Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fantasy & the Supernatural: What Authors Can Do

Welcome back to the CSFF Blog Tour for Patrick Carr’s A Draw of Kings!

As I said earlier this week, I’ve already reviewed this particular book…as well as the previous two books in the series, A Cast of Stones and The Hero's Lot. Since I don’t need to bore those who have already read my reviews (summary: I really like the series), I want to ruminate instead on one of my favorite elements in The Staff and the Sword series and one that I think makes this story unique.

That would be the story’s medieval-world feel in general, and Carr’s re-imagining of the medieval church in particular.

Religion can be challenging to insert into a story, not just because it’s controversial. Plenty of people complain about heavy-handed Christianese, and just as many people complain about the lack of a religious message. Part of the challenging is just deciding how (or if) a writer wants to handle religion. Fiction allows writers to use a wide range of nuances as they develop their story and their world, and fantasy is no different from the rest of fiction. If anything, fantasy gives writers even more possibility to pick from, because writers get to create or reinvent their world in ways historical fiction or contemporary romances can only imagine.

If you think about it, the two big myth-makers bookend the entire spectrum from an overtly Christian mythos to a more subtle, almost invisible supernatural presence.

I’m talking about C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien of course. I know from experience that people who read only The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings tend to think God got left out of the stories. Tolkien has a very clear history to his Middle Earth in the stories of the elves, the dwarves, and the wars against Sauron, but there is no obvious God-figure, no one ever mentions a divine being, and Gandalf doesn’t point Frodo to ancient book of knowledge to help him define right and wrong.

Now, if you mention this to any Tolkien fan, they will instantly say, “But there’s The Silmarillion.” And there is, certainly. As Gandalf tells Frodo, “There are many powers in the world, for good or for evil.It’s just that Tolkien apparently doesn’t see a need to make any overt references to the highest of these powers, the creation story or the rest of the mythos he develops in The Silmarilion. That’s one end of the spectrum.

At the other end is Lewis’s Narnia, where Aslan rules as High King over all High Kings, the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. As Lewis pointed out, Aslan is not an allegorical stand-in for Christ, a metaphor on the level of Mr. Do-Good in Pilgrim’s Progress. Aslan is Christ as he might appear in a world inhabited by talking animals. Aslan himself tells Edmund and Lucy that they must learn to know him in their own world as well.

Fantasy authors can get away with things like that. 

So, what does this have to do with The Sword and the Staff?

Traditionally, the medieval world has been a popular setting for fantasy quests, among both good authors and not-so-good authors. It’s a world that seems to invite dragons and ogres. Sometimes the world exists as a medieval-style land on an unknown world or a hidden continent, but other times it is superimposed over the real medieval Europe. When the latter happens, the world may take on real aspects of medieval Europe,such as the cultural mix or even certain historic events. This is fantasy, after all, and authors can write their own version of history.

Similarly, in The Sword and the Staff series, Carr takes on the medieval church, while giving it his own twist. In Carr’s world, the church exists as one of the central pillars of society, second only to the king—if even that. The church’s structure closely mirrors the Catholic church’s hierarchy with its village priests, benefices, and archbenefices.

At the same time, this is a church that lost access to the Book hundreds of years before and has based its theology on tradition since that time. This being a fantasy series, Carr throws some other elements into the mix as well. The church serves a trinity—Deas, Eleison, and Aurae—while fighting against the village herbalists who claim to speak with spirits, including the unknowable Aurae. Meanwhile, the church backs up its traditions with its readers—men who can hold a question in their head and carve all of the possible answers into special blocks or stones for casting lots. Each reader can see only the answers he has carved, but an omne can read any other reader’s lots as well as his own.

All this becomes critically important when it comes to finding an heir for the dying king and for learning how to preserve Illustra's barrier against the demonic powers trying to overpower the kingdom. Without the Book to guide it, the church can only use its readers to hunt out the answers it needs. That ability, though, is threatened when a churchman learns that some people might indeed be able to hear Aurae speak.

In other words, Carr has history and fantasy working together. Plus, it makes a really cool mix, and it’s just another reason why I love both medieval worlds and fantasy in general.

(If you want to see what other bloggers are saying about this book or the series, you can find a list of the posts here.)

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Draw of Kings: Blog Tour

A Draw of KingsThe month has rolled around again, and it’s time for another Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour!

This month, the group is reviewing Patrick Carr’s A Draw of Kings, last book in The Staff and the Sword series. Sound familiar?

That’s because I reviewed two weeks ago at the end of February. I’d be happy to re-read the book sometime, but I probably don’t need to re-review it so soon. Instead, I’m going to do something a little this time around and write up a brainy sort of post. You should be able to read that post in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, why not check out what the other bloggers have to say? (Or you can always go back to my previous reviews for A Cast of Stones, A Hero’s Lot, and A Draw of Kings.)

Gillian Adams
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Nikole Hahn
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Jennette Mbewe
Amber McCallister
Shannon McDermott
Shannon McNear
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
James Somers
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Jill Williamson

Also, I hope you’ll check out A Draw of Kings and the other two books on Amazon if you haven’t read the series yet. And, if you have lots of time to spare, you can check out Patrick Carr’s website.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Fold in Time?

I do not consider myself an origami expert. Usually, when I try to fold a sheet of paper, the corners don’t match, the edges come out wrong, and not matter how careful I am, the paper itself seems to change shape as I fold.

A couple days ago, though, when I was researching origami paper, I found that not all origami uses paper. Origami folders apparently include artists who use the techniques on metal, food, an even cloth. Cloth, really, you ask?

It’s called napkin folding.

As I said, I’ve never considered myself an origami expert, but it just so happens, I have had lots of practice with napkin folds after working at The Farm Lodge for a couple of summers. One of my favorite jobs there was setting the tables for dinner, which included ironing and starching 10 to 30 napkins (depending on the number of guests that night), and then picking out a napkin fold for that day. The fold often depended on the number of guests, since a bird-of-paradise or a water-lily might be really cool, but a fleur-de-lis in a water goblet is much simpler. Of course, the edges didn’t always match up either, but then napkins aren’t actually square.

This all comes up because I’m working on a new writing project.

I’m now the Arts & Crafts expert for a review site. Of all the different areas where I might consider myself expert, this was not one of them. Sure, I’ve taken a couple art classes, I’ve entered more doilies in the county fair than I can count, and I’ve even learned some weird abilities like transcribing patterns from heirloom doilies and potholders. I even organized and taught a children’s art class, after much reluctance and a fair bit of trepidation.

But using that background for writing? Maybe for adding a bit of color to a scene with some minor character in the back of the room, working busily away over a bobbin-lace pillow. (No, I haven’t written that scene yet, but I do know about where it will show up in one of my stories.) Still, actually thinking of myself as an expert on the best type of oil pastel, or watercolor paper? Not likely.

Until a couple weeks ago, that is.

I don’t know everything about paper or paintbrushes or , but I do know enough to start, and I also know where and how to find the extra information I need. So, even if I’ve never considered myself a proper artist, certainly not an expert, the experience still came in handy.

I even got to practice my French and Spanish a couple times when I needed to look up a brand’s website and it happened to be made by a European company. Now I just need to work on German and Japanese for those other companies’ websites…

And I might have to try actual paper origami again one of these daysafter I play with my watercolors sometime or get my hands on a set of oil pastels.