I’m pleased to welcome two special guests to The Author’s Tent today: R.J. Anderson and Saundra Mitchell! Rebecca’s latest book, WAYFARER, was released just yesterday, and Saundra’s debut novel, SHADOWED SUMMER, came out in paperback on June 8th. Here are their book covers. Aren’t they beautiful?
I first met these talented authors via LiveJournal. (You may recognize their user names: rj_anderson and anywherebeyond.) Our worldviews may occasionally differ, but we’ve found common ground within this community. We don’t write in the same genre — they write YA fantasy; I write nonfiction for grown-ups. Still, there’s lots of overlap in the themes we explore, and that has a spillover effect in what we choose to blog about. (Witness: this recent example.)
Brilliant thinkers, these two, but very friendly and down-to-earth. So when Saundra announced the start of her summer blog tour, I invited her to join me in The Author’s Tent, and I asked R.J. (Rebecca) to stop by, as well. Would you be willing to talk about something esoteric? I asked. Say, for instance, the intersection of Faith and Fantasy? Lucky for us, they said yes! So without further delay, please allow them to share with you their thoughts about the ways in which faith and spirituality inform their worldviews and their writing. Because this is an interactive forum, I’m hoping you’ll chime in, as well!
THE INTERSECTION OF FAITH AND FANTASY
By Saundra Mitchell
As an author who isn’t particularly faithful, I still strive to be honest about faith in my books. While I *could* write a book about a small southern town and pretend that nobody there goes to church at all, it wouldn’t be honest.
I consider it my job to tell a truthful story- which may seem counterintuitive, considering I’m writing about ghosts who come back, girls who see the future in the fires of sunset, and living dead boys still on their feet, if not entirely in this world. But- my good friend LaTonya always says:
Reality is the hook upon which I hang my suspension of disbelief.
On top of being wicked delicious with grammar, LaTonya has also pretty much defined the way I go about writing my stories. If I ask you to believe *all* improbable things, my story collapses. If I ask you to believe only one- then we might be in business.
And that means I can’t ignore the way people live their lives. I may not go to church- but that doesn’t mean that church doesn’t exist for the vast majority of the world, in some form or another. My world isn’t populated with little mes- it’s populated by Roman Catholics and their rituals of confession; it’s populated Sikhs, faithfully undecorated. It’s populated by the Jewish faithful and Saturday Sabbath and G-d with no vowel in it.
What’s beautiful is that keeping all-faiths in mind when I write, when I read- when I learn- adds depth to my writing worlds, but also adds texture and perspective to my living world. It humbles me to know how little I know; it awes me with the beauty of spirit.
So while I’m an author of no faith in particular, my books will always reflect the world as it is- different from me, and extraordinary for it.
Saundra Mitchell is the author of SHADOWED SUMMER and THE VESPERTINE (Spring 2011). For more about her novels, please visit www.shadowedsummer.com and www.thevespertine.com.
THE INTERSECTION OF FAITH AND FANTASY
by R.J. Anderson
One of my earliest childhood memories is of sitting rapt and cross-legged on the carpet by my father’s feet while he, a full-time Bible teacher from a conservative evangelical church, read the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings out loud to my older brothers. Later, when I learned to read for myself, I vividly remember my excitement each Christmas morning as I rummaged through my stocking to find the fantasy novel I knew would be tucked inside. From George MacDonald’s classic The Princess and Curdie to John White’s The Tower of Geburah and Stephen Lawhead’s Taliesin, all were fantastic tales written from a Christian worldview, and my father — who rarely read anything but the Bible and the newspaper himself — gave them to me without hesitation.
Thanks to Lewis, Tolkien and MacDonald (and my father), I grew up believing that fantasy is in no way incompatible with Christian faith but can actually be a meaningful expression of it. I also learned that it is possible to write great stories from a Christian worldview without being heavy-handed or preachy. And when I decided that writing fantasy was what I most wanted to do, I determined to follow the example of Lewis et al in writing books that could be appreciated and enjoyed by a general audience, not just readers in some specialized "Christian" market.
C.S. Lewis wrote, and I agree with him, that "The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author’s mind." In other words, deeper meanings should emerge from the storytelling process in an organic way, not be forced onto the story in order to lecture the reader. So I don’t try to write Sunday School lessons into my stories, or to "preach the gospel" through them. Good fiction introduces the reader to new ideas and perspectives, but it cannot tell the reader what to think of them or it ceases to be good fiction.
Nevertheless, I believe that fantasy is a genre that offers unique opportunities to leave the reader with something worth thinking about. It treats the supernatural as a reality, it examines the nature of good and evil, it raises the question of what’s worth living — and dying — for. Whether it’s a light-hearted story of some far-off fairytale kingdom, or an edgy thriller set in some gritty urban landscape, every fantasy author brings her own philosophical and spiritual beliefs to her storytelling and leaves the reader with an impression of what really matters.
So as a fantasy author who is also a Christian, I’m naturally going to raise questions and issues that are significant to me, and I’m going to treat them in a way that’s consistent with my worldview. I’m going to draw on what I know and believe and have experienced personally to create my characters and tell their stories. I’m going to create a world which may be fantastic and impossible, but which is founded in my own personal convictions of reality and truth.
And then I’m going to leave it up to you, the reader, to decide what you want to make of it.
R.J. Anderson is the author of FAIRY REBELS: SPELL HUNTER and WAYFARER. For more information about her novels, please visit her website.
Want to read more author interviews? Please visit The Author’s Tent archives.
Thanks for these thoughtful essays, which call to mind chapter 4 of Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy, called “The Ethics of Elfland.” Many don’t read Chesterton these days, especially that one because it sounds ew Catholic. He has some chewy things to say about faith and fiction.
Oh, that Chesterton, such an ew Catholic. Hee! But yes, he does have some wonderful essays, and even when I don’t agree with him he’s such an entertaining essayist to read.
And if anybody hasn’t read his novel The Man Who Was Thursday, they are in for a treat! The Father Brown mysteries, too.
Great topic, Melodye, and I liked the thoughtful responses of Rebecca and Saundra. Thank you, all, and also your responder above pointing to Chesterton, who I know Tolkien often quoted, and Gregory Maguire, too. One more to add to my list. Lots of rich summer reading here!
Thanks for the essays, folks! This is an issue I’m interested to hear more about — I appreciate the inclusion of religious characters and spiritual elements in fiction (whether fantasy or not) and it’s interesting to hear what folks from various background have to say about it. I particularly like the C. S. Lewis quote R. J. references.
I have to admit I’ve occasionally considered writing about a main character who is religious (whether real-world or within some fictional religion in a fantasy world) but I have avoided it, in part because of fears that I couldn’t pull it off. These essays make me think perhaps I need to get over that fear and give it a try.
I think that no matter how you approach it, there will always be someone who feels you haven’t pulled it off right — either because you’ve said too much, or too little, or the “wrong” thing in their opinion. It’s inevitable.
But smart beta-readers are always good for telling you if you really have gone too far (or not far enough). *winks*
The idea I’ve been playing with for my next project (after CG2, assuming I don’t do CG3) has a religious or at least spiritual component to the world/mc that I’d been (as I said) kind of uncertain about. But you’re right. And I think I will attempt to get past my fears. Though honestly, I think I’ve just now recognized that part of my fear is related to the fact that to do what I’m toying with doing, I’d have to think a lot more intensively and deeply about religion and faith. Which would be a good and welcome thing- it’s something I have done in the past, but recently not-so-much.
Both excellent, diverse, thoughtful essays. Thank you, ladies! And thank you, Melodye, for introducing us to them. 🙂
Nice essays, both. And I can really relate to Rebecca’s, having been raised equally on a diet of Bible stories and fairy tales. I don’t think authors can help writing about things that are important to them–if you have strong religious feelings, that will come through somehow, even if the book doesn’t mention God by name. If you belong to no particular church but respect the beliefs of others, that will come through, too. The only times I find the whole faith-in-fiction thing not working is either when someone tries to drop a Sunday school lesson in the middle of something unrelated, or when someone writes a character’s faith as merely a quaint character trait. The last one seems to happen an awful lot in historical fiction, and it just feels fake. When I see it done well, therefore, like in Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Crossing to Paradise/Gatty’s Tale, it really stands out.
Great post. Growing up in homeschooling, where there was a constant conglomeration of experimental new age beliefs and conservative Christianity…well, I was exposed to some fascinating ideas about religion and spirituality (and a lot of clashes). (It’s probably no wonder I despise confrontation…)
But I do love discussion. One thing I really love about the kidlit community is that I feel there are a lot of beliefs here and not much conflict. It’s really helped me to learn about different faiths.
“In other words, deeper meanings should emerge from the storytelling process in an organic way, not be forced onto the story in order to lecture the reader.”
I have always felt this, about any theme. And also that our spirituality is not an “extra” slapped onto us, but something we express by the way we live (and write), as in, “I’m naturally going to raise questions and issues that are significant to me, and I’m going to treat them in a way that’s consistent with my worldview.”
Saundra – You make such a wonderful point in talking about being honest about faith in a book. Taking it out just because you might offend someone who doesn’t want to even see God mentioned in a book or that people attend a house of worship would be equally wrong as adding something in faith-wise to a culture or community where it doesn’t exist.
R.J.- I so believe that you can be a “___________” (fill in the blank) who is a Christian and be more effective than to be always seen as a Christian “_________” (fill in the blank). I could never understand that if God was so amazing and great then why was Christian music or Christian books often so poor in quality (not always but unfortunately there seems to be poor quality control out there). When I think of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien or Stephen Lawhead (a personal fave) I think of authors who wrote/write amazing stories and they happened to be Christians but whose stories appealed and touched so many.
Thanks for doing this…two great authors and one great post.
I love the quote from Saundra’s friend LaTonya.
AMAZING topic, Melodye! Now I have two more books to add to my to-read pile…
Two beautiful essays! Thank you so much.
Thank you for these essays. Faith (or the lack of it) is an essential issue in our lives, and I think a lot of books avoid it simply because it’s uncomfortable: how do you talk about faith without risking offending someone? Or, more significantly, exposing your own faith (or lack of it)? It’s especially easy in fantasy to avoid it all together, because there’s so much else going on to ask readers to believe in, you can forget about religious issues in the midst of an exciting story.
Melodye, here’s a link to the interview with Orson Scott Card I mentioned, about religion in fantasy…and really in literature in general: http://absolutewrite.com/novels/orson_scott_card.htm
I found your blog through beansnink. I must say, I think it is VERY cool that you support the work of other people. I am a writer (no published works yet.) I write daily in my blog. I would love for you to check me out…if you want to, that is.
Anyway, I hope you have a good day.
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