Wow. Tough Question. I mentioned The Hunger Games trilogy earlier. I can't say enough about my respect for the series because it treats its young readers like adults who will one day sit in the war room and make decisions for the world. It asks tough questions and does not spoon feed answers. I had read some earlier works by Collins and liked them, but her work here deserves a place among the classics.

But there's also the Harry Potter series. I know, a lot of Christians are put off by the magic, but if you can put aside the preconceptions and seriously look at the message of the story, it's powerful stuff. I am convinced that Rowling intended to follow in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis (who is one of her favorite authors), and present the Gospel message, allegorically, smuggled under the lines and paragraphs of a ripping good story. I love her whimsy (the idea of a magical world that runs parallel to ours, and the little teases, like the manky old boot by the side of the road, which may actually be a portkey that transports anyone who touches it to another place, or the keys that keep disappearing might've been hexed by a wizard who's got it out for you). And under the story, everything from the characters' names and their meanings to the symbolism of many of the creatures, conveys a message.

In early Christian art, many creatures of myth and legend were used to represent some Biblical doctrine. The phoenix spoke of the resurrection. The griffon, being part eagle, part lion, represented Christ, the lord of heaven (eagle) and earth(lion).  And if you read closely, Rowling uses these creatures in just this way, underscoring the Christian symbolism.  Harry often fights creatures that, Biblically, represent Satan, including a basilisk (serpent) and a dragon.  In one case he uses a cross-shaped sword inlaid with blood-red rubies, and emblazoned with the name Godric (which means God-ruler) Griffindor (again, the griffon is symbolic of the ruler of heaven and earth. So the engraving on the sword says, roughly," God, ruler of heaven and earth." Even the most eloquent Rowling detractor will just never convince me that Rowling didn't mean to present this as the Sword of the Spirit!

There are tons of references like this throughout the series, and in the final volume, the woman actually quotes Scripture and presents us with a sacrificial death and resurrection! She doesn't perfect the allegory in the end, but the message is still hard to miss if you speak the language.

So there are two of my favorites.  What about yours?

 
 
Politics.

No, I'm not going to bang the drum for a particular candidate. I'm just going to say that I think the church has become too political.  It's one thing to vote your beliefs and values—obviously we all should do that.  But I cringe when I get around Christians and hear them talking about a particular politician as if he's the devil. In fact I've gotten emails from some friends, in all seriousness suggesting that one person or another is actually the antichrist, complete with much-abused scripture to back the theory up! 

I wonder if people stop to think about how this comes off to the people we're supposed to be reaching out to.  I want to ask, "If that particular candidate and those who support him are as godless as you seem to think, how do you expect them to conform themselves to God's will? And how in the world do you think they feel when they learn that Christians speak of them this way? Do you think this draws these folks to Christ, or pushes them farther away?" I have to tell you, in my BC days, this really put me off—I wanted as little as possible to do with church and Christians. 

If we want godly leaders, instead of demonizing the ones who, arguably, God has raised to power, we ought to be reaching out. The only way their eyes will open or their hearts will change is if they see something in believers that they want, and if we're busy ripping them to shreds in the pulpits and pews, we're hardly showing them anything attractive.

Jesus didn't come to the world 2000 years ago to judge. He won't judge anyone until the time comes for it—and then it's HIS job.  Meanwhile, we ought to be continuing the work he DID come to do.
 
 
  The Mirror of N'de will be FREE on Kindle June 4-8!  If you can't wait, here's a sneak peak--read the first few chapters here!

 
 
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Susan at In This Together Author L.K. Malone knocked it out of the park in her debut novel, The Mirror of N’de . Take a little excitement and danger, add a little intrigue and mystery, toss in a whole bunch of random animal “mixes” (like a Nuppy: Newt + Puppy), and a few unexplained occurrences and you have the makings for one addicting page-turner! Honestly, I could not put this book down. I finished it in one sitting.

 
 
Like most high-school students,  I hated writing book reports.  They just sucked all the fun out of reading a good book.  Plus in those days they never let us read books we wanted to read, like The White Dragon. No.  I had to read stuffy old tomes like The Scarlet Letter (I ask you, how did Hawthorn write a short book about adultery and manage to make it so dull?).  And then we were supposed to talk about the uses of symbols and allegories in the books.  I remember after my last English class I thought if I ever heard the words symbol and allegory again, I would scream.

But that was homework. They were books I wasn't particularly interested in.  Later I discovered that when a book I do like has deeper stuff hidden under the surface, or takes a description of one thing and uses it to say something profound about another, I love it.  It's like finding the Easter Eggs hidden away on certain websites or in some video games. 

The Bible is full of symbolism and allegory.  You probably know, for example, that many Biblical references to marriage are really talking about our intimate relationship with the Lord.  In prophecy, Israel is sometimes called God's wife, and in the New Testament, Christians are the bride of Christ. We even act out the symbols.  Baptism is a symbolic death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ. In the Old Testament, where you see two of something, look closer.  Often you'll see ways that they represent something along the lines of Adam vs. Christ, or works vs. grace. If there are two cities, the first mentioned, Babylon, is made of bricks (made by men) and bitumen, and its tower represents man's effort to work his way to heaven. Jerusalem, by contrast, is a city of peace. It's eternal, its name means "teaching of peace," and its temple is made of stone, which is not man-made.  When the temple was built, the stones had to be hewn at the quarry so that no sound of labor (works) could be heard at the sacred site. If God called two peoples, the first, Israel, are people of the Law (works), while the church are people of grace. 

So when I started writing Mirror, I wanted to layer in symbols and allegory. 

The first allegory is the mirror itself.  What do mirrors do? They show us what we look like, right? Only everything is reversed.  The image faces in the opposite direction we face.  Put a written word up to a mirror and it's backwards.  So Turris is a mirror world, because the people there came through the mirror. If you pay close attention you'll notice little clues, like the sun rising in the west and setting in the east. 

In the legends of Hadlay's people, the mirror is the instrument of man's fall from grace.  It is, symbolically, the forbidden fruit. 

What did the forbidden fruit do, and how is a mirror like it? 

In Genesis we're told that God made man originally without a knowledge of good and evil, and he said that this was good.  Does this surprise you?  Most people assume that God hard-wired man with a conscience, an innate sense of right and wrong.  But that's not what Scripture says.  According to the Bible, God didn't want man to have a moral compass.  He wanted to be our moral compass.  He wanted us to live in such communion with him that he guided us at every turn.  When Eve and then Adam took that first bite of the fruit, their eyes were opened, and they began to judge themselves. They realized they were naked and picked fig leaves to cover themselves (by the way, the Hebrew word for "fig" is very close to the word for "work!"). But think about it:  before they ate the fruit, God knew they were naked, and apparently wasn't concerned about it.  It was only after they became aware of it as sin that he required them to cover themselves.  Before they ate of the fruit, they really had only one law to keep: don't eat that fruit, because God's best for them was that they remain ignorant of sin, like toddlers racing naked through a crowded room. When a 3 year old does it, we know he has no clue why he shouldn't, so we think it's cute.  When a 30 year old does it, we arrest him for lewd behavior. Once you know better, you're accountable, and your sins are held against you.  God didn't want to hold things against us.

After they ate, Adam and Eve had more and more rules to keep as they found new things to feel guilty about.  By Moses' day, there were not just the big ten commandments, but there were a total of 613 laws, and the New Testament is even tougher. It's not only "don't commit adultery," but "don't even think about it."

But let me ask you a question: if the first two, arguably most perfect people (since they were made by God directly) couldn't keep one commandment, how are the children of the fall, with our inherited, flawed natures, ever going to keep over a thousand? 

The whole point of the law is to teach us the need for grace. When we finally fall down, exhausted and depressed because we are incapable of keeping all the rules, we do the one thing God really wants of us. We cry out to him for help.  And he's there ready to give it.  In a sense we go back to the original state in Eden, in that we are also no longer held guilty for sin. Rather, if we walk by faith in Jesus, his righteousness is credited to our accounts.  No, we can't run around naked, or sin just because it's not held against us anymore.  We need to go back to that intimate daily communion with God, so that he can be our guide, as he intended from the start.

So how is a mirror like the forbidden fruit? Like the fruit of the tree, when we look in a mirror we see ourselves, and we see the flaws and most of us try to do something about them.  We try to change what God made and said was good.  Don't get me wrong—I have nothing against prettying yourself up; if I don't wear makeup it's because I'm usually too lazy to bother, not because I think there's something wrong with it.  I'm talking about the symbolism here. Just as we see things backwards in a mirror, the fruit made Adam and Eve see things backwards. They started trying to make themselves like God, when according to Genesis, they already were like him.  When they heard his voice, they tried to hide—as if they could hide from an omniscient God!  The fruit distorted their understanding, just as a mirror can distort what we see.

And here's something else: In the Bible, while the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought about the fall, it was also a tree (the cross) that brought grace.  And in Mirror, the mirror also becomes the instrument of redemption. And when the kids finally receive that redemption, they no longer see themselves in the mirror. They see Sirach. 

What do you see when you look in a mirror? Do you see a hopeless sinner, someone ugly who can't make themselves pretty? Or do you take pride in your beauty, as the Pharisees took pride in their lawkeeping, blind to the fact that they were farther from God than the whores and tax collectors who flocked to Jesus?

Or do you see what God meant you to see?  His image. His son.

And for extra credit, when you put the word N'de up to a mirror, what do you see?   

 
 
The Being (it seemed wrong to call him a creature) stepped closer, his eyes liquid and warm. “Choose me as I have chosen you, and I will give you all your heart desires.”

What did he mean? She wanted desperately to please him, but how? And why would he choose her? No one like this, so beautiful and perfect, would ever wish to know a lowly girl like her.


-From The Mirror of N'de


Get it at Amazon.com or Christianbook.com!

 
 
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Hadlay Mivana is thirteen summers old. She is small for her age and she has sky-blue eyes, freckles, and an unruly mop of curly blonde hair, which she usually keeps tightly braided. And she doesn't mind getting dirty, so she usually is! I picture her like this:



Strengths and weaknesses

Hadlay is very courageous. Unfortunately, she is not always wise. The combination is not usually a good thing.

Quirk (if any)

Hadlay is a magnet for mishaps.

Inspiration for the character

When I was working out the basic premise of the story, I knew I wante to set it in a city based on Babel/Babylon, with that city's mythology and culture, and a little Book of Enoch thrown into the mix. I wanted the central character to be a complete misfit, and the minute I thought that, Hadlay just started to fall together. Whatever you might expect to see in a hero from ancient Mesopotamia, Hadlay is just the opposite. She's a complete anomaly, physically, mentally, and socially.

Background to the story

Hadlay's people, the Ramash, were conquered many ages ago by the Oresed, led by the mysterious Emperor Shungallu and his fearsome giant warriors called Nafal. In the emperor's extended absence, the city Turris has been governed by malicious, magical rulers who terrorize the populace and oppress the Ramash in the emperor's name. In the emperor's extended absence, the city Turris has been governed by malicious, magical rulers who terrorize the populace and oppress the Ramash inthe emperor's name. When the emperor and his son return to Turris, promising equality and justice, the changes aren't all for the better.


 
 
Cat suggested I answer some "interview-style" questions for the blog, so here's the first:

What is it about fantasy novels that appeals to you? 

Hmm.  Maybe it's the escape from reality. It's nice to imagine a world where characters struggle with bigger problems than mine, and find ways, often through supernatural means, to solve them. In truth, we have a supernatural solution, too: It's called prayer. As with magic in fantasy, it either changes things, or it might seem to make things worse. Don't ask the Lord for patience, for example, or he might give you a real reason to need it, so you can exercise the "muscle," so to speak. In stories where characters learn to use magic, they often find that it doesn't do what they want. Likewise, prayer is not a way for us to command God to do our will. So many Christians are disappointed when they pray for something they desperately want (like healing of someone they love) and it doesn't happen. As we mature we learn to pray God's will—his solution to a problem is always better than ours, even if we can't see it in the here and now. In any event, I like fantasy stories where anything can happen, because when I compare those magical worlds to our reality, I remind myself that with God, all things are possible. These stories often get me thinking about ways the supernatural in my own life can be brought to bear on problems.

Also, I love the way fantasy can pull us out of the murk of current events and real-world problems, and present us with a clean slate. On that slate, the writer can pose some questions simply, and somehow it's easier for the reader to consider those questions and their  answers. Like in the Hunger Games series. I admire Suzanne Collins immensely because she doesn't tell young readers what to think. She puts situations—some of them not too unlike our real world dilemmas—in front of her readers and invites THEM to think.  When is war "just?" If you decide to fight, what actions in war are ethical, and at what point do you become as bad as the people you hoped to overthrow? The only time Collins actually steps in and answers her own question is towards the end, when she leaves you knowing that, in war, there are no victors, only survivors, who are as damaged and devastated as those vanquished. When is war worth that kind of cost? There are times (as the story shows) when it is worth it. But in the end, the winners are just as human, just as corruptible and fallible, as the leaders they uprooted. I doubt Collins intended a Biblical message, but I found myself thinking of Psalm 146.3: Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. Even when the author of a fantasy doesn't intentionally mean to deliver a biblical message, if the story is intended to deliver a truth and that truth is truth, it will still be consistent with scripture.

Finally, I like writing fantasy because it offers a way to present Biblical truths without preaching. In The Mirror of N'de, I wanted to reach out to the readers who love Harry Potter (as I do) and talk a little bit about deception and truth, and about the very real reasons the Bible says what it does about occult power. I wanted to tell a story that is, on the surface, a lot of fun to read, great adventure and scary thrills, but that hopefully you can read again and see new things the next time through. I threw in a lot of puns and Easter eggs that I hope some will find and enjoy, and there are hidden meanings beneath a lot of elements of the story, from the characters' names to the symbolism of the mirror. Not everyone will want to dig that deep, but readers like me who love that stuff will (I hope) appreciate it.

This kind of thing has always been part of fantasy, from some of the earliest examples.  Beowulf, earliest example of Anglo-Saxon literature, is a fantasy. It's probably based on an old pagan story, but somewhere along the line a Christian got hold of it and baptized it, so we have Christian thought woven through the tapestry of the story. The great old cheesy potboiler, The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux is pure Christian allegory—it's not as obvious in the book as it is in the Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacle, but it's there, and if you listen to the lyrics of the musical, you can't miss it.  They're great stories, high adventure and romance, but they also have hidden meaning that is eternal. This can be done with all kinds of fiction, but fantasy makes it easy.

Now I'm curious what readers think--do you enjoy fantasy, and if so, can you give reasons why you do?

 
 
Cat Hoort at Kregel challenged me to launch this blog campaign, and gave me great writing assignments to get it rolling!  In this one, the assignment is to take an ordinary activity and turn it into a fantasy story. So here we go!

The Life of a Fantasy Writer, Part I
It all started when I was getting dressed this morning.  Everything was going fine until then.

I chase my cats off my legs and get out of bed, turn on Good Morning America and brush my hair and teeth while I listen to the day's headlines.  So far so good, right?  Then I go to the laundry room and find my usual black twill pants (my wardrobe isn't exactly inspired, but black goes with everything, right?), along with a comfy, no-iron-required cotton-poly blouse that I like to think covers a multitude of sins, though I'm probably fooling myself. I take all this back to my chair so I can watch GMA while I dress.

I'm just in time for the Play of the Day—today it's a short video in which some doofus tries to feed his baby a pickle. The kid's expressions are a riot. 

As I watch, I  bend down to put on my pants, and that's where the trouble starts.  I swear, these are the same pants I wear every week , but… This is going to sound crazy. When I push my feet through the legs, nothing happens. I mean, my feet go in, or feel like they did, but the pants don't fill up as if there are legs and feet inside them.  Weird, right?  I freeze and stare. I rack my brains trying to figure out what was wrong with what I'm seeing. My legs are in up to my calves, but the pants just hang there as if they are still empty.

I take them off and my legs and feet look normal.  Nancy Grace is snarking at that nice Dan Abrams about a court case going on somewhere. She never lets the poor guy get a word in.  And my pants just hang from my hands, looking normal as could be.

So I pull them on again, this time past my knees. And again, the legs go in but the pants hang there like they are hanging from a clothes line.  I take them off again. Legs still there. I shake the pants, then peer inside, but they seem perfectly ordinary. 

OK, I know what they say about doing the same thing again and again expecting different results, but seriously, what would you do in this situation?  I frown and try again, shoving my legs in all the way up to my hips. The pants just lay there, draped over the chair as if I'd dropped them there. 

I consider calling 9-1-1. I mean, something HAS to be wrong with me. But when I try to stand up, nothing happens.  Nothing.  Like I have no legs.

With unseemly haste, I strip off the pants again, toss them over the arm of my chair and back away, some bizarre part of my mind fearing that they might chase after me. The ravenous, disappearing monster pants.  They don't move.  So I go for the phone, punching 9-1-1 on the keypad. But exactly what am I going to tell them? My pants are making my legs disappear? I can hear the dispatcher laughing already, so I set the phone down without completing the call. 

I go and get another pair of pants—jeans this time.  I stand in the laundry room and pull them on, and hit the floor when my legs vanish. Ouch. After a brief inventory to make sure all my parts--or at least the parts that are still there--are unbroken, I stare at myself. I'm lying there, normal from the waist up, then there's the belt line of the pants, and then nothing. The pants lie flat on the floor.  I pull the waistline of the pants out, trying not to imagine being cut off from the waist down, guts squishing around with no flesh to contain them. But basically from waistband of my pants down, there is simply nothing. 

Panic is setting in by this point, so I flop around on the floor like a landed fish, trying to wriggle out of the pants (it's harder than you might think when you don't have legs). It takes me awhile to feel like I can breathe again, but once I suck in a good lungful of air, I feel really stupid lying on the laundry room floor, and gingerly push to my feet.

I need a witness; someone who can say they saw what I saw. I call my neighbor, Norah, who lives down the street and works from home. She's sane, normal. People will believe her if she agrees with me.  She doesn't want to come but I talk her into it.

She arrives a few minutes later, wearing an apron and scowling a little, probably wanting me to know that I've inconvenienced her. She has curly dark hair and an open face with nice hazel eyes that meet mine directly without blinking. I don't know her well but I trust her. Her eyebrows nearly fly off her forehead when she sees that I've opened the door in my undies. For a second I worry that she's going to turn around and walk away, and probably tell all the neighbors that I'm some kind of perv. 

"Wait!" I beg.  "This is serious.  Watch!"  While Norah stands in my doorway with her mouth open, I slip a leg into the jeans. When it vanishes, I overbalance and topple to the floor again.

Her face goes a bloodless white. She stands there gaping a second before she bends and grabs my arm as if she thinks she can help me stand.

"Get up! Seriously, what just happened? Is this some kind of sick prank?"

I strip off the pants again. "If it's a prank, I'm being played, too."  I get to my feet, though my knees are wobbly enough that I have to brace myself against the dining room table.

She stares at the jeans, then at me, but what comes out of her mouth amounts to "uh," and "buh…" Finally she manages to find some words. "How did you do that?"

"I didn't. It happened to me when I tried to dress. I called you because if you see it too, then maybe I'm not crazy." Inspiration hits, and I hold the pants out to her. She flinches. "You try. It doesn’t hurt."  I pull out a dining room chair. "Sit first, just in case."

"Uh…" Norah says, and I can see from the way her eyes keep darting to the front door that she wants to get out of here. "Buh…"

I grab her arm. I'm desperate. "Try them on." I shove the jeans into her hands and push her into the chair. "Please. You'll be able to take them off again. Just let me see if this is only happening to me."

Her face is a weird, pasty white as she bends and pulls the jeans over her feet. She's already wearing slacks; it should be a difficult fit. But her feet slide right in.

And disappear.

She rips the jeans off again and flings them at me. "I gotta go!" She almost falls on her face as she pushes out of the chair and bolts out the door.

For a moment I worry about what she's going to tell the neighbors. Then I shrug. If she saw it too, then she can't say I'm nuts, right?

So now what? I carry the jeans back to the laundry room and start to put them back on a hanger. Inanely it occurs to me that maybe if I wash them they might become normal again, so I toss them—and the black twills—into the washing machine and turn it on. HOT water. Lots of soap. . 

Now what? I can't exactly go to work like this, and I've already hit my limit of sick days. There are other pants in the laundry room, but when I test a few by poking my hand inside the waistband, they're all the same. I head for my closet, which is where I keep the clothes I don't actually wear. Maybe a skirt? I only have a couple of those, and if I wear one I'm going to spend the day explaining myself. It's a banner day in Denver when I wear a skirt. But I yank one out of the clips that hold it, and bend to pull it on, then think again and take it to my chair.  Feet go in and vanish. Again.

I pull the skirt off and sit there, flummoxed. It's not like there's a Biblical verse to guide me in a situation like this.  "If thou puttest on thy lower garments and thy legs disappeareth…" I giggle. That's a bad sign. I never giggle in the morning.

Well, I can't sit here all day. I need to get to work. But I can't go in my undies.  So…?

What if I try pulling the skirt on over my head?

If my head vanishes, will I be able to pull the skirt off again?  

I pick up my phone and call Norah again, hoping that maybe she can pull the skirt off if that happens. But she doesn't answer. I suspect that she's never going to answer a call from me again. I consider calling other friends, but most of them are probably at work. Like I should be.

There's this little voice in my head that is saying, "What if you do vanish? Where would you go?" I look at my legs, and they look none the worse for the experience. No cuts or bruises. If anything they feel a little tingly. It's a nice tingly. Maybe just my imagination, but it feels kind of cool and bubbly all down my legs, like I've been standing in a glass of champagne.

What's the worst that could happen? I vanish. I don't go to work, ever again. I don't have to worry about the mortgage. I never have to work again.  It's starting to sound pretty good.

Meezer, my girl cat, is snoozing comfortably on the bed. On impulse, I toss my skirt over her, and regret it instantly as it falls flat on the bed as if there's no cat underneath. I grab the waistband and yank it up, and there Meezer stands, looking a little dazed.  After a second, she shakes herself and starts to groom.

Well, apparently whatever happens, it causes no lasting harm, even if you vanish completely.

I call Norah again, and when it goes to voicemail, I leave a message.  "I left the door open. If I don't call you back in like a half hour, come over and pick my skirt up off the floor. Oh, and if I'm not there, will you feed my cats?" I hang up and hope she listens. 

Before I can second-guess myself, I toss the skirt over my head…

What happened, you ask? I can't exactly say. The next thing I know, Norah is back, holding my skirt and I'm sitting on the floor.

I pull the skirt away from her and tossed it over my head again. Whatever was on the other side, I really want to go back. I like the bubbly all over feeling, and I have a sense that whatever brought it on is way better than my life.

But this time the skirt just hangs over me like a blanket. Another pair of pants go on like normal, too. 

So here I am, finally, dressed and ready to work. I'm late, but as you see, I couldn't help it.
 
 
Starting next week, my complete ineptness at blogging will be brought to a screeching halt thanks to great coaching by Cat Hoort at Kregel! There'll be lots of goodies, so check in often!