An Interview With Lars Walker

trollEditor’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.

Troll Valley: The Fairy Tale Grandma Never Told You

Editor’s note: See our interview with Lars Walker here.

Troll Valley is not your grandmother’s fairy tale, though it might be your great-great-great-grandmother’s fairy tale.  From the official synopsis:

Chris Anderson has everything. He’s the son of the richest family in town. He lives in a beautiful, loving home. He even has a fairy godmother. Chris Anderson also has nothing. He was born with a deformed arm, and when he gets angry he sees visions that terrify him. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, in a nation wrestling with faith and science, tradition and change, Chris will be forced to confront his own nature, and learn the meanings of freedom, love, and the grace of God.

If that sounds like a bold vision for a simple and relatively short work of fiction, it is.  But Lars Walker pulls off what few authors can. Especially for an essentially Christian story.  Most of what occupies the Christian Fiction shelf of your local bookstore is sappy, awkward, or just poorly written (like the screenplay of some shmaltzy Hallmark Channel movie).  The “Christian Fiction” of Lars Walker is anything but that. His series of novels about the conversion of the Vikings in the 11th-century is dark, gritty, and often bloody. Troll Valley is a bit tamer (which makes sense, given the lack of Vikings), but it packs the same deep emotional punch. You will be instantly drawn in, and you won’t want to stop until the story’s resolution.

Part of that is due to Walker’s writing ability. He spends a good chunk of the first third of the book describing life and work on a farm in Minnesota, including extended passages just describing food, without ever losing the reader’s interest. Walker also has the fascinating ability to be witty, even humorous, while dealing with the darker aspects of life and the human condition.

And then of course there’s the fairy part of the tale. As in his previous novels, Walker grounds the fantastic elements of the story in such solid realism that he can suddenly blindside you with the supernatural without ever pulling you out of the story or inviting your disbelief. Walker also draws his fantasy from ages past, especially the Norse traditions, rather than the post-Andrew Lang and post-Disney fairy tales that most modern folk now think of. Early in the story, Christian’s fairy godmother (yes, fairy godmother) tells him the tale of “Snow White Rose Red” (a retelling of Snow White, of course), which is as hilarious as it is twisted. Not even Santa Claus is safe from Walker, whose true nature as a powerful Norse spirit is revealed. Finally, the book’s primary antagonists are a group of tiny bearded creatures in red hats (called “red caps”). While that description doesn’t sound particularly frightening, I’m sure, Walker manages to create several intensely menacing scenes with these odd characters (ruining my childhood at the same time).

Near the end of the novel, a character stands up in front of his church and delivers what amounts to a mini sermon on the relationship of faith and works, the Law and the Gospel. In any other work of Christian fiction, this sort of thing would be forced and awkward, quite literally preachy. Not so in Troll Valley. Not only did Walker fully earn this moment, but executed it perfectly. For a Christian reader, it was a powerful and satisfying moment.

At this point you might be asking, “How can a book filled with fairy godmothers and evil little Norse spirits also have powerfully Biblical and evangelical themes?”  Excellent question!

Here’s your answer.