This month, the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour features D. Barkley Briggs‘s fantasy novel, The Book of Names, first in the Legends of Karac Tor series. Naturally, the intended audience is teens 13-18.
To a great extent, I have to agree with Imagination Investigation,Â Most adults should be able to handle the material, but it may be a little dark for impressionable teens, but that is, as always around here, best left to the discernment of parents. So read it before deciding whether it’s suitable for your child.
His theological handling of spiritual gifts versus magic is basically correct, but he confuses the matter by throwing around the word magic too much and at times inappropriately. While he sometimes uses the correct terminology for the heroes’ power, gift, he sometimes slips and calls it magic, which a careful reading shows it most definitely is not. Magic is what the sorceress they’re up against is using; demonic power. Power from God, no matter what universe you’re in, is by definition a spiritual gift, not magic. Likewise, any “magic” that has a natural basis within a story world is not magic, as magic, again, is supernatural power of demonic origin.Â And our natural abilities also are gifts from God. That said, one must show discernment, because magic often is disguised as natural.
While he takes pains to lecture (at least that is how the intended audience will probably take it) the reader on the counterfeit and deceptive nature of magic/sorcery, he undercuts his message in a way that too many books now a days are. We focus so much on an accurate portrayal of evil, and even dare to get in their heads, that we end up giving the devil a soap box–and the answers to counter his message are rarely delivered as powerfully, due to a fear of being preachy, usually.
It’s one thing to expose what the enemy is up to–it’s another to be tricked into delivering the message for him.Â That’s a fine line all Christian writers struggle to walk, and Barkley comes dangerously close to the edge at points, though certaintly not as far over as some titles in the horror genre have gone, especially those dealing with demonic possession.
Barkley had plenty of good things to say. The problem is, for some reason, the despairing message of his villains stand out in this reader’s memory far better. It makes me wonder if he’s fallen into the eschatlogical trap that so many of my brethern have. Many of us have taken a revelation intended to encourage us to keep on fighting no matter how dark the hour and used it as an excuse to give in to despair and just hang on until He gets here.
I don’t know Barkley to say that he is in that growing group of sleepers, but I do know his story reads like Lord of the Rings Meets Narnia Meets Left Behind. Of course, on the last note, this is fantasy, so it’s their world’s version. They’re on their Ninth-and-Final Coming, actually, and, near as I tell, they have the exact opposite of a rapture: instead of people disappearing, four brothers from Missouri appear. Make of that what you will, but it’s hard to be hopeful and encouaging when the most hopeful thing your eschatology will allow you to say is, “It’s just going to get worse and worse, and there’s nothing we can do about it, but praise God, Jesus will be back soon to sweep us away.” (That was the position of a former pastor of mine, actually.) Guess that’s why I’m so skeptical of that position; I’m by nature an optimist.
Interestingly, I can’t say whether this was intentional or not, but the story actually reveals an important truth about prophecy that was as lost on the Whites (who remind me of Fundamentalist Baptists for some reason) as it is on all those scholars with precise blow-by-blow eschatological time lines. The nature of bible prophecy is no one–no one–knows what it really means until after it is fulfilled, and this includes Matthew 24 and the Revelation of Saint John.
I’ll admit, their version of the Church bugged me. Not because it was loosely based on the Catholic Church, but the terms of the three sects: White, Gray, and Black. He has the symbolism of White and Black both correct. While black as a symbol is most popular as standing for evil, it can represent mystery, and white is an appropriate color for the Whites, who are real by the book types and most known for their devotion to Truth.
However, as a symbol, the bible, and no other system of imagery that I know of, has absolutely nothing good to say about gray. It corresponds to fuzzy ethics, being lukewarm, chaos, confusion, etc. I realize it’s in part an excuse for a Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy trope, (i.e. Brother So and So the Gray), but knowing the symbolic meaning of gray kept causing me to trip over it. (Aside: I had this same issue with nine, which in their world has the same meaning as seven is commonly understood–it’s root meaning is complete–but in bible numerology nine means fruit/harvest.)
What White represents and what Black represents, as defined by Barkley, are both in the scriptures, and both by themselves are out of balance. We often tend one way or another, biblically, just as Christ is the GodMan, we’re to strive towards being the BlackWhite, fully white and fully black simultaneously. Scripture is full of such false dichotomies, and most of the major divisions in the church are arguing type A versusÂ type B when the biblical answer is type AB. Whether you hold to one, the other, or something in between, you’re still out of balance spiritually.
Final kudos: talk about poetry in motion! The style annoys me as a writer, as it frequently slides into an omniscient narrator, thus ignoring the rules of Point of View that I’m quite fond of, but his readers won’t care. And this is seriously poetry in motion. Fantasy needs lots of vivid description, and Barkley more than rises to that challenge.