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Saturday, October 08, 2011

A Tale of Two Stories

I've been thinking this week about two different styles of storytelling.

A couple of days ago I read ND Wilson's latest book, The Dragon's Tooth. This is a middle-grade action/adventure, which I reviewed on my blog. I hope you'll read the review there and watch the trailer, because this is one of the best books I've read in a long, long time, and I want to get the word out about it. This one is going to be loved by adults as well as kids. It's the first in a five-book series and if it's not made into a major motion picture, I'll be very surprised.

The Dragon's Tooth snagged starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Wilson has the popular appeal of Eoin Colfer and the sophistication of Jonathan Stroud. A killer combination. ND Wilson is a great storyteller.

A different kind of story

Last weekend I got a different kind of story at the movie theater.  I took my children to see Sherwood Pictures' Courageous. This is a movie marketed to churches. Leaders in churches are invited to preview it. Its goal was to move Christian boys and men to want to be better fathers.

I have a confession: I liked the movie very much and walked out of the theater thanking God for the Sherwood Baptist Church and their willingness to sink so much time and effort into making movies. Oh, yes, I saw the warts. But I wept through the movie because the writer and the actors made me care about the characters. Because they moved me emotionally, I was willing to forgive the shortcomings.

This one isn't getting starred reviews Oscar nominations. One reviewer said there was enough drama in the movie for a whole TV season, and I have to agree. Others have said the Kendrick brothers beat us over the head with their message, and they did.

But they put Christians up on the big screen and I think that's worth something.

Isn't it sad that there are almost no Christians in general market books and movies these days? What's worse is that when they do show up they are often hateful bigots trying to enslave women, stone homosexuals, and abuse children.

Sherwood Pictures is putting Christian men on the big screen and those men aren't burning books or shooting abortion doctors or having sex with boys. They're making a commitment to love their children. They're going to scripture to see how fathers should love.

Our educations are not all equal

My son, after seeing the movie, said he wanted to take his girlfriend to it. He was moved by what he saw. He decided to start working a little harder now at loving scripture, because he wants to be a good father one day.

My son does not have a classical education. He doesn't even have a poor public school education. He's educationally challenged. And I think he's probably not that odd. I think there are more young men in the Xbox camp than in the well-educated camp. The Hogwart's Professor saw a lot in Harry Potter that I never saw, and way, way more than 99% of the children saw, I'm willing to bet. And how good is a message if no one understands the language?

It's not necessary to have an action plan after reading a novel or watching a movie, but there are worse things to take away from fiction.

God's ways are not my ways

Because I'm a Calvinist I tend to like ND Wilson's way of telling a story best. I believe that God can save people without the altar call. I think some Christians---probably the Kendrick brothers---put a little more value on "decision" than I do. I think if the Spirit is working on someone, I don't need to hammer them to make a decision, and I don't think we need to put the gospel into every movie and book. Some stories can sow and some can water. I like to think my books, if I ever find a publisher, might plow the ground. I'm not trying to preach the gospel.

God has called some to preach, though.

I can't say for sure what God has called the Kendrick brothers to do, but I dare not fault them for their movies. My own son benefited from what they are doing. He looks up to committed Christian men---in real life and, now, apparently on the big screen. (Who knew? He'd never seen Christian men in the movies before.) It gives him hope to find Christian men who are not ashamed of the gospel. It gives him courage.

Courage. Oh, yeah. That's what the movie was aiming to do: give my son, and boys like him, courage.

I'm thinking God gives some artists skill to serve those with refined tastes in art, and he gives some skill to reach the less cultured. I thank God for that because the body of Christ is diverse.

What do you think? Must we wait to be very good before we go public with our art? How good is good enough? Does bad Christian art embarrass you? More importantly, does it dishonor God? Have you seen Courageous or read The Dragon's Tooth?

Sally Apokedak loves sappy movies that make her cry, and books that take her to dangerous places full of criminals and spiders and man-eating turtles. She hopes to make readers cry with her own books one day, and her books do have criminals, but she is happy to report that they are completely free of spiders and man-eating turtles. You can find Sally blogging about young adult novels at


  1. Dragon's Tooth sounds good. Wishlist'd!

  2. Sally… I like to think of our writing craft (especially in the Christian market) in the same light as joining the military. People come from all walks in life, some truly gifted, and others you wonder what they were thinking. But by the end of boot camp, they have been "miraculously" turned into soldiers.

    We are all on a journey. And while I have seen many flawed attempts at bringing quality Christian entertainment to the world, I have never seen those same artists anything but better the next year, and the next. Some of them have risen to such heights they truly take my breath away. And I agree with you -- I thank God for the ones brave enough to take their light right out into the world, as opposed to just sharing it among ourselves.

    Oh, yes, and thank you for introducing me to N.D. Wilson. THE DRAGON'S TOOTH trailer was the best I have ever seen (had to watch it over, again, immediately)… and I can't wait to read the book.

  3. I've always said and believed God deserves our very best, not our leftovers or our second best. How good is good enough? When it's the very best we can do and we're offering it as a sacrifice of love back to Him.

  4. Sally, what a gracious perspective. Thank you.

    Based on your recommendation, we'll be hunting down The Dragon's Tooth!

  5. I hope you all like The Dragon's Tooth as much as I did. It's a middle-grade boy book, and one of the best in that genre that I've ever read. I'm God if he might be pleased to bring it as much popularity as Twilight and Hunger Games. Or Lightning Thief, since it might not attract all the boy-crazy girls in the world.

    Ane and Lilly, thanks for your perspectives. It's true that we are to give our best to God, and at different times that will be of different quality. I pray that God will keep doors closed until he's ready for our work to be seen in public. And then when he sees fit to allow the book or the film to go out, I think all we can do is go forward and trust him to take it to the audience of his choosing and to protect others from errors we've allowed in.

    Thanks, Nicole. :) I appreciate the feedback.

  6. I'm asking God... Not I AM GOD, heh heh

  7. Thanks for this post, Sally. Much to think about here.

    I'm thinking some fiction might be easy and enjoyable, such as C. S. Lewis's Narnia books, and still be challenging. To me that's the best kind of book -- one that's accessible and yet deep.

    Children may not (probably won't) see the deeper meanings, but if they love the story, they'll re-read it and understand it more and more. It's much the same thing that's true about the Bible.

    In other words, stories that are written to be valued for their art probably won't last. They aren't accessible and won't have people re-reading them and understanding more as they mature. They won't be the kinds of books that parents buy for birthday presents or read aloud on family night.

    But books that are poorly written won't either.

    Now I'm off to read your review. I'll be interested to see what becomes of ND Wilson's career.


  8. Sibella, thanks for commenting. I hope your family enjoys the book.

    Becky, yes, I think you're right. What I love about Wilson's books are that they are commercial in that they have plots that move fast, and yet, he writes beautifully and really brings his characters to life. I remember his characters' names a week later. And, how can you forger Cyrus and Antigone? He starts by picking names that you won't forget and then he attaches those name to characters that are fleshed out and lovable.


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