Screwtape on Fantasy: A Response to Todd Friel

Todd Friel of the ministry called “Wretched” and others have come out against fantasy fiction having any place in the life of a Christian. You can find his video on Youtube, concerning “wizard fiction.”

In response, I wrote my idea of a possible “Screwtape Letter.” I do hope it does no dishonor to C.S. Lewis.

—-

My dear Wormwood,

I am writing to address your inquiry in your most recent letter, regarding the use of the fantastic in the Patient’s reading habits.

In truth, the subject in and of itself is of little use to Our Father Below, and I expected better even from the likes of you. I must once again indulge the holding of your hand through this matter.

When fiction is the reader’s chosen subject, he ventures into a cinema or into the pages of a book, knowing full well the story’s author is not presenting a documentary or a statement of belief. It is what one might call a neutered lie. All the sinister pleasures of deception have been defanged, because almost all Patients will not take the story as descriptive of reality. Since our goal is to cast illusions and phantoms across the face of real life, attempts to harness fiction to our Father’s cause are severely hampered before we’re even out of the gate.

It is true that a human’s worldview influences their process of artistic creation, and therefore influences those who partake in it. But the medium itself, as a neutered lie, in most cases can only impart a watered-down influence. Even here, however, there can be some meager potential, which I shall explain in a moment.

The human art of pretend storytelling (including the more fantastical varieties) is comparable to any of their other artistic endeavors. Art is not a den of sin by nature. Whatever use fiction has against the Enemy, it cannot give of itself, any more than a bucket can provide water of its own accord. It has to be filled with whatever you wish to provide.

But even then, the best use we have for fiction is not to drag them to our Father’s house, but to reinforce a dragging that is already underway. For instance, Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy does carry a note of delicious subversion, and has in a tiny handful of cases been helpful in bringing humans before our Father’s leering grin. The key is that it is helpful, not foundational. Pullman needed to be guided and coaxed before he could instill his anti-Enemy worldview into a single paragraph. And as with the author, so with the reader. You will notice that a large majority of his devoted admirers already held the Enemy in healthy contempt, or were well on their way to doing so.

Thus, we can see fiction for what it is: a sort of “working out” of a Patient’s heart, with an influence that has to supplement whatever is already present. It is spice, not entree.

Of course, you were mainly interested in fantastic fiction, particularly with magical figures in the story, who commune with spirits and turn into animals, and the like. I am afraid that even these are of use that is as limited as it is dependent.

It might be a different story if High Command did not have the standing order to (in your Patient’s culture, at least) conceal our presence unless otherwise necessary. Magicians are much more charismatic when they are taken seriously, not laughed off as charlatans or fringe lunatics. Rank materialism is closer now to being hybridized with belief in the supernatural than it was a century ago, but for now most of the links are still tenuous. The best of both worlds is still just beyond our grasp, and we must give it time to mature.

Therefore, as always, your Patient’s particular vulnerabilities will decide the angle of attack. If he is one of the precious few in his culture who regard real Magicians as commanding authentic power, you might be able to work some favorable influence. With the right kind of fiction, that is.

Fiction that subverts the Enemy’s declarations – whether overtly or with subtlety – can sometimes make all the difference. You can often see our own whispers into an author’s mind, filtering through the pages. In that case, I reiterate that this fiction has value, but only as a means of reinforcing whatever else we have encouraged and cultivated. Otherwise, a novel that has reinforced one soul’s journey to Hell might disastrously be used by the Enemy to wake another Patient to that same journey, whereupon the human is in great danger of reversing course and wandering into the Enemy’s embrace.

That explosion can be ignited by a thousand short fuses. Perhaps the Patient is awakened to the need for a transcendent reality and, unless promptly guided to one of the many decoy religions we have established, will be on a fast track to Heaven. Or the beauty and gravity of the fictional world might rekindle a hunger that will have him asking all the wrong sorts of questions, which of course the Enemy will be delighted to barge in and answer.

As for fiction that is not subversive of the Enemy, those varieties of fantastic fiction and characters hardly ever were of use for our Father’s cause, except perhaps as idle entertainment that distracts instead of edifies. Be sure your Patient avoids any and all fiction that the Enemy has encouraged in humans. He is crafty, and you stand to only make half-hearted and ham-fisted attempts of subversion against a foundation He has already laid.

As always, if you find yourself in the enemy’s camp, see if you can exploit the legalism inherent in a pharisaical teacher, who commands or coaxes other believers to regard every variety of fantastic fiction as an encouragement to the Occult.

Such humans are eminently amusing, spreading strife where it need not occur, and souring the seeds of the Enemy’s will for many a budding storyteller, all because they lack (or have not exercised) the insight, or craftiness, or creativity of the very God they endlessly claim to speak for. Alexandria never lost so many books to fire as we have successfully suppressed in Christians who were convinced by such teachers to withhold their stories from the world.

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

Advertisements

Worldbuilding — Races — Fairies

I have been doing a Worldbuilding of the Day series on my author’s page on Facebook, and decided to start putting up the information here instead. Seems like more of a fit here, aside from the Facebook policy of “What you type, we own. Forever.”

Anyway, here’s the entry about fairies in the world of The Wolfglen Legacy. I hope you enjoy it!

Social Influence

Rather than being reclusive people isolated from everyone else or hiding under garden toadstools, fairies are quite well-integrated in most societies. Many have positions of wealth or political power. Almost all large cities have groups of fairy apartments or homes, oftentimes perched on the roofs of other houses or even built into the walls of buildings, resembling large dollhouses. Occasional fairy ghettos or “nests” as they are called will consist entirely of these structures and are sometimes known to hold well over a thousand residents.

There are select roads in many cities with raised platforms, like broad stone railings, that are called “fairy-walks.” Inns and hotels usually have a few fairy-sized rooms available, and all will have appropriately sized cutlery, dishes, cups, and chairs for their pint-sized customers. Currency is an issue, but fairies often can barter gemstones or small bags of spices for meals and drinks, or they’ll have satchels over their shoulders that can hold a few coins.

An average fairy’s diet consists of fruits (particularly berries), sugary foods, and lean protein. Their bug-based cuisine is highly prized, even among humans. Butter-fried winged termites have been known to turn even the most insect-averse eater into someone who will eagerly snack on the little invertebrates.

Anatomy

The smallest of all the world’s races, the fairy stands 18-24 inches high, and possesses four wings. Each wing is framed by one long finger-like group of bones and has a leathery skin membrane, meaning it is structured like the wing of a pterodactyl, rather than like a bat or dragon. However, these are wings made for powered flight, not for hovering. Hovering is a rare art among fairies, which takes a lot of training and discipline.

Most males are slightly taller than the females. All fairies have a light and thin build, with heads the size of nectarines or large plums. When they give birth, the wing buds are either invisible or only show up as four tiny bumps on the baby’s back.

Their bone cells adopt a honeycomb structure, they can utilize body energy more efficiently than any other race, and they have large flight muscles on their back. This means a reasonably healthy fairy can fly for over an hour (at sea level — very high altitudes can cut that time in half) before he or she is too physically exhausted to do anything but walk.

Common Roles

Due to their small size and ability to fly, fairies can excel at espionage, scouting and reconnaissance, lookouts for hunters, message delivery, and prospecting. They don’t make good soldiers because of their frail and small bodies, but they can serve a military on the sidelines, such as delivering orders or looking for threats on the road ahead when ranks are mobilizing.

The darker parts of society have found them quite handy for pickpocketing (for small items they can fly away with, like jewelry), assassinations, and subtly whispering to passersby to advertise brothels or gambling dens.

Like all other races on this world, magic-workers are rare among fairies. When a fairy is a magic-worker, he or she doesn’t obey different rules or get the magic from some other source. The same principles (as outlined here) apply to them, except that they cannot control nearly as much physical substance with magic, due to their own small size.

Double Review: The Never Prayer, and The Whitefire Crossing

On the Colorado writing scene, there are many fine talents and local stars. I have had the great privilege to read two of the books on that scene in recent months: The Never Prayer by Aaron Michael Ritchey, and The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer. Today, I finally get to review them for you.

In short, both novels are excellent, and I highly recommend them if they sound like your kind of books.

The Never Prayer by Aaron Michael Ritchey is a YA urban fantasy novel that hits harder than most in that genre. Teenager Lena’s parents died in the aftermath of a car crash, and she is trying to support her little brother in a small Colorado town that is facing hard times of its own. Lena is desperate to bring in money, even if it means being courier for some drugs at her high school. Things go from bad to worse when she winds up in a tug-of-war between a demon and a “fallen” angel as they try to influence humans, pushing them toward good or evil.

I liked how Ritchey keeps Lena’s head above water in terms of social status. She’s unique, and a lot of people feel sorry for her or don’t like her, but she’s not a complete outcast, and can adapt well enough to move through the various cliques of her school. He also does a terrific job at giving us reason after reason to care for Lena’s plight without turning her into a pitiful mess. She is simply trying as hard as possible to provide for what’s left of her family, and that makes her a character worth cheering on.

You also have to admire his willingness to admit that doing the right thing is often the most painful. There are consequences you may not want when you make the right choice, and he pulls no punches in having his characters glean that lesson. The book is kept intriguing along its journey, even when you realize the trajectory it’s taking, and it hit me with a strong ending I did not expect, but played fair with the rules Ritchey had established.

If there was a complaint I had, it’s a minor one. Lena seems very quick to accept that she’s part of a supernatural conflict. Even though the angel is revealed in a dramatic fashion right beforehand, most likely she would still have a harder time taking in the change of circumstances.  But that’s hardly anything but a nitpick, so don’t let it stop you from picking up a copy of Ritchey’s remarkable debut novel. This book is dark, thrilling, and thought-provoking, and I am more than happy to recommend it to you. I can’t wait to see what else Aaron has in store.

It can be a tricky situation if your freshman novel is an epic fantasy. Most of the time in that situation, an author succeeds by coasting on a few great strengths, but the book’s quality is dragged down through equally strong weaknesses (for example, you might get a book with great dialogue and worldbuilding, but its characters are flat and the storyline is confusing). And it’s easy to make the work derivative, giving regular readers of the genre very little reason to pay you any attention.

Thankfully, none of that is an issue with Courtney Schafer’s debut The Whitefire Crossing. This is a book I cannot recommend enough. Seriously, if you read fantasy books, please read this one. Pretty much every aspect of it sings with quality and dedication. The story is one that hooks you right from page one and keeps you invested through the next three hundred, the worldbuilding is excellent when it comes into play, and the characters are absolutely satisfying in their depth and choices.

The story has two viewpoint characters, equally captivating and relatable. First there’s Dev, a smuggler who takes magical charms from the city of Ninavel, across the Whitefire Mountains and into the country of Alathia. Mages rule Ninavel like sin rules Las Vegas, but in Alathia almost all magic is outlawed, so Dev finds steady work in “clandestine imports” of magical items. Only problem is, he’s been cheated out of his money, and he’s taking anything he can get to fulfill a friend’s dying wish. The second viewpoint character is Kiran, a mage who is desperate to hire Dev to smuggle him across the mountains and into Alathia, the one place in the world where Kiran can escape and hide from a vicious authority figure.

To call this an “adventure novel” might be downplaying the tough journey Dev and Kiran take together. They suffer through this story, and no decision is an easy one. Normally I don’t care for novels that are quite so ruthless toward their characters, but Whitefire was such an enrapturing, detailed, and fast-paced book I had to keep turning the pages.

One of the best strengths in this book is the magic system Schafer has set up. Based around simple or familiar things in fantasy magic, like blood, charms, runes, and metals, she constructs one of the most intelligently built magic systems you’re likely to find. For a worldbuilding nut like me, it’s a delight to see her lay out the rules of magic, usually in bite-sized chunks that don’t slow down or halt the story. She keeps things moving, and gives you a chance to learn a lot of her world along the way.

If I told you anymore, I’d probably risk contaminating the enjoyment and level of surprise that this book delivers. Schafer’s debut is a strong one, and she is certainly an author to watch in the coming years. Plus her sequel The Tainted City has just been released, and I can’t wait to get my copy to continue Dev and Kiran’s story.

Worldbuilding — Magic — Types of Magic-Workers

I’m doing another Wolfglen Legacy worldbuilding post here, again regarding the magic-system. Mostly this is meant to be a quick-and-dirty guide to some of the different types of magically talented people (which are a small segment of the population, according to my post on the system of magic in my world). If I develop any other types of magic-workers, I will add them on in another post.

As always, criticism or suggestions are welcome. Hope you enjoy it!

BASIC INFO

Theoretically, it’s possible for a given magic-worker to do most or all of these things, but their expenditure of energy is usually enormous outside of their specialty. A seer, for instance, can spend hardly any effort in seeing what’s ahead of her on the road for dozens of miles, but could break into a sweat if she uses her powers to lift a large book several feet into the air.

As said in the last post on my magic system, active spells cannot directly affect living tissue, apart from the magic-user’s own body (although the spell’s physical effects can affect others, and elixirs and certain objects already imbued with magic can have an effect). Different cultures and languages will have different names for these varying ranks.

A magic-worker’s strengths and proclivities are largely dictated by his or her physical environment during the magic’s formative stages. If there is a lot of combat or destruction around them during that time — anything from the rending of bodies to earthquakes to the demolition of houses — their magic is more likely to be violent and destructive in nature. Or if they get little sleep and use their eyes more actively than most (reading, hunting, picking out faces in a crowd, etc.), they are more likely to become a seer. If there is much water around them, they’ll have a greater sensitivity to controlling water. And so on.

VARIOUS TYPES

Seer ~ Can transfer the sense of sight from their eyes to their seer’s gem, a transparent stone about 9 inches long and made of diamond, smooth and shaped like a flattened egg. They can then hover and guide this stone a great distance from their body; some of the strongest seers have been known to send their stones almost a hundred miles away and could still call it back. The farther the stone goes, the weaker their sight through it. If the stone is broken or goes too far while their sight is still attached to it, they will go permanently blind.

“Warrior” ~ Loosely defined, someone with magic that is immediately practical for causing destruction on the battlefield, and who has been appointed to do so. Typically, this means they specialize in spells involving explosions, heat, or shockwaves.

Carrimva ~ Magic-workers who can change the color of an object without using pigment, even though they are often nicknamed “painters” or “dyers.”

Witch ~ Any magic-worker who has cast spells through a pitch diamond (a Founder crystal altered from its original state). This process permanently alters the way magic pours through their body and mind, making their spells harsher and harder to control.

Hilnarra ~ Someone who can sculpt, fracture, or otherwise alter the structure of a solid physical substance. They are often renowned artists and craftsmen, especially when they focus on glass, wood, metal, ceramic, or stone. Ice, dead bones, and leather are also popular materials for them to use.

Conduit ~ A magic-worker who can turn themselves into a channel for magic to flow from one place to another, rather than turning it into physical energy. The most common use of this talent is putting energy into crystals that are depleted and can be recharged, or to imbue mundane objects with magic for a spell.

SUPPLEMENTAL NOTE: THE SARNOUTHAN SOCIETY OF MAGIC-WORKERS

Sarnoutha is the country where the first book takes place, and like in most developed nations, its magic-workers have their own institution. Through some donations and a lot of private funding, the Society takes care of its members’ education and training. Its members are divided into seven ranks based on ability. From least to greatest:

Fledgling

Conjurer

Druid

Magician

Wizard

Summoner

Warlock

Game of Thrones – Season 2 premiere review

“The night is dark and full of terrors.”

~Melisandre, priestess of the Lord of Light

Peter Dinklage is back as Tyrion Lannister. He earned that Emmy last year for portraying one of the best characters in all of fantasy literature. It's a delight to have him back.

After that delightfully tense, hard-hitting juggernaut of a first season that left millions of people thirsting for more, HBO began their second season of Game of Thrones tonight. Once again, they demonstrate their dedication to the solid storytelling and almost Shakespearean characters that earned George R.R. Martin’s original novels their acclaim.

[Warning: Spoilers of season one follow]

I won’t summarize the situation or world the novels take place in. I did that last year, and you can read it here if you need a crash course on the setup to this series, which is the finest cinematic fantasy since Peter Jackson immersed us in Middle Earth.

So, the war that Robert Baratheon warned us about is cracking wide open. Robert’s dead, Ned Stark has been beheaded, the Lannisters now seem to have a tight grip on the Iron Throne, and self-professing kings have been popping up like dandelions to challenge their claim to said throne. Whether or not you have read the novel season two is based on (A Clash of Kings), you are in for a real treat. Again, HBO is more than willing to adhere faithfully to the beginning of Martin’s novel, while adding some truly awe-inspiring new scenes. I won’t tell you what happens, but if you see the episode, look for the scene where Queen Cersei and four of her guards meet with Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish in a courtyard. By far, that is the strongest scene in the season premiere, brimming and humming with tension. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

I will tell you only that the last scene might be hard for some people to watch, if you are very uncomfortable with the portrayal of children’s deaths. Otherwise, I’m not going to spoil anything more for you. If you haven’t caught the Game of Thrones bug yet, then what the heck are you doing reading my blog? Go get your hands on the DVDs and watch the first season. Now. Then catch up with the expertly crafted, high-quality premiere I just experienced.

Tonight, HBO has kicked the door back open to the treacherous world of Westeros, and what a reintroduction it is.