Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas and Fantasy


'Tis the season to consider what we as Christians feel about Santa Claus.

Now, I know this isn't exactly a classic fantasy discussion here, but it does bear examination. I myself have held a varying opinion on the topic in my lifetime, due mostly to a re-examination of the condition of my soul and how that colors my opinion about Santa.

When my firstborn was very little, we were vehement that we weren't going to perpetuate a "lie" to our children, only to have to tell them that we had been pulling the wool over their eyes, building up the false hope that Santa Claus did indeed show up and leave presents every Christmas eve. As the years have passed and subsequent children have arrived in our family, we've stepped back from that position to a degree, mostly because I felt like it smacked of legalism. Granted, we've never actually said anything about Santa Claus coming to our house, and the kids know full well that mom and dad shop for Christmas presents. We talk about the real Saint Nicholas and other historic figures that inspire the idea of Santa Claus.

And yet, somehow the magic of Christmas has still had its way. My boys still wonder if Santa is real. They look at the red suited man in the mall and ask me if he's the real deal. Me, I just shrug and say, "What do you think?" While I'm not using Santa as the nebulous threat or motivator that I know some parents laugh at themselves for doing, I'm also not squashing the little ones' imaginations on it either.

This all brings me to the point I'm trying to make. Where does imagination begin to supplant faith? Can Santa and Jesus inhabit the same holiday without an appearance of hypocrisy?

I heard a speaker recently on just a snippet of the radio program Family Life Today, and on that show they talked about how the story of Santa Claus points to the giving love, the living out of the Christian life that Saint Nicholas and subsequently, Santa Claus can represent. As long as we frame Santa Claus in the bindings of Christ's love, and how giving is an act of love, I think we can leave some room for some fun and imagination.

However, should the pretty boxes under the tree begin to supplant the most important Gift of Christmas (which it is easy to have that happen) much is suddenly lost. Joy becomes replaced with the much more nebulous "happiness." (Think of the root of that word, and how it shares meaning with "mishap" or "happenstance.") Agape, giving love gets pushed out of its seat by materialism. These are the issues of Christmas I want to avoid, and I've come to the conclusion that Santa isn't at the heart of them.

So, readers, tell me: What do you think about Santa Claus? Does he have any place in a Christian observance of Christmas?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Last Marcher Lord Select Post

Well, it's official. As of about 1 am the morning of the 16th, I discovered that The Sword of the Patron did not make the cut for the finals of Marcher Lord Select.

But as I've been saying in all my other internet "hang outs," I cannot say I am battling any sense of disappointment over it. Maybe it will set in later. Maybe not

What I do come away with from the whole thing is that I have a healthy number of people who would stand behind my book. Maybe not enough to run away with a contest on Jeff Gerke's forum, but enough to encourage me that my story is one people will read and enjoy. Does it still need work? Of course. I don't know that any novel is ever really done. You just eventually stop working on it. (Hopefully that stopping point connects to a publishing contract.)

So, now I'm faced with the question...do I dive into rewrites now? Do I focus solely on finishing my serial for Digital Dragon, the come back to SOTP? Do I switch gears entirely and write a short story to submit to Port Yonder Press' Elves Anthology that wants entries in January?

Never a shortage of choices.

The one choice that is not on the table, however, is giving up. A few sweet encouragers have said to me "Don't quit! Hold your head high!" to which I can only smile and say, "Quit? Of course not!" The road is just beginning to wind ever on and on for this tale, and I look forward to seeing where it leads.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Okay, in an effort to avoid boring all of you to tears with continued blathering about Marcher Lord Select, I'll make a single, short announcement about that, and then blog about something entirely different.

The Sword of the Patron has officially moved into phase three of the Marcher Lord Select Contest, now standing amidst a field of eight semi-finalists contending for the prize of publication in the spring of 2010. As you can imagine, I'm very excited, but doubly as thankful to those of you who have voted. I exhort you to keep voting! The margins have been extremely tight between winners to those eliminated, so every single vote counts.

Now, onto other subjects.

The Language Barrier

I was watching Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring (yes, for about the gabillionth time) and a new thought struck me with reference to my writing. As the Uruk Hai brought their particular brand of mayhem to the fracturing fellowship, their chieftain bellows, "Find the halflings!" Now, this isn't so remarkable on its own, but the context of my writing struggle highlighted this moment for me.

Now, of course in movieland, people tend to all speak the same language for the sake of the viewer, and we all sort of have to suspend our disbelief on that. (The occasional sojourns into elvish with English subtitles is another matter, but I won't get into that right now.) So, rather than yell in orcish, the Uruk Hai yells, "Find the halflings." That way, the viewer knows of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin's impending danger, in case they forgot that was the whole reason the orc had shown up. (Of course, being created by Saruman, perhaps one could argue that the language of men was the Uruk Hai's first language and thus the logical tongue for the orcs to use, but I'm not deep enough in movie/Middle Earth lore to know.)

The point it brought up in my mind still stands, though. Languages are a sticky wicket in fantasy writing. In my short stories, I've been dealing with a couple of vastly different races, and since I'm writing from mostly my protagonist's point of view, this has created some interesting writing situations. He wouldn't speak the language of my "bad guys." So, anything the reader needs to know can't come out of the mouths of those bad guys. We're experiencing the story through the eyes and ears of Captain Vinyanel Ecleriast, elf, so what he knows, we know.

Other story franchises have dealt with this in different ways. In Star Trek (TNG), for instance, we get the concept of the Universal Translator. In some stories...older ones, of course, since this is now the mark of literary leprosy...the author wrote from a 3rd person omniscient POV. That let the reader be in anyone's head the author needed him to be to understand what was going on. But, given these options are not among those I might choose, instead I have to decide: do I keep my protagonist, and hence my reader, in the dark? Do I swtich POV characters for a time so that I can get some bad guy-to-bad guy conversation on the page for the sake of building tension? I've done both so far, and I wonder if there are other options I'm overlooking.

I suppose I could design the entire language of any creature I'm going to use, write the passages in their own language, and then include a dictionary of each language at the back of the book for the reader's amusement. (Actually, no, I couldn't. Not in a hundred lifetimes!)

But, all in all, the challenge of multiple races and even more multitudinous languages in my "world" has given me quite the maze to run through as I try to unfold the stories of my characters doings. And all the while I think about it, I can't help but muse...the things that go on inside my head! How completely baffled would the average Joe be if he could hear them?