Of Absent Lions and Tarnished Swords

23 Dec

Writing—it has become not only an escape for great minds, but also a way to instill in our children legends of times past and noble deeds done by knights in some far away realm. As C. S. Lewis states, “Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” Whether it is searching for a magical kingdom in a wardrobe or trying to hear elves singing in the woods, we, as readers, are shaped by what we read from the very first book that finds itself in our hands to the very last. From the apartments on 221B Baker Street to the mysterious gates into Allyra, storytelling—embodied in hundreds of thousands of novels, written by hundreds of thousands of authors—is a way by which readers are taken captive. And in their captivity, ensnared in a world that is not their own, readers are subjected to strange forms of torture—death, often many times over, loves won and then lost, victory in battle, but defeat in the war. But in this struggle of fates and destinies, they learn. In no other genre is the aforementioned principle so true as in Christian allegory, in which lions are kings and even death itself can be turned back again. It is a unique genre in which spiritual truth is linked with fantasy, imparting Biblically inspired wisdom to its readers. However, in order to truly grasp allegorical Christian literature and develop a clear understanding of its purpose in modern literature, the reader or writer must attain a meaningful comprehension of what Christian allegory is, how it is written, and why it is written.

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Sarah’s sword, Santa Ira

Allegorical Christian literature is, in the briefest terms, a fictional interpretation of Biblical events or principles. Similar to its literary parent, allegorical literature, Christian allegory has a set meaning for events and occurrences outside of the basic bare-bones plotline. Subsequently, many authors have lamented the increasing popular undermining idea of no “set” implications. Kathryn Comstock said in her article “Meaning and Balloons”, “It’s happening in everything: school work, literature and even writing. Meaning is being systematically removed and instead, we’re being told that ‘It’s all relative’. There’s no real meaning in anything.” This is particularly disturbing for authors of Christian allegory who so meticulously incorporate the Truth into their works. As Comstock pointed out earlier in her article, “As any writer knows, there’s something specific you’re trying to get across… The scenes and situations you put in mean something, and it’s something very specific.” Novels written in a Christian mindset are, therefore, destined to have some sort of Christian outcome. As authors, it is second-nature to incorporate what you do know into what you don’t know. As a Christian author, what you know may only be a myriad of memories from the back pew at church, listening to the preacher lecture the congregation about Jesus and what exactly that extraordinary man stood for, which amounts to a rather ordinary plot with rather ordinary people. When tangled, however, with that which is not known—war, dragons, magic, and heroes—it becomes something quite different (Jones). It is this combination of authenticity and invention that often differentiates the master storyteller from the novice. “It’s only human to want to create things, as we are created in the image of the Creator,” said Lissy Jones in her article “Reality and Fantasy: Finding the Right Blend”. All Christian literature, however, is not allegorical. For example, a book may mention God once or twice, be written by a Christian author, and have a Christian “theme”, but that does not make it an allegory. In order for a novel to be allegorical, it must have a dual plot-line: realistic and symbolic, which is set in either an alternate universe or has a parallel universe to our own.

Not a recent development in literature, perhaps one of the most well-known and widely read allegory is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream, most frequently published as The Pilgrim’s Progress which features the travels of Christian in his quest to find the good King, enduring many not-so-carefully guised trials such as passing through Vanity Fair. Although judged as an older tale when compared to most modern literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress is still very young compared to some stories, preserved from ages far in the past. Christian allegory has existed for many centuries. Some of the first were the embodied in the parables chronicled in the Bible spoken by Jesus such as “The Prodigal Son”, “The Lost Coin”, and “The Lost Sheep”. During the ensuing medieval age, allegory also became a meaningful way for new and experienced believers to share the Gospel and make the principles in the Bible more easily understood. Whether it was an older sister telling bedtime stories to her younger siblings or a troubadour singing of the great love and a King to His people, whom had lost their way, Christian allegory has a rich history not only in developing modern literature, but also in the legends passed to us from an age of knights and chivalry past. It is, perhaps, the rootedness of Christian allegory in medieval times that has inspired many of the most popular Christian authors capture their allegories in the subgenre of speculative fiction. Speculative fiction, when applied to allegorical novels, is the official term for books which feature medieval or futuristic fantasy as a main point of the plot. While the more common of these two is medieval fantasy, as dystopian fantasy has grown in popularity with best sellers such as The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, in addition to The Divergent Trilogy all have debuted in the last several decades, it is to be expected that there will also be an influx of allegories pertaining to this particular type of fantasy. Beyond speculative fiction, there are also Christian mystery, romance, thriller or suspense, historical, and contemporary novels (Schab). It is this variety of venues in Christian allegory that allows for flexibility in reading audiences and marketability.

Knights in shining armor, thrilling chases, battles with forces of darkness unseen. It is perhaps the means by which authors capture the allegorical story that is the most mystic thing about them, and, regardless of age and audience, it is hard to ignore the temptation to believe. The portrayal of Christianity within the allegories greatly differs from novel to novel, and although none of the plots are the same, there are some common elements needed within each allegory. Most often, the first to be addressed is the parallel or completely detached fantasy realm. These can be established in any number of ways, but the most frequent is, if it is a parallel universe in which a character from our world will be traveling to, to begin on earth and follow it, after the proper introduction of characters and setting, with some sort of transportation into the other realm. The most familiar of these is C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. In each of the seven books, children from various places in England, find themselves, by pure happenchance, in Narnia. In The Magician’s Nephew, Polly and Digory use magic rings, owned by Digory’s insane uncle, to travel to the Wood between the Worlds where different pools take them to different lands beyond our own, including the forming world of Narnia (Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew). Later in the series, the Pevensie children find themselves in the same Narnia by unwittingly using a magic wardrobe (Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe). Throughout the rest of the books, the children are taken into Narnia by a train station after being called by Susan’s horn, a gift to her from Father Christmas, through a painting, and even through a little door in the back of the school yard while being chased by bullies (Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia). Wayne Thomas Batson uses similar tactics in both The Door Within trilogy and The Curse of the Spider King. In The Door Within, Aiden, the main character, after being instructed by his Grampin, must imagine himself traveling over a long bridge in order to reach the Door into The Realm through which lies the signature parallel universe (Batson, The Door Within). The Curse of the Spider King utilizes portals and, unlike many of the worlds created in Christian allegory, has a more science-fiction feeling to it as Allyra, the land that the portals lead to, is a planet of sorts out in the farthest reaches of space (Batson and Hopper, The Curse of the Spider King). The other popular choice for world setting in Christian allegory is the establishment of a completely independent fantasy realm. Er’Rets, the realm that Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings trilogy is located within, has no relation to our earth. In L. A. Kelly’s Tahn, there is also no bridge from our world to theirs. Because they are located in foreign lands, the authors of Christian allegory generally do not use titles such as “God” or “Jesus” or even “Heaven”. More frequently, new names are chosen to fit with the established fantasy atmosphere of the novel. As Aslan, a lion characterizing Jesus in The Chronicles of Narnia, famously says in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “‘I am,’ said Aslan. ‘But there I have another name. This is the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there’” (Lewis, 370). The names for God are not recklessly chosen in allegories, either. Often, their meanings are carefully considered before putting them to use. For example, in Donita K. Paul’s DragonSpell, the Pretender serves as the title for Satan and Paladin is Jesus. While the meaning of Pretender is very obvious to most readers, Paladin is more easily overlooked. Paladin is an old English term that originated out of some of the oldest medieval tales, one of these being The Song of Roland. Meaning a high-ranked officer who is worthy of trust, often in reference to a medieval prince, Paladin couldn’t be a much better name for Jesus. Many names also begin with “El”, a Hebrew name for God which originated from the root word meaning power and might and precedes many of the most well-known names of God in the Bible. It is no surprise then that this same prefix is found in several of the most popular allegories. King Eliam from The Door Within trilogy and Ellos from The Curse of the Spider King are two examples of this tendency. As the Bible is a central player in Christianity, so it is portrayed in Christian allegory. In each of the series The Door Within, The Bernifell Prophesies, and The Blood of Kings there is an established “Bible” that is referred to throughout the novels. Whether it is “The Scrolls of Alleble” and “The Book of Arman” that give a direct name to the realm’s Bible or in the less direct passages in The Chronicles of Narnia as parallels to familiar Biblical events unfold in the text, this important feature of Christianity is rarely neglected. In addition to these characteristics of Christianity, Christian allegories repeatedly touch on prayer and talking to God, Creation, and the omnipresence of God. As is often said in The Door Within, “‘Remember,’ she said. ‘Never alone’” (Batson, 167), meaning that, as a follower of God, you are never alone. Although not distinctly required in the perimeters of allegory, there are also common themes and trademarks that appear in these novels as well. Perhaps one of the most prominent is “mindspeaking” which describes the ability to, not surprisingly, communicate via telepathy. It is specifically referred to as mindspeaking in DragonSpell, but it is also present in Jill Williamson’s trilogy The Blood of Kings under the name of “bloodvoicing” (Williamson, From Darkness Won). Another common element for these novels to encompass is the use of another “sacred” language which is most frequently used in rebuking the Darkness. Williamson loosely uses Hebrew in her trilogy saying that, “I thought Hebrew/Greek sounded more like a fantasy novel. Plus, I liked the idea of using words from the Bible” (Williamson, 665-6). Batson and Hopper also utilize this, although their language is fiction, in a similar way, “‘Il berne di wy blakkie nai letta wy feithrill?’ (What place does the Darkness have with the light?)” (Batson and Hopper, 341). It is also to be found that the dedications of most Christian allegories are, not surprisingly, symbolic themselves. In The Curse of the Spider King the dedication is, “To those in hiding, lost far from the light. Swift wings are summoned to bear you safely home” (Batson and Hopper, 4). This commitment to the theme of the novel itself is obviously not required, and yet many of the writers of Christian allegory go out of their way to produce a full-circle tale believable enough to capture lost hearts for the kingdom of God. Because it’s such a unique genre, it may be imagined that finding a publisher would be nearly impossible. This is not completely true, however. As with any publishing arena, the Christian publishing companies come with their own list of qualifications, often more extensive and tedious than secular companies. This being said, there are over 50 companies that publish, either exclusively or using a branch of a bigger company, Christian literature. Nearly half of these require a literary agent for submission, or through using Christian Manuscript Submissions (C. R. Mooney). Despite the challenges that accompany writing allegorical Christian literature, there are still many authors—established and aspiring—who continue to work within the genre, putting on the armor of God and fight for the Kingdom.

A career as a free-lance author is, while gradually improving, one of the hardest. Writing within a genre that, although it does have flexibility within the perimeters of Christian fiction, largely alienates the non-Christian audience, it is sometimes difficult to understand why anyone would choose their career to be Christian allegory. This distinctive calling, however, makes it very simple for those called to do as their King commands. As L. A. Kelly says in the preface of her novel Tahn, “I am a writer. And that is a calling I cannot deny. God has his purpose for me in it, even when I don’t know what that purpose is” (Kelly, 8). As much as music, teaching, and missionary work is the ministry of some, so Christian allegory is to its authors. In the dedication of his novel The Door Within, Batson demonstrates a similar loyalty to his craft, “To the one true king, through whom all good things come: I bend my knee and await your command” (Batson, vii). Authors each have a passion in their hearts for communication—and not only communication, but for telling a story that will impact people, that will inevitably change people. It is no surprise, therefore, that, when the eternal fate of a reader may be resting in the words of a “story”, Christian authors present an entirely new sort of zeal when it comes to their novels. In her article “Glass Abbeys: A Call to Engage the Culture”, Grace Li points out that, without the witness of Christian believers to the outside world, they have no chance for salvation. Spreading the Good News should be at the heart of every Christian—especially the Christian author, “God’s meaning is clear. That gives us no excuse to do anything less” (Comstock). Indeed, the Bible itself encourages writing in many places throughout the Old and New Testaments. Christians are instructed to, primarily, ‘“use whatever gift he has received to serve others faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms’ 1 Peter 4:10” (Bible, 1539). As Christian authors, there is an even more specific charge and “job description” in the Bible, ‘“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth’ 2 Timothy 2:15” (Bible, 1509). Jesus, the greatest Christian example, told His followers as well as the masses parables—earthly stories with heavenly meanings, saying ‘“…Though seeing, the do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand’ Matthew 13:13” (Bible, 1236). The Truth is often hidden, and if unwilling to believe or see the Truth, then blindness will remain. In the same way, those who read Christian allegory and do not look for that “heavenly meaning”, as some of the Pharisees from Bible-times did not, do not see the allegory at all. How many people do see the allegory? The “set” meaning that is laboriously intertwined in the story? For many—particularly young readers, the introduction of Christian allegory into their life changes them, ‘“My life wouldn’t be the same without By Darkness Hid, To Darkness Fled, and last but not least, From Darkness Won. Jill Williamson held me captive from 1st to last’ Adele Hajicek, writing as Adele Treskillard, 19” (Williamson, v). Wayne Thomas Batson even wrote a short story as a Christmas present to his loyal readers this year. Why? Because as much as other authors may foster a bond with their audience, the level of mentorship established between the Christian authors and their readers isn’t just about life lessons—it’s tied together by an all-powerful God who makes us all family in a way, and that makes any battle for publication worth it.

Over the ages, allegorical Christian literature has changed monumentally. From first appearing as simple retellings of stories from the Bible shared believer to believer in the times when Jesus walked the earth to now chronicling fantastical tales of worlds far beyond our own, Christian allegories have become a key element of both ministry and modern literature. The unarguable uniqueness of the genre sets it apart from many others, making it a novel experience to behold and enjoy with all kinds of people. The existing stories of mysterious, bold young heroes, loose-fitting armor, and the lion who is king of the great wood will soon be joined by new tales and legends that will undoubtedly nurture a new love for literature in the generations that follow. For all is not always as it seems in the lands of absent lions and tarnished swords.

– AP Language Research Paper, Sarah Spradlin

Works Cited

Books:

Batson, Wayne Thomas. The Door Within. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005. Print.

Batson, Wayne Thomas and Hopper, Christopher. The Curse of the Spider King. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009. Electronic.

Bergren, Lisa T. . Torrent. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2011. Print.

Holy Bible, New International Bersion. Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2009. Print.

Kelly, L. A. . Tahn. Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2005. Print.

Lewis, C. S. . The Complete Chronicles of Narnia. Hong Kong: HaperCollins, 2000. Print.

Paul, Donita K. . DragonSpell. Colorado Springs: WaterBrooke Multnomah, 2004. Print.

Williamson, Jill. From Darkness Won. Colorado Springs: Marcher Lord Press, 2009. Print.

Websites:

Comstock, Kathryn. “Meaning and Balloons.” Kingdom Pen. (30 April 2013) 2 December 2013 <http://www.kingdompen.org/meaning-and-balloons/&gt;

Jones, Lissy. “Reality and Fantasy: Finding the Right Blend.” Kingdom Pen. (23 May 2013) 4 December 2013. <http://kingdompen.org/reality-and-fantasy-finding-the-right-blend/&gt;

Li, Grace. “Glass Abbeys: A Call to Engage the Culture.” Kingdom Pen. (31 May 2013) 2 December 2013 <http://kingdompen.org/glass-abbeys-a-call-to-engage-the-culture/&gt;

Mooney, C. R. . “List of Christian Publishers.” The Christian Writer’s Corner. (30 September 2008) 10 December 2013 <http://christianwriterscorner.wordpress.com/list-of-christian-publishers/&gt;

Schab, Lynda. “Christian Fiction 101: What are the different genres?.” Examiner.com. (8 August 2009) 10 December 2013 <http://www.examiner.com/article/christian-fiction-101-what-are-the-different-genres&gt;

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