Editor’s note: Readers of Christian fantasy novels will instantly recognize names like C.S. Lewis and Frank Peretti. A lesser-known but exciting new name rising in this unique genre is Theodore Beale. Today, WND’s Tom Ambrose talks with Beale about the first two books in his “Eternal Warriors” series – “The War In Heaven” and “The World In Shadow” – as well as looking ahead at his upcoming book, “The Wrath of Angels,” and the significance of fantasy in Christian literature.
Question: Theo, perhaps the best place to begin is to explain to our readers who may not be familiar with this genre, what is Christian fantasy?
Answer: Christian fantasy is fantasy fiction written from a worldview constructed around the idea that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of humanity, and is built from the premise that the universe generally operates as it is described in the Bible. Christianity is the starting point, and it lays the basic guidelines for the setting, but it does not dictate the direction in which the tale is told. It shouldn’t, anyhow.
Q: So, how would you differentiate Christian fantasy from secular fantasy?
A: Only in the basic worldview. Secular fantasy actually stems from Christian fantasy, as the father of modern fantasy fiction was a Christian minister, George MacDonald, who published books such as “Phantastes” before Jules Verne or H.G. Wells ever saw print.
While it’s possible to read C.S. Lewis and not pick up on the Christian analogies, my stuff is pretty blatant – but I nevertheless get a lot of e-mail from non-Christian fans who really get into the whole Divine-Fallen war. One fantasy review site even has “The World in Shadow” classified as dark fantasy, which may be why there seems to be a fair amount of crossover from the Anne Rice crowd.
But genre preferences are primarily stylistic, so I think a non-Christian fan of secular fantasy like George Martin or J.K. Rowling is more likely to enjoy my books than a Christian who usually reads more literal fiction such as John Grisham or Tom Clancy.
Q: What prompted you to begin writing Christian novels?
A: I was writing a science-fiction novel signed to Pocket Books at the time I became a Christian. While I still enjoy writing secular fiction, and a fair amount of the short stories on my website are purely secular, at the time I really had a burning desire to devote whatever talent I have to serving God through my writing. You could call it the fervor of the convert, I suppose.
I happened to mention the idea for the “Eternal Warriors” series to my publisher in passing. However, about 10 days after the Bible study to which I belonged prayed about it, the publisher called up and offered to swap two “Eternal Warriors” novels in exchange for the sci-fi book on which I was working. It was totally out of the blue, and needless to say, I leapt at the opportunity.
Q: So your first book was “The War In Heaven.” In that book, you have the fallen angel Kaym trying to recruit the teen-ager Christopher and making the statement: “There are places of power where the spiritual realm and material realm intersect.” This statement seems to me to represent a lot of what you were trying to get at in your book. Yes, no? And also, perhaps you could address where you see some of those places of intersection in real life. For example, your character Kaym goes on to say that the two realms synchronize most strongly in places where worship is taking place.
A: Well, the most important place of power where the two realms intersect is the human spirit. So, yeah, that’s central. But also, if you look at either the biblical concept of principality or the occultic concepts of hauntings, lines of power and what-have-you, there’s definitely an indication that some spirits are more powerful in one physical place than another. That’s a crucial factor in “The Wrath of Angels,” as a matter of fact. There’s a presence to places of worship that even the spiritually numb can sense.
Q: To what extent do the characters in your book draw on people and situations in your own life?
A: [laughs] It was a little awkward when I ran into the girl who was the model for a significant character in “The World in Shadow.” I hadn’t seen her in 10 years and had no intention of telling her about it, but a friend who was with me couldn’t resist letting her know that I’d written a book and she was basically in it. Of course, he left it up to me to tell her of her fate in the story. … I tried to point out the silver lining. At least it was quick and painless!
The pastor who plays a minor role in both books had a much more important role in my own life. It was his series of sermons on Ephesians that really got me thinking about how interesting a Christian novel constructed around this unseen war he was describing could be, and that’s why “The World in Shadow” is dedicated to him. He really does play the drums, by the way.
Most of the supernatural aspects are completely made up, of course. It’s fiction, not a theology course.
Q: One feature of the fallen angels you mention was the blackness of their eyes. It was such a small detail, yet it suggested to me that your awareness of – or experience with – evil beings possibly goes beyond what one might simply read about. Care to comment?
A: Not in detail. It’s true, though, I once had what appeared to be a direct experience with the darker side of the supernatural, an experience that led to my decision to worship and serve Jesus Christ. Through that experience, the reality of the spiritual war that surrounds us became very clear to me. Prior to that point, both the occult and Christianity had been nothing but interesting – but rather dubious – exercises in the hypothetical, as far as I was concerned.
I think the Fallen are very, very angry beings. They know they made the wrong choice, but they’re too proud to ever admit it. So, they get their kicks by taking out their rage on humanity whenever they can. You have to remember, these are the sort of beings who celebrate when a woman drowns her little children – that’s their mindset. One of the things I hate about my own sin is that I don’t want to give those bastards any satisfaction, and yet, I do.
Q: In “The War In Heaven,” your central character, Christopher, was ripe for being used by evil powers. What sort of things in real life do you see as particularly effective at luring young people into evil? For example, there has been a lot of noise made about the “Harry Potter” novels.
“The War In Heaven”
A: I’m not the least bit concerned about Harry Potter, to be honest. To me, the most corrupting idea – and one that is really fostered today – is the notion that the universe revolves around you, the individual. This form of self-centered narcissism is rampant throughout our culture, and it is basically the original Satanic pride. Those who see themselves as gods cannot bring themselves to kneel before Jesus Christ, because to do so is to violate their core self-image. Hedonism, sexual abuse, greed and even violence all stem from the belief that your momentary desire is the only thing that truly matters.
Q: In your second book, “The World In Shadow,” you bring things a little more back to earth with a situation similar to what happened at Columbine High School. The way the characters in your book responded to this situation was fascinating, but I’m wondering what you believe Christians can do today to reach out to kids who may be on the edge of unleashing such horrible destruction on those around them.
“The World In Shadow”
A: Publisher’s Weekly was kind enough to compliment the disturbing way in which the mindset of the murderous teens was described, but that was the easiest part of the book to write. I just remembered what my life in junior high was like and applied it to a high-school setting. I was as horrified as anyone else when the news of Columbine first broke, but there was also a picked-on little seventh-grader inside who couldn’t help thinking, “Good for them – it’s about time somebody did something.”
I don’t think there’s much that adults can do about the sort of constant maltreatment that can trigger violent reactions, but kids certainly can. The problem is that it would take real courage – the willingness to risk your own popularity by defending the unpopular. That’s asking an awful lot of a young girl or boy who’s probably just trying to keep their head above water themselves.
High school is tough on everyone. But it’s not the pretty people or the jocks who are the real problem; it’s the second-lowest crowd on the totem pole. They don’t want to hit rock bottom, so they put a lot of effort into making sure that everyone else has an easy target to aim at.
Q: You have another book coming out, “The Wrath of Angels.” When is it due to be released, will it keep the same characters as in your first two books, and could you give us a hint as to what new adventure you will be taking us on this time?
A: I’m about a third of the way through, so it should be out late 2004. Many of the characters will be familiar, both human and angel, and the scope will be somewhere in between the grand scale of the first book and the local scale of the second one.
As far as a hint, well, I’ve always been intrigued by the way in which God seems to be one step ahead of the Fallen. You know, Satan thinks he’s killed Jesus on the cross, and then gets totally taken off guard by the Resurrection. Or, God’s chosen people are nearly wiped out across Europe, but as a direct result of that atrocity, the state of Israel comes into being for the first time in two millennia.
I think it’s very aggravating for the Fallen. In the new book, Melusine, a temptress who is a regular from the first two books, is pondering this very concept when she amuses herself with a bitter little doggerel:
If best-laid plans of mice and men
Gang oft-agley, what think we then?
Of devils’ schemes that come to pass
And bite us always in the …
One of the things readers have often mentioned is that they like how all of the Divine and Fallen angels have distinct personalities. “The Wrath of Angels” explores their world a little more, kind of like “The Screwtape Letters” with a dash of Metallica.
Q: Theo, thank you for taking the time to talk about your work. Your books are truly excellent and we look forward to seeing more of you in the future.
A: Thank you, Tom. I very much appreciate your kind comments.