Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Good Promotion a Fantasy?

The latest post on Speculative Faith addresses some common (cliched) story elements in CBA fantasy:

- A king or prince who is an obvious Christ figure.
- Miracles and demonic influence replacing magic.
- An idealized physical kingdom made up almost completely of believers (of varying strengths)
- Immediately recognizable evil. Immediately recognizable good. Very little grey.
- Points of direct and obvious divine intervention (usually very spectacular) and often reserved for the climax.
- Plentiful points of crisis in faith, to keep the heroes from being too powerful.
- Big neon sign pointing out “THIS IS WHAT IS TRUE” (or at least to me)

I breathed a sigh of relief as I compared the list to my own work in progress. No Christlike kings or miracles. I'd pulled one country from idealology to a more secularized country with religious roots. I'm revelling in my characters' shades of gray. And the other points I can steer clear of as I write.

I've read books like these, and don't want to fall into the same trap of ineffective allegory. Thoughts of these books brought to mind the recent CBD fiction catalog. I paged through it, soaking in all the summarizes of the books I don't have time to read. Past the new releases, the mass market romances, the bargin books, and kid's novels, I finally reached the page categorized as fantasy.

Notice the singular form of the word page.

One half of the page was devoted to Narnia. The audio dramas, the DVD, and the novels. Don't get me wrong, I love Narnia. It deserves a whole page, even. The other half highlighted three series - books by G. P. Taylor (Shadowmancer, etc.), the Kingdom series by Chuck Black, and The Archives of Anthropos by John White - plus had several line entries.

I've read White's books. Stuart's elements listed above could have been written with only this series in mind. I hated the books. Granted, they were written several decades ago with children in mind, and I read them in my early twenties. But why are they so distinguished in this catalog while Karen Hancock's Christy Award-winning Legends of the Guardian-King get only two lines? (And it would have been one if the series title was shorter.) Graham's Binding of the Blade series, L. A. Kelly's Tahn and Return to Alastair, and Kathleen Morgan's Giver of Roses all got similar treatment.

Five other fantasy/speculative series (or single titles) - beyond Ted Dekker's works - were sprinkled throughout the catalog, all without fanfare. Douglas Hirt's Cradleland Chronicles, Donita K. Paul's DragonKeeper Chronicles (incorrectly printed as Dragon Keepers Chronicles) Robin Parrish's Relentless, Kathryn Mackel's The Hidden (Outriders nowhere to be seen), and Jonathan Rogers' Wilderking series. (I may have missed a few speculative ones - more and more thrillers seem to be including speculative elements.)

Is it any wonder CBA fantasy isn't selling well? Mediocre titles are pushed to the front while excellent ones get lost in the crowd. Is a two-page spread so much to ask for?

Any thoughts?

Don't forget to check out Christian Fandom this week. And time is running out for you to leave comments on my website for your chance to win a free novel! The contest ends July 31st, so enter soon!


Stuart said...

Heya Katie,

The Archives of Anthropos were one of the first fantasy series I ever read (think i was in Jr. High at the time). I remember really enjoying them back then...though part of that was "Cool! Another Narnia!" Plus I didn't know anything about writing then either (and haven't read them again since).

I'll give that series due for enduring and keeping part of the CBA fanatsy market open for some of those better books that have followed, most likely due in part to it being a lesser Narnia clone.

But, like you, I wish the newer books would get more respect from both publishers and booksellers. Do you know if CBD chooses placement in their catalog, or if the publishers buy the space?

Still, I'm encouraged that the CBD catalog even had that section in it, and that it was populated by more than just series written twenty or more years ago. It wasn't too long ago that it wouldn't have been there at all.

And maybe a few thousand kids will read the Archives of Anthropos and get hooked on Fantasy and then discover the rich treasures ahead of them, and begin clammoring for more.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and linking over to Speculative Faith.

And keep praying that excellence in Christian fantasy and science fiction continues to grow and expand and receives its due.

Rebecca said...

Let's keep this wheel squeaking, and maybe those sleeping giants will wake up and give us some oil.

(Wednesday is Cliché Day)

Elliot said...

Thanks for the heads up! I'll have to avoid Anthropos...

Mirtika said...

It's nice when they give SF any space in catalogs, considering most of the fiction tends to be stuff I don't want to read in the CBD catalogs I get.

I have a secular gov't with a religious (persecuted) underground, but a multi-religion overground. I don't have a Christ prince ,but I do have "miracles", but they are normal events for the possessors, in the way that the supernatural stuff was common events in the NT church--tongues, healings, prophesies, angel visitations.

Haven't read Anthropos, but even with all the elements that distress, Stuart, he admits to having enjoyed it. Mmmm.

I started reading Shadowmancer and just couldn't keep going. Eh. Not a bandwagon that includes me.


Valerie Comer said...

I once picked up a White novel by mistake (same title, different author than I was looking for) and didn't last more than ten pages. I've heard rumor that there are many parts that aren't Narnia rip-offs but I didn't have the gumption to hang in there and look for them!

Ruth said...

Excellent post! I never read the John White books. Anyway, what I wanted to say is, I don't understand either (and it frustrates me to no end) how fantastic fantasy novels like Karen Hancock's are not featured as prominently as the Narnia books, which achieved classics status long ago? Grr. If the great books like the ones you mentioned were given more space, more promotion, I think sales could just skyrocket -- they are buried in with other titles that unless you know what you're looking for, it could be easily overlooked.
Sorry I didn't get around to joining the SF blog tour, I've just had too much going on...thanks as always for the info, though -- maybe next month! Hope you're having a good week!

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Great points, Katie. It's hard to write a fresh story and use a standard fantasy motif like a journey or quest. More power to you that you are avoiding the pitfalls.

I do wish the newer books got more press. That's why I was disappointed that Fandom didn't have at least an updated list of what's available.

It's so important that we get the word out. I had an offer today from a writer who is willing to include new fantasy releases in her newsletter and was asking why it is she hadn't heard about these books before.

So our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to get the word out!

Excellent post.


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