I grew up reading Piers Anthony, Jean Auel, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Asprin, Terry Brooks, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (none of which were Christian and many I'd forgotten about). What did you grow up reading that influenced what you would write as an adult? Did you get sucked into that world like I did as a kid?
Absolutely sucked in! For the most part, I read everything I could. Tolkien and Lewis would be the obvious starting points, mainly for the grand scope of their stories. More direct stylistic influences would include wordsmiths like Patricia McKillip and Guy Gavriel Kay. I also devoured Madeline L’Engle, Susan Cooper, Ursila K. LeGuin, Lloyd Alexander and others. As for the author’s you mentioned, I loved Brooks’s Shannara series, but never got too much into McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. I opted out of Weis and Hickman because of the D&D connection.
In our world today, Christianity and magic do not go hand in hand. Have you had to deal with any criticism in this regard? How do you balance what scripture says regarding warnings against anything magical and then writing about it in Christian fiction?
I haven’t had any criticism yet, but it’s certainly possible. For me, the point of fantasy isn’t to contradict Scripture, but to feed the imagination. Done properly, that’s a holy thing. We should expect big things from God, and teach our kids the same, but how? Kid’s imaginations are so anemic today, fed a watery diet of video games and timid little stories. They need big, daring tales---of heroes and courage and sacrifice. So if on a larger scale, the framework of an otherworldly story emerges from a thoroughly Christian worldview, elements like magic become abstract plot points, wings for the soul---not theological in nature. Not an enticement to sacrilege. The question becomes, “Is it true to the story of that world?” The wording of your question is important: “In our world today...?” It might help to turn this around. What would an outsider with no knowledge of God’s ways or truths, for example, someone from another planet---what would they say about some of the stories told in the Old and New Testament? Making an axe-head float in water, being healed by the shadow of another man, calling down fire from heaven? These are extraordinary events. What might the ordering of an entirely different world look like? If there was another place of human existence besides earth, how might an infinitely creative God choose to express Himself there? Would the narrative of earth’s history simply be duplicated in that place, or might we be surprised at some twists and turns that are very different than what we’ve come to know and expect? Is God a one note storyteller? No doubt, there would be a consistent moral core, but the expression of those divine values might change. Or so I suspect.
In The Book of Names, Sorge the monk says to Ewan: “Magic is a word, like pleasure or fun. or pain or knowledge. There can be pleasure in evil, in selfishness, in lust, but surely not all pleasure is evil? And discipline, though painful, can be healing for the soul. yet knowing this, I still do not enjoy pain. The source from which a thing comes, and the end to which it is put, make it good or bad. Grace and kindness and the power of decency are quite magical when they touch you. Magic is everywhere, but it must be perceived. Pick another word if magic doesn’t suit you. But now we’re talking merely about the best way to describe something, not whether the thing is right or wrong.”
It’s a fair question, and an important one in a day of great spiritual darkness. First of all, I would say, does the story evoke the right longings? That’s highly subjective, I realize, but nonetheless real. I remember reading Madeline L’Engles A Wrinkle in Time in the 4th or 5th grade. I had no idea she was a committed Christian, and there was nothing overtly Christian about the story. In fact, it had isolated elements that could have been argued to be otherwise. But every time I read it, even in the 4th grade, I came away thinking, “I can’t put my finger on it, but I think she’s a Christian.” Years later, in college, I discovered that as a fact. Something of her own walk with the Lord inevitably informed the soul of her story, and I caught a whiff of it. As a parent, I try to be very discerning. I haven’t read Harry Potter and I won’t let my kids, because there is a spirit about the series I don’t trust. It doesn’t sit well with me and we must be led by the Holy Spirit. The seductions of this age are too great, and so very subtle. But I don’t think the answer is to be timid and turn away from the awesome potential of a redeemed imagination. Every parent considering mine or any other author’s stories (fantasy or otherwise), must likewise seek to discern those things for themselves. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Why didn't you add any female siblings to the mix? Will the dad ever make it to Karac Tor and will the boys ever go back to their own world?
The story is a rough outline of my own life experience as a husband and father of four sons, having lost my wife of 16 years. We have definitely felt swept away into another world---a strange new world. There is grief and loss of identity and a struggle to make sense of it all. But there is hope and courage and goodness, too. I wrote this story to help my boys with their journey, to find adventure and magic in life again. As for the Dad ever entering Karac Tor? Hmm....
I think the Power of a More Restrained Diet! And a love for my treadmill. Do those count? :)
I want them to be swept away, maybe even to dream of Karac Tor, like I did of Star Wars and Narnia and Middle Earth. I want the story to become fuel for their own dreams and courage for their souls. Life brings major battles right to our door whether we want them or not, ready or not. The challenge is to rise to the moment with courage. This generation of young people have gifts. They, too, are called. But do they know it? In the midst of the adventure of The Book of Names, I hope they ask some of those questions.
I’m at Facebook and Shoutlife. The website for the series is Hiddenlands.net. There’s lots of cool stuff there: extra stories, free sample chapters, original artwork, ecards, videos, a fan board. Fun stuff. If readers enjoyed Book 1, they’re gonna love Book 2! It’s called Corus the Champion and it significantly expands the epic scope of the story. It’s about the last great champion of Karac Tor, Corus of Lotsley, who has long been thought dead, betrayed by his best friend into the hand of his enemies. As the evil Horned Lord, Kr’Nunos, extends his power across the Hidden Lands, the Barlow brothers are once again called on to stem the tide, and seek out Corus.
Thanks for including me in your blog!