Thursday, July 5, 2012

When God drops an idea out of the sky

I haven't done a writing progress post in forever! I almost need to shorten my blog's subtitle by removing "the continuing saga of writing a novel..." to just "the continuing saga of attempting to raise four children, stay happily married and stay focused on God." 

But, while I haven't mentioned it often here on the blog, writing continues to occupy a large part of my thoughts. I started a new novel last November and I've been working on it on and off this winter and spring (more "off" than "on", I'm afraid. Reading finished novels is such a temptation instead the hard work of polishing my own writing to good quality).

Magical things in books (this will make more sense at the end of this post)
Anyhoo....I had to start a new novel because the last one (a historical fantasy) ran into a big problem. 

Last summer I completely stopped working on the historical fantasy, because I got uneasy about writing about demons. Dangerous territory, that.

 My original premise was: "what if instead of finding a genie in a lamp, you discover a relic with two genies in it - who are mortal enemies and can't stand each other?"   I LOVED that idea, but with the novel three quarters written, I couldn't write the last quarter, the last 50-75 pages or so. One of the genies was good, one was evil - a demon, in fact. And when I reached the part in the book where the demon started playing a larger role, I couldn't write anymore. I think (in fact, I'm sure), God stopped me - but with the assurance that another even BETTER idea would come along.

So last month, the idea finally came. Here's a few lines from the ECSTATIC email I sent N., my writing buddy of many years, when the idea I'd been waiting for almost a year finally came:

It just hit me out of the blue! (and you get hit too since you are the only good friend who will probably understand this) 
So, remember last summer I gave up working on this book because God convicted me about writing about demons? But I just loved my two spirits trapped together idea? I have been waiting for him to show me the solution. 
Well it just came and its so OBVIOUS I can't believe I didn't see it all along. 
So they are still enemies but not because one is good, one is evil [which led me to write her as a demon]. They had a misunderstanding long ago and they don't understand each other and even a bit jealous of each other and the goal is now to get them to work together despite their bad history. 
DUHHHH!!!!!! I should have seen that YEARS ago. Why didn't I see that??? 
But how cool now that I do! This is going to be so much more FUN!!!! 
Sorry for splatting exclamation marks all over you. Here are a few more to help you clean up!!!!!!!!
 So, my ever perceptive friend wrote back, if your "bad genie" isn't a demon anymore, what is she?

Um, good question. The idea from the blue had given me the source of a conflict to replace the old good vs. evil conflict, but it hadn't clarified the question of, what exactly are these creatures going to be, in my novel?

Mythical creatures like genies, dragons, elves and fairies (to name only a few) are a particular conundrum for bible-believing Christians. 

The only mythical creatures the Bible mentions are the behemoth (with a tail like a cedar tree!) and leviathan ("flames stream from its mouth" - sounds dragonish to me) and the unicorn, in modern translations called a wild ox but the original Hebrew is re'em, which translates to the Greek monokeros ("one-horned").  "Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?" (Job 39:9-10 KJV).

The Bible says these are God's creations, and he describes them to Job (chapters 39-41) to illustrate His awesome power - as He is the only one who can control them.  They are not evil creatures, not like demons. Their incredible power and ferocity - or the fact they can't be tamed - actually points toward God's strength and glory.

Could it be that mythical creatures from other cultures might also have pointed to God, symbols of His awesome strength or His mysterious ways? Or is there a dangerous side to mythical and magical creatures, in that they actually led people astray and into false worship? 

When God finished creating all the creatures on the sixth day (which included the behemoth and the leviathan, and may have included other creatures we now call mythical) "He saw that it was good."

But then sin entered the world, and much that was good became dangerous and twisted by sin. Romans 8:21 implies creation was brought into "bondage to decay."  So I think the answer is "yes" to both of my questions above. Mythical creatures do point us toward God in their strength and mysterious ways. But they are also subject to the Fall and the effects of sin and have been corrupted from their original purpose in creation.

I've been fascinated by how C.S. Lewis tries to explain ancient myths in light of Christianity, addressed in his essay, "Myth Become Fact". 

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.

Or, summed very well from this article by Mark Lowery:
  1. All the myths of mankind's primitive religions were expressions of a deep yearning — the deepest yearning — in mankind's consciousness, namely that the mysterious transcendent God would come into intimate contact with mankind, and do so in such a way that He would repair the damages made by mankind's sinfulness, and would grant to mankind a safety that would last forever.

  2. Christianity, rather than being one myth alongside many others, is thus the fulfillment of all previous mythological religions. It is a myth, like the others, but this time a myth that is also a fact. 
So after mulling all this over, after the New Idea that hit me last month,  this is where I'm at now, as far as my story idea:

Instead of being about angels and demons, my story is about a clash of ancient mythologies as the new Christianity starts to spread across the world. This works well since I set the story in the mid 300's, A.D., during the early spread of Christianity. Old mythologies are being pushed out by the new religion. My main character finds two mythical creatures trapped together in a stone, one a genie from Arabia, the other a naiad from Greece. They are enemies because they come from different mythologies, but are forced to work together to serve whoever has possession of the magical jewel they are trapped in. 

As the story progresses they acknowledge that despite their differences, they are both created by God. The genie chooses to serve God (and thus points Sidain, the main character, to God). The naiad just wants to be free and allowed to return to her own life. At the end when Sidain overcomes her own issues and sets them free, they both realize that if they stay in the mortal realm their powers will continue to be a temptation for mankind to try to trap them and use them... and distract them from the real purpose of myths - which is to point us to God as all the myths are fulfilled in Christianity. Thus the magical creature fade from reality into myth, that the one myth which offers true fulfillment may take precedence.   ("He must become greater, I must become less").

 I may find myself stopped again when I re-write the story according to this new path - but that's okay. God can stop me as many times as He wishes, until I get it His way: His way is far better than mine.

As I was looking on the web for more information on C.S. Lewis' views on myth, I came across this fascinating poem by J.R.R. Tolkien, Mythopoeia, which he wrote in response to a discussion with C.S. Lewis in 1931, where Lewis said that myths were "lies breathed through silver". 

Apparently, Lewis' views on myths changed in the years after, as captured in "Myth Become Fact" (1944) and in these little quotes from Lewis, along with several more interesting ones found on Don King's literature web page (Montreat College).

from "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1952)

[When a little boy reads of an enchanted wood] it stirs and troubles him. . . with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. 

from a letter of September 22, 1956
. . . a good myth (i.e. a story out of which ever varying meanings will grow for different readers and in different ages) is a higher thing than an allegory (into which one meaning has been put). Into an allegory a man can put only what he already knows; in a myth he puts what he does not yet know and cannot come by in any other way.

The first affirms my belief that the myths and fairytales I read as a child played a role - perhaps even a very large role - in preparing me to receive and marvel in the truth of Christ  - and so have instilled me a great desire to write children's stories and fairytales.

And both statements brought to mind  1 Corinthians 13:9-12: 
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

1 comment:

  1. There is a kindle version of C.S. Lewis' "On Stories" that has a collection of his letters and essays about writing that you would find interesting. So long as the message in the book is sound and fanciful elements not taken as reality (Mr Brown!) then a fantasy story can still illuminate Christ by exciting hearts and minds towards the things He loves.
    I am also a writer and I had to laugh at your description of your changing story. Mine also go through many versions before they fit. It's hard telling people it's a story set in modern day, no, the Twenties, no, the Victorian era... but it's still the same story!