Tag Archives: fantasy

‘Desires and Dreams and Powers,’ by Rosamund Hodge

During the later part of the war, the government issued a pamphlet on how to recognize changelings. Violet read it (a green tinge of the features; propensity to cruelty) and laughed. The real signs had been far more pervasive, far less clear. Sometimes she thought she had only realized she wasn’t human when she was fourteen. Sometimes she thought she had always known.

That’s the first paragraph of a story called “More Full of Weeping Than You Can Understand,” possibly my favorite among the stories in Rosamund Hodge’s delightful collection, Desires and Dreams and Powers.

A friend sent me a copy as a gift, and I’m extremely grateful to him. As I’ve often said, I don’t much care for most modern fantasy. But when someone gets it exactly right – as in the cases of Walter Wangerin, and Mark Helprin, and Leif Enger, the result is delight of an exquisite sort.

The stories in Desires and Dreams and Powers are of diverse kinds, within the general fantasy genre. There is urban fantasy, and tales of witches, and tales of monsters. But most of them (at least as I recall them) are faery stories. And that’s like a birthday present to me.

Ever since I read Tolkien’s essay, “On Faery Stories,” I’ve wanted to write faeries properly. I tried it in Troll Valley – which I think is a pretty good book, but I’m not at all sure I got the Faery/Huldre thing right. Susanna Clark got it right, I think, in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. And now I declare, by the powers vested in me, that Rosamund Hodge gets it right too. The strangeness, the danger, the alien unreason of the faeries is as well depicted here as it ever has been. Kudos to the author.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. On top of the imaginative genius, the prose is first class. Cautions are in order – not for the usual “adult” material, but for the weird and the alien and the disturbing (and the cruel). But read it, if you’re a grown-up and not overly sensitive. There may be a Christian element here too, though it’s not at all explicit.

Living in Fantastic Times

We have the privilege of living in a time when contemporary authors are creating quality fantasy stories that are funny and inspiring and that say true things. Adults and children need Jonathan Rogers’s feechie folk, S. D. Smith’s rabbits with swords, Jonathan Auxier’s courageous chimney sweeps, Andrew Peterson’s brave and flawed Wingfeather children, and others to incarnate truths for us. Battling the forces of evil and experiencing a “eucatastrophe,” a moment of redemption, with a character in a story gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to know goodness and love truth.

Ginger Blomberg, “Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga and Why We Need Fantasy”

My kids and I have enjoyed some of the books Blomberg commends. I reviewed a few in posts from days on the olden internet. Good fantasy is a marvelous thing, and these are good titles, if you haven’t looked into them. Links in the original article.

The Green Ember, by S.D. Smith

Artwork from cover of The Green Ember

“How many weapons do I have?” Helmer asked. Picket took a quick inventory, though he thought Helmer might be concealing some.

“Two. Your knife and the sword,” Picket said.

Helmer responded with an immediate attack. He hit Picket, kicked him, took off his jacket and struck him with it over and over, then threw rocks at him. Picket scrambled around, trying to dodge rocks, block blows, and escape the whirlwind of whipping coat. . . .

“Lesson. Number. One,” Helmer said evenly. “Everything is a weapon.”

The Green Ember is the first of several fantasies by S.D. Smith, in which brave rabbits with swords and bows fight the hoard of wolves and raptors that has overwhelmed their land. Youngsters Heather and Pickett begin the novel playing in the fields near their country home. They have loving parents, a baby brother, and a happy, innocent life.

But this isn’t Little House on the Prairie.

Soon, enemies they hadn’t known are charging at them with torches, bows, and spears. They escape by the skin of their teeth with a bit of help, but Pickett won’t take up living to fight another. His mistakes and lack of strength during their escape weigh him to the ground. Plus, some hero rabbit, who looked about as old as Pickett, displays incredible skill, strength, and general swagger in their escape, all of which Pickett hates. He has no reason to be jealous of him, so, of course, he is.

The Green Ember is written for young readers, not very young, but this isn’t YA either. Smith assumes his readers will need a little help to understand. When characters use sarcasm, the narrator explains it clearly. It’s a fun adventure, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of them. My kids have loved them for years, and my youngest just reread all of the books in anticipation of the fourth one, Ember’s End, coming in March.

Finding Truth, Finding Hope

Elizabeth Garn is finding truth in fantasy.

Good fantasy challenges us to think about the world differently. Something about wading through the darkness and uncertainty in a made-up world makes confronting both in our own that much easier. And confront it we shall, for the courage to do so is tucked in the pages of stories like this.

… [Quoting Chesterton] “Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God …”

Karen Swallow Prior is finding hope after an apocalypse. 

[In McCarthy’s The Road] Hope is characterized by “quiet confidence,” a quality the man embodies throughout the story. When the novel opens, the two have already set out toward a warmer clime and the sea, not knowing what might lie before them there or anywhere else. They travel for months along burned-out highways, sleeping in woods or abandoned homes. They seem to be alone in the world. Yet, the man promises the boy, “There are people. There are people and we’ll find them. You’ll see.”

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Are There No Real Quests Anymore?

In those days, I was restless without a book in my hands, without the hope of some new story around every turn to enliven my deadening senses. Unlike most of my friends, I didn’t want a truck or a job or a scholarship; I wanted a horse and a quest and a buried treasure. But there were no real quests anymore. Not in my town.

Andrew Peterson describes his love of fantasy and science fiction as a kid, how that called him out of himself, and what the Lord did with it in his life.

I looked out her window and saw crabgrass, old trucks, clouds of mosquitoes, and gravel roads, a rural slowth that drawled, “Here’s your life, son. Make do.” But my books said, “Here’s a sword, lad. Get busy.” A persistent fear sizzled in my heart, a fear that there existed no real adventure other than the one on the page, and that I was doomed never to know it.

Peterson’s website, The Rabbit Room, is a wealth of imaginative writing, talking, and singing.

Eddison, Influence on Tolkien, Lewis,

Michael Dirda describes the little-known book he says inspired many great fantasy epics. “Published in 1922, the same year as so many modernist masterpieces, The Worm Ouroboros [by E. R. Eddison] combines elements of Homeric epic, Norse saga, and Jacobean drama, while its opulent style borrows the vocabulary and verve of Elizabethan English.”

Here’s a bit of Eddison’s voice from the book:

Dismal and fearsome to view was this strong place of Carcë, most like to the embodied soul of dreadful night brooding on the waters of that sluggish river: by day a shadow in broad sunshine, the likeness of pitiless violence sitting in the place of power, darkening the desolation of the mournful fen; by night, a blackness more black than night herself.

(via Prufrock News)

On Not Watching Game of Thrones

Kevin DeYoung wrote a post in early August on how he couldn’t understand why Christians would choose to watch Game of Thrones. No amount of awesome cinematography, great dialogue, or storytelling could outweigh the soul-damage done by the graphic violence and exhibitionist nudity. DeYoung followed this post a couple weeks later with a list of reasons he still wasn’t convinced and how he didn’t need to watch the show to know it was something to avoid.

We’ve talked about the show briefly here and not in an entirely negative way. What little I know of the story does appeal to me. The castles, costumes, landscape, dragons, and walkers look amazing. But DeYoung’s points are largely the reasons I don’t want to see it.

I remember seeing a conversation with a couple actresses about how much the show featured female nudity and why couldn’t they expose more men. They were willing to run with that, even mock-campaign for it. Men should have equal access to being full frontal, they said.

DeYoung wrapped up his thoughts like this.

On occasion I’ve stumbled upon a few minutes of PG-13 movies I used to enjoy as a teenager (like the Naked Gun series). I’m appalled by the things that didn’t tweak my conscience then but do now. We are so awash in sensuality that many Christians have no idea how compromised they’ve become. . . . Only in a hyper-sexual, pornographic-saturated culture like ours could we think that graphic sex scenes are no big deal, or somehow offset by a brilliant screenplay.

Richard Adams, 1920-2016

I’m currently reading Watership Down, correcting a long-held error in judgment. My list of such errors is too long to ever be recorded, but this one will be corrected soon. Today, we learn of the author’s death, which took place Christmas Eve. Richard Adams was 96 years old. His daughter says he had been sick for a while and died peacefully. The BBC reports:

Describing Christmas Eve a “rather a magical night”, she said: “It’s the night that traditionally the animals and birds can talk.
“It was absolutely typical of Dad that he would choose such a night on which to leave this world.”

Steampunk Fantasy Set in Chattanooga

“Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1914. Tanna Cravens boards an airship bound for a colony in Fairyland… But a magical frontier ruled like the Old South isn’t the best home for a woman ahead of her time.”

Author Eric Slade noticed, like many others, that Britain seems to be the home for great, Earth-bound fantasy. If any wardrobe is going to open into a land of witches, winter, and satyrs, it will be in Hertfordshire or Kent, not in Hamilton County, Tennessee.

So Slade asked, “What if we had doorways, portals and fairies here? That was my initial inspiration for the world, something that was uniquely part of the American South.

In case you’re thinking “Fairyland” is an oddly quaint name, Slade may have taken it directly from the Fairyland area on Lookout Mountain, which borders Chattanooga on the southwest.

Author Sued, Internet Mocks

“Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Unholy Night (among other titles), is being sued by Hachette Book Group for breach of contract,” reports Locus Online this week. Hachette says they agreed to publish two new books from Grahame-Smith after publishing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 2010, and they did receive one manuscript, but the second one, after some months delay, was, according to The Guardian, “too short and substandard, ‘in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public domain work’ (unnamed, but presumably 1897’s Dracula).”

As a result, Twitter users are running with their own ideas for .

More examples:

In Which Sin Is Like Smoke

Imagine a world in which sin is visible,” writes Hannah Beckerman in her review of Dan Vyleta’s fantasy novel, Smoke.

In which anger, lust, envy and avarice erupt in plumes of smoke and the clothes of the sinful are stained in dark soot. In which London is a city of vice, inhabited only by degenerates, its air polluted not with diesel but with transgression, its sewers running with the soot of sinners.

Fine Storytelling in Stoddard’s Evenmere

David Randall gives James Stoddard’s  Evenmere trilogy high praise, saying he ought to be famous for them by now. “Stoddard . . . makes a nifty apologia for the fantasy genre, as a necessary mediation that allows us to perceive the divine story through the protective articulation of another level of story.”

Stoddard’s books are good, simply as well-written fantasy. But their theological dimension lends them real depth. The High House is a representation of the universe, its architecture the Divine Architecture. Some parts of the allegory are straightforward: For example, the long, empty corridors between inhabited parts of Evenmere echo the distances of the stars. More subtle is the way meaning emerges from the fabric of Evenmere, in glimpses of the divine amid the prosaic:

The bare corridor continued only a brief time before ending at the base of a wide stair, which ascended to a gallery leading to the left, its end lost in the darkness. The steps were gray marble, and monks were carved upon the balusters, their mouths wide as if in song, their faces all turned toward the top of the stair. (High House)

‘Mary Sue the Barbarian’

Patheos Public Square has published an article by me. You can read it here.

It is Christians, after all, who (almost alone in our present age) recognize that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Our confessions declare that we are not good people but evil people, saved not by our golden deeds and noble aspirations, but by the work of Someone Else. To look into our own hearts, recognize the evil there, and mine that material for dramatic ore ought to be no problem for us. We’ve seen our sin (presumably) and repented it. We are under no further illusions about our essential goodness. When a story calls for a monster, we ought to have plenty of models at hand. We ought to have Legions.

Kickstarter: The Wingfeather Saga

Yesterday, Andrew Peterson posted a big announcement about his fantasy series, The Wingfeather Saga. He has formed a production company and is asking for crowdfunding for an animated series.

“Most of you probably don’t know this,” he said, “but when I was in high school I had every intention of either going into animation or penciling Batman comics. I’ve always loved illustration, but am a total hack when it comes to drawing (which, thankfully, led to a music career).”

So Peterson isn’t drawing the shows himself, but “I would really love to see the Wingfeather Saga play itself out in a different format that might just get Janner’s story into many more kids’ imaginations.”

Right now, he has 68% of his requested funding. That’s impressive for twenty-some hours.