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Friday, November 19, 2010

Literary Inspirations

I was asked by a coworker this week what literature has inspired me in my writing of The Gateway Chronicles, and I thought that perhaps the answer to that question might make for an interesting blog post, so here goes...

I have absolutely no hesitation in answering a question like this because I have always been very cognizant of the fact that a hugely important part of writing is the art of imitation. My awareness of this has only been sharpened in recent years as I have taught at a classical school in which there is a definite ideology of learning from the masters that have gone before us. Now, some people balk at this idea in regard to creative writing, and I have (at more than one time) had people recoil in horror and say, "You mean you copy other writers?! Isn't that plagiarism?" To which I have to answer, "Don't be absurd. Of course I don't mean that I copy other writers, but I do strive to emulate and imitate truth, beauty, and goodness as found in my favorite works. But I diverge... let me get back to the matter at hand by listing my strongest literary influences and saying in a nutshell what I have learned from each one (and therefore seek to also do in my own writing).

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis is definitely my oldest inspiration. It was Lewis (via Narnia) that first taught me how to suspend disbelief, and that depth of meaning does not need to be couched in lofty language.
2. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. I read The Hobbit many years before The Lord of the Rings and I love them both in different ways. I think it was the former that taught me that fantasy writing should be clever (the chapter "Riddles in the Dark" impressed me and I often have returned to the book simply to read that chapter over again), and the latter that defined High Fantasy for me and taught me that fantasy literature should also be epic.
3. The Archives of Anthropos by John White were books that I dearly loved. It was through them that I saw how a different spin can be put on another person's idea to create something entirely new, and that it was not plagiarism to do so. (They are very reminiscent of Narnia.)
4. From Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice I learned that the real meat of a story is in compelling, dynamic characters. I was given this book at age 13 and have read it at least once a year ever since.
5. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter helped me to see that fantasy need not be allegorical in order to contain Christian themes, symbols, and messages, and that sometimes the most commercial-looking literature can be the most profound. I also learned from Harry Potter the joy of growing up with characters and that a series of books must be planned from beginning to end before the ink ever hits the page if it is to be a success. (I could also go into the literary alchemy that I learned from reading these books, but I would have to then also give credit to author and "Hogwarts Professor" John Granger).
6. And last, but not least, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Although children's fantasy, I only stumbled upon these books as an adult... and fell immediately in love with them. From them I learned that epic fantasy (ala Lord of the Rings) could also come in a small package. They also reaffirmed everything that I had already learned from all my previous inspirations about the hero of a story: He/she must start out flawed and learn a little something along each step of the way. And although the hero need not be perfect by the end of a tale, the greatest lesson that he/she can learn is how to be selfless and self-sacrificing. Surround this hero with caring, bold, empathetic, loving, and humorous friends, and it should be a formula that works every time.

Well, I realize that I have been long-winded, but I am rather scatterbrained from lack of sleep (self-imposed... but I could not miss the midnight premier of Harry Potter 7 last night!). I hope this has been interesting. I have half a mind to revisit some of these topics in later blogs throughout the course of the year. But for now, to bed!

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