Rewriting Lagrandil

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Tour Hote Fall FinI will be updating my sci-fantasy adventure trilogy The Song of Lagrandil this weekend.

Among other things, the story was originally published before _Game of Thrones_ became widely known.  What was shocking and risque rewriting the story many years ago is now relatively commonplace, and though the modern fiction landscape does not demand so many disclaimers, some issues in the fiction were worth preserving in essay form.

Since I no longer offer the original series for sale, there is no reason to post it at the end of the novels.

The thoughts and ideas are important in how I approach fiction, and the issue I addressed in the story, as well as the reasons why.

So, taking it out of my fiction, I’m placing it here.  I hope to have the fourth book in the series ready by summer of 2016.  I am approaching the finish of a draft of Pilgrim’s Progress this summer and hope to release Giant’s Rage by Christmas of 2015.

I first told the tale of Lagrandil doing volunteer and professional youth work between the years of 1995 and 2003.  I had set out to tell a series of stories with all the adventure that I had loved as a boy and as a teenager, but to be sure and include a Christian worldview and lessons that I felt deprived of in the stories available at the time.

I still remember the summer of 1995 going around to the Jr. and Sr. High kids at Luther Park Bible Camp, asking the guys what were the three major issues confronting young people in their generation.  While the order sometimes changed, the responses did not.  “God, sex, and drugs,” they said.   So I wrote the original tetralogy as a combination adventure story and morality play for young men.  Writing at that level, the characters largely faced ‘good decision vs. bad decision’ stories.  I was twenty years old when I wrote Ryan’s Tale, and I don’t think I  could have done better at that age.

Ten years after I first wrote Ryan’s Tale, my friend Nathan Peske challenged me to re-write the series from a more complete viewpoint.  I remember pointing out that this would result in a work comparable in length to Robert Jordan’s epic (which had to be finished posthumously).  Nathan replied that he didn’t have a problem with that.  So I sat down to figure out just what the ‘whole story’ would look like.

Some of the changes were simple.  At thirty, I was much closer in age to Richard, Jefta, and the Martel parents than I was to my original protagonists.  Some of that resulted in ‘aging’ the boys from fourteen to sixteen.  Most of it resulted in telling a significant portion of the story from the viewpoints of the adults involved as well as the ‘technically legal’ heroes.

The second problem took all of an hour to present itself.  What was I going to do about Helen?  At the age of twenty I had seen her as little more than a cardboard cut-out E.V.T. (Evil Vile Temptress).  She was the mechanism to show that premarital sexual temptation led to suffering, and abstinence was a good idea.  The boys made opposite choices and reaped the fruit of their choices.

Ten years later, I discovered that my worldview had changed significantly.  I had come to loathe the EVT model in fiction.  No one, not the purest saint or the worst murderer is a wind-up toy for good or for evil.  The bad guys don’t see themselves as bad guys.  The ten years since Ryan’s Tale had also brought about a significant understanding about the consequences and fallout of sexual abuse for young men and young women.  All too often exploitive situations in fiction are dealt with as inconsequential at best.  (King Arthur of legend begets the boy who will kill him under magical compulsion –rape- and then goes skipping on about his quests without any emotional fallout mentioned.)  At worst, these experiences are sensationalized and even lauded, like the high school student who is victimized by their female teacher and then lauded as some sort of ‘stud’.  Fortunately, public opinion on this topic has changed, but the world of fiction seems to have a long way to go.

Since in the original story (no promises that The Song of Lagrandil will follow that pattern) Leif and Helen’s grandson becomes the new Christian King who leads the Kroyant people back to the stars, I was confronted with a number of difficulties with throwing out that plotline.  At the same time, including it would be potentially offensive as well as a great challenge to treat in a way that was both responsible and still entertaining fiction.  I’m not sure that I got it one hundred percent right, but after five revisions, I’m not sure that ‘getting it right’ exists with such a complicated issue.

In my own research I came across several issues that I wanted to be sure and show in Leif’s own life.  I was surprised to learn that one of the most damaging issues for many male survivors of abuse is the physical response their bodies had during the abuse.  There is inappropriate guilt (abuse is never the victim’s fault, but many victims struggle with feelings of self-blame).  There is the loss of self-respect, difficulty in trusting or forming relationships, thoughts of despair and suicide, as well as drug use.  It was beyond the scope of a work of fiction to address all of the many ways that these things can manifest themselves in the lives of abuse survivors, but I wanted to broach the topic, to at least present a stimulus for people to address the issue.

So I determined that if I was going to keep the Leif-Helen abuse scene, I would first make sure that it was presented as abuse, not some sort of romantic or erotic storyline.  I wanted to present in Leif a microcosm of the issue, even if I couldn’t contain every solution for every situation.  I could include a solution, and maybe the message that help and hope are out there.  That help is available in health care professionals, clergy, and ultimately in Christ.  There are so many people ready and willing to help, it is my earnest hope that message comes through.

So, insofar as I have failed to do the subject justice, I must ask my readers’ forgiveness.  I know that everyone’s story is different, and this is in no way an attempt to tell any one person’s story.  I have tried to use fiction techniques of dramatic exaggeration to broach the topic without making the abuse dominate the storyline.

Insofar as I have managed to do the topic any justice, I must thank all of the excellent resources that have been available to me.  I am grateful for Mike Lew’s book Victims No Longer, as well as feedback and input by victims and mental health professionals who deserve the privacy of anonymity.  They know who they are, and they have my profound thanks for any understanding I have gained on the topic.

It is my hope that the Song of Lagrandil series, while containing some controversial materials, continues to be what the Ranger Prince series had been, an adventure with Christian morals, adventure, and fun that can occasionally provoke thought or address issues confronting God’s children in this or any other possible world.

Bruce Burns.  5/28/2011

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