Category Archives: Fantasy Criticism

‘No, No… Not That! Aaaaagh!’ (2014)

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What is the point of being a fairy tale character… if you’ve still got to go to high school?

Don’t you hate “franchises,” that start out as movies or TV shows and mutate into dolls, action figures, video games, and books? They keep selling you the same material in all these different forms. When I was a liquidator, this stuff kept me busy.

With the Ever After High franchise, the thing that goes clunk in the night was a freakin’ high school. I dunno, maybe things have changed; but when I was stuck going to high school, the last thing in the world I’d ever want to read about would be a high school.

I know they’re trying to make money out there. But do they have to kill off the imagination to do it.

Note: We’ll be doctoring again today, so again normal service will be disrupted. In the absence of new posts, please enjoy the archives.

‘My Fantasy Tool Kit’ (2014)

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There are people who don’t like fantasy; but what they really don’t like is bad fantasy, and there’s always more than enough of that to go around.

A lot of the problem is simple to see: the writers just haven’t made their fictional characters seem real.

There’s really no point in writing unoriginal fantasy featuring cardboard characters who talk and think and act like everybody else’s cardboard characters.

If you’re doing that, you haven’t created a fantasy.

You’ve created a college campus.

‘”Christian Fiction”–A Stepchild?’

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Holy cow….

The America I grew up in was a Christian America–but its movies, TV, and books were already heavily non-Christian. Looking back on it, I wonder why that was. It surely has a lot to do with the way America is now.

I don’t remember any such thing, back then, as “Christian fiction.”

Maybe if we hadn’t cut the Christian religious dimension out of our fictional worlds back then, we wouldn’t need a special category for “Christian fiction” now. I am sure no one noticed it back then–although if anyone did, and had the courage to speak up about it, it doesn’t seem like anyone was listening.

They Can Do… Everything

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So we’re watching this TV show last night, Primeval, and these two paleontologists, guys who dig up and study fossils, suddenly grab a pair of motorbikes and dart all around the parking garage, chasing and being chased by raptors. They just know how to maneuver a motorbike at high speed among parked cars. In fact, they just know how to do wheelies. Both of them know these things. Instinctively. Up until that point in the series, we never saw hide nor hair of motorbikes. And now they’re doin’ wheelies. It’s very effective against raging dinosaurs.

How many times have we seen this in movies and TV shows? Some wispy little Barbie snatches up a .50-caliber machine gun and mows down the zombies. Joe Hero jumps into an unguarded helicopter and just takes off. Heavy machinery, high technology, advanced weapons systems–it’s all the same. Whatever special ability is suddenly called for in the script, the character in that scene has it. No one ever just doesn’t know what to do! “Old man Can’t is dead!”

Pity me. If I were being chased by Velociraptors, you could have 50 motorbikes parked in a row and I wouldn’t know how even to get one started, let alone zoom around like Steve McQueen, doin’ wheelies. First I would have to be taught. Then I’d have to practice. No time for that in a movie!

I consider this a literary crime, and pledge myself to try as hard as I can to avoid committing it in any of my novels. Your money back if I can’t do it!


‘Literary Crimes: Anachronisms’ (2016)

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Sorta like this King Tut cell phone…

Can a novel set in ancient times–antediluvian times, in fact–be ruined by having its characters frequently spout 21st-century Democrat cliches?

Uh… yeah. Even if it’s only me that thinks so.

I keep saying “Christian fiction” has to be at least as good as, and preferably better than, ordinary secular fiction. But I read so much “Christian” stuff that isn’t, I’m beginning to think no one believes me.

Book Review: ‘Shards of Faith’ by Allison Reid

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I found myself, as I was reading, thinking, “I like this!” I still thought so by the time I’d finished it.

We know author Allison Reid as “Weavingword,” a friend of this blog, and Shards of Faith is a “companion book” to the three books of her Wind Rider Chronicles. Somewhere between a novella and a novel, with a length of some 45,000 words, Shards of Faith takes us back in time to events preceding the main story line. It’s sort of a side trip, focused on Broguean the Bard, who last appeared as a minor character in Book 3, Visions of Light and Shadow.

In Visions Broguean is middle-aged, an entertainer who makes the rounds of taverns, not someone whom most people would take seriously–except it becomes evident that he is hiding behind a carefully constructed facade, and has a secret. In Shards we find out what that secret is.

Broguean has revoked his monk’s vows and left the monastery–run by a corrupt and evil abbot, and a prior who goes on to become the chief villain in the trilogy so far–to become a bard and a heavy drinker. He has abandoned a heritage which seems too high for him: he believes himself to be unworthy of it.

But the leaders of the faithful clergy have not forgotten whom he really is, and wind up recruiting him as a secret agent in their battle against evil men aligned with dark supernatural forces; and the job turns out to be vastly more dangerous than any of them bargained for. In the course of his adventures, Broguean has to come to terms with the conflict between what he is and what he ought to be–and that’s what makes this book special.

Once upon a time an author would have included all this in the main body of the story, via flashbacks, dialogue, etc. That can get messy. The companion book is a way to impart this information without interrupting the flow of the main story. The only problem with it is that if you read it as a stand-alone book, you won’t be reading it in context.

Ms. Reid has come a long way in her mastery of characterization; meanwhile, as usual, her quasi-medieval setting is authentic and convincing. There’s still an awful lot we don’t know about the main story–like, for instance, why the bad guys are calling monsters into the world, what they hope to gain from its destruction–but we hope that will be remedied in the next installment or two.

I like stories in which ordinary, believable people–not superheroes!–are called upon to do extraordinary things: because they have to, there’s no getting out of it, and they make do with the resources that God provides for them, sustained by their faith in His Word. Need I mention that every heroic act in all of human history so far has been performed by a real person, not a superhero?

Even when you’ve got a hero on the scene, even when you’ve got King Arthur, he can’t accomplish much without the help of unnamed, unsung men and women who share his vision, fight for it, work for it, and sacrifice for it. There’s way too much fantasy whose authors don’t get this: but Allison Reid does.


‘An Open Letter to My Critics’ (2013)

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The last time I re-ran this post, it touched off a lively discussion among the readers. I’d like to see it do it again.

Why it should be at all controversial, in a work of fiction, to depict a religious dimension to the characters’ lives and culture, is not easy to explain. Some of those secular fanatics really hate it if you even admit “religion” exists.

It has been suggested that I could be more winsome in my dealings with them.

That much effort, I’ll save for more important things.

‘A Brief Defense of C.S. Lewis and Narnia’ (2015)

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Puddleglum–theologian in training?

To boil it down all the way–C.S. Lewis was an atheist and could very easily have remained one all his life: so whatever quibbles we might have with his theology, however late he came to work in the Lord’s vineyard, he did the best he could.

If God requires of us more than that, we’re all in deep, deep trouble.

Book Review: ‘Where the Music Ends’

We know Laura as a visitor to this blog. She once won a comment contest by writing “Ugh.” I’m so glad that didn’t start a trend.

Where the Music Ends (available on, $5.99) is her first published novella. I read it in a sitting yesterday, 99 pages. I enjoyed it, and I won’t easily forget it; but to review it analytically–well, that won’t be easy.

That’s because it’s a kind of fairy tale, or myth. As such, it leaves many things unexplained. It’s as if a painter tried to portray a landscape in as few brush-strokes as possible.

So we have a valley, with seven villages in it, surrounded by a powerful spell laid down by an evil witch, and no one can get in or out. Worse, the witch periodically creates some kind of “music”–it is not described–that summons children out of their homes by night: some of them never to return at all, and others spiritually maimed. We’re not told why the witch does this, or what she does with the children that she keeps. We can only wonder.

Twins Alice and Joseph are called out by the music. Alice is able to resist the witch’s power, but she can’t save Joseph. She meets another boy named Gilbert who has also resisted, although wounded by the attack of a probably magical wolf. As they try to get back home, and get a doctor for Gilbert, they discover that the witch has cursed them with a very nasty curse: people can’t see them, hear them, or help them. Their only hope is to get out of the valley altogether.

I don’t want to try to retell the story here. Suffice it to say that, to overcome the witch and lift her spells, and to save Joseph if they can, the children must discover and then speak the “free words,” whatever they turn out to be; and it seems that what will also be required are “a sword, a word, and blood.” And this means sacrifice.

I can’t decide whether this story is just right as it is, or whether many more details should have been provided. Start doing that, though, and the next thing you know, your novella is a bust and you find yourself writing a novel. As a fantasy writer–who writes novels, not novellas–I do believe in allowing much scope to the reader’s imagination. It’s often more effective than anything I can think of saying about certain people and locations, etc. Should Laura have told us what the witch’s music sounds like? Or would that have risked ruining the story? I don’t know. It’s not my story.

When I was a boy there used to be a program on educational TV, “Japanese Brush Painting.” The artist would demonstrate how to paint a horse, for instance, in just a few simple strokes, achieving not photographic realism, but something of the essence of a rearing horse. It really worked! I didn’t have a brush, but I did try to imitate him with a ball-point pen. I turned out some pretty nice pictures of horses.

Where the Music Ends reminds me of one of those Japanese brush paintings. There is beauty in it, simplicity–and a lot of somewhat creepy stuff going on in the background. I don’t know whether Laura has ever read Lord Dunsany, but there’s something in here reminiscent of his shorter stories of supernatural encounters.

All of which means that I enjoyed the novella and can recommend it to you.

Just don’t expect a lot of explanation.


‘Murdering Fantasy’ (2016)

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People wonder why I got so mad at the library director when she assumed my books were self-published. Well, gee–“self-published” means no quality control. As in the following example.

It’s bad enough, you populate your fantasy with stock characters whose every action and reaction is totally predictable. Bad enough you name your lead characters after popular pain reliever products. But to do both at once is to create something monumentally bad.

I find it hard to get my books reviewed because so many potential reviewers and interviewers say, “But that’s just fantasy.” Like it’s all verbal cliches and stupid unbelievable characters named Feen-a-Mint or Tylenol.

Sometimes every step’s a struggle.

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