A conversation with Bryan Litfin
It’s always exciting to discover a new author, especially when that author’s works promise to be a bit—different. Bryan Litfin’s forthcoming Chiveis Trilogy promises that excitement. Paradoxes chatted with him as he prepared for the release of the first volume—and his first novel—The Sword (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010). He talked with us about his experiences as a fantasist, theologian, patristic scholar, and hiker.
And all the strange ways they blend together.
PARADOXES: To start with, can you just talk a little bit about yourself, tell us what you do and why?
BRYAN LITFIN: You know, that’s a great question. I could spend several hours just sitting here talking about myself. It’s such a delight and joy to just introspect for all your readers for the next three hours.
But maybe I won’t give you that much.
I teach at Moody Bible Institute, it’s my great joy. I teach theology and church history. This is the only place I’ve ever taught. It’s my only real job since I got out of grad school.
I went to the University of Tennessee, undergrad, and majored actually in print journalism of all things, but never decided to be a reporter. And then went on to seminary at Dallas, so got my theological grounding at DTS. And then went to University of Virginia where I studied ancient church fathers. I have a book out on the church fathers called Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006).
I’m married to a wonderful, beautiful wife, named Carolyn. I have two kids, Will and Anna. We live in Wheaton, Ill.
And that’s me in a nutshell.
How did you make the jump from print media to the church fathers?
I never really made a jump, to be honest. I majored in journalism, but there was never, I’m afraid to say, a real fire in the belly to do that. I don’t know—maybe I should have majored in something else. So it wasn’t much of a jump. In the back of my mind, I always knew I was going to go to seminary.
The bigger jump was probably moving from whatever I might have conceived of Christianity to be when I came to seminary, and making that jump to the church fathers. I think that jump happened somewhere when I was at Dallas, and began to realize I stood within a tradition that was much broader than what I knew. I stood within a tradition that went back further than my own history, or even past the Reformers of the sixteenth century, and went all the way back into ancient times. So I discovered the ancient church fathers as a kind of communal, interpretive church matrix in which I live and do my theology.
Once I had caught the flame for that and got excited about that, then it was a natural thing to go to [the University of] Virginia, because of one the scholars that they have there in that field.
So, obviously, you’ve done the doctoral work on the church fathers, you’ve written a book and, ah, several academic articles on the church fathers—and now you’re turning around writing a fantasy trilogy.
Yeah, it’s a little strange. I’ll say this first of all – I think it’s tagged as fantasy here and there. It’s different than fantasy in one way. So I will make that point. I understand why someone would call it fantasy, or a fantasy trilogy. But it’s not fantasy in one sense, because it’s not fantastic.
The premise is that you’re in our real world in a future society. But it’s a very real world. When I describe places that are in the Swiss Alps (which is where it takes place) or in the Black Forest, these are real places. When a characters sees a mountain, there really is a mountain there. When they cross a river, there really is a river there, [though] their names for it are different.
And so in that sense, it’s not really fantasy. There’s no spell that’s going to save the day, or no dragons, or dwarves, or things like that.
But, no, you’re right—it is a big switch from doing patristics. But at the same time, it’s not as much a switch as you might think. I mean, the genre has changed of course, but let’s think about it. We’re dealing with a society in the story—an overarching, pagan society that has no knowledge of Christianity. A small house church movement has sprung up. There are debates about how to go forward with this new religion of the One True God. And it gets persecuted by the pagan authorities. That’s a kind of parallel to the ancient church. And I weave in a lot of classical and church historical and theological references.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not as much of a transition in terms of the themes that I’ve been thinking about. Although the genre is of course a change. It’s just a new way to teach, almost.
So you say The Sword isn’t necessarily fantasy, per se, in that sense?
Right. I mean, if someone’s going to pick it up and they’re expecting, you know, the Ring of Power or magic, it’s not there. There’s some demonism in it, so I guess that’s supernatural. But you think of fantasy as having fantastic elements.
This is what I call it: an old-fashioned swashbuckler with a theological twist. I think of it as an epic adventure. I wrote it for men—it’s kind of a man’s adventure. (Although there’s a romantic line that became stronger than I knew that it was going to. And that wasn’t my fault—the characters have such chemistry. They did that, not me.)
But it is more of an epic adventure. It reads much more like—what I think is not being done today, but is a classic archetype of literature which has unfortunately, I think, fallen by the wayside—which is the heroic story. Maybe you’d call it knight-errant. It’s more like a mediaeval romance. It’s a classic story of a damsel in distress—if I can use that term—and the hero that rescues.
But, but, I would want to emphasize—what I’m not doing is kind of painting this weak damsel in distress, who’s swooning, and has her hand to her forehead, saying ‘Save me, save me!’ No, it’s not that. It’s not Perils of Pauline Tied Up to the Train Tracks.
There is a strong element of masculinity—heroic action, heroic deed, nobility, chivalry, peril for both characters. But peril in particular for the female character—kind of a rescuing motif. Again, she’s strong. She’s not wilting. She rescues him sometimes, too.
But I did want to tap into what has been, what has been a good thing since Andromeda was chained to the rock, or since Princess Leia was imprisoned in the Death Star. There’s this theme that works, but nobody’s doing it anymore.
That was one of the tasks before me, was to create on a story that reads like a page-turner, and reads like an adventure story should read. So that’s the genre—epic adventure.
If you’re interested in The Sword, and want to read a sample chapter or preorder a copy, please don’t hesitate to visit Bryan’s official website, chiveis.com.