A Church No Longer Christian

Just because we read and write fantasy doesn’t mean we’re out of touch with the real world. We just want to be, sometimes.

The saddest reality report I heard this week was the news that the Presbyterian Church USA had voted to remove all limitations on sexual behavior for its ordained deacons, elders, and ministers. The old requirement of “chastity in singleness, fidelity in marriage,” was tossed out by majority vote.  This was done so that openly-practicing homosexuals and lesbians could be ordained, but it would also allow openly-practicing adulterers to be ordained, too.

Why it was done defeats my imagination.

I’d like to know when God decided to let sinners define morality by a vote. What ever happened to “Thus saith the Lord”? Did God focus-group the Ten Commandments before He carved them in the stone?

What moral standards will they vote out next? When will they decide you don’t have to believe in God in order to be ordained a pastor in the PCUSA? Or have they already done that?

Meanwhile, they rather strongly insist that you believe in political morality–bow the knee to man-made Global Warming, abortion, “social justice” (a euphemism for communism), illegal alien amnesty, feminism, etc., or else! As far as they’re concerned, a pastor can spend all his spare time cruising the Garden State Parkway rest stops, as long as he supports Obamacare.

Once upon a time the PCUSA was a Christian church. But it isn’t anymore.

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin…

Book Review: The Narnia Code by Michael Ward

(Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, IL: 2010)

“The [Narnia] books are much more Christian than we’ve realized.”

-Michael Ward (p. 130)

“Lewis ate and drank from the table of pagan idolatry. He slurped it in and was so full of it, that this world of idols and sorcery came out through his books.”

-David Sorensen1

No author has ever succeeded at being correctly understood by all of his readers. C. S. Lewis is widely, but not universally, regarded as a great Christian thinker and apologist, best known for his seven books, The Chronicles of Narnia. These children’s books, also enjoyed by adults, are often held up as the best example of Christian fantasy literature.

Michael Ward, Chaplain of St. Peter’s College, Oxford, has studied Lewis exhaustively. He’d read everything Lewis ever wrote-including unpublished manuscripts and letters, poems, and childhood notebooks. If there is anything Mr. Ward doesn’t know about C. S. Lewis, chances are that nobody knows it.

Ward claims to have unraveled a secret code pertaining to all the Narnia books-something that Lewis put in on purpose, and which, very subtly, holds the whole series together while subconsciously working on the reader’s mind. No, it’s not like one of those “Bible codes” that tells you Leviticus 4:14 secretly predicts who will win an Oscar next year. It’s more in the nature of a hidden theme, deliberately concealed by C. S. Lewis, to heighten the impact of his art. So Ward’s title is a bit misleading.

Seven Heavens, Seven Books

“Lewis took the seven heavens that he so loved and used them as symbols of Christ … to present Christ in seven different ways,” Ward says (pp. 129-130). He is referring to the ancient cosmology which featured seven heavens circling the Earth, each ruled by its own “planet”-the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn-with each “planet” having certain influences on Earth and its inhabitants.

Each Narnia story is “ruled” by its own planet: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Jupiter; Prince Caspian, Mars; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Sun; The Silver Chair, the Moon; The Horse and His Boy, Mercury; The Magician’s Nephew, Venus; and The Last Battle, Saturn. The planets, says Ward, are “spiritual symbols speaking through stories” in which C. S. Lewis “translated the planets into plots” (p. 146).

It sounds complicated, but Ward does make a very strong case. Everything he says, he backs up with quotes from Lewis himself. He also does an amazingly good job of writing in a clear, simple prose style very similar to that employed by Lewis to tell his Narnia stories. Ward sounds like Lewis. He has written a book which an intelligent child would understand, but which won’t make an adult reader feel like he’s been kidnapped by Barney the Dinosaur.

Ward has convinced me that Lewis didn’t just “throw in everything” when he was writing a Narnia tale: “randomness and mishmash are not to be found” (p. 8) in these books, he says-even when it may look like mishmash. Thus there is a reason for Father Christmas appearing in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, even if it seems careless, even silly, to insert one of our own popular culture icons into the parallel universe of Narnia-an apparent anomaly which Ward says got him started in his search for C. S. Lewis’ cryptic messages. Superman wouldn’t belong there, but Father Christmas does.

It’s not necessary to go into the details of Ward’s reasoning. His book is easy to read and explains itself. It’s a clever piece of literary detective work, and those most interested in his argument should read the book.

But we cannot help asking, given that C. S. Lewis secretly followed a cosmological theme in composing his Narnia tales: Are we better off for knowing that? Mr. Ward finds his own pleasure and understanding greatly enhanced for knowing it. Then again, millions of children and adults, over more than half a century, have adored these books without ever suspecting there were any secret messages involved.

Is that because Lewis succeeded in speaking to the readers’ subconscious?

There’s no way to know; and meanwhile, there are other issues to consider.

Bell Mountain Review by Adam Ross

The first in a series of five (thus far), Bell Mountain marks the fantasy debut of author Lee Duigon, and it is an enjoyable debut too. The story follows two children, Jack and Ellayne, as they attempt to make their way across the corrupt kingdom of Obann to climb Bell Mountain and ring the legendary bell that sits atop its peak. Long ago the bell was built by the last good king, King Ozias, but not many believe in the story any longer.

Prompted by haunting dreams of the bell and a mysterious promise made by God in the ancient Writings, Jack and Ellayne believe that the ringing of the bell will reshape the world forever. This call to climb the mountain and ring the bell is not a quest they would want to do, either. It is believed by many that the ringing of the bell will mark the ending of the world. Will they find their courage to ring it? First, of course, they must get there; the road is fraught with many dangers, like child slavers, barbarians, outlaws, and bizarre creatures emerging from the mists of legend, as well as an assassin sent to prevent them from ringing the bell by the corrupt First Prester of the Obann church.

The book is a solid one, set in a fantasy world that borders on being an alternative, or parallel, world to our own. Duigon is a Christian, and so leans heavily on events and ideas taken from the Bible. This is tastefully handled, however, and he always shifts the stories enough to make them original, while maintaining their familiar echoes. King Ozias, for instance, is something of a King David figure, and I caught allusions to other biblical stories such as Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel.


Rabbit: Chasing Beth Rider by Ellen C. Maze

(TreasureLine Publishing: 2010)

For the past two years or so there has been an undercurrent of buzz in the book world as to when we would see the first “Christian vampire novels,” and what they might look like. The subject has even come up recently on my book blog.

Meanwhile, sleazy, slimy, most decidedly un-Christian vampire novels have proliferated (Twilight knockoffs, most of them). With so much of that going on, I had reservations about Ellen Maze’s novel-clearly labeled “Christian HORROR” on TreasureLine’s cover. Frankly, I expected to be saddled with a schlocky, formulaic horror novel with some “Christian stuff” slapped on like a decal.

Happily, I was quite wrong about that.

Why Do It?

Let’s say it right up front. Whatever this book’s shortcomings (and there are a few), Ellen Maze has taken a big step in the right direction. In fact, hers is a pioneering effort, and other Christian novelists ought to be able to build on it-especially if they’re writing fantasy or horror.

Behind this is something very important: the prospect of reclaiming the whole “entertainment” industry for the Kingdom of Christ, starting with print fiction. People in the Western world consume untold quantities of fiction in various forms-novels, stories, movies, television, games, etc.-and the vast majority of it depicts a world that is totally without God, inhabited by characters who have not the slightest sense of God in their lives. This depicts a thoroughly non-religious civilization whose like has never existed on the earth: and consumers of it spend uncounted hours marinating in it. Let the reader imagine its effects on the way such consumers think and live-including the many who identify themselves as Christian.

Perhaps finding a way to write a “Christian vampire novel” is a very little thing. But we know our God delights in producing great effects from little causes.

Fading into Obscurity

Writers hope their work will live on after them (I do, at least). In some ways our books are like our children. We don’t like to think they’ll just dry up and vanish.

I’d like to mention two novelists who were very successful in their day but who are now fading into undeserved obscurity: Edison Marshall (American) and Arthur Upfield (Australian).

Marshall wrote, among other things, historical novels. His most productive decade was the 1950s. Among his most successful books was The Viking (1951), which was made into one of my favorite movies as a kid, The Vikings, in 1958, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and Ernest Borgnine. All the kids in my neighborhood played “Vikings” for weeks afterward.

Upfield wrote mysteries set in the Australian Outback featuring “the half-caste detective,” Napoleon Bonaparte, Bony to his friends. My wife and I are crazy about these books, we have dozens of them, and we’d like to have them all. But that’s getting harder and harder to do, because reprints have not been forthcoming: Arthur Upfield, it seems, is going out of print.

The Girl at the Top of the Page

For those of you who were wondering who she is, and haven’t clicked on “Books” (because then you’d know), her name is Ellayne and she is one of the protagonists of Bell Mountain and The Cellar Beneath the Cellar, and the picture you see is actually a piece of the cover of the second book. The cover artist is Kirk DouPonce, who has done a great job on all my covers so far.

As for what Ellayne is doing, hanging from a rope, well, the best way to find out is to read the book. True, you could be cheap and just ask someone else who’s read the book–but then you’d be missing out on a great story (if I do say so myself).

Writing with the Spirit

With Bell Mountain I began to write fiction in a way I’d never done before. But first I’d like to tell you about the way I used to write–a way which, after all, helped me to get four horror novels published.

I always started with a very general idea for a story. My first published novel, Lifeblood, began with the idea of a vampire coming to a suburban township in New Jersey. At the time, I was covering such townships as a newspaper reporter–and oh, boy, did I know a lot about them! “Write what you know,” and all that…

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.