale, thin, grey humanoids. Above all the other races they desired knowledge and progress. Unknown to the rest of them the Inquisitors were not tempted. Unlike the others, the Inquisitors seized the fruit from the tree of knowledge as soon as they saw it. 

The Artisans were insect like humanoids, they were hard workers. They were humble. They fell because of their misplaced obedience.They failed to rebel against Satan and by doing so rebelled against God. 

Next came the Idealists. Bird like creatures, vivid plumage, with sharp beaks and talons. Their ideal was freedom. They took the fruit because of their desire to be free from God.

 Then came the Auxiliaries. They were fighters. For the longest time the two Auxiliaries fought against the fallen races. Two unfallen creatures against thousands.The largest, deadliest,most powerful and devout of the races. But eventually they too fell because they desired violence. 

And then came the seventh. The lost race. The Lords of the Stars. Hope of the seven creatures. From them comes salvation. And dominion over the galaxy. But no-one has ever heard of them. Only the devout even believe in the existence of a Redeemer, and the race of Ministers. 

Long ago the Guardians took control of the galaxy, and claimed that the prophecy referred to them. That they were the Ministers. And that their king was the Redeemer. And killed many of those who said otherwise. 

Not so long ago. The Seventh race was found.But it was found by the Inquisitors. Who kept it secret. Hoping they could use it as leverage so that they could break the Guardians Theocracy over the Galaxy. But few Inquisitors have any faith anymore. They cared little about the theological significance themselves. 

Then. Quite by accident, a Monastic somehow stumbled across the information. One who happened to still be one of the faithful. The ones who believed in the Seventh Race and the Redeemer. He came to earth covertly. For fear of the Inquisitor. He brought back with him a Missionary. 

And that's where things got really interesting....

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Foppishness and Society.

Lord Hervey and His Friends  - William Hogarth

I've been brought up on Jane Austen. Back when I was a five years old, I would break out the hobby horses and pretend that I was Mr. Darcy. Now I may lose manliness points on this, but I've been told this increases one's attractiveness with the girls. I guess that's some consolation for the fact that I never grew up watching the 'A-team'. Anyhow, tossing my masculine insecurities aside for the moment, Jane Austen is an amazing author. She manages to craft a well done story, with intriguing characters and resolves it well. Six times. And she does it all about rich people.

Once upon a time, most of the stories one could read were about rich people. They were glorified as the amazing pinnacles of humanity. They could do no wrong. And then came the Marx and the mobs rose up, killed the rich people and created Democracy... oh wait. But in all seriousness, most stories that were written before the 17th century were mostly about rich people. This was mostly because the rich had the time to do things like write full length novels. But given that they were humans, they tended to represent themselves pretty well. So we end up with the story of the glorified rich.

I'm from two countries, the US and Ireland. Both places have a rather strong anti-aristocratic mindset, especially on the Irish side, where the British subjection has only just passed. This also exists in the liberal sphere. All and all, in this age of radical Democracy we have a widespread aversion to aristocracy. And there's some pretty good reasons for this. Aristocrats have done some pretty evil things in the past. They've made life miserable for a lot of people. This has lead many authors to view aristocrats as the villains. But people misplace the problem when they put it in aristocratic wealth and society, It's not. It's in the nature of humans given power.

Just like savages, aristocrats are easily either romanticized or demonized. Both miss out on the essential humanity of the subject. In order to write well about any subject we need to avoid both extremes. Neither will present to us an accurate picture of the way things were.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Where doth strength lie?

Heracles kills the centaur Nessus to save Deianira - Franz Stuck

Heroes have to be strong, it's part of their nature. It's not that they can't have their moments of weakness, relapse and struggle--but in the end they're going to need to be strong. Otherwise, when push comes to shove and the villain plays his cards, the hero will break. And they would cease to be a hero, they would just be a main character.

So a hero has got to be strong, however the question is... where does this strength come from. In our postmodern world, that strength is always going to come within, the human animus is going to be the center of our strength. To quote the poem Invictus, 'I am the captain of my fate, the master of my soul'. That's what modern thought tends to glorify: the individual, the strong self, the lone ranger. To grow spiritually a person has to come deep into contact with their own inner awesomeness. Only then can they really truly reach their full potential. 

As probably a lot of you know, this is an example of bad worldview, but I have seen this in Christian books. The idea of self sufficiency is still appealing to a lot of Christians. That's natural. Ever since the fall humans have wanted to turn to their own strength and ingenuity to solve problems. We desire autonomy. Our way or the highway. 

The second way the hero can achieve strength through something outside himself. This is not necessarily a Christian view, but it is a religious one. It's very unpopular nowadays. Postmoderns don't like the idea of finding truth outside of yourself. Absolute truth is viewed as a dangerous thing nowadays. What if it offends someone?

The third and final way (which is really a subset of number two) is for the hero to find his strength in our God. This is the Biblical approach: something we've by and large forgotten as a culture, even though that was what made novels like Chronicles of Narnia so great. No matter what, in order for the heroes to win, they would always have to depend on Christ. That is where true strength comes from.

Monday, September 9, 2013


End of Day - George Inness

When I was a lad of about thirteen, I read this series called the 'Animorphs'. They were the coolest thing to me. The plot revolved around a group of teenagers who had to fight an alien invasion using shapeshifting powers. It was amazing. I devoured it ravenously. Finally, I came to the last book in the series and read it eagerly. I was in for a shock.

There was no ending.

Or rather, there was an ending, but no resolution. After writing sixty someodd books, the author killed two of the main characters then ended the series right in the middle of a battle scene. There was no theme, not message. Just utter pointlessness. The sadness I felt as a thirteen year old was crushing.

So how to wrap up a story?

Wrapping up a story can is difficult, mostly because there are two pathways to avoid. Especially for the Christian novelist. There are two endings that are very easy for a writer to use, but it's usually the result of laziness and the author not being willing to resolve things efficiently. These two different endings are both very familiar to modern writers, the unresolved ending and deus ex machina. 

The unresolved ending is exactly what it says on the tin. It's a plot with no resolution. Apparently in our postmodern world it's considered 'artistic' to leave things unresolved because that demonstrates the meaningless of life. Well if life is meaningless... why write? Why do anything for that matter?

On the other hand, deus ex machina is cheap resolution. The fact is, resolution is never easy. If the resolution to your story is easy, then it's probably not a story worth telling anyway. I say that with caution. I might be wrong. 

These are basically two categories of authorial laziness. Deus ex machina is giving a cheap resolution to your plot, and unresolved ending is not giving a good resolution at all. A good ending is a happy medium, where some things get tied up nicely, others a little more loosely, and some not at all. Black and white, but also grey, just like real life.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Question of Spiders.

The Smiling Spider - Odilon Redon

I'm an arachnophobe. I mean, I'm really not a fan of spiders. At all; so why am I writing a post of them? Well I want to pause for a moment and think what spiders symbolize.

Honestly if you want to ask my opinion? The spider always looked like it symbolized sin. It's eight legs, ten eyes, mandibles and grossly inflated abandonment looked far too hideous to be something of God's creation. I wonder why He made those things. Of course that's somewhat of an overly negative view of spiders. They're His Creation, whether I like them or not, and the one Biblical reference to the animal is the positive one.

I still don't like them.

So here's a question? How can one view something entirely loathsome as part of God's creation? This is sort of where this interesting question comes in. What's a matter of taste and what's part of appreciating God's Creation? Do I have a duty to appreciate Spiders given that they are something God created, or am I allowed to have my own tastes in that area?

This is something I've been pondering. I'm not sure on this issue.

Friday, September 6, 2013


Jacob, having recognized the tunic of Joseph that his son reported to him tinged with blood, think that he is dead and abandons himself in his grief (Genesis XXXVII, 31-35) - Marc Chagall

I've heard it said before, by people who who've experienced grief, that if one has never lost one very close to them, they cannot possibly imagine it. I know why they say this; honestly I've felt it before myself. This pain leaves the deepest of scars. It goes through your gut like a sword, and cuts through tendons in your soul that you didn't even know you had. It is so painful, so unexpected, so unlike what you imagined, that it's difficult to see how someone who has never experienced sorrow would know what it feels like without actually experiencing it.

I'm an optimist though, and I want to believe that people have the potential to understand grief from the outside, even if it's only in a rudimentary way. I think some can; but I also think there are those out there who have gone through grief and do not yet understand it themselves... so why is this? What does it take to have understanding of grief?

It takes empathy, honestly, and a lot of it. If you're writing about a character undergoing grief, the thing is that you can't take it lightly. Honestly, you can't enjoy it. This isn't one of those 'Oh yay, I get to torture my character!' moments. It isn't 'Time to relish the drama!'. If you're going to write about grief you need to take the situation seriously, with empathy, or else it won't seem real. And not with the self-righteous seriousness (i.e. look how sophisticated I am... I'm writing about grief), but the seriousness of treating the feelings of those who have borne grief with care.

 Love, care, protection, empathy. I honestly believe if you have those traits you can write about grief, even if you've never personally undergone it. That's me being an optimist.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Creation of the World XIII - Mikalojus Ciurlionis

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth... and then came the music of Ainur. Okay, maybe that's not exactly how Genesis goes. But it is how Tolkien's version goes. Tolkien did a great job retelling the Creation narrative. Few authors can even come close. So this blog post is going to look into how he did it, and use it as a reference for describing Creation.

Firstly, he did it allegorically. However literal you believe the Creation account is, it's impossible for a mere human, who is not divinely inspired, to write about. It would just blow our minds. If we try to give a literal rendition of the Creation account, we're either going to start sounding like pagans, or cheap rip-offs of Genesis. Cheap knock-off's of scripture are not going to honor God in any way.

Secondly, he approached the Creation from a different angle. Tolkien took it from the perspective of Music, but there are quite a few ways to approach the Creation account; they are as numerous as facets of Creation itself. The best way to look at it is to view it from a different aspect. Why? Because distancing your words from Genesis also helps the readers theologically. It helps them to understand this as your interpretation of Genesis rather then Genesis itself.

Thirdly, he understood the theological ideas behind Genesis. Every Christian knows the events of the Seven Days. Not every Christian is familiar with the telos, or purpose, behind it. It establishes God as the first and foremost among Creation. Contrary to the creation legends of the ancient world, there is not cosmic stride. No Ahriman, no Tiamat, no cosmic force of chaos stands in God's way. The Lord is sovereign over all things. All that is Created is Created by His Sovereign Will. God's Creation is  ordered, as opposed to the pagan legends where all randomly springs out of primordial chaos. He loves symmetry, and all will be well again one day.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Frog Prince.

The Prince and the Frog - Ivan Bilibin

Okay, it's time for a trickier post. Put on your thinking caps. I'm going to ask you all a question; what on earth makes a human, human? This is a relevant question to science fiction and fantasy authors. We have worlds with genetic engineering and magic. We can twist, transform and mutate human beings in any way we choose. We can give them superpowers, turn them into butterflies, apotheosize them into god-like beings. So what we want to explore in this blog post is, what makes a human, human?

Let's just start with this question, and take an example from a well known fairy tale. Your incredibly handsome, dashing prince is turned into a considerably less handsome and charming frog. He still has all of his personality, mind, memories, passions, hopes and dreams; but now he has the body of a small amphibian. Is he a human or is he some creature entirely other?

If you answered 'he's no longer human,' let me make matters more complicated, let's assume Prince Charming is a Christian. Salvation applies to humans, but not to frogs. Someone, of course, could say that he is still in possession of a human soul, and not a human body. So the human soul is what makes a human, human. There's a certain logic to this idea. After all, when we die and shed this body, we're still human.

So, it would stand to logic, that what makes us human is spiritual and not physical. However, let's say that said Prince Charming has been stripped of human mind and reason. His mind is that of a frog. Has he died? That brings up yet another question. Is the mind physical? If for instance I were to turn you into a frog, brain and all, would you still think and feel like a human even if you were unable to express it? If that is true what does it mean for mentally handicapped people?

I think (and I could be wrong), it's very necessary for the Christian fantasy writer to view to mind as a non physical substance that can stand abuses that the only a fantasy writer can throw at it. We need some core definition of what humanity is, in a other-worlds where humanity can be compromised. Objectively, we need the best working standard of what a human is.

I rest my case.

"She turned me into a Newt! I got better." 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Writing Weariness

The Nap - Gustave Caillebotte

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, some "genius" got the idea that pushing yourself to write as many words as you could in a day was a great idea. As if good writing was a product of sheer output and no input! This idea might be philosophically shaped from a human centered worldview, or it might be the handiwork of overconfidence. Either way, it's wrong.

As writers, we need rest. Shoving our ideas onto paper without a break, without time to take in new ideas, will not produce good art.

We live in a highly self-relient age, and we think we can overcome any issue simply by tackling it more. We assume that power comes from within. This fancy is partly due to our human natures, and partly due to the culture around us. It values individuality so highly that we often turn to ourselves, instead of God, when we look for our inspiration. But that leads to failure, not just as writers but as Christians.

I'm not disparaging looking within when it comes to seeking ideas and inspiration. However, if we really want to seek rest we have to look outside of ourselves. That means turning off our computers, closing our notepads, and taking time to relax. If you're like me, the "tireless" workaholic, then you definitely need it.

Yes this is a short post, perhaps the shortest one yet. But I need to take some of my own medicine and go to bed. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sweet Liberty.

Romania Breaking off Her Chains on the Field of Liberty - Constantin Daniel Rosenthal

Eventually, those of us who have strong political opinions will end up shoving our views into our writing. We can't help it. Real political feelings run too strong, too deep, not to be expressed. On top of all that, no two impressions are the same. I'm sure I disagree with most of my readership on a host of fiscal issues. This is not the place to discuss that, however, we are going to talk about politics in writing. Specifically, we're going to talk about liberty, or freedom.

In our books and films we talk a great deal about liberty. We use our character to fight for it, whether they are hobbits or Scottish highlanders. We talk about freedom almost constantly, but do we ever stop to wonder what it is?

When some people think of freedom, they think of liberty to do whatever they want, so long as it does not directly hurt another person. Freedom is the chief of modern virtues, I even might say it's the only modern virtue. However, when coming at this from a christian perspective, we're faced with a problem. Sin is slavery, and how can we say that our characters are fighting for freedom when they are fighting for people to be able to sin, and destroy each other if they want? That's hardly a moral cause.

On the other hand, I've heard christians say that the only real freedom is freedom to do good. I think in a sense that's true, but it can be misconstrued so easily that I don't like it.  If freedom is only freedom to do good, than any small sin could be punished. So who would be the arbiter? The church? The state? The family? We can't reasonably make sin illegal, because it's omnipresent in our fallen world. So that brings us back again to the question; what does freedom mean?

I think freedom means not only the freedom to do good, but also the freedom to make some mistakes along the way. It's not a permit to do whatever we want, but grace covers the mistakes we make as we strive to improve. We have liberty to do good, and liberty to stumble in our pursuit. It's liberty to get back up again and fight, not to roll around in the dust.

That is the definition of christian liberty.