As a teenager, I wasn’t really interested in fantasy stories. I read two or three Anne McCaffrey books in junior high because one was required for my English class, but I soon became bored with them. I also remember reading and enjoying The Hobbit, but not enough to read The Lord of the Rings. When my oldest sister, Jessika, would recommend a fantasy book, I would answer with, “I don’t like fantasy.”
At the time, the stories I wrote were historical romances—“romance” as in “adventure,” like Ivanhoe (although I didn’t read that book until I was an adult),and not grocery store paperbacks. My early books were inspired by the legends of King Arthur (without the magic), and later by the books of Jane Austen. I dreamed of a more exciting, interesting, and adventurous life than the one I lived and wrote those imaginings.
And now I write fantasies. How did that happen?
When I was 17 or 18, Jessika told me I should read The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. I gave her the same answer I always gave her. But she knew about my interest in the Arthurian legend and thought I would enjoy the connection in these books. I had tried to read The Grey King years before but only made it a few chapters in. I resisted while she insisted. After all, the first book—Over Sea, Under Stone—was more of an adventure than a fantasy. In the end, Jessika won.
It took only a week to read all five books. After that, she suggested The Chronicles of Narnia. I borrowed her copies of the books and devoured them in a week, too. (If only I still had the time to read an entire book in a day!)
These stories ignited my imagination. By reading fantasy, the stories I imagined took on a more magical tone, until finally I was writing fantasy as well. I was no longer a snob about reading fantasy books because I started to see their value. At their core, fantasies are about the battle between good and evil. As a person of faith, this is a fundamental truth in my life—that good and evil exist in this world and every day presents us with the opportunity to choose between the two sides.
I can’t remember how much reading The Chronicles of Narnia influenced my decision to read C.S. Lewis’s theological writings, but I was soon reading those, too. It was actually while reading Mere Christianity that the inspiration for The Forgotten King came. In the chapter “Making and Begetting,” Lewis contrasts biological life and spiritual life, bios and zoe. An image came to my mind of a man and woman walking through a field of long, yellow grass. What are they doing? I asked myself. Where are they going? I named these characters Brian and Zoe. I started to form a story around this image. Different influences have affected the story since then and the characters’ names changed to Neil and Helen. If you look closely you might still see the original connection to Mere Christianity—at least in the fact that Helen acts on faith while Neil acts on logic—but mainly you will see the struggle between good forces and evil forces and how they interact.
For me, writing fantasy is a way to let my imagination run free. I can say something that means something in an entertaining way without the same limitations of a non-magical story. I can reach more people and perhaps ignite their imaginations the way mine was ignited when I first read Susan Cooper. The things that inspire me all work together to create something new that will, perhaps, allow my readers to see that what they think of as impossible could somehow be true and real. In the end, it creates a deeper connection.