You are viewing arhyalon

arhyalon

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
01:49 pm: Wright's Writing Corner: Angels We Have Heard On High!

Here is a repost of my Angel's article. ;-)



The first Great Idea listed by Mortimer Adler happens to be Angels. So, today, I thought I would write about writing about angels.


Some things are intrinsically hard to write about. Angels may be one of those things. I have almost never seen them done well in fiction. I have, however, read really stirring accounts of people who believe that they have seen real angels. While I have no way to judge the veracity of their stories, I can feel the power of the narrative. It come with a sense of awe and wonder.


Somehow, that sense almost never appears in depictions of angels in fantasy and science fiction. Depictions of angels in genre literature and media is almost universally negative. They are the real bad guys, while demons are misunderstood, emo, moody hunks. Or they are weak. Angels are rigid. Angels are hand-wringers. Angels are boring.


Only the ones who fall in love…emphasis there on the word fall…are even the slightest bit interesting. When they fall, then they get to be the cute scruffy hunks.


A perfect example of the way angels are often handled is Neil Gaiman’s Angel Islington from Neverwhere. I love Neverwhere, but Islington is just a villain, and not even a particularly inspiring one. Still, Islington does stand out in my mind as the archetypical example of that kind of wimpy evil angel that seems so popular now. One sees these angels in books and TV shows. They are also popular in a certain kind of movie.


Why?


Well…a number of reasons.




First of all, it is hard to have a powerful force of good and still have a story. Because the logical question then becomes: well, if they are good, and then are powerful…why haven’t they solved all the problems?


Interesting question.


Problem is that the author has to answer that question in a way that makes sense in his story world. Not that easy to do.


A popular answer is: the prime directive. “We angels cannot interfere in the squabbles of men because…we are too benevolent. You must use your free will.” Angels do not interfere for the same reason that parents don’t interfere when their older son is beating their younger son at Monopoly and the younger one is in tears. The adult might comfort the child, but he does not win the game for him. That would not be fair.


In real life, this may make sense, but it is hard to make it satisfying in a story. In real life, letting go of the grip of the world around us and turning to God may be a goal…but in a story, we, the writers, need to do the opposite. To suck people into our imaginary world, to get them to suspend their disbelief. It is difficult to keep the reader in a story where we are telling the reader that the happenings are not important enough for the real good guys to bother with.


A word about real life. I have often wondered how traditional Christians can buy the ‘we don’t interfere like a parent’ theory…when losing the game means going to Hell. I do understand how it would work in according to my church—where Hell is a state of mind you can escape from if you turn to God—or in the world of Near Death Experiences, which also seems to include a Hell one can be prayed out of.


But if Hell is real and permanent? Well, I might not stop my older son from winning the game…but I’d sure stop him from hurting or killing his brother!


But back to the world of fiction.


There are other ways to solve the dilemma. When it was my turn, I turned to some ideas from my church and from C. S. Lewis and decided that Heaven and heavenly things were more substantial than earthly things, not less so. So, when the angel comes into the world, it begins to warp around her and seem flimsy. She can only stay a little while…like a child’s contraption that an adult would break if he climbed into it. So, the parent can only come help for a moment, when the child is really stuck. Otherwise, they have to figure it out on their own. This gave them a slightly stronger reason for not hanging around.


Are angels ever done right? Yes, occasionally, they are. When the spirit of a true testimonial of God’s messengers in our life is brought to the story. Christmas stories often capture this mood.


One of my favorite angels was Rafe Kovick on the soap opera Port Charles. Back in December of some year about a decade ago, I was working out at the gym in front of a large bank of TVs and I started watching this soap opera…only time I have ever watched one. It had on it this character who looked like a scruffy bad boy, only—he was an angel. And instead of all the terrible things that usually happen on soaps, this one month, in honor of Christmas, the angel would come by and something unexpectedly good would happen. (He was really there to hunt a vampire, but he could pause to perform a few other miracles as well.)


It was just delightful to watch. Every day, something else uplifting occurred. I loved it.


And that is what makes the “real” stories about angels so wonderful…that sense of unexpected joy, of something good appearing where there seemed to be only sorrow, of eucatastrophe…something, surprisingly and unexpectedly good.


As soon as Christmas was over. The angel fell in love, fell, and became uninteresting. But he was so cool when he was an angel!


So…what is your favorite handling of angels in literature or media?





Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

Comments

[User Picture]
From:princejvstin
Date:January 30th, 2013 07:15 pm (UTC)
(Link)
My current favorite is an oldie just re-released in ebook for the first time:

Lyda Morehouse's Archangel Protocol. Set in a theocratically oriented 21st Century, the presence of Angels on the 'Internet' seems like a solid and true fact, until the heroine apparently discovers the truth, and runs into several in the real world...

[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:January 30th, 2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Are the angels good guys or bad guys? (or both. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:princejvstin
Date:January 30th, 2013 09:16 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I can't reveal that completely without you reading the book. :)

Let me just say that Michael is one of the titular Archangels in the book, and he definitely is a good guy.
[User Picture]
From:agilebrit
Date:January 30th, 2013 08:01 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I have now written three stories in which angels are major players (two in what is ostensibly "our world" and one in a straight fantasy setting), and I like to think I'm Doing It Right and at least bringing something new to the table. They are the Good Guys, bound by their Purpose, which is to be Messengers and Guides. They can't interfere, per se, but they can suggest, and tell someone outright that they're being stupid or wrong--because Free Will is the Great Gift that God gave humankind, and to mess with that is the one great taboo.
And their opposite, rule-breakiing numbers are bound by no such strictures and thus make their job exceedingly difficult.

...I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone but my friends and I, in our RP, do it in a way that I actually liked. "Professionals" have a tendency to be polar opposites to me, theologically, which means they have a basic and fundamental break with what I enjoy reading in that vein.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:January 30th, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Oddly, this reminded me of how much I liked the angels in John's roleplaying game. They were not religious. They worked for Greek gods. But they were so august and majestic. They were rather scary, too, but in a good way.

So...where are these stories you've written with good angels?
[User Picture]
From:werewolf_hacker
Date:January 30th, 2013 08:45 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Two of them are looking for homes and one is going to be edited into not-crap when I stick an END at the bottom of this other thing that's kicking my butt. Then it will also look for a home. Hopefully a lucrative one.

All three of them are problematic. Two because of their length (over 15,000 words), and one because it looks like an ordinary "guy sells soul to devil" story at first blush, but there's a twist at the end that makes it not-that. I actually got a really nice, detailed, personal rejection from the editor of the last place I sent that one to. It is a hard sell, but I knew that when I wrote it.

Ben's Guardian/Partner-in-Crime is guriel, and they had a thread last Christmas you might enjoy. Guri is kind of the opposite of "majestic," but he is tons of fun.

...and I just realized I'm logged in with Ben's account. Heh.

Edited at 2013-01-30 08:46 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:January 30th, 2013 09:46 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I've read some of the christmas thread so far. They remind me of Caziel, the grumpy wolf who can turn into a guy in a trench coat from the Rachel Griffin background. Not the awe-inspiring type of angel...but their hearts are in the right place.
[User Picture]
From:agilebrit
Date:January 30th, 2013 11:30 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Guri is an absolute delight and I am lucky to have his mun as my RP partner, because she is just as delightful as he is. The concept of "angels and demons are all brothers" is one that's bled over from the RP into my stories, because I find that to be a really interesting dynamic when they're butting heads.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:January 30th, 2013 11:48 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Mark put that in the game Rachel Griffin is from, too--the demons and angels as children of the same Father, and thus brothers and sisters. It adds lots of interesting dynamics...and makes it difficult for children of angels or demons who suddenly discover that they are members of a very large family. The oldest brother of which was also on campus...as my roommate's familiar. (Mark did such a good job of running Him, too.)




[User Picture]
From:marycatelli
Date:January 30th, 2013 09:28 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"Angels unaware" can work.

And I'm noodling around some notions that probably will end with angels. However that will be one scene, the POV character won't even get a good look at them, and they will be the ones asking the questions.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 30th, 2013 11:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Well, I don't know that I've ever seen the concept done in a movie or tv show where it wasn't absolute tripe, but I loved Lewis' eldila in the Space Trilogy, which bring strong echoes of Milton to my mind (Lewis wrote a great little book on Paradise Lost, by the way). Milton's depiction was wonderful precisely because of the tradition he was writing in. Depicting angels in broad, clearly defined sweeps is much easier in the mytho-poetic realm and loses none of its impact for being what one might consider a bit artistically unsophisticated in another writing style. I love Abdiel's two encounters with the rebels and the contrast drawn. One seems encouraged to realize that Abdiel's power was the same in both encounters. Not because of his own strength, but because of Who's authority he acted under. Not because of his self-justification, but because of the One who justified him. Awesome stuff.

Even more, I enjoyed Milton's depiction of the hierarchical relationship between angels and the rest of the universe, and especially with man. The chapters of Raphael's visit to Adam and Eve are fascinating and full of ambassadorial language and acts, almost a liturgy in action. Grave, serious, and yet still lighthearted, like a dance.
[User Picture]
From:Stephen Barringer
Date:February 1st, 2013 05:15 am (UTC)
(Link)
Well, *Prospero's Daughter* has certainly joined the works I know of where the author at least gave the impression she knew what she was talking about with her angels... ;)

But I think on the whole my favourite angel in literature these days is one both you and your husband will be familiar with: Uriel, as depicted in Jim Butcher's *Dresden Files* novels. He's the only angel I've ever seen written who had *both* a sense of humour *and* the aura of sheer, world-wrecking *power* needed to give angels their gravitas. And he actually makes the "our job is to protect your freedom, not tell you how to use it" argument seem compelling and convincing.

A close second is the narrator from a Stephen Donaldson short story in *Daughter of Regals*, "Unworthy of the Angel", where the nameless protagonist (literally -- he loses his memory of every assignment when he is sent on to the next) is, it transpires, the guardian angel of an artist selling his soul for fame. In here, the resonant point is that the angel can't act without his charge's permission, and the conflict of the story is the angel's purely verbal attempt to rouse the artist's conscience before it's too late -- a task made no easier by the fact that he looks and smells like a homeless bum, having had to steal the first clothes he found. But the climax of the story has all the glorious transcendence one could ask.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:February 1st, 2013 11:59 am (UTC)
(Link)
Thank you. ;-)

I definitely agree that Uriel is done well. Between him and Michael, there is definitely a sense of Light in the background of that story. I am very curious where it is going. (I think I wrote this essay before I read some of the more recent Uriel scenes...otherwise, I would have mentioned him.)

The other story you mention sounds quite interesting...and as if it might have been inspired by something I read once in a Near Death Experience book where something very much like that kind of happened.
From:donnaroyston
Date:February 1st, 2013 04:11 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I enjoy Lord Vetinari as angel in Going Postal. He is an instrument of redemption if Moist von Lipwig makes his own effort to accept the chance. He explicitly tells Moist that he is his angel, and he won't get another one.
It's particularly fun because Vetinari is so unangel-like: black robe, goatee, intimidating, and trained in the Assassin's school.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:February 1st, 2013 05:19 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I wonder if some real angels might be a bit like that.
From:luckymarty
Date:February 1st, 2013 09:04 pm (UTC)
(Link)
The descent of the eldila is surely the gold standard in modern fantasy.

_Wolf Time_, a fairly obscure first novel by Lars Walker, is only so-so as a modern fantasy (it has first novel flaws) -- but in the build-up to the climax there's an angelic visitation, 2-3 pages long, which is first-rate.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:February 1st, 2013 09:43 pm (UTC)
(Link)
The eldil are wonderful!

Sounds very interesting...Wolf Time. Thanks.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 3rd, 2013 04:46 am (UTC)
(Link)
Made the trip over to read this from your husband's blog because the subject is so fascinating.

What always strikes me about angels is how much time they spend saying 'be not afraid'. Apparently encounters with God's messengers are pretty overwhelming.

That said, my favorite literary angels are still Whatsit, Who and Which from Madeleine L'Engle's "Wrinkle in Time". Whatever they are, they are unquestionably *other* and yet comprehensibly good and loving.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:February 3rd, 2013 06:02 am (UTC)
(Link)
My two favorite things angels say are: "Fear not" and "rejoice." So...yeah!

I like your description of Whatsit and the rest!
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:February 3rd, 2013 06:03 am (UTC)
(Link)
Thanks for coming by, by the way.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 6th, 2013 10:36 pm (UTC)

(Link)
Also the Cherubim from 'A Wind in the Door,' and the Seraphim from 'Many Waters.' L'Engle is one of the only authors I've seen who can write decent angels. They actually seem otherworldly.
[User Picture]
From:filialucis
Date:February 4th, 2013 10:12 am (UTC)
(Link)
Have you read R. A. MacAvoy's Damiano trilogy? I thought the angel was rather well portrayed there. (Caveat: It must be 15 years or more since I read it. Keep meaning to reread. Never manage to find the time.)
Powered by LiveJournal.com