Editor’s note: See our review of Troll Valley by Lars Walker here.
EO: Hi Lars, thanks for taking the time to do this interview for us. I’d like to ask a couple questions about Troll Valley first, then about Christian Fantasy in general.
First, is Troll Valley based on a true story?
LW: Troll Valley is a sort of valentine to the town and church where I grew up, and to my grandparents’ generation. I use places and cultural elements I knew, and I’ve worked in some elements of my family history, but the people and events are fictional.
EO: Where did the idea for Troll Valley come from? What were your inspirations? How did the story take shape?
LW: The first time I read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories,” in high school, it occurred to me how strange (and frightening) it would be to have a real fairy godmother. The character of Miss Margit in this story grew from that. Also, I’d always wanted to write a story about a big house in my home town (actually pictured on the book cover), so I installed my fictional family in it. And one day, years ago, I saw a young boy with a crippled arm in an ice cream store. I began to wonder what it would be like to be him. That crystalized the character of Chris.
EO: What was your hope for Troll Valley, in terms of its impact on the reader?
LW: This is the most personal book I ever wrote. It’s an attempt to explain the kind of pietism I grew up with to people unfamiliar with it, and to do a gentle critique as well. It’s also a kind of microcosm of the development of Progressivism out of Evangelicalism during the early 20th Century. I guess a lot of the purpose is just to teach some history.
EO: Do you intentionally try to inject your stories with gritty realism to make them cooler and more appealing, or is it something more than that?
LW: Gritty realism isn’t any thing I think about as such. I always try to just tell the truth about life. I’m not big on easy answers, and I never answer all the questions in a story. Nobody’s going to believe the answers you offer if they know you’re lying to them about the way the world is.
EO: I usually would not recommend “Christian fiction” to my non-Christian friends, but I love to recommend your books. Do you intend them to be a kind of evangelistic tool?
LW: Certainly I want to spread the gospel through my fiction, but not by preaching (though I do preach sometimes; I try to do it in an oblique or disarming manner). Again, Job One is telling the truth (even in a fantasy). If you believe your message, telling the truth will extend to telling the truth about the big questions.
EO: The one thing I’d like to know most: Do you think the Norse gods and other mythical creatures were real in some sense, whether demonic powers or something else?
LW: I have no idea. Perhaps one of the reasons I can write fantasy comfortably is that the supernatural generally keeps its distance from my life. I believe that unexplainable things happen (they certainly happened in Bible times, at least), but they don’t happen much around me. In my books, the heathen gods are usually portrayed as either demons or some kind of elemental spirit, and magic is mostly discovered to be some kind of illusion.
EO: Do you think mythology and fantasy are ever incompatible with Christianity? Is there any fantasy that a Christian shouldn’t read or write?
LW: This falls under the “do not give offense” principle from Romans 14. People misunderstand this. It doesn’t mean “Give no offense to people who think they know everything and like to judge others.” It means “Don’t do anything that will cause someone with a weakness or a bad habit to fall back into old sinful patterns of behavior.” Some people can handle all kinds of fantasy; other people ought to stay away from some (or all) of them. I don’t generally advise my own books for young teens, for instance. Outside Christian fantasy, I haven’t read widely enough to make an educated statement, but I believe there are some fantasy books, comics, movies, etc. that are so rooted in the demonic that Christians ought to avoid them. An exception might be made for people doing criticism for the purpose of cautioning others.
EO: Thanks very much!
Find out more about Lars, his upcoming books and other projects at LarsWalker.com.