Holy cow, is this stressful! You should see what they’ve done to my blog this morning. If it looks normal at your end–well, I wish it’d look normal here.
Anyway–remember when I had to read and review all those books by “Abner Doubleday,” aka Brian Godawa? The fantasies set in the world before the Flood, which featured everyone using 21st century slang.
Hint to aspiring writers: Plain English is just about always suitable for whatever purpose you have in mind. There are some famous authors who love to write in dialect, and subject their readers to whole pages of blah-blah at a time. I have never enjoyed those books.
Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Especially if you review Young Adults books.
I wonder how hard editors have to work to get some of this stuff in shape to be published. I asked my editor, once (she’s now the editorial director for a major New York publishing house) how, when she was so hard on me, and so demanding of excellence, she could have let a certain book slip into print. She answered, “You didn’t see it the way it was when we got it. I won’t even try to describe what was wrong with it.”
You don’t have to be a fantasy writer to cook up really daft stuff. In fact, the “real” word is awash in fantasy.
Of course, any time you start drifting toward “Man is basically good, it’s only our institutions that need tweaking,” you begin to take leave of sanity.
Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so.
Too much of what is labeled “Christian fantasy” is only “Christian” on the outside. But then you can say that of some churches, too. And people.
Just as it’s possible for a politician who supports and publicly funds abortion to say “I’m a good Catholic!”, any publisher can call any book a Christian novel. Sayin’ so don’t make it so.
Jon Dykstra of Reformed Perspective Magazine did a fine job of welding several of my blog posts, and my answers to his questions, into an article about Christian fantasy.
After Lewis and Tolkien
I was especially gratified when he told me how his children loved Bell Mountain as he read it to them. They called it simply “Jack and Ellayne.” I think they were five or six years old at the time–way under the age of the target audience. But I’ve heard this a lot, over the years–mostly from adults.
Anyway, it’s an interesting article and I was very pleasantly surprised to find it available online.
This blog post, back then, resulted in a wonderful article by John Dykstra in Reformed Perspective Magazine–which I’ve been able to locate, and which I’ll re-post for you tomorrow.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how I hate fantasy cliches–the Invincible Female Warrior, the Thief With a Heart of Gold, Know-It-All Elves, etc., etc.
Fantasy can be made into a useful tool for Christ’s Kingdom–I’m totally convinced of it. But first it has to be straightened out.
I post this every now and then to illustrate the kind of trouble you can get into if you try to review books honestly.
I couldn’t read the whole series: just couldn’t take it. I bailed out when Gilgamesh’s mother, a pagan goddess, called him “Gilgy.” This story lasted 5,000 years for that?
It’s just a fact of life that not everybody can write both fiction and non-fiction. You can be good at one and awful at the other.
And it’s also a fact of life that awful fiction sometimes sells like mad. It takes more lifetimes than I’ll get, to come to terms with that.
Y’know how some movies are annoying because they’re so actory? By “actory” I mean that they seem to have been made only to give actors an opportunity to show off for each other, with no consideration for any wider audience.
Some of you, naturally, will someday want to try your hand at writing fiction. If you do, please to try not to be too “writery.” Like you might be imagining some reader shaking his head in awe and admiration and muttering, “Wow, this guy’s better than Hemingway!”
What makes prose too writery? Well, tell me what’s wrong with this picture:
My [bleep] personal life was like a goose without a gee, a slapstick tragedy. The hairs on my legs stood up and laughed at me. I live face-down in that ignored Gomorrah that calls itself Fashoda, New Jersey, along with all the rest of the acrophobic midgets and the songs that voices never share…
Imagine half a dozen pages of this, and you’ll get the picture.
For almost every purpose imaginable in literature, plain English will suffice. If you’re William Shakespeare, of course you can go beyond that. Way beyond it! If you’re Ross Macdonald you can tiptoe right up to the edge without falling off. But most of us are better off just saying what you mean.
I say it’s an achievement when the reader of your book loses the awareness of reading a book. Something to shoot for, eh? Or, to paraphrase Sun Tzu, “The supreme art of writing is to write without writing.”
I’m never happier than when I’m sitting outside on a sunny day, with my cigar and legal pad, with no awareness of time passing, writing one of my books. But before I can get there, first the book has got to be born.
That’s just so cool, when a dream grows into a book. I don’t map these out ahead, like I used to do, long ago, with my horror novels. I just go with whatever God gives me.
And I do enjoy the ride!
Do you shy away from Russian novels because you can’t even guess how to pronounce the characters’ names? Some people have that same problem with fantasy.
I don’t know that characters in fantasy novels have names that are any harder to believe in than the names of college presidents. Clostridia Whittington Farnsworthy–names like that. Don’t tell me “Aragorn” or “Corsus” is worse than that.
I am forced to admit that great steaming chunks of fantasy fiction are totally worthless. I don’t care so much about the names. It’s the stead downpour of cliches that puts me off.
But a fantasy that really works–Ah! Priceless!