CSFF Blog Tour: Angels in Art and Reality

A few months ago, the CSFF toured Eye of the Sword. The book’s “angels” set off discussions as to what angels really are and if the beings in Eye of the Sword merited the name (you can guess, by the quotation marks, where I came down on the question). Now, for Angel Eyes, I would like to consider different aspects of the angels’ portrayal and what foundation they have in Scripture.

Angels are sometimes female – From the Victorian era onward, much of angel iconography has been of beautiful women with wings. Some Christians have said, in reaction, that all angels are male. This is not quite the whole truth.

All angels shown in the Bible are male. But, as Donald Rumsfeld once said, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The fact that the Bible does not prove the existence of female angels is not itself proof that no female angels exist.

I will, then, classify Shannon Dittemore’s use of a female angel as “speculative”.

Angels have wings – Ezekiel, in his extraordinary call to prophethood, witnessed the four living creatures – cherubim, with four wings. Isaiah, in his commission, saw seraphs with six wings flying around God’s throne. Daniel wrote that Gabriel came to him in “swift flight”.

The four-winged angels of Angel Eyes are, then, a mixture of the Scriptural (at least some angels have wings) and the speculative (we do not know that all have wings, or any beside the cherubim have four wings).

Angels have halos – Ah, no. This is another idea about angels we derive from art and not from Scripture. But since the Bible never counters the idea, it comes under “speculative”.

Angels are beautiful (and demons are hideous) – As far as I can recall, the Bible says nothing about the appearance of demons. Angels are sometimes described – the four living creatures in great detail. They made a strong impression on Ezekiel; I daresay they would make a strong impression on all of us.

I cannot do justice to the description of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and 10; I will only mention the premier facts: the cherubim had four wings, four faces, forms like a man’s, feet like a calf’s, and were covered with eyes. I am sure that if we ever saw the cherubim, merely aesthetic beauty would fall into its true insignificance, but no one will consider this description one of beauty.

Daniel also described an angel he saw in a vision: “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6 His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.”

The appearance of angels often had a kind of radiance. When the angel appeared to the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” Of the angel who rolled the stone from Jesus’ tomb, we are told, “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.” When the women went to the tomb, they were met by men in “clothes that gleamed like lightning”. Jesus Himself said that He would return in His glory, and the glory of the Father, and “of the holy angels”.

Perhaps the angels were beautiful, but what most struck those who saw them was light, brightness, glory – and what such people usually felt was fear.

Yet I wonder if Christians’ fantasy-novel descriptions are – at least in part – consciously metaphorical. C. S. Lewis wrote that “Devils are depicted with bats’ wings and good angels with birds’ wings … because most men like birds better than bats.” Perhaps Christian novelists portray angels as beautiful, and demons as hideous, for the same reason.

So to finally reach the conclusion, Shannon Dittemore’s descriptions are speculative, with a measure of Scriptural truth.

C. S. Lewis also wrote that angels “must be represented symbolically if they are to be represented at all.” And it is surely true that if we are to write novels about angels, much of what we write must be speculative. Angels remain hidden from us. I do not mind the speculation, though I believe Christian writers should refrain from contradicting what the Bible reveals to us. And in that, Angel Eyes holds true.

CSFF Blog Tour: Eye of the Sword

Trevin, newly made a comain for the king, was sent on a quest to find allies for the kingdom. And the missing comains. And an oracle. And a magical harp. And himself.

He quickly got sidetracked into the right direction. On a ranging search, from the mountains to the edge of the sea, he found more than he would have dreamed.

In Eye of the Sword, Karyn Henley irons out many of the wrinkles of the preceding book. The story is more focused, the characters steadier in their objectives – and more analytical in their actions.

The writing is smooth, the style pleasing. Other successes of the first book hold up: The plot moves at a good pace, the characters are individual and real. Although small in scope – no place seems hard to get to – the world is varied and rich.

Eye of the Sword suffered a little from repetition. You can only describe a character as husky so many times, especially in a 233-page book. What is more important, the “I am your father” card is overplayed in this series. Karyn Henley’s uses are interesting and emotionally compelling, but this sort of thing should not be done often even when it is done well. This is the only book I have ever read where the entire main cast could be put on the same family tree.

The Angelaeon Circle is billed Christian fantasy, and the influence of Christianity may be felt. But it has also the feel of a kind of cleansed pagan mythology. The old gods are dethroned and tamed; now servants of the Most High, they’re generally good and go under the name “angel”.

Which they aren’t. They wander about, well-meaning but flawed, exercising their special powers and ruling their special domains, mating with humans and raising superpowered offspring. Also, they die. And they can’t get back to heaven without their stairway.

But the troubling thing is not that the angels are not really angels. It’s that God is not really God. The novels are firmly monotheistic, but the monotheism itself strikes one discordant note after another.

A few stray mentions are thrown to the Most High, but for all that it matters to the story or the characters, he might as well not exist. Even the priests and priestesses show only rote devotion. Neither humans nor angels waste much thought or emotion on their creator.

In their defense, he doesn’t appear to waste much on them, either. The Most High seems distant, almost cold. He may have created that world, but he has largely signed off the running of it. There is a character called Windweaver, an angel who directs the winds, and I enjoyed him. But our God doesn’t appoint a Windweaver; He is the Windweaver. He feeds the birds, and He clothes the grass of the fields.

Nor is it only winds and oceans that the Most High leaves to angels. He even lets them figure out what to do with souls that are trapped on earth after the stairway to heaven is destroyed.

I recall two serious discussions of the Most High in the series. In the first – written in Breath of Angel – Melaia asks why the Most High doesn’t intervene. She is told: “What human will destroyed, human will must restore.”

The justice of that cannot be denied. Yet think of what our religion would be if God had that attitude toward us. “You made this mess. You clean it up.”

In the second discussion, this one in Eye of Angel, the Most High is called the “father-mother of the universe”. I don’t know what, exactly, Karyn Henley meant by that. But the formulation is unquestionably pagan.

And it is reinforced by two unfortunate coincidences. “The Most High” is gender-neutral – and I cannot recall anyone in the novels referring to the Most High as “he” or “him”. Furthermore, the Most High is served by priestesses in temples – another thing that carries the taste of paganism. The God we call Father chose only priests to serve in His temple. But it makes sense that the “father-mother of the universe” should have priestesses, too.

I have dwelt a long time on this, but it was only a small element in the novels. It can be ignored; it can even be missed. I am also bound to note that the wrongful impression is created in large part by omission. Karyn Henley can, if she chooses, reverse it in succeeding books.

It is only fair, after all this, to stress the good in Eye of the Sword. As a story it was well-crafted, and it has the proper fascination of the genre. If the mythology is as much pagan as Christian – that is for each reader to weigh according to his own judgment.


And now, for further elucidation and for buying opportunity, we have the tour links:

Eye of the Sword on Amazon;

Karyn Henley’s website,

blog,

and Facebook page;

And, always last but never least, the CSFF reviewers:

Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Jackie Castle
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Christine
Theresa Dunlap
Cynthia Dyer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Karen McSpadden
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Mirriam Neal
Nissa
Faye Oygard
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler


And before I forget:

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