“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” says the writer of Ecclesiastes, somewhat wearily (1:9). As an author I’ve felt a little of that same dejection—after all, who wants their books to be ‘nothing new under the sun’?
Yet when I consider it more closely, I feel grateful for the authors who have gone before me, who have inspired me and expanded my imagination with their fantastical worlds, to the point where I now create worlds of my own. My books are unique, of course. Nobody has yet created my characters or given them a voice. The scenes and plots did not exist before I crafted them. Yet, as a fantasy writer, what I write and how I write it has been influenced by others. Over the course of the next three blogs I will take a look at several great Christian fantasy writers and the influence they’ve had on me, other Enclave authors, and the fantasy genre as a whole.
Myth, Folklore and Modern Fantasy
Fantasy has been around for as long as stories have been told. Tales containing magic are part of the myth and folklore of many cultures. In the 16th century, William Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream where fairies control and manipulate the characters. However, the birth of ‘modern fantasy’ lies in the 19th century, when the Scottish author George MacDonald wrote books such as The Princess and the Goblin , The Princess and Curdie, and At the Back of the North Wind. His writing had an impact on the next century’s great fantasy writers, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
MacDonald’s Impact on Enclave Authors
It also influenced my own generation of writers. Enclave author R.J. Anderson grew up on MacDonald’s stories. In an article about MacDonald’s influence she writes, “MacDonald had an amazingly deft way of weaving faith elements into his fiction in a way that seemed natural to the plot of the story and even enhanced it, while still containing a deeper truth and meaning that even the youngest child reader would find difficult to miss. I love that.” She has also read and re-read the books to her children, showing that MacDonald’s legacy continues into the 21st century.
Chawna Schroeder, whose book Beast releases this month says, “The children’s stories by George MacDonald allowed me to see the possibility of creating my own fairy tales, rather than simply retelling the traditional ones, which would ultimately lead to the creation of Beast.”
First Fantasy written for Adults
MacDonald’s other significant contribution is that he expanded the Fantasy genre to older readers. His book Phantastes, published in 1858, is widely considered to be the first fantasy novel ever written for adults. C.S. Lewis read the book at the age of sixteen and in Surprised by Joy writes, “That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.”
Unlike my fellow Enclavers, I grew up on Dutch fairytales from Het Grote Voorlees Boek. Yet even though I didn’t read MacDonald, I’m still grateful for the influence he had on the likes of Lewis and Tolkien, two writers who have inspired me. I am particularly grateful—as both an avid reader and writer—that MacDonald expanded fantasy to include an adult readership.
And now I’m off to download a MacDonald book. I figure it’s never too late to discover one of the world’s great Christian fantasy writers.
About Joan Campbell
Joan Campbell is the author of The Poison Tree Path Chronicles. The first book of the trilogy, Chains of Gwyndorr, releases this month (the pre-order is available now). The daughter of immigrants from Holland, Joan grew up in South Africa and the themes of discrimination and forgiveness are woven through her writing. She draws inspiration from her country’s vibrant mix of cultures, language, music and folklore. Joan lives in Johannesburg with her husband, two daughters and a Labrador named after one of her favourite characters.
The Poison Tree Path Chronicles Companion Book, Legends of the Loreteller, is available as a free download on Joan’s website on subscription to her newsletter.
I was recently present for the launch of this new book – a modern retelling of George MacDonald’s most best known and highly under-appreciated work Phantastes.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and remember how much I struggled to engage with the old-fashioned language of the original text. Worthing has expertly succeeded in modernising the language without losing the flavour or the beauty of the original work. I thoroughly recommend it.