A ‘Christian vampire novel’?

I’m going to write a full-scale book review on this for Chalcedon’s print magazine, Faith For All of Life, but in the meantime I’d like to give readers of this blog a heads-up on Ellen C. Maze’s new vampire trilogy, starting with “Rabbit: Chasing Beth Rider.” (TreasureLine Publishing, 2010)

Some of us have been wondering when the first “Christian vampire novel” would come along. Well, this may be it. In fact, Maze has already written a series of four “Corescu Chronicles” that might qualify.

What makes this book qualify? The “Christian element” of the story is not just tacked on; it is the story.

Some critics say C.S. Lewis beats the reader over the head with the Christian symbolism of his Narnia books, while some others say J.R.R. Tolkien buries Christian symbolism so deeply in his Middle-Earth books that nobody can find it. (Well, I say that.) Ellen Maze does something very different: her Christian element is overt, and the mainspring of the story.

To me, contemporary vampire fiction is the nadir of literature–and I say this as someone who has actually had a vampire book published (“Lifeblood,” Pinnacle Books, 1986). I was pretty much a pagan when I wrote that, and I can’t say “Lifeblood” reclaimed any ground for the Kingdom of Christ. But compared to all the “Twilight” knockoffs floating around today, “Lifeblood” wasn’t so bad. But “Rabbit” is a conscious effort to plant Christ’s banner in the heart of enemy territory, for which I applaud Mrs. Maze.

Rather than steal my own book review’s thunder, let me ask readers of this blog: What do you think a “Christian vampire novel” ought to look like? What should the author do, and what should he or she most definitely not do?

Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel by David C. Downing

(Ignatius Press, San Francisco: 2010)

Aided by three wise men, two young Americans go tearing around Britain in 1940 in search of a legendary Christian relic … That, in a nutshell, is the plot of Looking for the King.

The wise men are Charles Williams, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis, the most famous members of a scholarly group of friends who called themselves the Inklings. Williams is not as well-known as the other two, who became popular culture icons; but as a close friend of Lewis and Tolkien, and an acknowledged influence on their lives and works, he has been included in the story.

The relic is the Roman lance that pierced the side of Christ as He hung on the cross, confirming that He was dead and that the body could be taken down, as told in John 19:31–37. The king in question is King Arthur: the quest begins with Tom McCord’s research into the matter of King Arthur’s historicity. Apologizing in advance for what may be considered a “spoiler,” the king Tom eventually finds is not Arthur but Jesus Christ Himself.

This book matters not because it’s great literary art (which it isn’t), or an introduction to three fascinating Christian thinkers (which it is), but because in it we can begin to see how the realm of imaginative fiction might be reclaimed for Christ and put to the service of His Kingdom. Reading this novel might start other writers on that journey.

Tolkien’s Camouflage

A visitor to this blog drew my attention to a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, preserved in one of his letters:

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

In my life I have read LOTR (and The Hobbit) many times and have yet to discern anything Catholic about it. Indeed, the most unreal thing about Tolkien’s imaginary world is the total absence of places of worship, clergy of any kind, sacred writings, explicit references to any deity or deities, and so on. Here on Earth there has never been a civilization that looked like that. Where would archeology be without temples, shrines, idols, etc.?  Meanwhile, I’d give a lot to see the manuscript of Lord of the Rings as it was before Tolkien revised it.

King Arthur, Anyone?

Hello–any King Arthur buffs out there?

Maybe I shouldn’t mention Arthur on a page dedicated largely to fantasy literature. He doesn’t have that firm a foothold on “real history,” and I wouldn’t like to push him entirely into the realm of the imaginary, there to take up permanent residence with fairies, satyrs, and man-made Global Warming.

I was very excited, some years ago, when I learned that the Romans had long stationed Sarmatian cavalry in Britain, and that most of those remained behind when the Romans withdrew their legions in the 5th century. Why excited? Because I knew from Herodotus that various “Scythian” peoples (including the Sarmatians, probably) worshipped their war god by raising a heap of stones and thrusting a sword into the top of it. Voila! The ancient tale of Arthur and “the sword in the stone” suddenly takes on cultural and historical context. Alas, others managed to publish that scenario before I got around to it. If you snooze, you lose.

Even if he was a real person, King Arthur looms large in fantasy. It makes tracking down “the real Arthur” well-nigh impossible.

We see a highly unusual attempt to do both–find the historical Arthur, and exploit the fantasy of Arthur–in David Downing’s novel, Looking for the King. I’m writing a full book review for Chalcedon, but in the meantime I’d love to hear what other readers think of it. Did you like it? Do you think Downing succeeded in whatever he was trying to do? And did you enjoy seeing J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams appear as major characters in the story?

Story Game Q&A

If you have any questions about the story collaboration, please ask them here as “comments” instead of attaching them to the story.

Let’s Write a Fantasy Story Together

Just for fun, I invite readers of this blog to collaborate in writing a short fantasy story. To join in, just write the next paragraph of the story as a “comment.” It should, of course, bear some relation to the paragraphs that went before it. I’ll delete anything obscene, any graphic sex or violence or profanity, anything disrespectful to God or Jesus Christ, and anything that’s just incoherent. Otherwise, your paragraph becomes part of the story.

Got it? Good! The game is now open to anyone who wants to play. Let me get the ball rolling with a first paragraph. After this, I’ll clam up and the rest will be entirely the fruits of the readers’ imagination. Here goes…

Jennifer woke on a snowy morning and looked out the window. There was a centaur in her back yard, standing by the bird bath–not at all the kind of thing you expect to see in the suburbs: or anywhere else, for that matter.

The rest is up to you, folks.

More Fantasy Disguised as Science

If you think I’m kidding about scientists doubling as fantasy writers, get a load of this from Wikipedia:

Pan prior is the name suggested by British biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham for the last common ancestor of humans (Homo sapiens ) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) . This species is supposed, on the basis of DNA reconstruction (no fossil remains have been found), to have existed prior to six million years ago, when the human and chimpanzee lines are thought to have diverged. Pan prior lived an arboreal existence in the forests of Africa. It was initially thought that an Ice Age, around seven million years ago, caused forests to shrink thus prompting some members of the species to venture into the savannah, becoming the ancestors of humanity…

And so on: solid humbug, every word of it. I mean, they’ve invented this animal in their own imaginations, there’s no fossil, not a shred of evidence, and on they go to study it and discourse and write about it just as if it were real. But it is not real. It’s a fantasy creation, like an Ent or a Dragon.

What the heck, who needs evidence anymore?

They Never Learn (Scientists, That Is)

I’ve just re-read a book about Piltdown Man, the second-biggest scientific hoax in history (the biggest being Man-made Global Warming, by a long shot).  For those of you too young to have heard of Piltdown Man, it was supposedly a “missing link” ape-man fossil discovered in England in 1912. Scientists were overjoyed–this was just the kind of missing link they were looking for and fully expected to find. Into the textbooks it went; but by the mid-1950s it was conclusively proved to be a hoax. Some mischievous soul took a modern cranium from a medieval graveyard, an orang-utan jaw, filed down the ape teeth to make them look more human, stained the bones, and planted other fossils around the site to make it look convincing.

How can you write a whole book about the Piltdown hoax and conclude with words like this? “…We are in no doubt about the reality of the transformation which has brought Man from a simian status to his sapiens form and capability.” But when one of your prime exhibits is revealed to be a big fat phoney, I’d say that opens up some room for doubt–wouldn’t you?

Creating fantasy is fun, and can be put to constructive uses. It’s when you start believing in your own fantasies, that you created, that you get in trouble. The fact that the Piltdown Hoax (the perpetrator has never been identified) made fools of the whole scientific establishment never shakes the author’s faith in the Darwinist fantasy.

What would we think of some Tolkien enthusiast who said, “We are in no doubt of the existence of Dragons, Hobbits, and Ents”? But Tolkien never tried to pass off his fantasies as reality.

If only they’d tried a little harder with the Cardiff Giant, they probably could’ve gotten him into the science textbooks, too.

My Poor Car! A Casualty of Global Warming

As I lay asleep in bed last night, during a hellacious ice storm, some turkey came whizzing down the street and smashed my car. I am parked on the street because we have no driveway, no parking lot, and I have no choice. So, wham! tore the whole left front panel off and bent the door so it won’t open.

As I write this, the iceballs are still coming down, still coating the enormous piles of snow all over the place. But the first thing I heard on the news this morning was Al Gore saying all this snow and ice is the result of… Global Warming!

As a fantasy writer, I am sensitive to fantasy being used as a basis for public policy. Despite the demonstrated fact that Warmist “scientists” have been repeatedly caught lying, cheating, fudging their figures, destroying evidence, presenting World Wildlife Fund press releases as peer-reviewed scientific papers, and demanding that the government silence or even jail their critics, they just will not let this drop. Confronted by the most severe winter in most people’s memory, they insist the cold weather is caused by warming. One is reminded of Judge Judy snapping at some witness who is BS-ing her, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me that it’s raining!”

Meanwhile, Harry Reid is trying to tell us that NOT spending a couple trillion dollars on Obamacare is somehow going to increase the deficit. My leg is getting wetter and wetter.

Here we see, at last, where fantasy ends and actual delusion begins. When we craft a fantasy, we assume the reader will take it for granted that what he’s reading isn’t real. We appeal to his willing suspension of disbelief, realizing that it’s only a temporary suspension. Our fantasy book or movie is thus a metaphor, and understood as such by all the rational members of our audience.

On second thought, “delusion” may not be the right word for what Gore and Reid are subject to. The term “compulsive lying” is probably more accurate.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

Movie Review by Lee Duigon

It’s hard to review a piece of a movie-which, for all its nearly three-hour length, is what this is. If you haven’t seen the earlier Harry Potter movies, or read the books, watching this movie will be like entering a roomful of strangers all talking about people and incidents you have never heard of. There’s no flashing back to make things clear, no explanations provided for anything. If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, you can forget about understanding this film.

So why review it, then?

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels have sold millions and millions of copies, and millions of movie tickets, too. This is the most successful series of books ever published, and it has revolutionized young readers’ fiction. It would be irresponsible to ignore it.

Because Harry Potter is such a cultural phenomenon, and this movie is a slice of it, we can look at it to see what it can tell us about our culture. What has Harry Potter taken out of our culture, and what has it put in?

Magic and Science

In the alternative universe of Harry Potter, everything important gets done by magic-or “wizarding,” as they sometimes call it. Witches, wizards, and warlocks are the elite of that world.

As a thought experiment, plug in “science” for “magic”-and you’ll see that the Harry Potter world pretty closely approximates our own. By “science” we mean what Jean-Marc Berthoud calls “the cultural domination of our whole culture by a purely mathematical model of the universe (the so-called scientific worldview, valid in fact only in its strictly limited domain, that of the measurable) as normative of every aspect of reality.”1

Materialistic “science” in our culture has excluded God. In Harry Potter-land, “magic” does the same. Given the awesome power of magic in that world, there would appear to be no place for God.

Despite various efforts to spin the Potter books as some obscure kind of Christian enterprise, we see no evidence at all in Deathly Hallows I that there is any Christianity at work in any of the characters’ lives, or any other recognizable religion, for that matter. Yes, there is one brief scene in which we see a village church with people inside it singing Christmas carols. What of it? Millions of Americans celebrate Christmas as a generic holiday and are dead to its religious significance. And every now and then, a character in the movie says, “my God.” But that doesn’t mean that they believe in God. For millions of Americans, “God” and even “Jesus” are just words to be tossed casually into a sentence, stripped of all meaning.

J. K. Rowling has been accused of promoting witchcraft. But I think it important to note that in Deathly Hallows I, there is no hint of any power higher than that of the magician. Paganism is supposed to feature pagan gods and goddesses, but we see no gods here. The world of Harry Potter much more closely resembles the fantasy world of The Humanist Manifesto II than it does anything in paganism. Take the Humanist Manifesto and substitute “magic” or “wizarding” for words like “science” and “technology,” and you will instantly find yourself in Harry Potter’s universe.2

Thus we discover that Rowling is not promoting paganism. Wittingly or not, she is promoting humanism.