On July 23, I posted a rather curmudgeonly article about an unfortunate “Christian copying” phenomenon, whereby Christians respond defensively (and hysterically) to cultural trends by scrambling to create a parallel Christian anti-culture. On the surface, the anti-culture is indistinguishable from what’s popular in the world, despite the fact that it’s been sterilized and forced into a Christian container. The primary complaint of my article was that this trend badly cheapens and short-changes Christendom’s creativity — which ought to bear the supernatural stamp of the Spirit’s touch.
What sparked this observation was an article at CBN’s Web site about the new Dragons In Our Midst Christian fantasy novels for young adults by author Bryan Davis. It reminded me of (1) the hysterical reaction to the Harry Potter I’ve seen in many Christian circles, and (2) a visit to a Christian bookstore where I saw an embarrasingly obvious Christianized Harry Potter knock-off. In the process of bemoaning Christendom’s “creative rut of reactionism,” I mentioned that Dragons In Our Midst was “ostensibly offered as an alternative to the (pernicious) Harry Potter tomes.”
In making that statement in my July 23 article, I denigrated both the value and originality of Davis’ book without even having given it a read. Bryan e-mailed me shortly after I wrote the article to take issue with how I had characterized his work. In a nutshell, he gently pointed out that I had unfairly lumped him together with the reactionary copying that occurs within Christendom. After reading his e-mail and reconsidering my post, I was forced to concur. So, The MonT-SteR is compelled once again to dine on some crow. Sorry about that, Bryan.
In the interest of setting the record straight, I am reproducing Bryan’s e-mail (with his permission) here in its entirety so that tMR readers can get it straight from the horse’s mouth:
I just read your report about the Harry Potter alternatives. Well done. I agree with your main point wholeheartedly. Please allow me, however, to take issue with how you framed the intent of my book series a “Harry Potter killer.”
I wrote the first book in the “Dragons in Our Midst” series before the first Harry Potter book saw the light of day. This series is not a Christian Harry Potter, so it was not designed to be a response to those books. Since my children enjoy fantasy, I wanted to write a story that would appeal to them without violating my own sense of values or literary excellence. I wasn’t trying to mimic the latest craze or condemn it.
Because the book’s concept was so different, it took eight years to get a publisher to buy into it, and during that time Harry Potter was born and is now in the limelight. It’s not surprising that people believe my books to be an attempt to catch up or react to a secular or pagan success. The people who have read the book, however, see it differently. You’ve seen the CBN review; please allow me quote from another:
“It is not a knockoff the latest bestseller. This book is the real thing. Moral characters, inspirational reading and a one-of-a-kind story line tell me that this is the best YA novel to hit the shelves in a long time.”
Please see the entire review at http://www.crosshome.com/books31.shtml
Rob, again, I think the aim of your report is right on target. But I think you misunderstood my quote and assumed I was talking about Harry Potter. In fact, I was thinking about Lord of the Rings, a story by which all fantasy seems to be measured. The fact of the matter is that I didn’t want to write a copy of anything. I wasn’t trying to catch up or react. I wanted to write something different, a great story for my children that would reflect eternal truths in a memorable way without making the mistakes I perceived in other works of fantasy.
I hope you get a chance to read Raising Dragons, the first book in the series. I’ll be glad to send you a copy. Thank you for wishing the book success.
I welcome further conversation on this subject. I perceive that you are forthright and honest, the kind of person I enjoy conversing with.
And here is my response to Bryan’s e-mail:
Thank you for taking the time to visit The MonT-SteR REPORT and to respond to my last blog post — I’m both surprised and honored!
I think I owe you something of an apology. After reading your e-mail, it’s clear to me that my post was both unclear and lacking circumspection. My intent was not to lump you and your books in with the unfortunate trend of “Christianized copying” that I was lamenting. I certainly didn’t mean to mischaracterize your purpose in writing the books or to denigrate their worth as creative works. My beef was with Christendom at large, which seems all too eager (read desperate) to glom onto anything that has the air of a “Harry Potter killer” — regardless of authorial intent. Unfortunately, this has a negative effect on two fronts:
- It tends to appraise the value of your work (or that any other Christian writer or artist) solely in terms of how effectively it counters mainstream (fallen) culture. This fails to take into account the innate creative worth of the literature you have produced.
- It is symptomatic of a narrow and misguided view of Christian artistry. Why do we create? Is it to make sure we have the Christianized equivalent of whatever the world has, or is it to demonstrate the glory of the Creator? If we make the latter our chief aim, won’t Christian works of art and literature be culturally subversive by nature?
These were the issues I was trying to touch upon in my post. I realize now that in my own eagerness to point fingers, I did the very thing I was complaining about. I glossed over your intent in writing Dragons In Our Midst, and I appreciated your work only because it evinced a Christian framework — not as literature, nor as the creative endeavor of a follower of Jesus Christ who sought to honor Him.
Again, thanks for contacting me. And thanks for the generous offer to send me one of your books. In light of my blog post, however, I think it’s only fair for me to purchase a copy and give it a thoughtful review on The MonT-SteR REPORT. Look for it in the months to come.
In recent days, journalistic integrity has been front and center in the news. I’m not a journalist, but I am a commentator — a Christian one at that. As such, I’m interested in truth. When it becomes obvious to me that my own words do not comport with truth, I have a biblical obligation to admit my error and make it right. Bryan, I hope this is a step in the right direction.
Blessings to all,
aka The MonT-SteR