Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Haunt of Jackals - Day 3

Welcome to the final day of the CSFF Blog Tour featuring Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson, sequel to Field of Blood in the speculative Jerusalem's Undead trilogy.

I admire the fact that Wilson has tackled ideas that might be controversial. In the realm of Christian fiction -- a term with which I am growing more and more discontented, because it seems to imply sermons in fictional form -- are more and more attempts to portray the darker side. Aside from the dreadful tracts by Chick, my first experience with such literature was This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. It caused quite a debate in the churches my family attended. I expect Wilson's work will do the same.

And that's not a bad thing. People need to be stirred on occasion, challenged in their thinking and their beliefs. It is the Christian unafraid of the challenge who is strong in what he believes. He's not unsettled when called upon to examine his faith or his point of view. He can look at matters head-on and not run away or sidestep. He can admit when he's in error, and can extend grace to those who do not have clear understanding. I say all that to say this: Simply because a piece of fiction -- written by a Christian -- incorporates such creatures as vampires does not mean the story is somehow evil.

The Christian fiction I remember from childhood seemed to be all light, and as a result was light, in that it often had very little depth. Nothing truly terrible happened to anyone, justice was always served, and almost everyone "got saved" at the end. It's not news that I loved the work of Lewis and Tolkien, and Peretti was a welcome though spiritually challenging addition. They wrote of a darkness that must be overcome, and of a light that would shame the dark.

How can the light be seen unless there is darkness? What is a candle in the sunlight?

In Field of Blood and Haunt of Jackals, humans do one another harm, the vampiric Akeldama Collectors do much more harm, and they even create a gruesome gallery of sins: the Six, No Seven Things that God hates, taken from the book of Proverbs. They enslave, feed upon, and kill humans who are lead about by their own lusts and anger and willfulness.

I posted this yesterday as a comment on Becky Miller's blog:
I can understand why some Christian readers may not "click" with a story involving vampires. After all -- to my mind -- there's no mythical creature who so resembles Satan as does a vampire: the mind-control, the sucking away of life, the attraction of immortality that blinds one to the repulsive nature of one's existence after accepting that form of immortality.
Definitely not the source of a cozy story to read before bedtime.

But where's God in all this evil and darkness? Aside from a glance or two toward prayer, and several mentions of the Nazarene and His blood, God doesn't seem to be a major player in the story. I understand Wilson not wanting to bludgeon his readers with a sermon or excessive scripture, but the Collectors seem to have more faith in God as their enemy than the humans have faith in God as their friend. (For a clear discourse on the presence or absence of the salvation message in Haunt of Jackals, click here to read the entry on Rachel Starr Thomson's blog.)

Off that topic and onto something else that bugged me: the uncomfortable level of apparent flirtation between Gina and Cal, daughter and father. Yeah, before she knew who he really was, she wondered about him as a possible romantic problem, especially since she was married to Jed and still kept remembering Teo, a childhood sweetheart. Such thoughts were excusable in the first book, but in the second? Things just got a little too weird for me. I never really did buy the secrecy -- why Cal couldn't tell Gina sooner that he was her father -- so instead of thinking it funny when he gets up in Teo's face at the hostel and defends Gina's honor, I cringed. And cringed again when she just assumes a stranger at the museum is hitting on her, and he responds in kind, but it turns out to be Cal in disguise. That just felt "off".

Also, there are some continuity issues that might not have bothered other readers but kinda skritched at the back of my brain. For instance, after escaping Collectors, Gina goes to a hotel where the Tomorrow's Hope orphans and their chaperones are expected to arrive. Would a busload of frightened orphans keep to their schedule even though one of their number has just been brutally killed, and another has gone missing with the bus driver after fending off a fearsome attack? And what about Gina showing up at Bran Castle after fighting off a demon-possessed boar? No coat's gonna cover the bloody mess, the tangled hair, or the stench of boar, especially after the critter nigh swallowed her arm.

Despite my less-than-stellar review of the Jerusalem's Undead series so far, I'm glad it's out there, being read and causing discussion. I'm glad Wilson had the guts to write it, and that Nelson had the guts to publish it. I hope unexpected good things happen as a result.

And that's all I have to say about that.

For other points of view, click here for a list of the remaining stops on the blog tour.


KM Wilsher said...

"I can understand why some Christian readers may not "click" with a story involving vampires. After all -- to my mind -- there's no mythical creature who so resembles Satan as does a vampire:"
Nice comment, Bravo.

I can't believe I missed your first 2 days. I thought I jumped over here. Anyway, I really like what you had to say. And, Where is that bus of orphans? I just remembered they never showed up again -- just disappeared :)

I think your posts are my fav out of all the tour, thanks!

Rachel Starr Thomson said...


And that's all I've got to say about that ;).

Thanks for the link and the thoughtful post!

nissa_amas_katoj said...

Christians and vampires.... Back when I was an Odinist (Norse Pagan), a fellow Odinist claimed that Odinists couldn't write fiction about vampires because vampires were Catholic (presumably because they are said to react to crucifixes, conscrated hosts and blessed objects).

But vampires are fiction and every author's vampires are different. Some vampire types are capable of being non-demonlike by Christian standards.

I've had this story idea about a young priest assigned to a church that has Mass every evening just after sundown, who discovers that the after-sundown Mass is attended by hordes of Catholic vampires who can go without blood-sucking after taking communion. (We Catholics believe that consecrated communion wafers are the authentic Body and Blood; we take John 6:47-66 quite literally.) If anyone thinks I should write that story, drop by my Lina Lamont blog to encourage me; if anyone wants to "steal" the story concept, feel free..

I haven't managed to get ahold of Haunt of Jackals yet though I'd really like to... it sounds way better than the average me-too vampire novel.

John said...

Great thoughts. I hadn't quite articulated my discomfort with the flirtation between Cal and Gina (or even consciously processed it), but now that I've seen it expressed, you're right. That is a bit off.

Fred Warren said...

Nice review, Keenan. I hadn't really picked up on the squickiness of Cal's interaction with Gina (I agree--my attention was focused elsewhere), but I did think Wilson "jumped the shark" with the revelation about D.B. Cooper. At least it wasn't Elvis.:)

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

the Collectors seem to have more faith in God as their enemy than the humans have faith in God as their friend.

Great point, Keanan.

These are excellent posts, all three.

I was icked out by the Cal/Gina romance suggestion, but I was also miffed by her continued thoughts about Teo ... since she is MARRIED.

That really bothered me. Yes, this is supposedly a non-Christian who is split with her husband, so wouldn't that be realistic for her to think of other guys?

But that's where I have a problem with "Christian fiction" and reality.

If reality is sin (and marital infidelity would fall in that category), shouldn't it be seen as sin by somebody in the novel?

I considered making an issue of this in my review, especially since Fireproof was such a marriage honoring book. It seemed incongruous for a writer who made such public statements about marriage to do considerably less in this book.

Anyway, I'm glad you brought up the man/woman relationship issue. I think it's a valid point to discuss.


Keanan Brand said...

KM - Thanks!

Now, anybody want to join us on the hunt for the missing bus full of orphans?

Rachel - You're welcome! (As for "That's all I have to say," I was just quoting one of my favorite movie characters: "Forrest. Forrest Gump.")

Nissa - That sounds like an intriguing premise. I never steal anyone else's story ideas, nor borrow them, despite my brother telling me on occasion, "I have this idea for you."

John - I hesitated mentioning it, in case I was the lone prude on the tour, but I've worked with many kids who have experienced things that no one should experience, and there have been instances in my own family, so anything that even glances toward incest or other sexual deviation makes my skin crawl.

Fred - Thanks! As for Elvis, everyone else has been showing up in the story, why not the king of rock-n-roll? (laugh)

Becky - Yeah, I was bothered by the notion that she kept thinking about Teo while she was still married to Jed, but I figured Wilson was using it as a device to remind the readers that she still hadn't become a follower of Christ.

On the other hand, it was just one more thing that made me disconnect from her, because it didn't let me like her. It might have been different, though, if she were contemplating different relationships while she remained unmarried. I'm old-fashioned enough to expect fidelity in a person's thoughts as well as actions.

As for the comment about the faith of Collectors, I remember being challenged years and years ago about not letting Satan have more faith than I did. Even the demons believe and tremble, right?

wilsonwriter said...

Please read the scenes between Cal and Gina, realizing that Cal never flirts with her. He only tells her he loves her with the thought being "as a daughter."

Gina, still caught in her self-preserving mindset, keeps a distance from most men by assuming they are out for the wrong things--and that's part of the whole point. As she changes and lets the Nazarene Blood heal her bitterness, she begins seeing things in the right light.

I'm not sure why it's so hard for Christian readers to care about a sinful, unsaved character such as Gina. It seems to underline the belief that most non-believers have that we see them through only judgment and condemnation.

Yes, Gina is a sinner. Yes, she tries (in the first book, especially) to save herself. But eventually, she realizes her own efforts are in vain. She needs to be cleansed, redeemed. She needs to get over her mother's abuse and the death of her child, and this is what she begins to do as the second book progresses. Her scene of drinking the droplet from the earring has brought about discussions with non-Christian readers, regarding the power of Jesus' blood and His sacrifice.

In the same way I get defensive when I see my non-believing niece and nephew ostracized by well-meaning believers, I feel a little hurt when a character such as Gina is not given room to discover the salvation that awaits.

Of course, I do realize this series is far from typical CBA novels. In a market that seems to be clamoring for more Amish stories, I hoped to offer something different--and to show the true nature of the vampire, while pointing to the power of Jesus' blood to heal and save.

I hope, for some at least, this message comes through.

Keanan Brand said...

Eric - Thank you for stopping by, and for responding to the discussion concerning your books.

I composed a reply, but Blogger fritzed, and the whole message was lost, so I'll try to reconstruct it.

First, about Cal and Gina: Your intention may not have been anything other than father/daughter, but their interaction sends out a different vibe. That's just my honest reaction.

As for not connecting with Gina, her state of belief or unbelief had nothing to do with it. Many of the characters I write, and some of my favorite literary characters, do not belong among the faithful. Two books that come to mind, one Christian and the other secular, with non-believers as their main characters: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, and The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox. The first is about a prostitute (it's a retelling of the story of Hosea and Gomer), and the other is told from the point of view of a murderer. For whatever reason, I made connections with those characters that I did not make with Gina or Cal. Don't know why.

As for the blood of Christ, the concern seems to be that simply drinking the blood will fix everything, whether or not a person actually confesses faith in Him. That may not have been your intention, but that's my take on it, as presented in the story. My own time in Bible college is marked by a particular moment one night in a park near the campus, when friends and I discussed what was meant by "trample underfoot the blood of the covenant" -- it's a sensitive issue, and rightly so. We all want to get it right when we incorporate redemption into our fiction.

I'm glad your work has provided opportunities for you to discuss Christ with nonbelievers. Even a cup of water given in His name is worth all the effort. And only one such conversation, one chance to present the truth, cancels out what anyone on this tour has said, right?

As for giving Gina room to grow and to come to salvation, well, my own disconnect with her did not arise from judgmentalism. I just didn't feel any special concern for or empathy with that character. I didn't quite believe her, nor did I like her. Her faith or lack thereof was not even an issue, as I stated above.

For a real-world example of judgmentalism: I was raised in a very exclusive-thinking denomination, many of my relatives are still part of that false teaching, and as a result, one of my cousins -- a homosexual -- was virtually expelled from the family. The last time I spoke with him was about fifteen years ago, on the night his father died. It didn't matter that I told him he was still family, or that he could come stay with me, he was so wrapped in hurt and pride that he wouldn't bend. I haven't seen or heard from him since, and we don't know if he's even still alive.

So, no, a judgmental attitude is not what kept me (and I can only speak for myself) from connecting with Gina. After all, I didn't click with Cal, either, and he's a true believer. However, some readers on the tour really liked those two characters. Hey, some of us like carrots, some of us like cauliflower, and some of us won't eat veggies if we were paid to do it.

I'll say this again: I'm glad you wrote the books, and that they're published and available to the world.

It's gotta be difficult to read reviews that aren't quite what you'd hoped, but you can say this for the tour: It wasn't staged! (laugh) There's too much variety of opinion for that. And, besides, I subscribe to the notion that honesty is the real compliment, because it implies a person is strong enough to hear the truth, even if it's unpleasant.

And just because these books weren't my thing doesn't mean I won't check out your other work. I'm always on the scout for a story that'll keep me awake waaaaay past my bedtime.

Robert Treskillard said...


When you said:

"Christian fiction -- a term with which I am growing more and more discontented, because it seems to imply sermons in fictional form"

It reminded me of an article I just wrote called "What is Christian Fantasy: a Definition and a Challenge".

You can take a look at it at:

Great review!


Keanan Brand said...

Thanks for the link, Robert. I read the article, and found it to be cogent, entertaining, and true.

When told by fellow writers that a God-like character had no place in fantasy literature, unless said literature was outright allegory, I shook my head and refused to budge. As a Christian, I believe I can -- with His help -- represent Him in my story and still be true to His character and His message.

However, that story will not be appreciated by all Christian readers -- nor by many secular readers, either. But pleasing the audience in every way is not my goal. My writing belongs, first and foremost, to God. I write for Him.

I do endeavor, though, to be as entertaining in whatever I write. It's possible to be so wrapped up in a theme or a message or a moral that one forgets to tell a story -- which is one of the things I dislike about the term "Christian fiction". Thanks for addressing the matter in your article.