Monday, March 30, 2015

Magic in Christian Fantasy

Picture Via Pinterest
Is it okay for there to be magic in Christian fantasy? This was a question that never really crossed my mind until I began writing my first fantasy, Time Captives.

I grew up on Disney’s Cinderella and Snow White. I am quite possibly the biggest Narnia fan I know…and my friends would agree. I am a big fan of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Tangled, and Frozen. I have greatly enjoyed the works of E. Nesbit and George MacDonald. I have watched ABC’s Once Upon a Time since it premiered, and have recently begun watching the BBC’s Merlin on Netflix. Donita K. Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles contain magic, as do Kendra E. Ardnek’s Bookania Quests. My love of these stories, though there have been several instances where the OUAT magic has made me uncomfortable, caused me to wonder why I was uncomfortable with writing magic. I have no problem with Narnian magic. Cinderella’s fairy godmother doesn’t make me uncomfortable. The “no right, no wrong, no rules for me” line in “Let It Go” bothers me more than Elsa’s ice powers or the creation of Olaf. But yet there is magic that makes me uncomfortable. The seer who told Rumple about his future in OUAT creeped me out (yes, the eyes in her hands was a factor, but it wasn’t the only one) and I don’t much like it when Emma uses magic, particularly under Regina’s tutelage. The question is: Why?

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When I first started Time Captives, I was absolutely convinced it had to have magic. It was fantasy, after all. Doesn’t all fantasy have magic? My earliest ideas painted Toarna as a witch, though she had no name and I can’t remember what she used her powers for. But as I wrote it, and forced in the magic because I felt like it was necessary, I realized more and more that I didn’t like writing it. Something just didn’t feel right. But I had a question.

Does fantasy have to have magic? I have discovered the answer is no. Yes, mainstream fantasy seems to require it. However, there seems to be a growing number of non-magical fantasy books, particularly within the Christian homeschool author community. Jaye L. Knight, previously published as Molly Evangeline (my favorite author) has chosen to omit magic in her fantasies. She is not against all magic in stories, as a big fan of Tangled and Wayne Thomas Batson, but she personally chose not to write magic in the traditional sense. Miraculous happenings still occur and creatures such as dragons[1] exist, but they are not termed magic. Nicole Sager also writes non-magical fantasy, and I have yet to encounter any magic in Claire M. Banschbach’s books. Non-magical fantasy exists, it is just not mainstream.

That begs the question: What qualifies a story as fantasy? Magic is certainly a qualification. I would say magic and the existence of the psammead are what qualify Five Children and It as fantasy. I don’t think you can really have our world fantasy without magic. If you don’t, it would be simply historical or contemporary fiction, or possibly science fiction, dystopian, or something of that sort. I believe that what qualifies non-magical fantasy as fantasy is that it is set in another world. It is entirely possible to create a fantasy world of which magic in the traditional sense is not a part. Dolennar and Ilyon are my particular favorites, though I’m sure my sister could add a few more. Even a non-magical fantasy world gives the author the freedom to use fantasy creatures. Dragons and sea serpents and centaurs and gryphons don’t have to be magical. They can perfectly well simply be natural ordinary creatures. Honestly, the physics of a fantasy world don’t even have to be the same. The sun could rise in the north and set in the south if you wanted (though that would most likely require a flat world). The world could be flat. Gravity could be skewed so that people live upside down. You could put a tropical island in the middle of the arctic. It’s still non-magical. Leaving out magic doesn’t take the creativity out of worldbuilding in the slightest degree. I personally adore mashing time periods together. Where else but a fantasy world could you have a culture that’s a mix of ancient Rome, stereotypical ante-Bellum South, and the medieval era? (One could argue that it could happen in “The Wedding of River Song” when all of history was happening at once, but that is a bit irrelevant.)

However, my story is portal fantasy. And, frankly, I don’t particularly want to give up my Narnia or Disney princess movies. So is it ever okay for there to be magic in fantasy? That was when I came across articles discussing the difference between magic in Narnia and Lord of the Rings and magic in Harry Potter.

I have never read Harry Potter, nor do I ever desire to (personal preference, it just doesn’t appeal to me). But I am unashamedly a big fan of both Narnia and LOTR. All of those stories contain magic. And the Bible clearly condemns witchcraft. I read several articles that clearly distinguished between different types of magic in stories. There are differences[2]. What is it that makes some stories acceptable and some not acceptable? And how does it apply to my own writing? These are the things I’ve learned from those articles.

I believe the source of the magic is the most important thing to consider in writing fantasy magic. Where does this power come from? Supernatural power exists. Without a doubt. There are spiritual forces at work. And there are spiritual forces of both good and evil. Remember in Exodus 7:10-13 where Moses turned his rod into a serpent and then Pharaoh’s sorcerers did the same? It was right and good for Moses to perform this, while it was wrong for Pharaoh’s sorcerers. Why? The source. Moses did it by the power and commandment of God. The only power by which the sorcerers could have done the same was that of the devil. It’s kind of scary to think about, actually. Satan imitated the plagues God sent on Egypt. He can do that to an extent. Writing this, it really does scare me. But my point is this: Both acts would, had they happened in a fantasy story, been considered magic.

Turning a rod into a serpent. Changing water to blood. Covering a land in frogs. All magical acts if you consider them from a fantasy story standpoint. Yet Moses was allowed and even supposed to do this, while it was a terrible sin for the sorcerers. All because of the source of the power. Similarly, prophecy and healing by the power of God are right and good, while imitations of such power by the devil are pure evil. That distinguishes “good magic” from “bad magic.”

Personally, while I do not see a problem with calling this “good magic” by that name, I do not think it is necessary. You may call it what it is: a miracle. By doing so, you avoid alienating those who do not read stories with magic. But should you use the word magic, I believe it is incredibly important to define the source. Now, your bad guys will not be using God’s power for their magic. They had better not, or else you will be turning right and wrong on its head. I did choose to remove magic from Toarna’s possession, but that was because I found evil magic, even used in its proper place by the bad guys, too creepy for me to want to work with.

Who uses the magic and how it is used are also important considerations. Using magic for selfish reasons or doing evil that good may come are clearly wrong. Using any power or ability in a wrong way that good may come is wrong. And who uses it. One welcomes pitfalls for readers when a protagonist uses magic, particularly if said protagonist is learning to use magic in the text of the story. Having a mentor character like Gandalf be the one using the magic is a much better route to go. I would probably say that characters like Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother fall into this category. One might want to have a fairy godmother, but one is unlikely to try to be a fairy godmother.

Picture Via Pinterest Elsa’s powers are a bit tricky, but I would probably consider hers to be a natural talent, albeit an ability she cannot control. She was born with the ability to create ice, just as Mozart was born with the ability to create music. ABC’s Once Upon a Time does present some problems, and I wouldn’t say it should be watched without discernment. There are some instances in which the magic does bother me. But in general, the magic is something that is normal and accepted in the Enchanted Forest brought to our world like all the fairytale characters, and is out of place here and does not belong, though it does belong back home. Also, “all magic comes with a price.” Using magic is not without consequences. It’s definitely a tricky one, as is BBC’s Merlin. Merlin was born with the ability to use magic, and must keep it hidden only because Uther hates magic because he asked Nimueh to use magic so that Ygraine would bear a son (Arthur) not realizing this would cost Ygraine’s death. The source of the magic is not identified, but it is treated as a natural talent that can be used either for good or ill. I still watch both shows, but I can’t fully get behind them the way I do Narnia.

It’s difficult to create magical beings or characters that use magic in a way that is compatible with Christianity. However, that doesn’t mean characters in other world fantasy have to have the exact same natural abilities as people in our world. Tolkien’s elves have amazing healing abilities. “He needs elvish medicine” can be heard in the LOTR movies. But while some other races look on the elves’ abilities as magic, it’s just a natural ability for them. Similarly, my merfolk can exchange their tails for legs and vice versa at will, but it is just a natural God-given ability for them. Magic-free fantasy doesn’t have to be devoid of interesting abilities like this.

As Time Captives is portal fantasy, and as my characters are stuck in time Tuck Everlasting style, it doesn’t feel like non-magical fantasy. However, there is no magic in the mainstream fantasy magic sense, and not even any fairy godmother magic. The portal is much the same as the Ship of Divine Purpose in Across the Stars, only instead of being a spaceship sent to those who are meant to help in other parts of the universe, it is an attic portal the clues and instructions to which only appear to those who are meant to go through it. They are stuck in time because, as Camthalion says, “God has a reason. He has a purpose for you, and He has ways of accomplishing it, even if they seem strange to us….There is no other option.”

This leads into an important point: Strict non-magical fantasy should not be devoid of the supernatural. God does miracles. He is always working, always orchestrating things in amazing ways according to His will. Non-magical fantasy writers should not go out of their way to omit anything supernatural because it might to some have the appearance of magic. To do so, leaving out miraculous working, is, I think, to deny the nature of God. Do not avoid miracles because someone might think it is magic.

Now, it has to be well done. Do not insert a miracle just to insert a miracle. I can’t give any hard and fast rules for this, but if you write prayerfully and naturally, it will happen in the right place and in the right way. A miracle happened in Across the Stars. I had written a character into a rather fatal condition, and was stuck until, after praying and thinking about it for several days, I realized it had to be a miracle. The ending of The Experiment was criticized as “deus ex machina” by my cousin, but I have had more people say the ending was perfect and it couldn’t have ended any other way. Time Captives is less about big miracles and more about God working everything together perfectly, though the theme and message are different and something that happened naturally without my realizing it. I’m not giving it away, it would be less powerful that way.

Magic in Christian fantasy is an incredibly tricky subject, and I am still learning. It doesn’t have a single answer. There are many perspectives, and many extremes. I struggled greatly with the topic in my writing, and then about my reading and TV watching. I feel like my conclusion is sort of middle ground. I encourage you to research it yourself and come to your own conclusion.

I found many articles and discussion threads (strangely without Googling) in my search for answers. Here are the ones I can remember and still find.

Magic: Harry Potter Vs. LOTR & Narnia... And What God Says About It
Harry Potter vs. Gandalf
FRODO BAGGINS VS. HARRY POTTER: A Christian perspective on fantasy literature
Holy Worlds Fantasy Forum Topic: Magic


[1] I personally believe that dragons were truly dinosaurs, and that it is quite possible some could have breathed fire, though legends are likely much exaggerated, but that is a different topic of discussion.

[2] I do not condemn anyone who chooses to stay away from Narnia and/or LOTR, nor do I condemn people simply for reading Harry Potter. Each person has to decide for him or herself what is acceptable.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Music of Time Captives

I started Time Captives without music. When I was at St. George Island on vacation in May of 2013, I remembered how hard it had been to write Across the Stars without the Voyage of the Dawn Treader soundtrack. So I turned it on. I sat on the porch of a rented vacation home listening to Narnia and trying desperately to write about the Hubbards in the dungeon. Turns out, Narnia just wasn't right for Time Captives. However, I want to share with you what did work.
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The one I used the most for quite a long time was The Hunger Games. Since there's gladiator inspired stuff in that story and there are some things about gladiators in mine, it worked. I started listening to it when I started writing about Adriel. I added Catching Fire, and it became my go-to playlist when writing Time Captives.

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I started a Spotify account in the summer of 2014, for the sole purpose of being able to listen to Doctor Who music. And know what? I could write to it too. Much of Time Captives and Espionage came to be during Doctor Who music. At first it was a little difficult to focus on writing rather than the awesome music, but as I started getting to know all ten albums by heart, it became the perfect background music.

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Still waiting for the Series 8 soundtrack though. My favorite would have to be The Day of the Doctor. It's such a brilliant mix of all the New Who music, plus something more. I admit, it was a bit of a distraction at first, but I got to know it well, and so then it wasn't anymore.

Of course, there were still times of procrastination like when this happened.

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The Giver also had to join my list because it is amazing music and I love it to bits. Espionage spent the portion of its time that it wasn't set to Doctor Who with The Giver. I probably did listen to this too much, because my sister started getting annoyed when I would turn it on, even if I was listening to it by myself, because I would then hum it for the rest of the day. I listen to it constantly for my Cassie story too.

Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, The Piano Guys, The Phantom of the Opera, and Disney songs have also made an appearance, as have Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, but they are small appearances in comparison. I don't recommend Disney music for writing. Far too distracting. Like, zero writing, all singing.

There's more great music out there that I'm still discovering, like Merlin
,
which inspires my editing and Storyless Storyboard Story. Music is an important part of writing for me, and, being an aspiring musician myself, I love it for being amazing music just as much as for helping me focus on writing. Film score is, in short, fantastic.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Publishing Dates and Humans in Calhortea

Yes, I'm having a two-fold purpose for this post. I wanted to finally give projected dates for the publishing of Creighton Hill, but I didn't really want to skip my worldbuilding post either.

Though at the beginning of March I had a brief freak out because I could suddenly feel time breathing down my neck, I'm actually quite on schedule. What does being on schedule mean, exactly? Well, it means I'm getting close to the end of applying family feedback to Time Captives
so I can send it to beta readers soon. My dad and sister just finished Crannig Castle yesterday, and I don't think any major revisions still need to be done (though certain family members have started lobbying for one of the characters to get killed or maimed in battle, to which I give an emphatic "NO!" :P). Even though I felt behind on March 1st, at the moment I feel ahead, which is good, since I didn't exactly factor in time for a post-beta readers proofread by some friends. Anyway, you probably want dates.

First off, I finally have my cover photo and a finalized design. There will be some slight adjustment, since I don't have my spine width yet, but I know exactly how it will look. Which means *drumroll* a cover reveal can finally happen! I still have some details to work out in regards to the reveal itself (*cough* actually asking blogger friends other than my sister to participate), but I have it planned for April 6th. So in three weeks, you get to see what the cover of Creighton Hill will look like.

I have June 8th planned for the release of Creighton Hill. Just in case the paperback isn't actually ready, it's just the kindle release date for sure, but I'm hoping to have the paperback ready as well. It's also (approximately) the second anniversary of the release of Across the Stars, so chances are there will be some special things going on for that book as well. I also intend to have my first blog tour, so that should be interesting. I'll have more details on that later.

Humans in Calhortea
Humans in Calhortea are physically just like humans in our world. So really, there's not much to say there. They live in multiple countries. The humans in Calhortz at the time of Time Captives are all slaves. They live on plantations for the most part and work in the fields and as house slaves. Some humans are forced to be gladiators for the strytes. A large part of the Calhortan slaves are Christians.

Briznom was interesting to develop. All the inhabitants are human. It has a more traditional medieval fantasy type feel, but the king really has little power. They are governed by the vassal lords who represent the vassalage of their birth at Court. The position of vassal lord is passed down from father to son. The level of control of the common people really depends on the vassal lord. The people of Cumberland are very free and happy in their peasant village. In Roland, the people are more poorly treated. There are no arranged marriages for the common people, but, unfortunately, it is the common practice for the children of noblemen. Infant betrothals are the norm for the heir to the vassalage, and they are often betrothed to distant cousins. Even should the match prove to be distasteful to both parties prior to marriage, the betrothal is very difficult to break.

The Yatachee Islands are also largely inhabited by humans. There is a small merfolk population, but it is only a fraction of the whole population. The Yatachee Islands are colonies of Briznom though they exert little control over it in actuality. It is a tropical archipelago, rather similar to what one would expect out of Caribbean islands from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. There are many seafarers and merchant sailors, and, of course, pirates. Some pirates were drawn into Toarna's service as privateers under false promises. I want to explore the sea more, and I have some characters for it, some of which make an appearance in Time Captives, but as of yet, I have no plot.

That's a brief overview of the culture of the humans who inhabit Calhortea.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Elves

I can't remember when I first decided I wanted elves in Calhortea. I know it was fairly early on in the writing process, since their introduction came not too far in. (I've added loads to that section, so the original introduction isn't until book 2, but a lot of what I've added includes elves.) I knew from the start they were much more like Tolkien's elves than Santa's elves. But I still wanted to make them unique. That led to the question: What makes an elf an elf? Some of you may remember my asking that on Facebook. I can't find the post, so I can't remember exactly what everyone said, but one of the main things was pointed ears. Well, they certainly have pointed ears.

(They have a worldbuilding page. Woot!) Elves are tall and fair with long blond or brown hair. They have pointed ears and their eyes are either blue or brown. They are nimble, and well, generally look like the ones in Lord of the Rings. However, there are differences. They are not immortal. Elves have an average lifespan of 400 years, making them the second longest living of Calhortea's races. They hail from the land of Olithea, which is forested. Their homes are a sort of cross between the Swiss Family Robinson tree house (from the book) and Lothlorien. The tree houses are entered by staircases carved out of the inside of enormous tree trunks. That concept in Swiss Family Robinson always intrigued me greatly, so I decided to include it. Their architecture looks very natural, as if it grew rather than being built.

They can do a lot of things, they're really no more limited in their types of skills than humans, but they are always much more artistic about it. And their nimbleness and sharp senses do make things better. They can fight, and even fought against the strytes when they took over Calhortz. That led to their population being all but wiped out, but anyway. Some of them are scholars, Camthalion in particular. They are not anywhere near the merfolk in terms of engineering, however.

I realized the other day that the elves behave very much like the people in the Elsie Dinsmore books. Which is to say, proper and old-fashioned and affectionate and...well, if you've read the Elsie books, you know what I'm talking about. The good guys, not the bad ones. I don't have anyone who is like Arthur Dinsmore, though I wouldn't say every single elf alive is good. They are fallen creatures just like everyone else.

Their names...well...some I made up and others I got from name generators. So there isn't really anything exciting there. Estranna came from a combination of Esther and Anna. Havilan developed from turning Calvin into Halvin and then remembering I had a Calvin and changing it up a little more. Camthalion came straight out of an elvish name generator. If I remember right, it's what George would be if it were elvish (according to the generator).

Elves play a very prominent role in Time Captives. Not much would have actually happened without them, for all the characters have to work together, whether they are Time Captives or not.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Merfolk

Once Upon a Time Season 3: a mermaid is captured on the way to Neverland to save Henry.

Regina: "Fillet the fish."

Me: "I have to have mermaids in Calhortea!"

And that's how I got my merfolk. Not that Regina's line actually had anything to do with it, I just thought it was funny. And I found mermaids suddenly intriguing enough to want them in my own books.

Now, I didn't want my merfolk to be like the ones in Disney's The Little Mermaid. I don't know why, I guess I just wanted them to be more intriguing. I also didn't want them to be creepy and evil like the one captured in OUAT or the ones in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
. I really didn't like that version of mermaids, or that movie either, but that's a bit beside the point. So I set out to make them my own. How unique they really are I don't know, you be the judge of that.

My merfolk are about the same size as humans and can exchange their tails for legs at will. (Just imagine how much Ariel would have loved that!) They can breathe both water and air. They actually do breathe the water into their lungs which I guess somehow extract the oxygen from it. Their skin is always moist, whether in the water or out of it. When out, it looks as if they are sweating, which does look strange in the wintertime. Also, their only hair on their entire bodies is on top of their head. Merfolk, um, don't actually have a page in my worldbuilding binder, so I don't know what their average lifespan is. How about two hundred year
s? That sounds good. Hair and eye colors are pretty much the same as humans. And they don't dress immodestly. Actually, when they transform their tails into legs, their clothes transform accordingly as well. Don't ask me how they do it. Merfolk are smarter than me. But they aren't magicians.

Merfolk are very smart. They are engineers of unbelievable talent. They were able to create a genetic restraint that keeps people with certain DNA on an island (and certain others off) in a world that has not yet taken the concept of the cannon and miniaturized it into a hand held gun. Come to think of it, the merfolk are probably the ones who invented the cannon. I won't talk about their incredible engineering of The Crossways since I want it to be a surprise, but rest assured, it's pretty cool.

Unfortunately, for all their being so smart, the merfolk are so easygoing they're easy to enslave. The strytes most definitely took advantage of that. In Chalton, the merfolk are forced to do manual labor in the coal mines. In Calhortz, they do plantation work. There is a small village in the Yatachee Islands, and I would not be surprised to find an underwater village somewhere as well. Though they are so easily controllable, they do not do everything they are ever told. Rather than destroying all chance of rescue for the rightful king of Calhortz as they were instructed, they made sure that it could happen eventually.

Merfolk are actually kind of background workers. They're not prominently featured in Time Captives
, though they play an enormously important role in the backstory, and have a part in the present story as well. I would love someday to write more about them. I still want to write a pirate story about Captain Jeremy Herb's son. Maybe they'll come in there.

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