On May 10, see the story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s early life, and how it inspired the legendary creation of Middle Earth:
Here’s a pair of books on four men of the 20th Century that still speak to us today: Churchill and Orwell and A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War. Not one of them was a talking head or armchair expert. Each was a veteran of one or more of the century’s — and mankind’s — worst wars.
Winston Churchill warned there was no appeasing totalitarian governments. Evil regimes only ceased their scourge when facing a people who refused to surrender. Churchill’s prophetic voice was nearly ignored in this, and of what the world was to become in the Cold War. Flaws and all, he reached a level few “leaders” today can approach.
George Orwell experienced in the Spanish Civil War that all totalitarian governments were indistinguishable — whether fascist or communist — in their aims and results. His politics were polar opposite of Churchill’s, but they arrived at the same truths through life, not hypothetical debate. His books Animal Farm and 1984 emerged from those experiences, becoming timeless warnings that wherever power existed, abuse of that power would occur.
After surviving the trenches of World War I, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien became academic scholars. While their contemporaries were writing dismal books on the dark future of humanity, Lewis and Tolkien refused to give in to such defeatism. They eschewed the materialistic and naturalistic philosophies that had brought the world to its knees, and were also being used to paint a future of darkness for humanity. Their fantasy novels were more than fairy tales — they unveiled the hope and the Story that had been gifted to men and women — and that Evil could be crushed.
Out of a dark age came these bright lights. We would be dangerously amiss to snuff them out.
What if you could enter someone’s dreams? Inside their dreamworld you would discover their greatest fears. You could use their darkest secrets against them.
This darkness you found now wielded as a weapon to kill.
In Morgan L. Busse‘s Mark of the Raven, Lady Selene has been gifted as a dreamwalker. The eldest daughter in the House of Ravenwood, she has inherited what generations of women in her family before her have also known. All seven Great Houses of the realms have differing giftings, but her mother teaches Selene the purpose of hers.
She is to become an assassin for hire and serve the dark schemes of her mother.
I have read many books where the Light and Darkness face off. Usually the characters are either-or: Either bad, or good. In Raven, we see Lady Selene struggle with what is apparently her fate. She believes she has no choice. It’s not clear, even when faced with the Light, if she will, or can, veer off the path she was born into. Morgan Busse tells Selene’s story of struggle with the depth that will resonate with people in the real world. And that’s what makes fiction like this a powerful force:
Among the fantastic, truth is revealed. Reality in the midst of fantasy.
Not coincidentally, I’m sure, I had just finished Lacey Sturm’s telling of her real-life story in The Reason. Surrounded by the Darkness she nearly gave in, but she to encountered the Light and had to make a choice. Lady Selene’s world may be fiction, but it is a story many find themselves in.
Darkness can feel honest, and honesty can be beautiful and feel so inspiring. But darkness stops short of resolution. It’s deceptive. You can’t see all that lurks within darkness. The things that inhabit darkness live there because you can’t see them; that way they can deceive you, pervert you, and ultimately destroy you from the inside out…The deception is evil in the sense that if we don’t stop it, it will kill us. – Lacey Sturm
Before Lacey Sturm became a platinum-selling musician (the former lead singer and cofounder of Flyleaf), she nearly ended her life. In a time where so many people seem to be adrift, and think they have no way out, here is one woman’s amazing story on finding purpose, on defeating the Darkness. The Reason is a book you’ll finish without putting it down.
If you follow my Facebook page, you know I post links to some interesting articles around the web. Here’s a round-up of some recent favorites:
Have trouble finding time to read? Are you optimizing your reading time? What are you reading goals? Why You Need a Reading Plan will answer those questions and set you on a life-long adventure of reading.
In Reading The Great Books Well Should Transcend Moralism, Ramona Tausz asks, “Can books change you? Can they make you a better person? Most importantly, will you let them try?” Learn from the Great Books.
Find out if you suffer from Tsundoku, the practice of buying more books than you can read. Is this a bad thing?
Read the troubling, A Third Of Teens Haven’t Read A Single Book In Past Year, which writes:
Many [teens] simply don’t have experience delving into long-form texts. Learning to do so is imperative…as it lays the groundwork for developing critical thinking skills and understanding complex issues…
“Think about how difficult it must be to read even five pages of an 800-page college textbook when you’ve been used to spending most of your time switching between one digital activity and another in a matter of seconds.”
This month, Mars moves into the best position for observers on Earth since 2003. What Mars book are you reading to welcome the Red Planet?
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
“Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.
“Orwell feared we would become a captive audience. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
“Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
“As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.” – Neil Postman
[Full disclosure: This is an interview with me, by me. Yes, you read that right…]
Today we are talking with writer Darrick Dean, author of the Watchers of the Light historical fantasy series. He has graciously taken time out of his busy schedule to answer a few quick questions on his books and writing. Thanks for joining us tonight, Darrick, ready to dive in?
Good to be here. Let’s give this a go.
Q: So, fantasy stories are often set in other realms or alternate realities, but the Watchers of the Light is set in our own modern world. There is a catch, however. Not all myth is fiction. Can you tell us more about this premise?
A: I wanted to really blur the line between reality and fantasy, so I took some historical elements, and overlaid bits of myth and legend. Of course, another facet is that legend often has remnants of truth in it. Take the core of the Iliad — the Trojan War and the siege of Troy — turned out to be true. So did the Viking Sagas detailing voyages to America, and so on. Now the reader is left wondering where fact ends, and fiction begins, while being drawn deeper into the story.
Q: Among the Shadows has an archetypal villain, the shadowmancer Ahriman. What kind of threat will the Watchers face in Awakening?
A: Ahriman is largely a puppetmaster, controlling everything from afar. He isn’t overly complex in his motivations, but is certainly malicious and powerful. His past his only hinted at, which leaves an opening for future stories. In Awakening, we encounter a different sort of enemy. Darkness pervades her as well, but her story is more complex, her motivations more faceted.
Q: In the first book, much of the story centers around Ethan and his family, all gifted with different abilities. Does the focus change in book 2?
A: The plan was always to give all the characters substantial roles, but to shine the light a little more on different people in each book. In Awakening we see that happening, including bringing to the forefront a person who was just hinted at in book one. She was a bit mysterious, bookending the first story, but here we find her in the thick of things. Also, with the establishment of the characters out of the way, I think we will see them grow more and be more comfortable in their chosen paths.
Q: Among the Shadows certainly was influenced by traditional fantasy in the sense of creatures and battles and searching for lost relics. Will the story continue down this path?
A: A little, but I want to move the needle just a bit. Not only don’t you want your plots identical, making some subtle changes in the atmosphere keeps things fresh. I like how the Mission Impossible films use different directors to give each film a slightly different look, yet still keep them in the same continuity. Not jarring change, but they avoid a same-old feel. Awakening has creatures and battles for sure, but there is an Edgar Rice Burroughs influence here. Think lost worlds and kinetic action. More crisp and tactile.
Q: What’s the best part of writing these stories?
A: Seeing them come alive on their own. Sooner or later in writing a story, people and places appear that you didn’t plan for. Character arcs you never outlined form on their own. When an author experiences this, he or she has left writing and entered storytelling.
Q: What’s the hardest part?
A: Editing. First you must find the best parts, the ones that just pop off the page, and compare everything else to them. You cut and delete what no longer works, or never did. Think you can’t delete your amazing words? You will once you realize how much more amazing they can be. First chapters, then paragraphs are refined. Next are sentences. Then you are down to individual words. Shaping and trimming like a sculptor. Then you’re done. Mostly.
Q: What does the future hold for the Watchers and their adventures?
A: Finishing Awakening is the first goal. Everyone thinks in trilogies these days, and that’s my initial plan as well. That could no doubt change, but this universe will ultimately have self-contained sets of different lengths. Two books I have planned will parallel the Watchers of the Light, and most likely intersect with it. Set in the same world with a different focus. There is a clue in Among the Shadows to what beings will be featured in the Servants of the Flame duology. I also plan to put together a collection of shorts — lost tales, deleted scenes — featuring various people we have already met, and yet to come.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to everyone. Where can readers find your book?
I was listening to this podcast concerning how students aren’t ready for college. In particular, what they have read in their educational or personal lives is rather deficient. Instead of offering the best of the best for them to read, colleges instead replace classics with forgettable, trendy books.
So while colleges are falling down on their job of broadening minds and overcoming prejudices — through the abandoning of classical education — what about the student or not going to college? What about the person who doesn’t care about reading the classics or doesn’t think it’s necessary?
As educator and writer Susan Wise Bauer writes, “A classical education is valuable [even] for people who hate Homer.” In her book The Well-Trained Mind, she describes the frustration of employers who are expected to prepare people for life in the world. Many graduates of high school “can’t write, don’t read well, can’t think through a problem.”
Bauer writes that, “A well-trained mind is a necessity” no matter your path in life, and even though a “classical education is not intended to teach all subjects comprehensively,” it is designed to teach us how to learn.
But it goes further than that. There’s something deeply fascinating about reading books that have often endured for centuries. They reveal our past and our history. It allows us to join what Mortimer J. Adler named the “Great Conversation” which is the “ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages.”
And there is the rub: Perhaps at no time in history have we had such a widespread hubris in society. We think those who came before us can’t possibly have anything to teach us.
The truth is that we wouldn’t be here without them. They experienced far more great events — and terrible disasters — than we can imagine. Our civilization is built on their millennia of knowledge. We mistakenly believe many of our contemporary issues are new — rarely are they.
Schooling, at all levels, can be very important in achieving your purpose. Increasingly, though, secondary education has lost its way, forgotten its purpose. These institutions that were built on an idea that stretches back to the Middle Ages — Western Civilization’s contribution of the university — is in terrible trouble. However that all may play out, realize this:
Your education, your mind, and where you take them, is solely up to you. “Being smart” is not based on the decision of others, but what you decide to be. Be part of the Great Conversation and rise above fast-food-internet “knowledge.” See beyond the selfish views that act like we are the first to walk the Earth. The voices of our ancestors left many lessons for us. One in particular stands out.
When they forgot what truly mattered in their lives, they lost it all.
I tamed them, made them answer to the Light.
Now evil arises among the sands, in the shadows, and the deep sea. I am Solana, and I will hunt the Darkness, search it out, and call forth the tempest to hurl the demonspawn back into the Abyss.
Among the Shadows: Watchers of the Light Book 1 now available!
[Photo used under license from Shutterstock.com.]