Tuesday, July 22, 2008

DragonLight 2: The Good Points

Okay, seriously--well, more seriously than last time, which wouldn't be hard--the major strength of Donita K. Paul's DragonLight is the writing. Yes, the characters are well handled, and the world-creation is nicely done. But for me, at least, the refreshing lack of authorial ADHD symptoms were the main selling point. Viewpoints don't ricochet off the pages, and neither do the subplots. It was pleasantly unlike being accosted by a deranged, high-pressure salesman, which is how some modern fiction acts. But it wasn't stodgy, either.

I speculate that she writes so well because she started out writing something simple and market-oriented. (The literacy I'll attribute to her being a teacher in a better time.) Most writers want to do something deathless right at the start, but sometimes beginning with something very consumer-oriented strips away all the cute tricks and helps you learn to write effectively. That prepares you for the serious work.

That said, characterization is the second selling point. I find that in order for me to write effectively, I must care about and even love my characters, and that includes villains, unless I mean them to be flat. If the writer doesn't care, neither will the readers, yet I often feel that writers don't know or care about their characters. Not so here: Paul clearly knows her characters well and cares about them.

(Actually, although it sounds backhanded, I guess her primary strength is not doing anything stupid. If that sounds trivial, you don't read much.)

I'd also like to touch on a couple of false negatives. To begin with, there's the magic. I admit that makes me nervous: we are no longer in a more innocent age when purely literary magic was recognized as such. Even though they had their dabblers in the Black Arts, it wasn't mainstream, and there was typically nothing occult about magic in children's books at least.

Someday I need to write about the varieties of magic in literature, but for now the important term is technological magic. This is magic as simply an alternative to science and technology--in fact, it has its own kind of technology. Back in my D&D days, this was how my friends and I viewed magic in the game: no occult background, just a different kind of tech that you could use for gadgets.

Of all the types of magic in literature, tech magic is the safest and easiest. At a deep level, it's also the least likely and realistic, but for fiction or games it works well. (If you want to do something epic and timeless, it doesn't work that well: it would completely louse up The Lord of the Rings, and it's one of the things that separates LotR from all the wannabes.)

Anyway, if you're paying attention, you soon figure out that the magic in DragonLight is technological. For one thing, Kale can look at a magical effect and figure out how it works. You can't do that with occult magic. Also, no one invokes spirits or magic words. (This is also important from the standpoint of imitability: when magic can be imitated, as magic words allow, it can plant seeds that will turn occultic later. The magic in this story doesn't seem at all imitable.)

To sum up: any kid who reads this and goes into witchcraft was already headed that way. He also probably didn't like the book or the magic: I predict that this won't appeal to such people.

I'm also mildly surprised, as I noted in my interview, that no one seems to quibble about the use of dragons. (Maybe someone on this tour has: I haven't had time to check.) While I don't agree with Bryan Davis' arguments for the biblical cuddliness of dragons, I think there is a possible argument from Psalm 104:26. Since God formed the leviathan, which all cutesy modern whitewashing aside was a dragon, not a whale or crocodile, then we may conclude that dragons, like snakes, started out good. That's all the argument you need: the same was true of human beings.

Even more rollicking adventure with the CSFF Team:
Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
* Beth Goddard
Mark Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Terri Main
* Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
* Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Deena Peterson
* Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
* Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams


CherryBlossomMJ said...

Entertaining and interesting. Thank you for information that I have not seen elsewhere.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Steve, I agree about the dragons. If they existed, and I tend to think they did (might they actually have been the snake before the curse?), then they were part of the good that God created.

If they did not exist physically, then anyone is free to imagine them as they please.

Actually that last line is true either way. Thinking of Lewis, I'd say he rehabbed or reinvented a number of mythological characters that weren't looked at favorably, but he also took the actual and turned that on it's head with a bit of firm imagination--a talking lion, for example.


Steve said...

I'm a bit unusual in that I see nothing in Scripture that says the serpent ever had legs.

Unfortunately, my mother was so repulsed by the mythological imagery in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe that she didn't want us reading them, so I didn't until my early twenties. She's now a fan of the Chronicles of Narnia as well.

Donita K. Paul said...

Thanks, Steve. Your comments gave insight to me along with your other readers. And thanks for being gracious to me. (At Steve's second contact with me, I answered rather abruptly, mistaking him for a interviewer with an agenda. Oh, how I frown on interviewers out to skewer your goat, roast it, and feed it to the masses. Don't they have lives? Thankfully, Steve is not an old goat assassin.

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