A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Binding of The Blade

For some time, I've been meaning to blog about L.B. Graham's Christian fantasy series, the Binding of the Blade. Now seems as good a time as any, since I've just finished the third book. (I'll try not to drop any spoilers!)

First, the good stuff:

What attracts me to Graham's book is his strong sense of myth. Making use of stock fantasy narratives and elements (the boy who discovers his powers; dragons, giants, and talking animals) in addition to Judeo-Christian imagery, he has created a rich and unique world. Many fantasy writers try to achieve the deep historical sense which undergird Tolkien's _Lord of the Rings_ trilogy. Graham comes closer to most in achieving it. What he has done is simple: he took the Christian narratives of Fall and Redemption and set them in a new world, one in which men coexist with various other creatures. There are no magicians as in secular fantasy, but prophets who work God's miracles fill that role. Overall, the world Graham creates is rich and full of possibility.

And now the criticism. . .

One of the downsides to Graham's use of stock narratives is that at times, his plotting is cliche. Nearly every writer's first fantasy novel centers on a young protagonist who discovers abilities (usually but not always supernatural or magical in nature) he or she never knew existed. Through the course of the novel--sometimes through the course of the series--the protagonist learns to use his/her newfound abilities, and ends up saving the day. Beyond the Summer Land offers a new and unexpected twist to that narrative. However, I see indications that the fourth book is going to repeat a now-standard narrative twist borrowed from Tolkien. I hope I'm wrong, however.

I can forgive Graham for a lot of the problems caused by his use of generic cliches, both because there's so much else that IS unique about his mythic worldbuilding, and because those cliches are so hard to avoid. There are archetypal narratives which get repeated precisely because they are so powerful, and it is no disgrace to make use of them if one can do so in a way which is "fresh."

I don't know that I can be as easy on him with regard to his writing style. As other readers have pointed out, his dialogue is often stilted, and he struggles with the "show-don't-tell" principle of fiction writing. Exposition seems to be a real problem for him: description and backstory get awkwardly tucked into dialogues in which characters sit around telling each other things they ought already to know.

And now I'm about to make some sweeping generalizations. . .

Perhaps it's unfair to speculate, but it seems to me that these problems with writing are common in Christian fiction. I'm really not sure why. Is it simply that the writing standards are lower in Christian publishing, because the pool of authors from which to draw is smaller? This has been operating assumption until now. Now I find myself wondering if there's some deeper problem at work. On the Binding of the Blade forum, Graham explains that he sees himself as a storyteller rather than a writer. It seems to me that this characterization might fit many of the rising Christian fantasy authors. They have bright, exciting visions of a world in which good and evil are at war; they may have a strong sense of epic narrative; but they don't really have the ability to craft those visions into well-written fiction. Perhaps their abilities are ultimately better-suited for an oral storytelling format. Perhaps, in other words, at their core, the current crop of Christian fantasy authors are preachers rather than novelists.

Maybe I'm getting goofy here. Perhaps the problem is much simpler: perhaps these authors simply saw a demand for inspirational fantasy and rushed in to supply it, despite not being gifted in all areas of creative writing. If so, there's hope that a second generation will be able to step into the literary/marketing territory which has been newly opened up and offer something more polished.

In any case, I'd recommend Graham's work to all those with an interest in "inspirational fantasy," but I recommend it with the disclaimer that it should be read not for the writing itself, but for the vision behind it.


Anonymous Bob The Baker said...

I totally disagree.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Becky said...

LOL at Bob's comment. Are you sending us book #3, Teresa?

2:33 PM  
Blogger janeeyreish said...

I think you're on to something, but it's certainly not limited to Christian fiction writers. Sometimes the authors get so caught up in their message that they miss story, the art of story-telling.

9:20 PM  

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