Sunday, March 26, 2017

Character Types: Christ Figures

Welcome back to my monthly post on character types! Today, because it’s so close to Easter, I’m going to be writing about another prominent character: Christ Figures. Unlike with my previous posts, instead of listing their characteristics, I will be going from character-to-character. From popular classics to more obscure fiction, Christ Figures are prevalent. They are often misunderstood by others and their self-sacrifice helps save society/another character, whether physically, morally, or spiritually.

Disclaimer: I’d like to remind my audience that Christ Figures are fictional characters. They should not be regarded as exact representations. Similarly, my views on such characters may differ from that of the reader, but I have done my best to abide by the examples presented in literature and what Scripture tells us about Christ. Because of the nature of this post, some spoilers may be present for The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver, King Lear, and “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.

Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien)

I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan. (As is evident by all references I’ve made in previous posts, my last newsletter, and the yearly marathons I have with friends and family.) But it wasn’t until a fellow author pointed out the roles of Christ Figures in the books that I realized they were there at all. Thank you, Lisa! Unlike most stories, instead of one character filling the role, three portray the different Christ-like aspects.

Gandalf the Gray serves as the prophet, guiding the members of the Fellowship on their quest. He sacrifices himself to save them and comes back as Gandalf the White. He takes on the role that Saruman was supposed to have, helping the folk of Middle Earth by freeing Theodin, guiding hobbits, providing counsel, and fighting against the forces of Mordor.

Frodo serves as the priest, carrying the darkness of the One Ring all the way from the green hills of the Shire to the fires of Mount Doom. Unlike many of the characters in the book, he shows extraordinary resilience to power of the Ring, and even shows compassion to Sméagol, even when he didn’t deserve it. 

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” –Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

Aragorn serves as the king. Like Jesus, he even has a less-than honorable ideal genealogy. One of Aragorn’s ancestors, Isildur had the opportunity to destroy the Ring but took it for his own, earning the Ring another title—Isildur’s Bane. Unlike his ancestor, Aragorn turned away the opportunity to take the Ring, and later went on to help liberate Rohan and Gondor, command an army of the dead, and rule Gondor.

Controversy: Not only are the Christ Figures difficult to identify at first glance, but they are also controversial. While there may be three figures, the Trinity is made up of three figures (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), not three Christs. On the other hand, Frodo ultimately gives in to the power of the Ring, and Gandalf is a wizard.

Perhaps one of the most devastating instances of my fantasy-reading-career was when a lady from my church told me Tolkien couldn’t possibly be a Christian because he wrote about wizards. (See Controversy in Fiction: Magic.) But again, readers should consider that these characters are mere representations, not Christ themselves.

Aslan the Lion (The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis)

Perhaps one of the most well-known Christ Figures, at least among fantasy fans, Aslan is the representation of Christ in the world of Narnia.

“‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver, ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’”

In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, he takes Edmund’s place on the stone table, sacrificing himself and later rising from the dead and defeating the White Witch. But it doesn’t end there. In The Magician’s Nephew, he helps create the world of Narnia; in The Horse and His Boy, he is the protector and the guide throughout Shasta’s journey; and finally, in The Last Battle, he serves as the just judge over the world. In fact, in each of the books, he portrays different aspects of his role.

Controversy: Typically, I haven’t had a problem with the way Lewis portrays Aslan as a Christ Figure. But there is one instance in The Last Battle that has led me to question Lewis’ theology. Not only is the book the most abstract of all the Chronicles, but it is also the most inclusive when it comes to the final judgement.

Emeth, a Caloreme and the servant of the false god Tash, is welcomed into the New Narnia by Aslan. That’s not to say that a Calormene couldn’t follow Aslan, for Aravis does in The Horse and His Boy. In the example of Emeth, readers get the sense that Lewis might have been a Universalist.

“‘But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’”

Jonas (The Giver by Lois Lowry)

While there are Christ Figures throughout Lowry’s The Giver Quartet, I have chosen to focus on the first because more people tend to be familiar with the plot. But I would definitely recommend Messenger (The Giver, #3), if readers are looking for other good examples of a Christ Figure.

Jonas lives in a futuristic world, which at first glance, looks like a utopia. But as the story goes along, he begins to realize his society’s need for somebody to shoulder the memories of the past. Like Christ, he alone carries what society cannot bear to carry. In the end, he even goes out of his way to save Gabe and help his community in a new way.

Controversy: Left by itself, The Giver leaves an open-ended question: Do Jonas and Gabe actually make it to a new society, or do they die in the attempt? And what does their death or their survival mean for Jonas’ potential for being a Christ Figure?

Cordelia (King Lear by William Shakespeare)

This tragedy opens with King Lear telling his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia that whoever claims to love him most will receive the largest of three portions of the kingdom. Cordelia tells her father,

                                    “Good my Lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I
Return those duties back as are fit… 
                      …Haply when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.”

While Goneril and Regan lie and flatter their father, Cordelia is honest, sometimes brutally so, much to her father’s disdain. Like Christ, Cordelia is cast out for being truthful despite her genuine love. According to David Bevington (Complete Works of Shakespeare), Cordelia’s loss of “the world in order to win a better world” parallels Scriptures such as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and Matthew 19:21 and Luke 1:52.

Controversy: Unlike the traditional Christ Figure, Cordelia is female. Similarly, her ultimate death does not save her father physically, though it may have saved him spiritually.   

The Misfit (“A Good Man is Hard to Find” 

by Flannery O’Conner)

This is such a complex story that after having discussions about it in college, I’m still not sure I understand it all. In this short story, not only do readers come to realize that good men are rare, just as only Christ was good, but they also see that it’s not always expected. Even though the Jews waited for the Christ for a long, long time (at least 300 year), when He finally came, they rejected him.

“Jesus thrown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn't committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me… I call myself the Misfit because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”

Controversy: How can a criminal be a Christ Figure? Christ was arrested and crucified for upsetting the spiritual leaders in the Jewish faith tradition, but it’s not the same. What’s more, O’Conner didn’t even intend for her character to be a Christ Figure. This story could be an example of audiences reading too far into the plot and the characters. Or not.

Other notable Christ Figures can be found in The Chronicles of Prydian, The Faerie Queene, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, Messenger, Methuselah’s Gift, The Space Trilogy, A Tale of Two Cities, Tales of Goldstone Wood, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Where the Woods Grow Wild. For the sake of space (and sanity), not every figure could be analyzed.

I’ve heard it said that if you want to know how people view Christ, see how they write about Him. In the end, fictional representations of Christ are also representations of each author’s perspective. (Then you have the whole argument that writers don’t always agree with everything they write.) If readers are looking for a more accurate Christ, I would recommend reading Scripture itself. Nevertheless, Christ Figures often give stories meaningful themes that readers can reflect on for years to come.


Related posts: Controversy in Fiction: Magic, Feminism, and Christian Fiction

Literary references: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis, The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry, King Lear by William Shakespeare, David Bevington’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Conner, The Chronicles of Prydian by Lloyd Alexander, The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Methuselah’s Gift by Mary Elizabeth Edgren, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Where the Woods Grow Wild by Nathan Philbrick.

Let’s chat! Who is your favorite Christ Figure in fiction? (Spoilers welcome with warning! 😊) Who is the most controversial Christ Figure you know of? Are there any major (or obscure; I like obscure) examples I left out?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Writing Book Reviews: Why I Enjoy It

When I first started blogging, I didn’t take book reviews seriously. I thought if I didn’t read them, why should I write them? It wasn’t until I started building my to-be-read (TBR) list with serious dedication that I started reading book reviews. And they helped a lot. But as I read reviews, I thought some of them were lacking in certain elements. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing it’s that if you see something missing, write it yourself. Over time, I came to enjoy writing reviews.

Reading book reviews has made my TBR list explode.

And if other readers could recommend good books, who’s to say I couldn’t do the same? I’m a writer and a reader, after all. Why not combine the two forces and encourage people to read all my favorite books? Besides…

Writing book reviews lets me revisit the fictional worlds.

If reading a good book is wonderful, finishing a good book is bittersweet. Eventually, you reach the end and have to close the book, bidding farewell to characters who have become your friends. Then you must face the real world again. But writing book reviews allows you to crack open that book again and scour the pages for your favorite parts, the best lines, the thrilling plot twists. Sure, not all books receive good reviews, but writing book reviews allows you emphasize all your fan-related thoughts and feelings. Or critical ones if you didn’t like it.

Writing reviews is a great way to give back to authors.

After reading a 300-plus-page book, writing a short 300-word review seems like the least I can do. And yes, authors do read the reviews, although readers may not know it. One time I wrote a review and posted it on Goodreads, and a couple weeks later, the author liked it. I’m sure the author appreciated my compliments, but I was just as thrilled to see that the author herself had paid attention to what I, a reader, had to say. And that was a book I gave 4/5 stars.

Reviews help me discover what I believe.

Although I’m more likely to read a book that receives a higher rating, I’ve learned not to pass up a book just because of a couple bad reviews. Sometimes I might enjoy a book that somebody else hated or visa versa. Opinions are subjective.

When I write a review, I can learn how I feel about a book. Writing reviews is a way for me to discover my voice, discover my opinions, discover my favorite characters and plot points. For example, I may not like dishonest characters, but I like con artists. I find intelligent characters to be some of my favorite. Who knew? I certainly wouldn’t have realized the extent of my preferences had I not written about it.

Writing reviews benefits the author.

Think about how much time it takes to write and publish a book—a year, maybe two or three. Then think about how long it takes to read one—six or more hours, depending on the book and the reader. While this may seem like an unjust balance, it’s the way of the publishing world. In fact, the faster a reader finishes a book, the higher the praise tends to be.

Writing a brief review is just a way to thank the authors for their work and let them know what the readers liked and didn’t like about it. Give some feedback. Share your opinion.

Did you know that good and bad reviews help promote books? While a good book review may let the author know a reader liked it, all types of reviews reflect on the publishing industry as a whole. The more reviews a book receives, the more attention it’s likely to get.

Reviews help other readers find good books.

Not only is it giving the writer feedback, but it’s also a good way to recommend books to the reading community. I’m actually more likely to read a book if it has reviews, good and bad. I like to read the reviews that my friends have written so that I can see if our tastes our similar. If they are, I’m more likely to read a book they recommend.

On the other hand, if nobody I know has read the book, I’ll look for a couple good reviews and hunt down the bad ones. That’s right. I want to know what the book’s flaws are. If the only ones I can find are “it was too long” or “it didn’t hold my interest right away” who cares? I’m more likely to pick up the book then. I like long books, and I have a long attention span.

It’s also fun to follow my favorite book bloggers. If you like the reviews I’ve written, be sure to check out some of theirs:

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to come back next month for some tips on writing reviews of your own! 


Let’s chat! If you write book reviews, what’s your favorite part about it? If you haven’t written them before, would you consider it now?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

7 Reasons I Enjoy Medieval Novels

Last year I wrote a couple posts on genres I liked and didn’t like. Today I’m here to continue and write about the Middle Ages and the qualities I like that tend to pop up in fiction.

1) The Middle Ages was the time of castles.

One of my favorite parts about living in Europe is visiting all the castles. They’re amazing. The ruined castles are especially amazing because they leave many facts up to the imagination. I like exploring the old towers and along the walls, wondering what they may have been like in their prime. From the River of Time series and The Alliance series to The Lord of the Rings, medieval stories offer just a glimpse of such a time.

2) Old-fashioned methods of transportation were prevalent.

I could do without riding in the seat/back of a wagon. But I completely enjoy horseback riding, which was just about as common in the Middle Ages as walking, if one could afford a horse. It’s not as though I like to show off my equestrian knowledge while writing medieval stories. I just like to able to read a story and get it. And horses are awesome.

Other fascinating modes of transportation include sailing and dragon riding (though the latter is more fantasy-related). Although books with sailing are not limited to the medieval stories, they are certainly interesting.

3) Travel!

Let’s face it, folks in medieval stories tend to travel a lot. While they may not experience jet lag like we do, they know the pains of walking all day and the confusion that comes with meeting people of other cultures. Because I’ve traveled so much in my own life, I can relate a lot with characters who travel. I know what it’s like to experience culture shock and feet so tired I just want to lay down on that uncomfortable hotel mattress and fall asleep. I’ve also gone camping a couple of times, so I know what it’s like to sleep on the ground, much like many characters, especially Frodo and Sam.

Sam: “Everywhere I lie there’s a dirty great root sticking into my back.”
Frodo: “Just shut your eyes, and imagine you’re back in your own bed, with a soft mattress and a lovely feather pillow.”
Sam: “It’s not working, Mister Frodo. I’m never going to be able to sleep out here.”
Frodo: “Me neither, Sam.”

4) Carrying around weapons is (generally) socially acceptable.

Oh, you just got a new crossbow or ancient sword from your ancestors, feel free to carry it around. After all, who doesn’t want to sport a battle ax or a couple throwing daggers? You never know when you might need it.

Today, on the other hand, you can have concealed and carry weapons in some countries while only the military or the police carry weapons most of the time. Sure, it’s good that we live in times of relative peace (depending on where you live), but swords are awesome. One of my favorite things about the Ritterspiele in Germany is that not only do people dress up in medieval garb, but they also sport their weapons.

5) Books from the Middle Ages are AMAZING!

I’m not just talking about books about the Middle Ages but books that were written in the Middle Ages. The first and second editions of Le Morte Darthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the old Bibles. You name it. And they’re so stinking pretty. Scribes had to study handwriting and use their best when writing on parchment. Some books were even gilded, covered in gold for decorative purposes.

While books today are printed to be distributed to a wide audience, books in the Middle Ages were hand-written for a select few. And they were made to last. Paper may be more convenient (and humane) than animal skins, but they don’t last as long.

One of my favorite days from my postgraduate studies when I got to visit the University of Birmingham and view their special collections. We got to transcribe scripts (handwriting) and see illuminated manuscripts. At one point, I even got to touch the pages of a book from the 18th century, “adding my fingerprints” to its long history. Parchment doesn’t feel much different from paper. It’s stiff, but it’s also quite leathery. It’s hard to describe unless you get the chance to feel it for yourself.

Generally, though, you would never ever, ever touch a manuscript except with gloves and special training. We received special permission for a select few books.

6) Medieval stories are packed full of information.

Not only do you learn how people dyed their clothes or how markets were run (because that’s so helpful today), but you can also learn about history.

But I’m more interested in the random bits of information. Like…

Did you know that in the Middle Ages, spiral staircases tended to circle up to the left for defensive purposes? Most swordsmen were right-handed, so the defenders would have more room to wield their swords while the attackers struggled to maneuver around the center of the staircase.

7) Medieval stories make me appreciate the present even more.

To be fair, I still enjoy living in the present day. As much fun as it would be to send a message via hawk or pigeon, it could take forever. Not to mention, it could get lost. Then there’s hygiene. I would probably die in the Middle Ages. After all, it was also the time of the black plague, and that’s not even mentioning what they did with chamber pots. And I thought horse droppings were bad. But I still like reading about how men and women survived and made lives for themselves.

It’s fascinating!


Literary references: Lisa T. Bergren’s River of Time series, L. Nicodemus Lyons’ The Alliance series, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Fellowship of the Ring (film adaptation), Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Let’s chat! What are some of your favorite qualities of the Middle Ages? What’s your favorite era to read about? 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Poem: The Crow and the Heron

The winter world is full of simple beauties. A thick blanket of snow, a perfect day for curling up by the fire and reading. The nip of the wind on your cheeks and the way they warm when you come back inside. A blue sky after days and days of seemingly endless gray.

A heron and a crow standing side-by-side on a frozen pond.

One afternoon, I was out walking our German Shepherd, Pfeffer, when I saw them. Perhaps they were just two birds standing on the ice. But it looked like the heron was taking council, receiving a daily report from the crow. Maybe a bird is just a bird, but a walk can also be an opportunity to live, to discover.

And a poem is never just a poem…

The Crow and the Heron

The crow cawed to the wind,
his voice swallowed up among whispers of change.
The creak of the ice beneath his claws
settled in an answer of sweet silence,
perfect stillness among the white winter world
stained by a single black spot, striking feathers.

The crow cawed to the heron as he glided
onto the lake, to take his perch on the ice
to hear the younger bird’s report.

The crow cawed about the days,
lengthening like a stretching shadow
drawn out by the playful dance of the sun.
Winter will end, the world will wake
up the crawlers, the diggers, the prancers.
It’s time to begin the song of spring.

The crow cawed about the dog,
like a she-wolf in her crouch
new to stalking the neighborhood felines and fowl 
hackles raised and teeth bared
only to lick the gruff hands of her master
who stoops to right a beetle,
on his blue-black wings.

The crow cawed a farewell as the heron took off,
amid the trees, over the red sloped roofs
of the jigsaw puzzle that is the village,
stacked atop one another in one way
until the world is sifted again.


Related posts: In Season, Shadows, and Weird Winter Weather

Let’s chat! When was the last time you made a discovery by catching a glimpse of something simple? How does this poem make you feel?