Monday, January 21, 2008

"Colors" True and False

In the previous post, I extolled the style of Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet. Yet there are also problems. Some are errors of fact or genre, which I'll get to tomorrow. But now I'll mention some more general issues, including a theological knot or two.

The most striking problem for me was the Keeper, a strange entity that is supposedly just the bogeyman of children's nightmares, but that instead appears to be a god or divine messenger. The Keeper is described as a horse-headed, winged dragon with fingered feet--a hodgepodge of images. Despite what some have tried to argue, dragons are never positive images in the Bible; they represent pride, rebellion, and self-serving power. (The closest thing to a positive portrayal in the Bible is in Psalm 104:26, which almost makes Leviathan God's pet. Elsewhere, Leviathan/Rahab is the primal chaos dragon of the sea, an enemy God defeats.) Yet the dream in which the Keeper appears is much like the scenes where Aslan turns up for the first time in a Narnia book, and much of what is said is good. So while there are useful points here, my overall reaction is negative.

The apparent bad guys have some minor redeeming feature brought out on cue: these are not flat characters; they are good characters gone wrong. They may even regret their evil and do some minor penance. Unfortunately, that's right before they go screaming to their doom. (This is especially common toward the end of the book.) There doesn't seem to be much grace involved here. I know that God seldom eliminates consequences, but this is dire in places.

Sometimes the shifts work, however, though the main instance goes in the other direction. In one scene, the noble, virtuous, and all-around cuddly prince takes an overseer to task for being obnoxious to the workers. It has all the hallmarks of a cliché. But then the situation flips unexpectedly, and a trite moral becomes a strong lesson: it's one of the best scenes in the story.

As I read, I kept getting the impression that there was some ham-handed moralizing afoot, that there was supposed to be some modern-day relevance, perhaps in terms of politics and current events. This was exacerbated by a reflexive and sometimes preening political correctness: Oh, look! I have fully integrated roles, with soldiers and whatnot of both sexes!

The problem is that epic fantasy (which this most looks like) tends to be very conservative: it isn't about presidents and democracy but about kings, knights, and the occasional damsel in distress. Back-reading modern attitudes only works in parodies. If you would be taken seriously, be true to your sources, not to your times. For even when you have an Amazon, she is a novelty: the fighters will be men, because traditionally they are men, and epic fantasy is about what used to be--or what might once have been. Perhaps the various iconoclastic swipes at fantasy--the Shreks and other fairy tales gone modern--have dulled our ability to understand the genre. If that's so, then true fantasy is dead or at least dying, and only a zombie version remains to ape the original.

Other reviews:
Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Heather R. Hunt
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Pamela Morrisson
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Deena Peterson
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Perhaps the various iconoclastic swipes at fantasy--the Shreks and other fairy tales gone modern--have dulled our ability to understand the genre. If that's so, then true fantasy is dead or at least dying, and only a zombie version remains to ape the original.

Or maybe, like language, the genre only dies if it stands still and doesn't grow.

You'd be interested in what Overstreet has to say about the Keeper. I've quoted it in my post today--it's part of his post about The Golden Compass. In essence, he's saying he wrote a fairy tale and was not aiming to create a "God" character.

(I wonder if he thinks that's what Lewis did?)

Anyway, I had similar theological concerns--thought some of the lines fit quite well with postmodernism.

Love your posts, Steve. I'm so glad your on the tour.


Steve said...

There is a sharp distinction to be made between growth and transmogrification. English must grow to survive; it need not change into Latin or Chinese to survive, which is the equivalent of the modernized fantasies. If someone changes a form he knows well, then the result may be positive. What I see is ignorant dabbling by people who don't even understand their own era, much less another.

nissa_amas_katoj said...

Very interesting post. There seem to be a lot of people concerned about the Christian content--- or lack thereof--- in Auralia's Colors. But in my view any book that doesn't indulge in Christian-bashing as so many of the secular fantasies do is enjoyable.

God bless you,
kaj la hundo iris kun ili

Steve said...

Tre interese estas, Nissa, renkonti samideanon cxi tie. Mia scienc-fikcio enhavas katolikojn, ecx unu-du esperantistajn. La katolikoj en _La Ligo de Superherooj_ (aperonta) ne parolas Esperanton, bedauxrinde.

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