December 16th, 2013
Today is day one of the CSFF Blog Tour, reviewing my second novel, MERLIN’S SHADOW, strangely enough!
I want to start out thanking all of the tour participants for taking the time to read the novel and thoughtfully write up reviews. And I’m even thankful in advance for any critical ones! I cannot improve as a writer without honest, helpful advice.
However, since I’m the author I’m not about to post a review of my own novel, so I’ve decided to post an article broken over three days that, I think, is informative about the series, and may even help the other reviewers understand what I have written.
This is all prompted by two different readers who asked the question about book 1: “Where is God in Merlin’s Blade?", feeling like the power of God isn’t shown clearly in the novel.
Well, since the CSFF Blog Tour is about book 2, I realized that the same question could be asked of this novel as well. So even though what follows is about book 1, it is pertinent to the discussion going on this week for book 2.
But I would do so gently, for I must admit that I’ve written God’s direct role in the novel with a fairly subtle brush.
I did this for two reasons:
To avoid a Deus Ex Machina.
Just in case some readers are unfamiliar with this phrase, it means “The God from the Machine”, and it refers to the practice of ancient Greek playwrights to have a god come in at the end of the play and solve all of the problems.
In modern literature it has become a “no-no” for authors to do this. Therefore, as an author working within certain accepted styles and expectations, I try to avoid having God solve everything miraculously in my stories.
Because I honestly think that God often chooses to work in subtle ways in the world.
Yes God can, and does perform miracles, but often he chooses to work in and through us, in and through our suffering, and in and through the events around us.
These events may seem random from our perspective, but they are not, and God can and does use them and weave them together into a beautiful tapestry-like story.
Does this mean that because I have given God a subtle approach in Merlin’s Blade that I have done so in the other novels in The Merlin Spiral? Certainly not! One of the hallmarks of The Merlin Spiral trilogy is that each of the novels has a very different ending from the others. Expect the unexpected!
But … when I choose to show God’s power in a more active way, I still avoid the Deus Ex Machina sinkhole by making it clear that God is working through an individual and in a direct, seamless way considering the plot of the story. I foreshadow it. I make it an “oh yes, that fits”, and “now I see” rather than a “wow, that just came out of nowhere”.
Before I get into specifics, let me make one thing clear: You need eyes to see God’s involvement.
If a reader doesn’t believe in God, nor in his involvement in the world, then it is possible that they may miss God’s involvement in the lives of the characters as well as in the outcome of the novel.
If you believe that God is involved in all aspects of life, and that he is intimately involved in his creation, then you will see his power and grace everywhere, especially throughout Merlin’s Blade.
So then … what about the charge of God’s power being absent from Merlin’s Blade?
(NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD! IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE NOVEL IN FULL, THEN PLEASE DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING!)
Dybris Painting A Cross On The Stone at the end of Part Two
A quick summary: Dybris sneaks up to the Stone with Merlin and paints a cross on it, proclaiming Christ to those surrounding it. Despite this effort, the Stone burns the painted cross off and causes an explosion, blowing Dybris backward. It would appear God failed. The proclamation of God failed. God’s power failed. Or did it?
First of all, let’s ask a question—what is Dybris trying to do? He is trying to Christianize the Stone. Here is what it says on page 163, my first indication of Dybris formulating his plan:
Dybris stopped pacing and whispered in Prontwon’s ear, “Why are we wasting our—”
Prontwon shushed him. “Dybris, if we cannot defeat the power … this Druid Stone has over Owain, how can we have … hope for anyone else?”
“Why can’t we Christianize it?” Dybris asked. “Like the standing stone by the abbey spring?”
“A pagan stone … that the people formerly worshiped … yes, and we carved upon it a cross to point them to Christ. But how do you … propose to do that to this Druid Stone?”
“I’ve been thinking about it—”
“Some things cannot be changed,” Prontwon said, his voice weakening.
As you can see, Prontwon warns Dybris that some things cannot be changed. This would be similar to baptizing the Devil. Can it be done? Dybris thought so.
You see, in his formerly pagan culture the monks often took the pagan standing stones and re-carved them with Christian images. This was a normal way of pointing the people to Christ.
But what about the Stone? Is it a normal Stone? Would painting a cross on the Stone be effective? Can you make the Stone Christian?
A Story From My Youth
Here’s a story that may be instructive:
I was a fairly new Christian, and had just given up playing the game Dungeons and Dragons due to my personal convictions.
My friend, who was also a new Christian, wanted to keep playing. So he took the “Dungeon Masters” manual with its demon on the cover and stuck an “I LOVE JESUS” sticker over the demon’s head. During the next month he found that the contrast was just too much for him, and he threw the books in the trash.
He just couldn’t Christianize that demon!
Also, one must remember who is God, and who is not. Dybris is not God, and just because he comes up with a plan, does not mean that God will bless it. God is not Dybris’s vending machine, nor is he anyone else’s.
Can you Christianize pagan things? Can you Christianize evil? Can you Christianize anything, Christian bookstore Test-a-mints aside? (I’m teasing here!)
Christians have this idea in modern society that the image of the cross somehow makes something holy. Is that true? Does God honor our multitudinous crosses?
Yes these things can proclaim Christ, but sometimes I wonder if God sees idols when we see “cool stuff”. Kind of like the iron serprent that Moses raised up to heal the Israelites, yet later had to be destroyed by Hezekiah because people began worshiping it (2 Kings 18:4).
A joke that I once heard is instructive:
A man died and went to heaven. Standing before the pearly gates, he asked God to let him into heaven. God told the man that he didn’t know him.
“But look at my car!” the man replied, “I have a cross hanging from the rear-view mirror … and a “honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker!”
“Okay,” God said, “open the gates and let the car in.”
And while I think crosses and “Christian stuff” have their place, we must remember that even these things can become an idol to us and can actually get in the way of knowing God. We slather ourselves in these things sometimes thinking we are closer to God for them, but we are not.
Now to the heart of this incident with Dybris and the Stone. What actually is the final result of evil “showing its power” by exploding Dybris backward?
Think about it.
Merlin is saved from certain death!
Remember the assassin that’s been sneaking up behind Merlin? Just as his knife is about to plunge down and kill the kneeling Merlin, Dybris is blown backward into him, and the assassin ends up with woolen robe stuffed in his mouth and his knife is lost!
Thus … I show God working and turning what the Stone intended for evil into something good!
They have the Stone in a wagon and they’re being chased. The mule won’t budge.
Here again, Merlin prays, and God seemingly does nothing. And the Stone erupts in burning cinders on Merlin’s back and neck. Where is God’s power? Well … one of those burning cinders hits the mule and guess what? It gets moving REAL fast!
This is another case of evil intending harm (trying to stop Merlin from praying), and yet God is able to turn this into the very answer to Merlin’s prayer.
What about Garth’s betrayal of the monks and his joining the druids?
God uses this to eventually open Garth’s eyes and miraculously preserve Arthur’s life.
So, then, in the next article we’ll cover one more incident from MERLIN’S BLADE, including a story from my own life.
Also, make sure you visit the other participants on the tour:
On the good side, that makes the work more palatable to non-Christians (as I was for many years).
But it might also be a result of the fact that we are all part of the world that's increasingly hostile to God-related truth, and some of us get embarrassed by too-clear testimony.
Christian writers, I think, have got to walk in faith as they plot their fictional works, and follow God's guidance on such matters as how much plain/open Christian content to present.
Thanks for your thoughts!
I think "subtle" is good for stories. I think the theme should be clear (yours are as far as I'm concerned), but should not overwhelm the story (yours don't, as far as I'm concerned. ;-) )
I'm enjoying your thoughts on this topic!
Looking forward to your next post.
Thank you! I wouldn't have even felt the need to address the topic except that it disturbed some folks. I wanted to reassure them that I've thought this through, and that maybe they missed some things in their reading.
Hopefully that is the case, but you know what? My books aren't for everyone, and that may be the truth here.
Thanks again for all of the encouragement!
Thanks for stopping by! Chocolate crosses? You mean you "eat" the cross? Hmmm.. I'm not sure that's what Christ had in mind when he said we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. So now our kids are eating little tasty instruments of torture.
And article #2 will be out the door soon...
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