Dragons, Knights, & Angels, #29

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"To Name a Star" by Keesa Renee DuPre
"Design for Freedom" by Jenny Schwartz
"Death Dance" by Rebecca Shelley
The ezine Dragons, Knights & Angels has a mission in its editorial statement: to convey the glory of Christianity. As an undertaking, it certainly need not undermine even the lay reader’s desire to sit down and read a good story. C.S. Lewis didn’t do too badly with his grand experiment in Christian allegory, The Chronicles of Narnia.  As one of the many readers who never noticed I was being preached to, yet loved the books, I’ll review the stories with the same mindset, even if it doesn’t fit into the editorial mission statement. In other words, if a story merely succeeds in illustrating something about Christianity, I can’t consider it successful. However, in such a story, if the moral goals seem heavy-handed or weigh down the story in poor prose or overly obvious characterization, I can’t pretend it’s succeeded even for its intended readers.
Keesa Renee DuPre‘s "To Name a Star" nicely illustrates the difficulty and pleasure of reading a moralizing story. The plot is simple: a little girl, "farsighted" with "hair of shimmering silver," suddenly lands in the farm of a married couple, John and Mary. The girl, of course, is a fallen star; she stays a while and then she goes back, presumably to the sky.

The story is actually quite lovely in its evocation of a childhood story, with its old-fashioned language and sweet, simple characters.  And the feeling of fantasy is wonderfully fluid and natural. That the story is primarily narrated from the point-of-view of the husband, who worries about his wife’s attachment to the star, adds some contemporary emotional depth. Yet, on the narrative level, it’s not satisfying, and I wondered if there was something I had missed. Did the writer hope to convey loss or presence? In a spiritual story, both are surely needed, but here, the loss could have been drawn out better.

Australian writer Jenny Schwartz‘s "Design for Freedom" even more closely illustrates the editorial paradox. The brief tale of a futuristic society where "genetic design became the enabler of wealth creation" and "people with congenital disabilities were regarded as freaks who should have been euthanized in the womb" centers on "designer body" Vanessa and her friends who have decided to change the "dominant paradigm" to unfortunate results.

It’s difficult to describe the plot in greater detail, as most of the story is exposition about the society, stretched from a glance at a computer screen located in an "odd, straw bale house" and winding up with an anguished message from another designer body who somewhat predictably rues his very existence. The political intentions of the writer are clear, but her message gets bogged down by dry language and poor characterization. Ultimately, Vanessa calls upon God to get her through her pain, but overall the character’s spiritual leanings are not explored, and I was not confident that the writer had fully articulated her message.

Rebecca Shelley‘s "Death Dance" unfolds like a police procedural or pot paranoia movie from the ’50s.  Only this time, the righteous cop is fighting not for the crime lord to be sent up the river, but for demons to stop handing out Ecstasy pills at raves to the young and vulnerable. John of the Bible—is this John the Baptist?—is portrayed here as a drug counselor at a rehab center in San Francisco who has lived since Jesus’ time, undergone many names and lives, and combats his loneliness by getting deeply involved in his work.

The story is contrived and dialogue heavy with such groaners as the protagonist’s naive young helper, David, emphasizing a murder with the line "Dead, I tell you!" and name-dropping Mina Harker as an old friend of the beleaguered drug counselor/biblical hero. Granted, the story’s biblical references may be more subtly done than was evident to me, but the watershed moment in which evil is ever-so-briefly overcome just doesn’t resonate.

This issue of Dragons, Knights, & Angels demonstrates some hope for the Christian fantasy genre, but the writers overall hover too close to genre cliches, and how well they conveyed their spiritual message was not quite clear to me.