Besides an occasionally (and admittedly, somewhat cryptic) synopsis reveal every here and there and an exclusive first excerpt published on my website, I haven’t really divulged all that much regarding The Mighty Shall Rise. However, in light of the 300-page preview, I’m planning on releasing soon, I think it’s about time I change that.
Point Number One: Upon Which the Former is Founded
To start off, let’s get something out of the way:
The Mighty Shall Rise is brutal. I mean, really brutal.
This is not to say it’s a violent sort of brutal--in that the prose in some scenes might prove uncomfortable for the general reader (I think we can all agree we don’t need any more of that in our reading).
On a brief note: More and more, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve desired to write stories that can be enjoyed by not only adults but young children as well. This was something that many of the classical authors did exceptionally well (Tolkien, Austen, Lewis, just to name a few), and I think it’s an approach that desperately needs to be reconsidered and reevaluated in this age that specifically targets certain age groups to its (in my opinion) detriment.
Continuing: But while I have endeavoured to keep it brimming with colourful characters and jocular witticisms, The Mighty Shall Rise is, above all other things, a story about human suffering—and to what ends we can be pushed until we are forced to lash out at those closest to us. It’s very much a spiritual journey if you will: a journey through darkness or the “valley of the shadow of death.”
And to those who might be given cause to wonder, it doesn’t get any better. One of my proofreaders for a draft of the 300-page serial wryly remarked as to the number of dire tragedies which met the central characters—even going so far as to place a number in the margin every time some character met his or her doom.
But that’s entirely the point. As referenced in the title, the focus is primarily on this downward struggle, this “horrific descent into darkness and despair” that enshrouds the chief protagonist, whom I’ve aptly named Endurian Stonehelm.
And from Page One, Endurian’s struggles, his battles, his fears—they don’t get any better. He’s hardly back on his feet when he gets knocked back down again. Things simply refuse to go well. Fate is not kind.
This continual state of darkness is a tradition that virtually every descendant of Adam has been forced to confront: the good seldom lasts till it is usurped by evil, which mars what was. Even in the supposed good, we find ourselves confronted by discomfiting feelings of discontentment and festering ill-will toward our fellow men. If it is the aspiration to overthrow darkness which (momentarily) lends us the freedom we all crave, then it is the pride brought about by our seeming triumph that ultimately leads to yet another downfall, in a line of never-ending falls.
It is in the face of this unshakable, irrefutable truth concerning the world wherein we dwell that Endurian is faced with the age-old question, which he articulates in the following words: “Why? Why then do we fight? Why do we continue on when we stand not a chance? Why do we persist in the face of so much wrong?”
It is these very questions upon which The Mighty Shall Rise is founded, and (I hope) adequately addresses.
Point Number Two: In Which I Address the Inevitable Issue of Allegory
While also fiercely decrying allegory, and expressing his desire for the use of the term applicability, Tolkien explicitly defined The Lord of the Rings as a fundamentally Christian work, “unconsciously so in the writing, consciously in the revision.”
The same, I think, could be said for The Mighty Shall Rise.
To those who know me well, I’ve made it no secret that I started out this process doggedly opposed to allegory in any way, shape, or form. But, as I’ve grown and matured, not only as a storyteller but a Believer in Christ, I’ve come to find it almost impossible not to write allegory in stories such as these, if that makes any sense.
As a Christian, my worldview will be diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the world, and it is a very hard thing to prevent the ideology of any author from finding its way into their work—especially work that deals with fundamental, human problems.
The problem, I’ve come to find, is not the inclusion of allegory at all, but rather the approach/execution of that allegory. If the execution forces your message to dominate the story in a way that characters do things unnatural to what has already been established, then such allegory can only turn off your readers. This, sadly, has occurred with a frightening consistency since the passing of storytellers like Lewis, MacDonald, Tolkien, and all the like.
On a brief note: My influences/favoured storytellers are not obvious at all.
Continuing: To better understand this difficulty, allow me to present a portion of a letter I sent in response to a fellow author’s novel, which I had consented to read and provide feedback. While I misunderstood his intent in regards to a certain scene, which took me completely out of the moment, it still serves its purpose in explaining my issues with common allegorical practises:
There is a danger in the writing of fantastical fiction to “allegorize” or draw direct parallels to crucial periods in the history of our world. In all work of this nature, a sense of “escapism” serves as one of the primary draws/enticements to the reader. But that same escapism can easily be broken, which is always why extreme care must be taken whenever one attempts to create a commentary on historical events. In his Stormlight books, Brandon Sanderson has used the conflict between “light-eyes” and “dark-eyes” to address issues such as race relations. However, knowing how such a narration might easily draw his readers out of his story and into the present-day world, he has disguised it accordingly.
As Christian authors, we are presented with two approaches to allegory: the subtle applicability and deep-seated nuance of Tolkien, or the overt, undisguised parable of Lewis. Both are valuable, and both have their uses.
The problem that inevitably ensues is when a would-be-author attempts to merge both methods. That can only lead to disaster. When a reader consents to read the work of another person, they’re accepting it on the author’ s terms—or the conditions they believe themselves to have accepted. With Lewis or MacDonald, one knows that they are receiving a distinctly allegorical work. If that appeals to them, then they can subsequently accept it as it is, without deceit.
On the other hand, you have The Lord of the Rings, or perhaps even more appropriately, The Silmarillion. It is probable that many people have read the latter and never truly been aware of the deep metaphorical truths that reside within it. Whereas Rings focuses primarily on the conflict between light and dark, and what such conflict engenders, The Silmarillion is a meditation on the human condition, as spread over thousands of years. At its inception, it loosely adapts the creation narrative of Genesis and proceeds to tell a tale about how the desire for knowledge and power ultimately corrupts all good intentions. If it is the aspiration to overthrow darkness [that leads to a victory], then it is the pride brought about by our seeming triumph that ultimately leads to yet another downfall. It is only when one realizes that all his efforts are futile and vanity (as seen in Eärendil/Common Man) that one understands the need to reach outside of oneself to a higher power (Eru/God). And it is only with a humble and contrite heart that Earendil can approach that power and plead for the aid that would avail his people.
But again, such nuance can rarely be discerned in the first reading. And by the time we do perceive it, we have already fully accepted the work; and our original opinion (like or dislike) can only deepen, not rescind.
The problem I have identified above is precisely why I find it nigh impossible to read many of the “Christian stories” of our present day. They all endeavour to bring the grounded, yet otherworldly beauty of Tolkien into coexistence with the real world. There is no nuance. There is no distinction. There is no subtlety. It would be much more beneficial for me to read [the actual Word of God] than anything else.
In the end, despite all my efforts, The Mighty Shall Rise has taken on deep allegorical undertones, and is, unabashedly and unadulteratedly, a “fundamentally Christian work.”
But for it to succeed where others have failed and rise above its prominent fellows, the execution must be on point, which is one major reason why I missed my release date of July 15.
Point Number Three: On a Brief, Biographical Note
In a sense, the character of Endurian Stonehelm is inseparably me, symbolically, more than literally.
I first devised him in April of 2017 for a story I called The Stranger’s Fire. As has already been recounted too many times to count, the latter, through a series of radical reboots and restarts, eventually evolved into the story I now call The Mighty Shall Rise. This evolution has been so profound as to make both Fire and Mighty two entirely dissimilar stories.
However, throughout it all, the person of Endurian has (might I say, more appropriately) endured.
I have been following his journey through the more transformative years of my life, and it is only natural that a large part of me should become infused into him, and vice versa.
It is only natural that I would use my own struggles and failures over the past several years to directly inform Endurian’s own. And while I must necessarily say that one must be careful in attempting to draw direct connotations between his actions and my own, a few of his thoughts and sayings are things I’ve thought and said myself.
Point Number Four: Genre?
A big reason why the medium of epic fantasy has the potential to tell some of the most compelling and powerful stories of our time is because of its inherent ability to infuse almost every style/genre imaginable (save for futuristic science fiction), allowing for rich symbolism and nuanced depictions of fundamental truths concerning the world.
And, for the most part, I tend to stay away from stories that are singularly focused on one element or emotion: I like my stories to have a little of everything, whether that be humour, horror, thrill, suspense, action, adventure, romance, revenge, betrayal, you name it.
So, yeah. Expect everything.
Point Number Five: On My Willingness to Wait
My style of writing is very different from that of my peers.
I rarely start at the beginning of a story and even more rarely write through to the very end (in a first draft).
My manuscripts seldom grow smaller with consecutive drafts, until I am forced to cut it down, resulting in an even longer waiting period.
I am also a perfectionist, through and through. I’m always polishing, always revising, and (likely to the horror of many authors out there) much prefer the editing to the writing.
This is why I am fully willing to wait a ridiculous amount of time just to get the story right where I want it.
My eye is presently settled somewhere on mid-January for a full-volume release of The Mighty Shall Rise.
But I’m also ready to wait until summer of next year if events arise in which I am forced to amend the manuscript beyond what was formerly envisioned.
Point Number Six: First Word on...the Screenplay
I’m in the midst of adapting The Mighty Shall Rise into a screenplay, and despite being only 43 pages into it, let’s just say I’m having a spiffing good time.
Point Number Seven: In Which I Take My Leave
If you are a subscriber to my newsletter, look for the aforementioned 300-page preview to be made available to you on July 15, 2020.
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