I’ve reorganized the chapters in the book draft several times, and what’s clear is that the raw material needs a lot of work to smooth it into viable chapters. (This isn’t unexpected – the intention of this blog was to be first-draft, quickly written entries, not polished pieces.)
Some of that writing is a matter of “connective tissue” – explaining how one entry fits next to another, explaining the reasoning behind stuffing Butler and Ellison into the same chapter. Some of it is revising writer-based prose into reader-based prose – stating my assumptions, explaining my logical leaps.
But some of it is deeper content, and that takes a lot more work. So I’m going to poke at a few of these ideas here, since thinking out loud is what this blog is for.
For example: In my last entry, I hinted that I was thinking about Lewis and Pullman as pedagogical fantasy. Both of them are aimed at teaching impressionable readers – convincing them to see things in a certain light, opening their minds to new possibilities, giving them suggestions for how to view the world.
In contrast, L’Engle and Pratchett are a lot less didactic – they’re more atmospheric. But I think they’re more effective teachers than Lewis and Pullman.
In order to make that case, I need to:
· Explain how Narnia can be seen as a way of teaching or influencing readers (despite my own misgivings about how books do and don’t influence)
· Explain how Narnia does that broadly and specifically –
o Characters that you sympathize with and come to love
o Easily overturning straw man or simplistic arguments from evil or foolish characters
· Explain how Pullman is doing something similar with HDM
o Partly as a direct response to Narnia
o Maybe even compare some of the more obviously-theological moments from each book?
§ I’m thinking of the Dwarves in The Last Battle and the Underworld in HDM.
§ Maybe Jadis from The Silver Chair, “there never was a sun,” or Emeth the Calormene; contrast Mary Malone’s how-I-left-the-Church narrative.
· Talk about why both of them fail (for me)
o Both have trouble maintaining the consistency of the world compared to the emphasis on the theology
o Both have more luck when they move to the positive, meaningful moments than the villains
· Then I’ll need to pivot: This doesn’t mean that SF can’t be influential, or that it can’t serve a teaching purpose.
o Pratchett is something of an agnostic’s instructor;
o Willis is a Christian instructor –
o What makes them different?
§ Both push the admirable-characters as role models without making them purely awesome all the time; we’re not expected to like and approve of what they do at each point (cf. Granny Weatherwax especially)
§ Both also leave room for doubt and argument and difference, and make their dissenters thoughtful and sympathetic
· The Bromeliad trilogy does this well – use examples here
§ And both also acknowledge the less-admirable parts of their own positions
o So while it’s clear that they have a strong position and strong preference for one religious belief over another, it never comes across as didactic or uneasy.
§ Except a couple of places, and it’s jarring when it does – at least to me.
· I could also point out two authors that are also very religious, but that don’t make it clear enough
o E.g. L’Engle and Tolkien, where the Christianity is present but in the background – perhaps too far in the background
o Is there a comparable secular / agnostic author? Gotta think about that.
· So the main difference may be twofold:
o Does the story engage with religious ideas?
o Does it do so in a complex way, with characters who are more than single perspectives?
§ Side note – complexity may mean that absolutes (such as God or Good) never get portrayed. If I were calling for a flawed Aslan, for example, that wouldn’t make any sense.
…As you can see here, I’m drifting into writer-based prose. Those last bullets make sense to me as a shorthand for the ideas I have in mind, but need to be spelled out and explained rather than left as references. It’s a start, though, and I may be working a bit more on these bits and pieces in the weeks to come.