Tuesday, November 4, 2008

L.B. Graham - The Interview

The fifth novel of “The Binding of the Blade” ends the series. How does it feel to be finished?
Actually, I was finished writing All My Holy Mountain, the last book in the series, in 2006, and it did feel a little surreal. BOTB runs about 2500 pages all told, and it is essentially one big story rather than five individual ones (though I guess the first book could be seen as a sort of prologue to the other four). At any rate, it was a pretty sizable undertaking and it felt almost odd to be finished.

It sounds sizable. When did you start?
Well, I would say that I started working on the series, and by that I mean seriously working on the world-building and story-building, in the summer of 2000. But, that being said, the first seeds for the idea were sown long before that, in the summer of ‘92.

1992 is a long time ago - what happened that summer, or what were the ’seeds’ that were sown that summer?
I was a senior at Wheaton College, studying literature in England on a summer program, and two things collided to create the basic idea for the story. The first was, of all things, a footnote - I know, no one reads footnotes, but I actually do read them, at least sometimes. The footnote
 was in a poetry anthology of W.B. Yeats. The note was about archetypes (not very exciting to some, but to me, really interesting.) Basically, for readers who don’t know what archetypes are, it is the idea that there are universal ideas or images or themes or symbols that carry with them, if you will,
 deeper meaning that add layers of richness to stories, movies, poems, etc…

Like the ‘archetypal hero’ or ‘archetypal villain,’ that kind of thing, right?
Exactly. To use a familiar example, Gandalf is an archetypal “wisdom figure” and Frodo an archetypal “underdog” on the archetypal “quest” with Sam, the archetypal “sidekick” facing long odds against Sauron, the archetypal “villain” and so forth.
Anyway, this particular footnote was about geography. The idea was that geographical regions have archetypal connections in a lot of mythology and stories. For example, “the east” is often associated with spring, with morning, with new growth, with birth, with themes of things rising. “The south” is often associated with summer, with midday, with things in fullness and maturity, with romance, with themes of things having reached their full strength or potential. “The west” is often associated with autumn, with twilight, with things fading, with tragedy a
nd themes of things declining, and “the north” is often associated with winter, with darkness and night, with
 sorrow and desolation, with themes of things lost.
The other seed that collided with this first one was much simpler. It was the famous image from Isaiah 2:4 among other places of swords and spears being broken down and remade into plowshares and pruning hooks. I would call this image, perhaps the archetypal image of peace, of our great hope for restoration.

Those things don’t seem to be connected. How did you put them together?
It didn’t come together all at once, but what I conceived of was a story about a world where the making of weapons essentially represented ‘the Fall,’ or the loss of that world’s innocence and descent into sin and misery. And, on the other hand, the unmaking of weapons was the clearest picture for that world of peace, of things being made new. In short, the symbolic pictu
re from Isaiah of o
ur future restoration became a literal picture in my fantasy world, the picture of their great hope.
So, the Isaiah image became the thematic core of BOTB. The geography archetypes gave the story shape. I decided to structure the series geographically, matching tone and mood and theme and plot elements according to the pattern I outlined above.
Thus Beyond the Summerland took place in the south, was a story of 
romance and summer and things generally going well. The cover shows this summery feel. The story moved in Bringer of Storms to the
 west, in autumn, as things begin to fall apart pretty substantially, and as the world fades quickly into darkness. The stormy motif is portrayed pret
ty well here in that cover.The story then cycles in the next two books through the north and into the east, each representing those archetypes in turn - darkness, night & desolation in winter followed by the slight glimmer of hope that comes with morning, sunrise, spring and things new. The covers for books 3 and 4 below show those seasons too. And then the last book returns to summer, though a different kind of summer, but I’ll leave it at that.

So, those things help to explain some of the specifics of your series, but why fantasy? Did you know even back then in 1992 that you wanted to write Christian fantasy?
Actually, I would just say fantasy. I wouldn’t use the term Christian fantasy.

Why not?
Well, the short version is that I think the adjective “Christian” is one that is properly applied to people, not things like “music” or “fiction” or in this case, “fantasy.” I know what people mean with labels like “Christian fantasy,” I just dislike the implication that Christian fantasy is good, and other fantasy is bad. I think that view is simplistic. Music, stories, movies and other artwork that conveys a message isn’t really divided into two piles - the good and bad. Rather I see them in a continuum. Some stories have lots of truth or good in them, others some, others not so much, and just because the author is a Christian doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with what he or she says or like the story. Likewise, I’ve read some great books by non-believers, who despite their unbelief are people made in the image of God and have created powerful stories.

But isn’t there always something missing in those books, in those stories? Aren’t they always incomplete?
All stories written by finite, sinful human beings will be imperfect, if that is the question. However, just because there are certain things a writer can’t write about well or truthfully because he or she doesn’t believe those things, doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of other things they can and do write about well and truthfully. Stories from nonbelievers can contain beauty and power and truth, and I wouldn’t simply dismiss them out of hand because they come from non-Christians.

More tomorrow!

No comments: