Yesterday I had a book signing event for my novel, The Crystal Portal. At one point a church friend (Larry Schmetzer) asked me what the story basically was about. I found myself struggling to answer concisely.
I suppose that's because the words for my story flowed more from my subconscious self than my planning mind. I created characters and a setting and to a certain extent let them interact according to the natures I gave them and voila--a story formed. While I did have certain specific plot events in mind when I started writing, events I steered the characters toward, I did not know what the story would wind up becoming when I first began to write it.
I hadn't begun with a full understanding of the reasons I wrote what I did, nor had I after writing completely analyzed the tale in order to sum it up quickly. I'm trying to fix that here.
You see, of familiar stories, my story is most like The Wizard of Oz. In that classic tale, four main characters are united in a common quest to find the wizard because each of them perceive there is something wrong with himself or herself. The lion seeks courage; the tin woodsman emotion; the scarecrow intelligence; Dorothy wants to go home. Through their voyage, they are opposed by the Wicked Witch, who seems unbeatable more than once in the story.
But in the end the Wicked Witch is a sham, defeated by a bucket of water. The real enemy of the characters in The Wizard of Oz is self-doubt, or as President Franklin Roosevelt said, "The only thing to fear, is fear itself." The lion really can be courageous; the woodman already has a big heart; the scarecrow is full of wisdom; Dorothy can easily go home. "Believe in yourself and your troubles will evaporate," says the story in a feel-good, humanistic message, one that is profoundly secular but is innocent enough that no one really argues against it.
In The Crystal Portal, four main characters are likewise united in a common quest because of something wrong with each of them. But in sharp contrast to Oz, my characters really do have something going wrong--it's not in their heads, a shot of self-confidence will not cure them. Injustice strikes at each of them, challenging their happiness in a way that won't be dispelled by clicking heels together three times and saying, "There's no place like home."
The source of the injustice rests mainly in the villain, Sargon of Balal. Sargon is no sham of an enemy; he openly challenges God's justice and seeks to replace God as the ruler of the universe. He delights in humiliating and inflicting suffering on the heroes, but ultimately seeks to have his way first and always, caring more about his own glorification than anything else. Elements of his character resonate with all three of the Biblical enemies of the Christian, the world, the flesh, and the devil; but of the three he is more Flesh than anything. He is self-will, scheming to control, hungry to feed the basest impulses. He attempts to bring two of the four characters (Lehkahn and 9.06) over to his side by overriding their willpower in their moments of weakness.
The other two characters, Zachariah and Princess Agata, suffer hardship outside of what Sargon deals out, so the suffering of the story goes beyond Sargon and his plans. To triumph, the characters in my story must endure hardship without giving in to despair--this resonates with the quest of the characters in Oz, but is also profoundly different, because while fear is an enemy, it is by no means the only thing to fear. Three of my heroes openly pray for God's help and all are delivered by a force operating outside of self: Zachariah by following Yeshua's commands, by not giving in to fear, puts himself in the place where the providential actions of others will save him. Agata and Lehkahn by facing their fears likewise are rescued by the providential actions of other characters--the hand of God not directly revealed, but strongly implied. 9.06 is rescued from subservience to Sargon by his internal programming--his conscience--which drives him to protect Zachariah. The message of my story could be summarized as, "Don't give into despair and God will deliver you."
In the end of The Wizard of Oz, all of the characters find resolution for their struggles. Dorothy regrets leaving Oz in part because she found it beautiful but mainly because she will miss her companions in her quest--only to discover that she has a similar companionship waiting for her at home.
At the end of The Crystal Portal, all the characters find a measure of rest and restoration, but the quest is not yet over, since Sargon has yet to be brought to justice. And three of the characters are permanently scarred by the battles they fought. This is completely unlike the ending of Oz, as is the message and tenor of the story as a whole, which is as deeply Christian as The Wizard of Oz was secular.
Ugh. I just realized what I wrote above still doesn't qualify as a quick summary. But it's closer I suppose. I shouldn't despair...