Thursday, June 07, 2012

Truth in Fiction: Fantasy Genre Inspires Active Faith



(An article AMG Publishers submitted to Christian Retailing Magazine - slightly edited for this blog)

Dragons and wizards and magic! Oh my!

For some Christians, the “Oh my!” is a shout of joy. For others, it is a cry of anxiety or even disdain. Fantasy in stories generates a variety of responses from Christian readers, some filled with praise, some with condemnation, while many have lingering questions. With speculative fiction titles dominating bookshelves, from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games to Percy Jackson, parents of faith are justifiably curious, skeptical, or unsure of what to do with the genre. And for a long time, Christian retailers had few answers, and certainly few book alternatives that would clearly reflect a Christian world view.

Why does fantasy mesmerize our youth? How do these stories capture their hearts? Is it simply the fun of escapism, or does the answer lie deep in their longings? Perhaps it is a desire to commune with a greater power that calls them to embark on a journey. There must be a Camelot, a hidden Utopia. Fantasy opens their eyes to a better place, a shining city they have not yet seen. The stories provide a bridge to horizons they could never distinguish with their physical eyes.

Young people are especially aware of fantasy’s alluring call. Boys and girls, still unjaded and brimming with ideals, feel their God-given programming. When a young man watches a hero draw steel from scabbard, displaying a bright, sharp sword, the boy feels valor, the bravery of a knight. He becomes a champion, copying the role model he may have never witnessed in real life. Deep inside, his heart comes alive. He feels that he, too, was built to charge the battlements, to defend the weak, and to conquer evil.

When a young lady watches a heroine prepare reinforcements, persuade the authorities to send troops, or kindle the fire in quavering hearts, she feels her inner calling. When the heroine crashes a jar over the villain’s head to save her fallen hero, a girl’s heart leaps. The courageous young lady has used whatever strength she had, at risk to her own life, to prevent disaster. Without her, all would have been lost.

Our youth long to see good triumphing, to see evil exposed and destroyed. And there are many authors who are willing to give children images they crave—some for good, and some that are poor reflections of that vision.

For most of the previous decade, Harry Potter led the way in the fantasy genre by capturing the hearts of millions of young readers. Yet some Christian parents had legitimate concerns about the content and wondered if there might be Christian-themed books that exhibited the same imaginative flair.

Unfortunately, early in that period, the Christian market had not yet filled that need, so parents continued to rely on the Chronicles of Narnia, though these celebrated tales did not incite the same appeal for older readers or for those who desire a more modern setting.

In 2003, AMG Publishers hoped to fill this void. Acquisitions Editor Dan Penwell met Bryan Davis at a writers’ conference and learned about his fantasy story Raising Dragons. Bryan had been seeking a publisher for eight years, but mainstream editors deemed it “too Christian,” while dragons and fantastical content scared Christian editors away.

AMG decided to take a bold step and publish this story, using the opportunity to create a new imprint, Living Ink Books, the foundation for their approach to creating visionary books for the Christian marketplace.

Within a few weeks of publication, Raising Dragons became a bestseller, and because of its success, fantasy titles from other publishers followed the trail AMG blazed. AMG followed up that series with more bestselling titles from Bryan Davis, including Eye of the Oracle, which hit number one on the CBA young adult list in 2007, further establishing AMG as the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. They later added other top fantasy authors, such as Amanda L. Davis, Jenny Cote, Scott Appleton, and C. S. Lakin, thereby solidifying their standing in the publishing world. In fact, Family Fiction magazine named Bryan Davis the #1 speculative fiction author in the Christian market for 2011 and Amanda L. Davis the #1 new author overall, proving the market’s hunger for the genre.

AMG reports that hundreds of readers have communicated life-altering moments because of these fantasy novels. From initial salvation, to recommitments to Christ, to forsaking sins, to leading others to faith, young readers have been drawn closer to God. Such is the power of a fantastical story.

One teenaged girl wrote, “My life has changed! I now live for God! And still, every time I read one of your books, I feel like I'm filled with the Holy Spirit! Eye of the Oracle especially inspired me in that I need to sacrifice, and that God is there no matter where you are.”

Even adults are affected by fantasy’s high calling. A 44-year-old father wrote, “I'm guessing we all have moments in time when we are spiritually at a low ebb. Ironically, Christmas day was one of those low points for me. I was toast. However, during the course of reading The Candlestone, the prose sparked my own faith and continued to bring my mind back to my Savior and his wonderful love.”

These stories are not really about dragons or wizards; they are about life, about faith, about a journey to a higher plane where heroes are welcome, virtue is honored, and evil is conquered. Christian fantasy is a catalyst that incites a change for good and not for evil. Boys are looking to take the sword and discover the man they feel in their hearts. Girls seek a heroine, longing for someone to imitate, a true lady cast in the image they see beyond the mirror.

We have an opportunity to create strong soldiers by using the power of story, even through the pages of the impossible. If parents will allow fantasy its proper place, as an inspiration toward heroism, allowing powerful images to create positive models in children’s minds, they will create home-grown heroes who will build and display integrity and virtue.

Publishers and bookstores can work together to capture hearts and minds with champions of virtue, images that will reach inside and ignite the flame, setting free the heroes or heroines that God has implanted in the hearts of children. Because of AMG and other publishers who have followed their lead, parents now have an option, and bookstores have an answer. If you want to grow heroes for God, we have shelves filled with novels that will plant the seeds and provide fuel for growth. Maybe even the parents will peek inside the pages and become inspired themselves. Take a look. The dragons in these books won’t bite, but they will light a fire.

22 comments:

Galadriel said...

I heartily agree with this. Fantasy has sparked my faith like nothing else.

Bryan Davis said...

Good to hear, Galadriel. Thanks for the comment.

DioM fan said...

I agree with every word! Before I read your books I had my own little corner for God and did the rest of my life without Him. my heart had grown cold and callused to Him and I never thought of letting Him into the rest of my life, but when I picked up Raising Dragons God peeled away the calluses and burned away the coldness and ever since then my faith has been growing and I've come closer to God. If not for your books I don't know if I ever would've truly found Christ, or my love for reading. Thanks for changing me for the better.

Bryan Davis said...

Thank you for the great testimony, DioM fan!

Sam the Fearless Cat's Cards and Comics Inc. said...

I agree with this 100%!
The DIOM saga is some of the best fantasy out there.
Other authors that are also really good are Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper.

All three of you guys are THE BEST in Christian fantasy, and I can't wait to see where you guys go from here.

Bryan Davis said...

Thank you, Sam.

DrummerGuy said...

Amen, Mr. Davis! Your books (especially the DIOM books) have gotten me closer to God, without a doubt. Also, they're so well written, and hard to put down.
Keep up the good work. Always remember who this is for, and your work will stay awesome :)

Bryan Davis said...

Thank you, DrummerGuy. :-)

Anonymous said...

Great article!! Thankfully, my parents have nothing against fantasy/speculative fiction, but if they did, this is what I would show them.
I completely agree: stories like these are what inspire courage and greatness in young people. Thanks for posting!

Bryan Davis said...

You're welcome.

Anonymous said...

Hey I have a question. When will the book after Third Starlighter come out? I just read Masters and Slayers and Third Starlighter, and I can't wait for the next book to come out. You are a wonderful writer!

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Always loved this "speech" of yours ;) Glad to see it in print now.

Add my name to the list of those whom fantasy has inspired. Changed my life and held me steady many times haha.

-Nathan Keeneye

Bryan Davis said...

Anonymous, the next book is called "Exodus Rising," but there is no scheduled release date yet. I haven't started writing it.

Bryan Davis said...

Nathan, thank you. :-)

Anonymous said...

Write it soon, please. I am dying to read about Adrian and Marcelle's wedding.

The Mysterious Writer said...

Beautifully written, Mr. Davis. You're books have proved time and time again to be some of the best books out there. I have read them three or four times each, and continue to learn something new each time. I feel what your characters feel, laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry, smile when they smile, and mourn when they mourn. Through your writing, I become a warrior myself, though I have never wielded a sword in battle. When people ask why I'm so "obsessed" with reading and religion, I can say, "Because of authors like Brian Davis."

Bryan Davis said...

Thank you, Mysterious Writer, I appreciate the kind words.

readingrocks said...

That is so cool. :) These books are the best. No matter how many times I read those books they always touch my heart. They've taught me so much about Jesus and following my faith. I can't wait for the next book to come out! Your writing is truly inspiring. Thank you.

Bryan Davis said...

Readingrocks, thank you for your kind words.

readingrocks said...

Do you have a date that the next book will come out on? Cause it said sometime this summer...

Bryan Davis said...

"Liberator" and "From the Mouth of Elijah" are both coming out in late July.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the books, especially the Dragons in Our Midst series. I agree with DioM fan, in that I never really knew Christ for who He is until I read your books as well as Batson's Door Within Trilogy. THANK YOU!