Tag Archives: Jeffrey Overstreet

The Realism of “The Witch”

I’ve read that the historical accuracy of this year’s powerful horror film The Witch is very strong, not just in the setting and costuming, but also in the roots of the story. A New England family isolates themselves in an effort to maintain their purity and in doing so imperil themselves. They aren’t entirely innocent victims of Satan’s disciples, but they cannot foresee the repercussions of what we might consider accusable sins.

Jeffrey Overstreet writes:

The realism of the film is also powerful because of how spiritual evil only seems to grow more and more persuasively present the more closely we attend to the real-world details, and the farther we travel through this time warp into the 17th Century. That has bothered some critics — that Eggers “literalizes” the evil forces that people believed in back then.

That’s a complaint from people who would snicker at the suggestion that the devil is an actual person, not a symbol of human ugliness or a boogeyman for our enemies. But you can’t literalize what is real.

Who Has Influenced Eugene Peterson: Pastors or Artists?

Those were the days
“I think the people who have influenced me most as a pastor,” Eugene Peterson said, “haven’t been the theologians – they’ve been the artists.” Jeffrey Overstreet interviewed Peterson for Seattle Pacific University back in 2011.

From artists I learned never to look at just the surface of a person, but to look for the interior life, to consider what I know of their past. An exterior is never just an exterior. In our culture, we’re trained to focus on the exterior, for instance, through advertising and publicity. Being present to a person long enough to start sensing that they’re never just themselves, they’re their parents, their grandparents, their kids, their neighbors – all of that becomes part of their story. Artists help me do that, because they are attuned to the interior life.

I think it’s interesting that Karl Barth, the theologian who has influenced me most, was mostly influenced by Mozart. Mozart was a theme in his life. I think he learned a lot about writing theology by listening to Mozart.

The Marvelous Burning Edge of Dawn

Andrew Peterson just released a new album,  The Burning Edge of Dawn. It’s marvelous. He sat down with Jeffrey Overstreet this weekend to talk about it. Overstreet enthuses over the friend.

Peterson’s songs and lyrics are full of sweeping metaphors, making his songs accessible enough for people of all ages and all experiences, even as they are specific enough to speak of his own specific pilgrimage as a musician; as a novelist (his fantasy series had the same editor and publisher as mine, and was released at the same time, which is how I was blessed to meet him); as a Nashville “community organizer” . . . as a sort of folk pastor; as a “book guy” . . .

Hear some of the new music and what the artist has to say about it on Listening Closer.

Thrilling, Beautiful Adventure in “The Ale Boy’s Feast”

I finally got to read Overstreet’s The Ale Boy’s Feast, and I loved it. The story that appears to be about a magical rebellion to small, oppressive rulers in the first book becomes an adventure about radical reconciliation by the fourth book. It asks big questions: Can the great curse be revoked? Can a traitor return to his kingdom or be accepted in a new one? Can criminals build a new place of law and order? And more than these questions are the ones driving the narrative behind the scenes: Does the glorious beauty we see in this world point to a glorious otherworldly source? Is that beauty sewn together with love, peace, joy, and hope? Is life (in the land of these books) about rejoicing in the hope of beauty, both natural and crafted?

Blue flowerOf course, this weaves cleanly and smoothly into the biblical theology of this world, because our goodness is defined by the Lord and peace on earth will be to those on whom God’s favor rests, but that doesn’t appear to be the central thrust. Wonder and beauty as they pull us back to God appears to be what this adventure is all about. (Blue flowers are signs that magically refreshing water is nearby.)

In the third book, we learn explosive details about Overstreet’s world. The real enemies are revealed. Plots and deceptions are discovered. A new threat, a pervasive weed that lives on blood, is tunneling from its Cent Regus heart throughout the country. Cal-raven is running for his life as well as trying to discover a new home for his people, the House Abascar which is ruined in the first book. At one point, he is compelled to rescue prisoners in House Cent Regus and is broken by what he learns there and in its aftermath.

In this book, Cal-raven begins to wander, despairing of ever answering his life-long questions. In the meantime, his loyal men attempt to follow his plans for establishing a new house without him. As they go, something seems to be poisoning everything around them. This book is the fourth of a rich, complicated series, so begin with book one. There’s no other way.

In fact, the story may be too complicated. Continue reading Thrilling, Beautiful Adventure in “The Ale Boy’s Feast”

The Ale Boy’s Feast, by Jeffrey Overstreet

Puzzle, puzzle. What to say about The Ale Boy’s Feast, the final book in Jeffrey Overstreet’s remarkable fantasy tetralogy, The Auralia Thread?

I have highly praised the author’s writing skill and creative imagination, and I stand by those evaluations. Overstreet is a writer of rare ability, and he has created an unforgettable world, familiar enough to be recognizable but different enough to be exotic and evocative.

Yet the whole thing works out to a resolution that leaves me… troubled.

Maybe I’m just not smart enough to get the point.

Or maybe leaving me troubled was the point. Continue reading The Ale Boy’s Feast, by Jeffrey Overstreet

Cyndere’s Midnight, by Jeffrey Overstreet

I took longer than I intended getting to the second volume of Jeffrey Overstreet’s Auralia Thread, Cyndere’s Midnight. I need to make sure I don’t do that again. I enjoyed it immensely.

In the first book of the series, Auralia’s Colors, Overstreet told the story of the law-bound land of Abascar, whose queen had forbidden the people to wear any colorful clothes or own any colorful objects. This led to the persecution of the strange girl Auralia, who wove and painted colorful things out in the wilderness. Eventually Abascar was destroyed, and now, as this book begins, a few refugees of Abascar eke out a perilous existence in caves.

Now the focus turns to the kingdom of Bel Amica, whose religion is more sensitive and feelings-oriented than Abascar’s. The heiress to the Bel Amican throne, Cyndere, mourns the death of her consort, Deuneroi, at the hands of the inhuman beastmen. The loss is made more poignant by the fact that she and Deuneroi had dreamed of finding a way to heal the beastmen and free them from their addiction to the Essence, a potion that alters their shapes and their natures. Cyndere’s plan now is to add to a traditional widow’s rite of sacrifice her own act of suicide.

But other characters interfere with her plan. One is the beastman Jordam, who fell under the spell of Auralia’s colors and through the power of their memory is struggling with his need for Essence—as well as with the murderous plans of his brother beastmen. And the Ale Boy, Auralia’s friend, who follows a path laid out by the mysterious, almost forgotten Keeper—a dragon-like creature which protects him and guides him as well.

The center of the story is Jordam’s struggles—with his own devolved nature, with his brothers, and even with the humans who do not trust him when he tries to help. He takes up Cyndere’s cause for Auralia’s sake, and must protect her not only from his brothers but from some of her own people.

Jeffrey Overstreet’s prose is a pleasure to read. It’s deft and light. His fantasy world is the most original I’ve encountered, post-Tolkien. I don’t recommend the book for children, solely because of the vocabulary required, but any reader who can handle this book will come away inspired. Highly recommended.

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet

Evil is spreading throughout the land of Jeffrey Overstreet’s third novel in the Auralia’s Thread series. The people of House Abascar are living a hardscrabble life in caves and losing faith in their king, Cal-raven. Some of them think he talks too much of visions and fairy tales. In the previous novel, their caves were attacked by beastmen, men in bondage to a horrible curse which hulks them out like wild, contorted beasts. Now, they worry about vines called “feelers” or “deathweeds” which appear to be spreading everywhere, grabbing men or animals and pulling them into the earth.

In the middle of this, a few visionaries, like Cal-raven, are telling their people of worlds elsewhere. They remember the vivid, almost spiritual, colors that Auralia teased out of nature. They find small spots of those colors in the wild and healing in common things like pure water. Legends, like The Keeper, an enormous dragon who seems to keep a wise, though distant, eye on them, are being revealed. Abascar has a hope beyond any they could imagine, if they can only hold on long enough to see it.

By contrast, the people of House Bel Amica seek the latest pleasures and want to be distracted constantly. They live on the coast where there is a great wealth of food and trade. The Seers rule their philosophy, urging them to pray to moon spirits and pursue their own desires above all. I doubt Bel Amicans ever urge each other to get a grip on reality. When refugees from Abascar find shelter in Bel Amica, their leaders begin to worry they will never want to leave this luxurious city.

Overstreet has created a magical world. I’m fascinated by its natural glory. When the visionary characters do marvelous things or make inspiring culture, they don’t use magic. They apply artistic skill to tease out of the natural world beauty that’s either hidden or disregarded. Though their world is dangerous, many natural elements encourage health, peace, and hope. When these elements are magnified by artists, they comfort some and inspire others to noble work. (Here’s some glasswork that reminds me of something Auralia might have made.)

Raven’s Ladder is a thrilling third part of this four-part series. The revelations that conclude the book are monumental, and there’s a story in the mid-section that appears to put this fantasy world in a new context, hinting at who the Seers are and how mankind came into this place. Noting the title, the focus of this novel is on Cal-raven, Abascar’s king. He wrestles with himself as a leader and as a man and also with his visions of a bright future in pursuit of The Keeper’s tracks. That name, The Keeper, and the faith of some of the characters may lead you to suspect a thinly veiled God-figure. You might think Aslan has been restyled as a dragon, but he hasn’t. The Keeper is a complicated animal, who appears to respond to prayers as well as act like any other intelligent beast. I could say more, but I’d rather you enjoy the mystery yourself.

Interview with Jeffrey Overstreet

Raven's Ladder by Jeffrey OverstreetFilm critic and author Jeffrey Overstreet has written three fantasy novels in the last few years, two of which I’ve read. They are fantastic (perhaps that goes without saying). He writes this series, Auralia’s Colors, not to depict any historic people or setting, but “to capture the questions that keep me up at night.” The third one, Raven’s Ladder, is shown on the left and is being released this month.

I have found that wonderfully hopeful, powerfully redemptive, and gorgeous. His new world has an appealing natural magic which is hard to describe, like the difficulty Tolkien’s elves in Lothlórien describing their handiwork to the hobbits. It wasn’t magic to them, but the hobbits it was.

I asked Jeffrey some questions about writing and publishing these books.

1. You’ve been a critical writer for many years now.  Do you think you’ve always had the writing spirit/muse/curse?

I’m hard-wired to tell stories. When I was five years old, I already felt compelled to make books. I’d take fairy-tale storybooks and painstakingly copy the text onto piles of scrap paper. Then I’d illustrate those pages with crayon or watercolors.

Soon after I read The Hobbit – around age seven – I stopped copying stories and started writing my own. And sure, those first stories sounded a lot like The Hobbit. But they became more unusual and distinct as the years went on. My first “series” was a four-story epic set in a world that resembles Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. In fact, when I saw that movie decades later, I laughed at the incredible similarities. (Where Pixar had nasty grasshoppers, I had wicked wasps.) Continue reading Interview with Jeffrey Overstreet