The latest offering of a new publishing group, Reformation Lightining, is the second installment of the “Callenlas Chronicles” titled “The First Skyrider” is an action, adventure and fantasy book for kids and teens. We reached out to the author, H. R. Hess, to talk about Christian fiction books, being a reader, dragons (?!) and about her new book.
Hello Hannah! How important for Christians to read fiction books?
Well, if you only have a little time, then read the Bible! And always prioritise the Bible over other books, even (especially!) theology books.
However, fiction can be a really valuable source of wisdom, insight, and spiritual growth. I mean, discernment is required – there is plenty out there which is low quality, or unhelpful. However, many books, even those which may even have been written to oppose Christianity, like Philip Pullman’s trilogy, can still educate and at least help you understand people better. Fiction often acts as a key, opening our hearts to truth, when a book of doctrine or bare theology may leave our hearts untouched.
If there are a non fiction or fiction books tackling the same biblical theme, what do you think are some of the leverage of a Christian fiction over Christian non fiction?
I think there is definitely a place for reading non-fiction books; I’ve had many Christian non-fiction books really speak to my soul and draw me closer to God. However, fiction has a very special quality, a magic to it – it engages us at a different level, at a heart or emotional level, which means we receive truth in a deeper, often richer way. I think of how Nathan approached David after he had sinned with Bathsheba – he didn’t bludgeon him with the law of God, he told him a story, which cut David to the heart. I know C. S. Lewis’ stories often make me feel something which I had only known in my head until that point. It was Lewis who said that ‘by casting all these things into an imaginary world … could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons’ of religion and formality.
What kind of a reader are you? What books do you enjoy most?
I used to be quite an indiscriminate reader, hoovering up books. With three kids now, I have so much less time and headspace, so I choose carefully and only read books that really draw me in. I love any book that gives me a different perspective on something, that makes me think. I have a soft spot for historical novels, particularly set in the Tudor times, and I love a book that is beautifully written. I just read Gilead (I’m very late to the game) and this really hit a sweet spot for me. But I’ve also enjoyed Tom Holland’s ‘Dominion’ (though I usually only get it out when my kids are not around as it requires concentration!) Anything with depth, or that sheds new light onto the world.
How about secular fiction and non fiction books, do we approach it like with a Christian perspective and still enjoy reading it?
I think if you take seriously that every human is made in the image of God, then you can embrace the wisdom, creativity and insight that every human being expresses, even if it is sometimes marred by darkness. I’ve learned a great deal from non-Christians, even if all they do is provide a ‘shadow’ so that the brightness of goodness and truth shines more clearly. For example, I recently read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ – I came away really struck by just how dark his fantasy world was. I felt like scrubbing myself down after finishing the novel, the grime was so thick. But I also came away with a deeper appreciation for Narnia, and other novels like that, which shine so brightly, and bring so much joy in comparison. Gaiman is also a very skilled writer, so I enjoyed his lyricism, and his vivid description.
However, I’ve also been struck again and again by how often non-christian writers create heroes who reflect Christ very strikingly. Over and over, themes of self-sacrifice, humility, and love, come up in works by people who even deny God’s existence. Truth and goodness hide in the most surprising of places, if we have the heart to look.
You wrote two books already in the Callenlas Chronicles. Dragons are every where in books and movies and kids love it. It’s my first time to read a Christian fantasy book. So what makes your dragons in your book differ from tons of books out there that includes dragons?
You know, I hesitated before including dragons in my fantasy books, because they really are everywhere in this genre. But they are everywhere for a reason. There’s a strong fascination behind dragons – they are such powerful creatures, and I think, deep down, we all hope that somewhere they were real, once.
I’m not sure my dragons are all that different from other writers. I’ve written them quite ‘naturally’, so they are not magical, nor do they guard treasure; they are simply one of the many creatures that inhabit Callenlas. I think one thing dragons do is bring in that element of awe, and a sense of danger, which I think younger readers especially enjoy. The idea that a large, dangerous creature might be your ally is quite a powerful thought.
Book #2 is coming out on November and title is The First Skyrider. But lets go back to where it all began. Tell us about The Dark Star and the process of writing?
The Dark Star sprang out of ideas I’d had as a child. I loved reading, and I was always imagining my own stories. I’m not sure many of my ideas were original, but I loved the idea of other worlds where magic, or unearthly creatures existed. I think Runa might have sprung into being while I was in university, or around that time anyway.
I wrote like a magpie until recently, just grabbing ideas and working them into different stories bit by bit. When I decided that I was going to give publishing a proper go, I knew I wanted to write the Callenlas books first – they’ve been simmering in my head the longest, and I had the best grasp of the characters and storylines.
I got a lot of feedback from different friends, to whom I owe a great deal for their kindness and honesty. Ultimately, I try to write the book I would have enjoyed myself as a young adult.
Originally it wasn’t just dragons that felt cliché, though. I had elves, dwarves, all the stereotypical fantasy characters. I wanted to keep the sense of mystery, and that hunger for another sphere, a spiritual realm, but still do something original. The idea of stars being living creatures and entering a human world was actually from C. S. Lewis – twice, I think, living stars get a brief mention in the Narnia books. I loved the concept and decided to run with it for my own books. The stars, more than anything in creation I think, give us a taste of the divine, a sense of something greater than ourselves. The idea that they might be living beings, somewhere between angels and elves, really grabbed me. I’m looking forward to developing the concept in later books, if I get the chance to write them.
Any takeaways that you want to impart to the readers of you two books and the series?
My main hope in everything I write is to draw people that little bit further along their journey towards light, truth, and beauty, and their Source, even if all my books do is make them hunger that little bit more for the real thing. This world is so cynical and brutal; it’s so important that we remember that there is still so much that is beautiful, and good, and true. I’d encourage readers to pursue those things in every form they find them, whatever makes your soul light up.
Please invite the readers to get your books, The Dark Star and The First Skyrider.
The Dark Star and The First Skyrider are available, first of all, direct from my publisher, Reformation Lightning. But you can also buy them on Eden, 10 of Those, Amazon, and most Christian outlets. If they don’t hold it in stock, a bookshop should be able to order them as they are sold through Day One and CLC.
Any final word on reading Christian fiction?
I’m really glad there’s been a growth in interest in Christian fiction in the UK, particularly for the young adult market. It’s been great to see novels like the Wingfeather Saga gaining popularity. When I was growing up, I remember being disappointed at the quality of many Christian novels – I felt that they were often published purely because they had the label ‘Christian’ slapped on them. The Christian publishing industry should be looking to produce really good quality literature, beautifully written. While a teenager may not be willing to pick up a theology book, they will enjoy an exciting story, and discover, as I did, deeper truths, or at the very least, reflections of light that lead them on to search for the Sun.