I often frequent forums that discuss famous fantasy writers. First, I find it entertaining to hear what people get out of a book I’ve also read. But mostly I do it because I want to know what people like. A recent post concerning Brandon Sanderson caught my eye.
“I think Sanderson is very good because of the incredible breadth of his world – the continuity, the “science” of magic, the structure, the detail… sprawling that over 36 books is a Herculean task, but I have no doubt that he’ll make it internally consistent and logically rigorous. I think his books aren’t great because they don’t mean anything. They’re not representative of anything besides themselves. There’s no discussion of issues, no metaphors, no depth. They are entertaining adventures in detailed worlds. Full stop.”
In other words, his books are good because they tell interesting stories, but according to this reader they aren’t great because they don’t have a message.
First off, I disagree wholeheartedly. I don’t think a good story can be told without the writer having something to say that’s burning in his or her heart. I don’t find Sanderson to be any different. At the end of The Way of Kings, Sanderson addresses the issue of what people value most through a character named Wit.
After a lengthy discourse by Wit, the last Herald of the Almighty stumbles into a fortress and cries out, “The Desolation has come. Oh, God…it has come. And I have failed.”
Wit whispers the following words in reply. “What is it we value? Innovation. Originality. Novelty. But most importantly… timeliness. I fear you may be too late my confused, unfortunate friend.”
The question of what people value most is surely a philosophical question if not a spiritual one. In addition, each of Sanderson’s books have characters that are God or part of a pantheon of gods. How can that be considered void of spirituality?
I have found that most people want to be entertained when they read. They don’t want to be force-fed politics or religion, but they also don’t want a story with an empty soul. Every book I’ve read on the craft of writing says that if you don’t have something to say, then don’t write. Because if your story doesn’t spring from a passion in your heart, it will show on the pages. R.A. Salvatore has gone on record saying that almost all his books deal with the issue of fate vs. human choice. Robert Jordan often referred to the spiritual themes in Wheel of Time (and there are tons of them). Tolkien said, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first but consciously in the revision.”
I think that’s why fantasy is one of the greatest tools to tell stories with spiritual themes. Very often the things that burn in our heart can be put on paper, but readers don’t feel like their being force-fed those themes. Because they are completely fictional worlds, the world becomes a character in the story. And the reader wants to know more about that character, including its history and religious ideas.
This is why Christians need to be a part of the fantasy genre. If tons of people are reading fantasy works, and the best authors are touching people’s hearts with their passionate worldview, why shouldn’t we? Why shouldn’t the true themes be penned about in an entertaining way with a passion behind them?
I remember finally getting around to reading Game of Thrones. By the end, I felt dirty and despondent. It was hard to cheer for anyone. And the only character I wanted to root for died in the end. And not for a sacrificial reason. The writer killed him off a bit haphazardly due to the defiant act of an impetuous child-king. When I finished, I made a conscious decision not to read any more of the series. While Martin can weave an interesting tale, his theme was clear. The only way for good to overcome evil is to become evil. And in the end, that means no one wins. I don’t know if that’s what Martin believes, but it doesn’t bring much hope either way.
My hope in writing is to give my readers a rollicking adventure, and to leave them with something to think about when the process is over. Those are the books that I enjoy the most.
So, what about you? What fantasy authors have entertained you, but also impacted your life in someway?