A Brief Fairy Tale

This brief fairy tale, originally written for the Prism Book Tour, is based on the story world of The Valley of Decision. One deep night, a mother of Alamir tells her child the story of another night, long, long ago …


One more tale? All right, my love; just one.

Long ago, the great father Athair led the first Alamiri up into the Rhugarch Pass. They were men of his clan, relatives loyal and strong. When they scaled the mountain to the Rhugarch Gap, they stopped for the night.

The men settled down to their rest; the fire sank into embers; the watchman grew drowsy. And a soft, soft pattering murmured into the camp.

Athair, great warrior that he was, woke and listened. Was it the wind? Was a fox slinking among the rocks?

A small, dark figure crept into the light of the dying fire. It stopped beside a sleeping man, and a stone dagger was in its hand.

With a roar, Athair hurled his knife and dropped the strange attacker dead. At his shout all his relatives leapt up from their slumber, drawing out weapons.

At that same moment, scores of small, fierce creatures swarmed into the camp. Athair commanded his men, and they stood back to back, in a circle around the fire. So standing together, they held the creatures at bay.

But the night was long, and their enemies were implacable, and the men grew weary. In the second watch, one cried out, “Athair, father of our clan, how long must we fight?”

And he said, “Until the morning comes.”

In the third watch, another cried out, “Athair, elder of our tribe, how long can we endure?”

He said, “Until the morning comes.”

When dawn broke over the mountains, sending pale rays of light shooting at the battle-torn camp, the attackers scattered and fled. But for one moment, Athair saw them in the light, and he knew them for what they were – the hobgoblins, the darkness-dwellers. And they, like the darkness and all dark things, fled with the coming of day.

Are hobgoblins real? I think so; don’t you?

Ah, but the candle is burning low, and now it is time for you to sleep. The morning comes, as Athair said, and it will be bright and good.

So sleep, my child; sleep.

CSFF Blog Tour: A Superstition Transformed

Outstanding among those beliefs that are universally characteristic of the religion of superstition is the conviction that “a man’s name is the essence of his being” (one Hebrew text says “a man’s name is his person” and another, “his name is his soul”). Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition


There’s an old superstition that names are powerful. Many cultures have believed that to know a person’s name is to have power over him, or to be freed from his power. The principle has been extended to the supernatural, with people seeking to conjure up the power of gods, angels, and demons by invoking their names.

Like all superstitions, this one shows both fear and a desire to control. Magic, real magic, has made great use of it; sorcerers, too, believed in the power of names. From the eleventh century come reports of witnesses – “learned and trustworthy men” – who claimed “that they had themselves seen magicians write names upon reeds and olive-leaves, which they cast before robbers and thus prevented their passage, or, having written such names upon new sherds, threw them into a raging sea and mollified it, or threw them before a man to bring about his sudden death.”

This idea has endured in folk tales – most famously in Rumpelstiltskin – and is now an established trope in modern fantasy and even, on occasion, sci-fi. Despite its various disreputable associations, it has a presence in Christian fantasy.

So how is a superstition transformed into a staple of fiction? It begins when people stop believing. If you genuinely believe in the mystic power of names, you will take it seriously – hiding your real name like people hide their PIN number, or worrying that you’ll curse your child by giving him an unlucky name. When you stop believing, the fun begins. What in our world would be bad science, or mere superstition, is the operating laws of different worlds. Everyone who reads speculative fiction knows this.

In Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, names and their power are at the heart of the story. The villains transform human beings into monsters by melding them with other creatures and then giving them new names. Their old selves are submerged and they become willing pawns for the villains. But unless and until the new name is given, the transformation remains incomplete. The victim’s old self is much closer to the surface and it’s easier for him to come back.

For these people, to hear their true names is painful. But it is also, if they don’t rebel, healing – and not for any magical, other-world reason. Their true names hurt and heal because the hearing reminds them who they were and what they lost; it brings them back to themselves.

The power-of-names theme is echoed throughout the saga. A lesser villain calls his enslaved workers ‘tools’ and tells them they have no names; the revolution begins when the workers start to share their names and band together. “What is a real name?” asks one character early on, hinting at hidden names and the truths hidden with them. And through it all the admonition and reminder comes again and again, Remember who you are.

Names, a character within the books says, have power. But it would be more true, even in his own world, to say that names have meaning. A person’s name is representative of his self, and to forget your name is to forget who you are. Unlike the old folk tales, there is no danger in telling others your true name, only in forgetting it yourself; there’s no power in knowing the names of others, only in making them forget their names.

Such subtle alteration is another way to revive and change old myths into new stories. Most legends and fairy tales, along with the fairy tale-worthy superstitions, are open for this sort of reconstruction, pagan origins or no. Have you ever been struck by a story’s transformation of a myth or superstition? Is there a myth or superstition you think ripe for such transformation?


Note: This article has been cross-posted to SpeculativeFaith.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Warden and the Wolf King

The Jewels of Anniera are preparing for war. All the long winter they have been rallying the people of the Green Hollows to go up against Gnag the Nameless, to end his destruction by destroying him.

The Skreeans are preparing for war. All winter Gammon has been leading them in the work, making ready to attack.

And then Gnag beats them to it.

The Warden and the Wolf King is the fourth and final book of the Wingfeather Saga, written by Andrew Peterson. This book, more than any of the others, belongs to the Wingfeather children, Janner and Kalmar and Leeli. Artham and Podo had their most pivotal moments in the first and second books, Nia had hers in the third. Here, in the fourth book, the adults retreat and the children take over.

This novel is the most intense of the series, in action and in darkness. What strikes me about the sadness of this book is that it leaps at you from unexpected places: characters left lost even after a great triumph, the boys and the cloven in the Blackwood. (You who have read the book, you know what I’m talking about. “Anniera. My home.” Really, I think I teared up.)

A lot of characters – not heard and hardly thought of since the second or even first book – come back. We even make it back to Glipwood, with reflection on how it all began. It was gratifying to revisit so many earlier elements of the story. The major storylines are brought to complete and satisfying conclusions, and such elements as the cloven and Gnag himself are thoroughly explored.

The one storyline left unresolved is Artham’s. The Warden and the Wolf King underscores his brokenness; his nightmare of ghouls in a dark chamber is the worst moment of his madness in the entire saga. And there’s no resolution. The story ends on a hopeful note for Artham, but he never truly finds healing or a lasting peace.

At first blush, it’s a little curious that Peterson finishes the stories of characters we thought we’d never see again and leaves Artham without resolution. But it makes sense. Artham’s story cannot be quickly or easily finished. That ship sailed when Artham snapped at the beginning of Monster in the Hollows. Andrew Peterson established then that even Artham’s glorious transformation wasn’t enough for healing, and now he needs to come up with something even better. Which won’t be easy, because that transformation scene was tremendous. (Authors do these things to themselves.)

Now I’m going to turn on the SPOILER ALERT for a few criticisms. I think the decision to bring back Bonifer Squoon was a mistake. It didn’t add much to the book, and it placed an unfortunate asterisk on the ending of Monster in the Hollows.

Additionally, Artham’s decision to retire to his treehouse when he knew there was a fleet of Fangs heading in the direction of his niece and nephews struck me as inconsistent with his character. I know he was, as he said, lost. But any more lost than when he first stumbled from the Blackwood and resolved to protect his brother’s children?

Finally, the book had continuity errors. Characters knew things they had not known in the last book and had no apparent opportunity to learn. If you read the conversation between Janner and Artham in the first chapters of Monster in the Hollows – the last conversation they have in the entire series – it’s clear Janner has no idea why Artham is so disturbed by the Blackwood. But in The Warden and the Wolf King, he knows his uncle’s history with the forest. The whole character of Arundelle is a kind of continuity error. (Anybody remember Alma Rainwater?)

All right, SPOILER ALERT OFF.

I regard the flaws of this novel as ultimately minor, especially in a 519-page conclusion of an epic. The Warden and the Wolf King is a fascinating book; I would even call it a great book. It is spiritually strong – very aware of the Maker, searching after His presence and His goodness. A phrase appears multiple times in the story – the Maker’s good pleasure. There’s both comfort and courage in it.

The Wingfeather Saga is one of the best series I have ever read, and The Warden and the Wolf King is an excellent denouement – heartfelt, imaginative, full of meaning, with hope and sorrow and glory.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Randomness

This summer Rabbit Room Press released The Warden and the Wolf King, book four of the Wingfeather Saga, written by Andrew Peterson. Book three, Monster in the Hollows, was published three years ago.

Three. Many authors would be in breach of contract well before they took so long to produce their next book. But writing is not Andrew Peterson’s day job, and Rabbit Room Press is an unconventional press anyway. Last fall they ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of The Warden and the Wolf King and broke all expectations by raising more than a hundred thousand dollars.

So with lots of time, and that kind of money, Andrew Peterson had the opportunity to make the last book of his series what he wanted it to be. And it ended up 519 pages long, hard cover, and peppered with illustrations. (Also black. It looks good, but I was surprised when I first learned that they had chosen black for the cover art. How many colors do you have to go through before you end up with black?)

As a matter of mere appearance, The Warden and the Wolf King is an impressive book. And for the infinitely more important matter of the story itself – I’ll get into that tomorrow.

Two more notes of randomness. One, I wrote an essay about the evolution of the Wingfeather Saga over at SpeculativeFaith. You might be interested in checking it out.

Second note of randomness: Artham Wingfeather reminds me a bit of the song Matthew, and a little more of The Dutchman. A lot of differences, but it just feels similar to me. See what you think.

And now, fellow readers, we have the links:

The Warden and the Wolf King on Amazon;

Andrew Peterson’s author website;

and – last but not least – the blog tour:

Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham

Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller

Nissa

Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Review: Jupiter Winds

Grey Alexander has precisely two worries: providing for herself and her sister, and not getting caught. They live in lawless independence in the North American Wildlife Preserve, and there’s no telling where or when Mazdaar may catch up with them.

Jupiter Winds is written by C.J. Darlington and published by Mountainview Books. The novel is sci-fi, with a dystopian tinge, taking place in a future of amazing technology and totalitarian government. As is made plain by the title, the story goes beyond Earth to include Jupiter.

The novel’s descriptions of Jupiter have a suitably foreign feel, and the author is effective in creating impressions of places and people. The prose is quick and focused, moving the story along at a good pace.

There are a lot of ideas here, all weaving together: space travel, different planets, human manipulation of various environments, androids, Big Brother. Androids – here called drones – are effectively creepy, and become more so as the book goes on and new revelations are made.

Interestingly, there is no democratic force opposing the totalitarian Mazdaar. Heroes there are, and even some organized opposition, but no one shows any notions of democracy. The only power that counters Mazdaar is an Asian empire called by the name of its rulers, the Yien Dynasty. It is to the author’s credit that she gives a noble cast to the Yien Dynasty, acknowledging the good possible even in such governments.

There was some inconsistency in this book. One character kept oscillating; she took radically different actions at different points in the book, and I didn’t really understand why. As a character, she was hard to get a grip on.

Jupiter Winds is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure, a quick but broad-ranging read. Recommended for those who like adventure and sci-fi.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Odds and Ends

So is it time for a news-and-updates blog post, a I-didn’t-have-much-planned-and-this-is-easy post? Yes, I think so.

At the end of May, I joined SpeculativeFaith as a regular contributor, posting every other Wednesday. In June I made my first two posts, and I’m scheduled to post my third this Wednesday. (Sneak preview: It will be about why Christian fiction is predominantly romance novels.)

Today, Anne Elisabeth Stengl graciously hosted me on her blog. There is an interview, a snippet from The Valley of Decision, and a giveaway.

The Prism Book Tour of The Valley of Decision has come to an end. In addition to the interviews and guest posts, I got a few good reviews. Melanie, at her blog Mel’s Shelves, wrote kindly about the ending: “There are lots of moving parts that came together in the end for a satisfying conclusion. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this, and I look forward to reading more from this author!”

Tina at Mommynificent commented, “The characters were definitely my favorite part of the book. I really enjoyed coming to understand the complexities of the three main characters, who interestingly are all male. I also really enjoyed the unfolding mystery of who the Fay are and why they are a part of this world.”

Sara, writing on Platypire Reviews, also remarked on the characters: “Keiran, the Captain of the Hosts, was an interesting character. From the beginning of the book, I wasn’t quite sure what direction the story was going to go in, and I didn’t know what to think of him at first. As things were revealed and I got further in the story, I found myself rooting for him as a reader and enjoyed his character development.”

Which is just the sort of thing an author likes to hear.