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.
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.