/ Features E. Stephen Burnett

Lifeway Christian Stores: Another Retail Phoenix Explodes into Ashes

Don’t mourn or gloat over Christian fiction’s supposed “death.” Jesus loves resurrecting good things.
| Mar 20, 2019 | 1 comment |

For about a year, I worked at a Lifeway Christian Stores location (the one in Lexington, Kentucky).

I met customers, stocked shelves, worked the register, and discovered great books. Including lots of fine fiction and nonfiction.

Now Lifeway Christian Stores are closing. All 170 of them.

Christianity Today has the story:

The Southern Baptist affiliate announced in January initial plans to reduce its locations this year due to declining sales and financial pressures, but ended up deciding it wasn’t viable to keep any stores open past 2019. [Longtime LifeWay president Thom] Rainer said they did all they could to save the stores.

“Our retail strategy for the future will be a greater focus on digital channels, which are experiencing strong growth,” [acting president and CEO Brad] Waggoner said. The chain will continue online sales through LifeWay.com.

Further essential reading

Romantic Fiction Rules Because Of ‘Family Christian’ Faith

Christians ignore fantastical fiction because they assume that marriage and family values matter more.

Why Isn’t There More Christian Fantasy?

Christian publishers avoid fantasy for surprising reasons.

Why Do We Need Christian Fantasy?

Should Christians enjoy stories outside or inside “Christian” subcultures? The answer is yes.

How To Fix Christian Fiction: More Christianity

Christian fiction really can be terrible, and there’s only one cure: more Christianity.

Eight Actions To Resurrect Christian Fiction

Christian fiction is dead. Long live Christian fiction. Yet it must be born again.

Family Christian Stores Close, But What Happens To Authors?

As the Christian retailer shutters 240 stores, author Patrick W. Carr asks what makes a business “Christian.”

Why Does Christian Romance Outsell Christian Fantasy?

Mainstream readers like both fantasy and romance. So why do Christians favor only romance?

Stop Hating on Christian Popular Culture

What’s worse than Christian popular culture? Hatred of it.

Is Secular Fiction Better Than Christian Fiction?

“Bad Christian fiction made me switch to secular fiction.” But both markets can be restrictive.

  • Part 1: 500 years ago, God’s church needed reformation. Now Christian fiction needs reforming.
  • Part 2: Christian-made fiction’s worst errors come from shallow or false beliefs about our faith.
  • Part 3: If we hope to reform Christian fiction, we need to affirm what’s right about these novels.
  • Part 4: Readers can apply the five Reformation “solas” to a biblical reformation of Christian fiction.

Who Wants to Kill Christian Fiction?

Right or wrong, people keep claiming Christian fiction will die. Who’s guilty of wanting to kill it?

Newbie Christian Media Critics: Your Complaints Are Cliched

Really? Christian books, movies, and music are all terrible and preachy and stupid? Never heard that one before.

When I first saw the news, I blinked. The headline so strongly resembled the 2017 news announcing that Family Christian Stores closed all 240 of its locations. And, now as then, I have varying responses: gratitude, lack of surprise, and frank annoyance at those who see this as occasion to gloat or to mourn as those who have no hope.

First, my brief thoughts about working for Lifeway.

  • I loved my experience working at Lifeway Christian Stores.
  • Sure, we had some interesting customers. Like the KJV-only person I heard about afterward. Or like the older women who somehow thought Beth Moore Bible studies were the golden ticket to get their husbands interested in church again.
  • One time, Dr. Phil McGraw’s wife, Robin McGraw, wrote a book that Lifeway sold. We got a company apologetic about what to say if people challenged the book and claimed it had non-Christian ideas. Basically the reply was: “No worries, folks, she’s a Christian.” Which kind of failed to deal with the objection to her book’s content. (Though to be fair, I’d never heard of this objection until I heard about the corporate response to it.)
  • Eventually, store staff, including myself, were asked to stop talking about Star Trek and other fandoms in the store. But that makes a lot of sense.
  • My manager was a great chap and a true believer.
  • I read a lot of Ted Dekker novels over lunches at Lifeway.
  • I also discovered John Piper’s Desiring God and Randy Alcorn’s Heaven. I didn’t just read them over lunch, but bought copies of both. And both of these books changed my life—and, eventually, helped me see the Godward, joyful purpose of faith, fiction, and everything.

Even after I left employment, I always liked thinking that Lifeway Christian Stores were still out there. Selling books. Serving people.

But of course, that’s just the problem—even Lifeway’s fans were simply glad the stores were out there. They weren’t actually shopping there.

Second, will everyone gloat about the closures?

Here come, however, some reactions that can only be described as something like gloating:

  • Well, of course. No one shops there anymore anyway.
  • Thank God; it’s about time all that “Jesus junk” was put away.
  • [Some other complaint, which really reveals more about the complainant’s personal grudge against the Church or family members than about Lifeway or the general concept of evangelical subculture.]

We saw these kinds of complaints after Family Christian Stores closed. And often we see these responses scattered about the interwebs, when newbies reveal the startling revelation that (breaking news!) “hey, some Christian culture isn’t good, you guys.”

I think if you don’t feel a little sadness about this retail extinction, you might need to examine your motives.

At least feel sympathy for the vanishing of a little subculture. And the struggles of local employees and managers.

Oh, and the fact that, as with Family Christian, this news throws a wrench into Lifeway’s related businesses, such as store employees and delivery drivers. Now they likely need to determine other ways to make a living.1

That goes double if (as I mentioned above) you are tempted to use this news story as a “language” to express other grievances. For example: (1) all evangelical culture is TERRIBLE; (2) my church made me only read or watch “Christian” kitsch and I HATED IT; (3) something something Trump.

Some of these critiques may be valid. Some only apply to the complainant or other people. Some are just silly.

Regardless, it makes little sense, and shows little concern for others, to take someone else’s story and slather your own story on top of it. Let’s be like Jesus, and empathize with other people first.

Third, enough crying ‘This is the doom of Christian fiction’!

Here I must be frank: I roll my eyes at this kind of doomsaying, much of it from Christians who are fantasy fans, about as much as I disregard the folks who strut about wrapped in their virtual sandwich signs about the ocean levels, or cow farts, or barcode scanners secretly being the Mark of the Beast.

This is not the doom of Christian fiction. If anything, it’s just another stage of Christian fiction’s inevitable rebirth.

How can I say that? Because of these reasons:

  • If there were no great, tectonic economic and technological shifts in book retail, not to mention all retail . . .
  • And if all Christian books, not just fiction, were still failing . . .
  • And if most Christian readers were finding everything they sought in “general market” fantastical fiction, as opposed to subsisting on some of it . . .
  • Oh, and if Lifeway was closing down entirely, as opposed to shifting entirely to an online bookstore model  . . .

Then perhaps it would be time for angels to fly about crying, “Woe, woe, to the inhabitants of the Christian bookstore aisles.”

But. There is such a great tectonic economic and technological shift. Christian books still sell (with that label). General market fiction still can’t touch many themes that Christian fiction, in theory, could. And Lifeway is continuing online, where most people are shopping for books anyway.

So all the doomsaying feels premature—and, sometimes, just opportunities for folks to throw some hotter sparks off their axe-grinding.

Fourth, this isn’t doom for ‘Christian fantasy’ either.

I thought a similar response, after a Facebook friend shared this “trending downward” graphic about Christian sci-fi and fantasy:

Or wait. This image (at least not by itself) doesn’t specify Christian sci-fi and fantasy. It says religious and inspirational fiction-science fiction & fantasy. And is limited to the last couple of years. And is limited to Amazon Kindle sales.

That’s a very limited statistical sample.

At Realm Makers Bookstore, on one weekend, we sold many books to enthusiastic readers.

They weren’t merely “religious and inspirational.” They were biblical Christians.

They weren’t dullards cynical about Christian labels, or disillusioned authors cynical about publishing industries. These fans couldn’t get enough of these stories! And they were often subsisting on other books until such time as someone could approach and say, “Hey, guess what: here’s an amazing, fantastical story that happens to be from a spiritual family member.”

Oh, and they wanted physical books. Kindle? They didn’t even touch the thing.

And guess what—this very weekend, Realm Makers Bookstore will do it all over again, at Great Homeschool Convention in South Carolina.

So, something died? Big deal. Grieve but hope. Jesus loves miraculously resurrecting things.

Now see here. I’m not one of those “passion project” persons. I don’t say, “Who cares what the market supports! Just chase your calling! Love what you love! God will bless that!” Nonsense. The very reason you’re reading this is because I determined, pragmatically, that I couldn’t sit around and write The Great Christian Novel and suddenly find an audience. Christians like nonfiction. So I switched. While still working on fiction. And I’m having a great time, while meeting people closer to where they actually are.

And yet.

I also know that much of what is called “Christian fiction” was often sub-Christian and weak anyway.

I know that God loves his specific Church and God loves his people creating stories to exalt him. So it makes no sense (and often betrays some evangelical-style oversheltering) to suggest we ignore the Church and share stories only in or with the general-market world.

Finally, I know that God is a God of resurrection. When his people and dreams and institutions go awry, he’ll kill them. Dead. Frighteningly so. And then he will bring them back to life. Why? I’m convinced it’s for the drama. The Lord loves a great story. Especially the true story starring Himself as the hero. So when he kills something, don’t mourn as those who have no hope. And definitely don’t dance on the corpse because that’s just tacky. Mourn a little, then get to work. Down-trends are temporal. But Godward creativity is eternal.

  1. This paragraph has been revised after a reader comment. The original version seemed to overstate the problem. But because Lifeway is continuing online, we can hope editors, authors, and publishers will not be as affected as the physical store-related employees.

‘Why Doesn’t God Just Stop All the Evil in the World?’

“If God is so good, then why doesn’t he just stop all the evil in the world?” Answered. Sort of.
| Mar 19, 2019 | No comments |

Here’s an unexpected side effect of internet “meme culture”: You can kinda use these to start apologetics arguments.1

More words would ruin the point. So I’ll just share the image. I first saw it from my brother, posted by this page.

I once saw a similar meme that justified the problem of evil with a slogan like, “If there were no evil, there would be no Batman.” If someday I manage to re-locate this pixel wisdom, I’ll share it as well.

  1. Side note: Internet memes have basically replaced what we used to call the “Sunday comics.” These were included, at least every Sunday, in objects we called “newspapers.”

If You Didn’t Like That Christian Ministry’s Anti-‘Captain Marvel’ Article, Read This

Christians who don’t get the point of superhero stories must first find the biblical purpose of popular culture.
| Mar 18, 2019 | 3 comments |

Some of you may have read a Christian ministry’s web article that took the movie Captain Marvel to task for (supposed) feminism.1

My friend Cap Stewart kindly yet firmly took the article to task here. Among other issues, he challenged the original article’s lack of simple genre comprehension. The author seems to have lacked some basic familiarity with superhero story “rules” and intentions:

Inexplicably, Morse [the original article author] is conflating the fairy tale fantasy and superhero genres. Captain Marvel is not a Disney princess, nor is she trying to be. Her physical abilities are way above and beyond anything a princess—or any woman—could ever do, just as the physical abilities of Captain America are far beyond anything a prince—or a man—could ever do.

When talking about the abandonment of the “traditional princess vibe” (as if that were the standard by which superhero movies should be judged), it’s interesting that Morse uses Cinderella and Belle as examples. Disney has recently produced live action versions of both those stories, actually, and in neither of these modern retellings does the princess swap her traditional accoutrements for combat paraphernalia. Morse’s argument here makes no logical sense.

The goal of a superhero movie is not to get people to try flying off balconies or become autonomous vigilantes. No, the goal of the superhero genre is not audience imitation but rather audience inspiration. The virtues and character arcs of superheroes can—and do—motivate us to pursue virtue and character growth ourselves.2

I might suggest the article’s writer also stumbled into a larger pitfall.

Mind you, I want to be fair, and I have not read the author’s entire body of work on subjects relating to popular culture.

At the same time, I generally find this true:

  1. Christian tries to engage a story or song from human popular culture.
  2. Christian gets criticism (harsh or rational), because he hasn’t shown basic familiarity with the story’s genre or intent.
  3. Very likely, the Christian has not biblically worked out the purpose of human popular culture in the first place.

I try to go over this in the article Christians, Please Stop Warning Against Human Popular Culture Until You Know What It’s For:

Entertainment is never “just entertainment.” The apostle Paul says to take every thought captive, and this must include thoughts relating to the stories and human creations we enjoy.

But the Christian leader who challenges popular culture “consumption” needs to say more than, “Popular culture is harmless, but you should love Jesus more than entertainment.”

He needs to show how loving Jesus transforms our view of entertainment—or rather, stories, songs, games, and beyond.

He needs to allow for the fact that some Christians are not passive about these popular works; in fact, we can be very proactive and thoughtful about human stories and songs (in biblical ways or otherwise!).

Christian leaders need to stop using words like “consume.” This makes us imagine some unthinking, careless gorging of one’s self, all alone in a dark living room, complete with fake-cheese snacks and a flickering TV screen. Why not instead try words like “engage,” “take captive,” “redeem,” or even “avoid based on personal scruples” about any particular story/song/game?

He may also try the word recreation—a far more biblical framing than “entertainment.”

Why not frame this topic in a biblical worldview, rather than use the world’s language?

Why not discuss popular culture—human stories and songs—in terms of human creativity being a gift from God? The way some pastors talk, popular culture is some alien (even if “harmless”) thing unrelated to God. But if God gives this gift (of popular culture-creation), then He, not us, defines the terms of how the gift is best used—to glorify Him, to guard against idolatry, and to make sure we get the most joy out of using the gift in the ways He has prescribed.

Why not explore how Jesus has built the work-rest rhythm into the universe, starting right in Genesis 1? Why not consider how stories and songs are part of being human, whether they’re shared around a campfire or enacted on your tablet screen? Why not allow the possibility that Scripture seems to allow—that we will create cultural works in eternity?

I would even go so far as to suggest that if the Christian leader cannot allude to the biblical view of recreation, or articulate this view in his body of work somewhere, he probably ought not talk about culture or popular culture at all.

No, I don’t mean that every Christian ought to become as I am, reviewing novels, movies, and anime, and often hanging out with Christian folks who like doing the same.

But Christian leader, pastor, or teacher: if you can’t show that you know what popular culture is for in the first place, using biblical anthropology, I honestly struggle to listen seriously when you only warn against popular culture.3

  1. Rumors of Captain Marvel‘s supposed radical feminism have been grossly exaggerated. If anything, adding even some preachy feminism could have given the story more substance and direction.
  2. Cap Stewart, “Captain Marvel, Disney Princesses, and the ‘Feminist Agenda,’CapStewart.com, March 15, 2019.
  3. E. Stephen Burnett, “Christians, Please Stop Warning Against Popular Culture Until You Know What It’s For,” Speculative Faith, Nov. 6, 2017. See also “When Pastors Criticize Popular Culture,” Speculative Faith, Aug. 24, 2017.

April 2019: Lorehaven Magazine Comes to Teach Them Diligently!

Lorehaven Magazine is an official exhibitor at Teach Them Diligently, April 11–13.
| Mar 15, 2019 | 1 comment |

Lorehaven Magazine is an official exhibitor at Teach Them Diligently next month in Wacoo, Texas.

The weekend homeschool conference starts Thursday, April 11. It ends Saturday, April 13, all at Waco Convention Center.

Lorehaven finds truth in fantastic stories. Our free magazine reviews the best Christian-made fantasy, sci-fi, and other speculative novels. New issues release every quarter.

Print magazines are only available at special events, such as the Teach Them Diligently conference. We also plan to have free information and resources for homeschool parents and students.

Lorehaven lists every Christian-made fantastical published novel in our online library. We work with Speculative Faith to explore truth and fantasy for God’s glory. We organize book clubs. Our mission: to serve fans in the Church—anyone who loves and worships Jesus as we explore his gift of fantastical imagination.

Four Doctors React to That ‘Scientists Reversed Time’ Story

What would the Doctor think about news media comparing puny human simulations to his mighty TARDIS?
| Mar 14, 2019 | 1 comment |

Scientists reversed time! Scientists built a time machine! Scientists assembled a real-life Infinity Gauntlet!

All right, I made up that last one. But news writers made up the first two phrases, for at least two news sites.

Here are the actual headlines, in relative order of absolute silliness in proportion to the publication’s seriousness:

This is the kind of stuff that keeps me (1) skeptical of clickbait media, (2) skeptical of scientists. Though to be fair, in this case, the scientists may not have ever thought to claim their experiment “rivals Doctor Who’s TARDIS.”

All this is plain clickbait. I’m not some great genius to have determined these were clickbait, before I guffawed and clicked the first headline.

The Sun, third paragraph: “artificially created a state.” Next ‘graph: “rudimentary quantum computer.” Later: “evolution program.”

It’s a computer simulation. That’s all.

Sure, it’s complex. And it’s surely to the tribute of God’s image reflected in these brilliant researchers.

But journalists jumping to “IT’S LIKE THE TARDIS IN DOCTOR WHO” is just plain silly. So I think we can react to it in like fashion. Such as:

Secular YA May Fade, But Fantastic Christian Fiction Will Live On

Print is back. Secular YA writers are destroying one another. Meanwhile, Christian fiction is slowly rebooting.
| Mar 13, 2019 | 2 comments |

I’ll risk this prediction: Within one a generation, print fantasy novels1 will be Christian fiction’s default genre.

As opposed to, say, the modern assumption that “family fiction,” or “inspirational” fare, is Christianity’s default genre.

I’ve written about this a lot, and needn’t rehash all the reasons here. But two more reasons just entered my news feed.

First, why did I specify print fantasy?

Because, as Michael Kozlowski at GoodEReader.com notes, “Our love affair with ebooks is over.”

2

Independent bookstores are the places where you drop in for the latest paperback, listen to a reading from a favorite author or find a unique gift for a unique friend. And they’re thriving. According to the American Booksellers Association, its membership grew for the ninth year in a row in 2018, with stores operating in more than 2,400 locations. Not only that, sales at independent bookstores are up 5% over 2017.

Meanwhile, sales for ebooks are completely stagnant. Ebook sales have slipped by 3.6% in 2018 and generated over $1 billion dollars. This is a far cry from 2015 when the format made over $2.84 billion dollars. Meanwhile hardback and paperback book sales grew by 6.2 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively.

In one generation, some enterprising businessperson will get a loan, and church support. She or he will open a new kind of Christian bookstore. Maybe it’ll be a little bit “hipster.” It may be a bit strange. It will have definite (and kinda happily cliche) Lewis/Tolkien references. They’ll probably host Bible studies and serve expensive coffee. And it will take off like a privately financed space rocket.

Would this owner embrace (rather than fear) the inevitable “underground” culture that Christians will no doubt inhabit in one generation? If so, even better. Behold your indie-run Christian speakeasy! Here you can read fantastic stories and debate theology. Maybe you can even poke godly fun at the ruling sexual-revolutionaries.

Second, why did I specify Christian fiction?

I think the Christian label will change definitions, because I think Christian fiction, by Christians, by name, has a great chance of escaping the “it’s bad” and “it’s restricted by rules” assumptions people have long believed about it.

By contrast, if we still believe the notion that only Christian fiction is full of can’t-say-this, can’t-say-that rules, we’re out of date.

In fact, it’s the religious devotees of Progressivism who are putting together legalistic rules. Some of these are so strict and so bad that they may make your (mythical) no-cussing, no-dancing, KJV-Only great-grandpa look like a bar-hopping louse.

We’re seeing this more frequently reported. I last wrote about this after the sad Amelie Wen Zhao situation. More recently, I caught this New York Times column from Jennifer Senior: “Teen Fiction and the Perils of Cancel Culture.” But it’s this newsletter, from YA writer Jesse Singal, that best collects the raw and anonymous examples from the worst of these new religious thought police.

Those writers who reached out from secure positions within YA or other genres were adamant that they not be named, that they sensed a real threat to their careers in the possibility of getting sucked into one of these outrage-vortexes — even by simply criticizing YA Twitter publicly. . . .

This came in from a published YA fantasy author:

I’m sending you this because I believe the community needs to change. It’s destroying itself. What started out as, in my opinion, an important effort to diversify books for children has become embroiled in far too much public grandstanding and private backstabbing. Debut authors — the targets of a majority of the latest call outs — do not have the industry or social clout within the community to push back or, really, to even recover career-wise from cancelling their books. It’s even more difficult when they are marginalized people themselves.

People in the YA community obsess over “receipts.” They keep screenshots of conversations just in case they ever need to publicly destroy someone. Carefully cultivated public personas are common. If secrets are a form of currency, then coming off as a friendly person is intended to get people to open up to you. It is an industry where a lot of people have “allies” instead of “friends” and they are perfectly willing to throw those people under the bus in order to maintain social clout within the community. The people who do value friendships are the quiet ones. We’re not here to grandstand. We’re here to write books.

But what you see on YA Twitter is, really, just what they’re willing to put out in public. The private stuff is very personal and it cuts very deeply. In this industry, you have to be careful who you open up to, because you never know when the details of your life are going to become gossip fodder.

If any Christian fan thinks his/her next favorite story could never come from Christian publishers, and so they should just strike off into the secular fantasy fields—well, I’m afraid they will need to contend with the gruesome foe of Progressivism and/or YA Twitter.

Perhaps it’s not impossible to conquer. Example: a fan or author could start by simply staying off YA Twitter and refusing to play this game.

God bless and Godspeed to the many faithful fans and creatives who are called into the secular-fantasy mission fields.

But, for those so called, why not also try joining the inevitable fantastic reboot of Christian-fiction-by-name?

Christian fiction’s fantasy reboot is slow, but certain.

Where Christian fiction survives, it’s experimenting. Authors are testing waters. So are publishers.

Indie vendors, like the Realm Makers Bookstore, are taking fantastical-genre books directly to new fans.

The stories are improving. They’re going places other stories, including secular YA fantasy, simply can’t go.

Especially if those other stories end up getting stuck in YA Twitter Hell. Or limited to particular authors, who manage to land perfectly at the exact intersectional vertices that are trending that month. Or focused exclusively on whatever sexual weirdness happens to be poking all the “right” hashtags.

If there’s anything fantasy fans should know, it’s that amazing things can happen. Time can bend back on itself. You can find alternate worlds in the weirdest places. Not the expected places.

Based on this, my prediction is crazily simple. I say those future fantastic worlds will best be found in future-Christian bookstores, and future Christian-labeled novels.

And I can’t wait to share these future-generation stories with my grandchildren.

  1. I often use fantasy as a catch-all term to describe fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, horror, magic realism, steampunk, and any fantastical genre.
  2. As a few readers have pointed out, it appears ebook sales are mostly slacking if they’re released by traditional publishers. Many independent authors say their ebooks are still doing very well.

Captain Marvel: Fun, But Not Phenomenal, and That’s Okay

Captain Marvel is just a fun movie, so let’s not pretend it is some wonderful/terrible “woke” story.
| Mar 12, 2019 | 1 comment |

You’ve heard all the fuss over Marvel’s Captain Marvel and feminism. Given all that, I expected at least some ultra-feminist stuff in the actual movie.

Instead, the movie only delivered a few male characters making lewd remarks, which hardly even hurt our hardy heroine.

Plus we got one reference to women being kept out of combat situations.

Plus we got a quick montage of our heroine picking herself up after, say, a go-kart wreck, or a baseball stumble.

If that’s “woke” feminism or progressive propaganda, then this “culture war” should be a cinch.

Quips don’t help us invest in character growth

I must say, the film, stumbles a lot in trying to achieve two contradictory goals.

First, Captain Marvel wants to show us fighter-pilot-turned-alien-commando Carol Danvers, consummate tough girl, offering versions of ’90s-action-movie-tough-hero smirk-‘n-quips.

But second, the movie also wants to show us this story: “Here is a person whose emotions were trained out of her and who must recover this to become truly strong.”

Problem: we have to be told by exposition or other characters about this progression. Unfortunately, Danvers (Brie Larson) never persuasively shows us this progression. At the movie’s start, she’s smirk-‘n-quipping and throwing proton punches. At the movie’s end, she’s still smirk-‘n-quipping, and throwing larger proton punches, while also flying.

The smirk-‘n-quips stay the same no matter what stage of the journey she is. And this may be a result of writing or direction, not Larson herself. She could really take off as a fun character in Avengers: Endgame (the same way Natasha Romanoff took off in The Avengers).

Stop this endless fandom war

Mind you! I enjoyed the movie. It’s a fun rollick. It was similar to the “just for fun and characters” intents of Thor: The Dark World or Ant-Man and the Wasp.1 Clearly its makers didn’t truly mean the film to be a great ode to feminism.

It does not try to show even a surface-level view of a human problem, like Tony Stark’s struggle with PTSD in Iron Man 3.

It also does not attempt to break ground for the genre while still following the general Marvel film tradition, such as Captain America: The Winter Soldiers or Avengers: Infinity War.

But if the film didn’t even give us this much–why for have we been having all this fandom fighting?

At Speculative Faith last week, I tried to explore why fans turn against their favorite franchises. This article was inspired by the Captain Marvel debacle. But honestly, the backlash against Captain Marvel makes little sense. By contrast, the backlash against Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi makes more sense. Unlike that film, Captain Marvel brings back fan-favorite characters and doesn’t mock them.2 It’s not trying to “subvert” fans’ expectations.

What about actress Brie Larson’s comments that seemed to demean men?

Well, I can understand any fan feeling put off, after any actor goes out in front of her/his movie and says something like, “This story isn’t meant for you.” It’s hard to feel welcomed after that.3

At the same time, it seems clear that Larson, or someone, felt the movie needed some kind of Big Social Meaning. But now this can be shown as the remedial measure that it was. Why? Because the movie, frankly, didn’t share this Big Social Meaning on its own. Instead, this Big Social Meaning had to be provided from outside.

That should invite Marvel fans’ sympathy and perspective–not our automatic mockery and boycottery.

It’s just a movie. And that’s okay.

Discerning viewers can enjoy this for what this is.

But let’s not set up Captain Marvel to be something its makers clearly never (seriously, anyway) meant for it to be.

  1. Unlike some Marvel fans, I defend every movie in the franchise. For example, fans often call Thor: The Dark World one of the worst Marvel movies. That’s absurd. It’s not the worst, certainly not craft-wise. Whereas Ant-Man and the Wasp frankly offers some bizarre editing and suffers as a result. But even that movie isn’t trying to be some great artful achievement.
  2. Captain Marvel doesn’t mock its characters, yes. Spoiler here. One possible exception: the film shows the very silly reason Nick Fury got his eye scar. It also literally pictures an alien cat-creature swallowing one of the most powerful objects in the universe, an Infinity Stone, and then hawking it up on Nick Fury’s desk.
  3. By contrast, the makers and actors of Black Panther invited everyone to the world and challenging themes of Wakanda. Sure, the film and marketing paid special attention to black viewers. That makes perfect sense, especially given the fact that the movie was literally set in Africa. But the movie’s marketing offered a tone of inclusive joy. I felt welcomed in enjoying and talking about the movie. Still do.

Realm Makers Bookstore, March 2019: This Is the Greatest Show

Here come more photos from our fantastic weekend at Realm Makers Bookstore in Fort Worth.
| Mar 11, 2019 | 1 comment |

Continuing from Friday, here come more photos from our fantastic weekend at Realm Makers Bookstore in Fort Worth!

We hosted the bookstore March 7 through 9 at Great Homeschool Convention.

Gillian Bronte Adams (The SongKeeper Chronicles series) signs another copy of Orphan’s Song for a fan. We wrote: “A classic medieval fantasy setting populated with archetypes that somehow feel fresh and vigorous.” (Get the full review exclusively from Lorehaven.)

 

I met an old acquaintance from NarniaWeb.com: Joshua Casey, otherwise known as “PeterPevensie”!

 

 

“Studies show that having a WEIRD MOM builds character.”

 

At our booth neighbor, Rabbit Room, I met novelist Jonathan Rogers (The Charlatan’s Boy, The WilderKing Trilogy). Rogers has written two articles (this one, and this one) for Speculative Faith.

 

I met novelist N. D. Wilson! He’s written young-adult fantasy such as the 100 Cupboards series and Outlaws of Time. He also writes doctrine-beauty nonfiction titles like Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. Later, he stopped by the Realm Makers booth to explore our many similar fantastical titles.

 

Rebecca P. Minor sketches some kawaii unicorns . . .

 

Many fans picked up Orphan’s Song and the rest of The SongKeeper Chronicles series from author Gillian Bronte Adams.

 

Gillian Bronte Adams chats with one of our Realm Makers Bookstore visitors.

 

From left: fantasy novelists Claire Banschbach (The Rise of Aredor series, The Faeries of Myrnius series), Mollie E. Reeder (The Electrical Menagerie), and Gillilan Bronte Adams (The SongKeeper Chronicles series).

 

Our Lorehaven Magazine reviewer enjoyed Mollie E. Reeder’s novel The Electrical Menagerie. We wrote: “. . . Magicians’ rivalries are backlit by murder, and the characters, scenery, and action are so well-drawn that the experience of reading this novel feels more like watching a movie.” (Get the full review exclusively from Lorehaven with a free subscription.)

 

Our two pioneering Realm Makers themselves: Rebecca P. Minor and Scott Minor.

 

This little girl loved the two figurines (Martin Luther and a Christian soldier) featured in the Lorehaven Magazine area.

Later this month, Realm Makers Bookstore heads to Greenville, South Carolina, from March 21 to 23. The bookstore then visits Nashville from March 28 to 30. Next month, the bookstore will feature at Great Homeschool Convention’s event in Cincinnati.

If you’re in the area, head for the Duke Energy Convention Center! The conference runs from Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27.

Or, you can order books any time from the website. They list Christian-made fantasy and sci-fi titles from more than sixty Christian authors—including many we’ve positively reviewed in Lorehaven Magazine.

Live at Great Homeschool Convention in Fort Worth!

Today and Saturday, I’m helping to share fantastic, Christian-created stories at Realm Makers Bookstore.
| Mar 8, 2019 | 2 comments |

Today and Saturday, I’m helping to share fantastic, Christian-created fantasy, sci-fi, and other novels at Realm Makers Bookstore.

We’re live at Great Homeschool Convention in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.

I’m sharing photos on Instagram and on my Facebook profile.

Stop by and find an amazing novel—and learn more about Lorehaven Magazine’s mission to help Christians find truth in fantastic stories.

Setting up for day 2.

I stopped by another booth to say hello to Dr. Jay Wile, who has spent decades writing great science textbooks for homeschool students.

Every Lorehaven issue is available online to (free) subscribers, but we also make print copies available at events.

Christian Fans Must Respond with Maturity to Fictional Magic

Should Christians read stories with fantasy magic? What about parents or leaders who have forbidden this?
| Mar 7, 2019 | No comments |

Today I’m headed to Great Homeschool Convention in Fort Worth, Texas!

Through Saturday, March 9, I’ll aid the cause of Realm Makers Bookstore. These fine folks help share Christian-made fantastic novels with new readers nationwide.

At the Realm Makers booth, we’ll offer copies of Lorehaven Magazine. (I publish Lorehaven, which debuted last year.) Here’s another excerpt from our fall 2018 issue. In this Roundtable feature, several fantasy fans and I explore a favorite topic: the beauties and risks of made-up magic in fantastical novels.

First we began with a working definition of fictional magic:

“Fictional magic is defined as a work of fiction that includes supernatural or miraculous events, or practices, that are not common to our real world. These events or practices can have different origins—such as power from a divine source, specially gifted humans, or a series of different natural laws that humans (or human-like characters) can use for different purposes.”

1. How have you, as a fan, viewed fictional magic?

I can’t remember a time of ever being tempted to sin because of fictional magic.

Marian Jacobs

Marian Jacobs: I have always viewed and engaged with magic as merely fictional and fun. I can’t remember a time of ever being tempted to sin because of fictional magic. That said, my views have changed after I’ve met more fantasy fans who have found this tempting. Although I still think censorship of magic in literature, games, etc., is a poor solution to a heart problem, I’m a little less baffled by parents who remove all fictional magic from their home.

Robert Treskillard: As a reader and as a fan, I work hard to think of non-occultic magic in terms of an ancient way of trying to understand things that were beyond their time. As such, I try to not worry any more about it than I might new technology in a sci-fi novel. This allows me to read more broadly than I write because as an author I have my own detailed approach and opinions on the subject.

Does [a TV show or movie with magic] show the triumph of good over evil? Does it show the hero wielding magic with “honor”?

Ronie Kendig

Ronie Kendig: My mother, wanting to honor God in all she did and the children she raised, didn’t allow us to see movies like ET or Star Wars. And I have no grudge against her for that because she sought to honor God in every aspect of her life. Now, my approach to magic systems that I read and create is that as long as I am not going against God’s word, then I am okay. For TV or movies with magic systems, I look at the source of that magic and its purpose. Does it show the triumph of good over evil? Does it show the hero wielding magic with “honor”?

Growing up, my parents made sure we didn’t do occultic things such as playing tarot cards or calling Dionne Warwick.

—Parker J. Cole

Parker J. Cole: I really didn’t start to have an opinion of magic in anyway until I got into various Christian circles. Growing up, my parents made sure we didn’t do occultic things such as playing tarot cards or calling Dionne Warwick. I knew as I watched TV and movies, I could never do the magic like in the most fabulous movie Willow. I knew I couldn’t fly on brooms or sprinkle fairy dust like Tinkerbell. Why? Because my parents told me Santa Claus wasn’t real, that we went to the Lord for any request, and that there was no such thing as magic. That’s why, when I read stories of magic, I was able to divorce any sort of reality from it.

2. How do you respond to your parents’ views of fictional magic?

Christian fans absolutely need to respond in [a] mature way . . . to the parents or other authority figures in their lives who have forbidden things from them.

—E. Stephen Burnett

ESB: Many of our readers may empathize with the memory of being taught, from childhood, that such things are either suspicious or downright evil. Ronie and Parker, you’ve both shared a very mature response to this, even if you’ve grown in your own grown-up-level approach to fictional magic. I suggest many Christian fans absolutely need to respond in this mature way, as you both have, to the parents or other authority figures in their lives who have forbidden things from them.

If we can accept that fictional magic is messy—and not all helpful or harmful—then we ought to say the same thing of parents of spiritual authority figures.

Parker: You have to come into your own relationship with Christ. My parents were just honest about it. I respect what they did teach us because it gave me a foundation in how to respond. Sure, my response has changed over the years because I’ve heard different things and can lean toward certain aspects with a bit of freedom than I could as a kid. But mom and pops were just doing the best they could with what they knew. Most parents do.

Marian: Growing up, my parents didn’t intentionally teach critical thinking about magic. I was pretty much allowed to watch anything I wanted on TV. But I was still able to glean that there is a difference between fictional magic and magic in the Bible from simple comments about Ouija boards being evil. That was enough for me to steer clear, since I wasn’t tempted by power.

My husband’s parents did censor magic in their home, and I would never say their reasons are “dumb.” They simply think it’s confusing for children and teaches them that evil magic is “fun.” I can respectfully and empathetically disagree with them.

Ronie: Crowd mentality is powerful, so I am glad for the example my mother set to measure what she did and didn’t do against the word of God. My approach to reading and watching is this: I look at the magic’s source, I look at its use in the story, and the motivations of the characters in using that system.

I only have respect for all the other parents out there even if they made different decisions than my wife and I did.

—Robert Treskillard

Robert: We really are all coming from different backgrounds. I grew up very ignorant of Christianity with about every other religion represented somewhere in my extended family. I also came from a divorced home and had little guidance on anything growing up because my mom worked and went to school. Needless to say I got into a lot of trouble and didn’t come to faith until I was fifteen. Yet here I am a now empty-nesting homeschool father who had to flip and figure out how to parent my kids in this confusing world. I only have respect for all the other parents out there even if they made different decisions than my wife and I did. We’re all just muddling through doing our best. We used to unconsciously think that if we followed the right “formula,” our kids would turn out well, but we’ve learned that there is no formula. God has us all on a bit of a wild ride and we just need to hold onto him, like Lucy holding onto Aslan’s mane.

Read the rest of this Roundtable discussion in Lorehaven Magazine’s fall 2018 issue.

You can also subscribe for free and get access to every issue. That will include the March 2019 issue out later this month.

Lorehaven serves Christian fans by finding biblical truth in fantastic stories. Book clubs, free webzines, and a web-based community offer flash reviews, articles, and news about Christian fantasy, science fiction, and other fantastical genres.