Somewhither and the Power of the Cross

I am continuing a discussion concerning three criticisms leveled against SOMEWHITHER by a reviewer who tried manfully to put aside his grinding, migraine-sized hatred of Christianity, and of me in particular, to give my work a fair hearing.

Whether he achieved this high ambition or failed in a particularly embarrassing unselfaware display of gross anti-christian bigotry it would be improper and untoward of me to say.

And, as a matter of policy,  I hold it to be shameful for authors to argue with critics for the same reason a comedian should never explain his joke. If the joke does not make you laugh when you hear it, the comedian cannot argue that missed laugh into being. A successful argument might convince you that you should have laughed: but a mere intellectual conviction that one should have laughed is not the same as having actually laughed. And an unsuccessful argument is even less funny.

But, in this world of unhinged and untrammeled libel, if the critic makes a false statement of fact about what is or is not in the text, I hold myself to be allowed to correct falsehoods. No one is likely to do it for me.

This latitude extends only to statements of fact, not judgement, conclusions, or matters of opinion. On those points I recuse myself.

In this case, the reviewer was unconvinced by three of my inventions. I have already discussed the first two: a Wagner ripoff named Foster and the Highlander ripoff called the Cainim. The third is my Dracula ripoff, called Bloodquaffers.

(I note in passing the reviewer did not criticize my slavish lack of creativity. Go figure.)

Here is the salient critique:

Wright wants to set the rule that the cross works [automatically] as a dynamic symbol of christ’s power not of the belief of the wielder – this is let me stress absolutely fine as a given in a  vampire using novel, vampires are often glossed as having an origin in sin, and I can see why Wright doesn’t want to go down the ‘faith as energy’ route [which for instance in Doctor Who sees vampires defeated by faith in the Russian Revolution, or the Doctor’s faith in his companions] but there needs to be consistency both thematically for ‘vampires are like demons’ and for similar issues ‘what you believe vs it’s God’s power/action’ Wright’s vampires however aren’t vampires, they’re people from an alchemic aeon who have replaced their blood in part with alchemic silver (?) and lost the part of the soul that makes moral judgements – this in itself is nice invention, but as a backstory, how does it justify the automatic curse of the cross upon them?  Is alchemy or soul-lessness inherently cross invoking, if its not trad vampireism?  We don’t know.

So for the Bloodquaffers, some ado seems to be made over the fact that I have crucifixes drive back vampires. Normally this is no cause for objection, but the vampires here are not explicitly said to be sinful mockeries of the Catholic communion where we faithful gain everlasting life by drinking the blood of Christ. Vampires drink our blood and gain everlasting death.

Indeed, the text says the vampires are created by alchemy, black magic, and deliberately destroying one’s own humanity in order to gain diabolic powers, but the text did not explicitly say that was sinful or involved any hellish influence.

I confess to the criticism: The author assumed the reader would be familiar enough with the basics of the traditional vampire story to render it unnecessary to explain that crucifixes repel them.

Because many readers might assume the user’s faith, not the power of Christ, is what repels the vampire, the author did think it necessary to explicitly state that rule was the rule in my invented world. Anne Rice vampires work differently, as do those in BUFFY, in the Dresden files, and in Dungeons and Dragons. So I put the rule onstage, as any author of speculative fiction must.

Now the reviewer explicitly allows me this point, but then seems to think it is not believable that a girl baptized with the baptism of John (she is from  world where John the Baptist arrived centuries before Jesus) could not wield the crucifix to drive back a vampire.

His comment:

Equally in the final battle of the book, Foster Hidden who it is revealed is a worshipper of Odin invokes Odin, and is seemingly as a result empowered in combat. Is that his faith?  Is that God choosing to empower a believer in a false god, because even though Odin is not a real God, the cause and the faith are good (but if so how is that not ‘the faith’ of the user).  Or is it Odin, but if so what does this do for the ‘biblically true’ backstory.

Honestly, I am not sure what scene the reviewer has in mind here. There is a scene where one character uses the crucifix to drive back the vampire, but it is not Foster. As best I can tell, the reviewer merely mistakes  Abby the twelve year old female Babylonian ninja-princess kidnapped by gypsies with Foster Hidden the German gypsy taught by dark elfs, who never even attempts to use the crucifix in this way.

As I have said prior, I am honor bound not to argue the point, but I allow myself the indulgence of reprinting part of a post I posted a year or so ago on the same topic. I apologize for repeating the description of my book to anyone who has read it. 

The question of how crucifixes drive back vampires, as well the questions of how to drive back mummies and other monsters, is an issue on which I have spent far too much time meditating, rather doing things like going outside and getting some exercise doing something useful for mankind. Allow me to quote myself.

“Foster, Carry Ilya’s crucifix to protect yourself and those with you. You will be safe. Abanshaddi, go with them so the headless giant can talk and listen. The Nosferatu cannot approach you.”

Foster said, “Abanshaddi might be safe, but I won’t be! What good will the crucifix do me? I do not worship the White Christ.”

I said, “Hold up. And you call yourself a Boy Scout? What about being reverent?”

“I am reverent!” he said. “Toward Odin.” Then he turned back to Parthenope and said, “The crucifix will not repel vampires for me: you have to have faith for that to work.”

Parthenope raised an eyebrow. “Indeed? Where did you learn this faulty lore?”

“Um… a movie called Fright Night.” he said.

“The moviemakers were in the pay of the blood-quaffers, then.” She said.

Foster looked offended. “But it starred Roddy McDowall!”

“Only if the one you call the White Christ had never lived on earth nor died on the cross would that foolish idea be so. Or do you think it is your own name, your own power, that commands the unclean spirits? If so, then baptisms and marriages and all sacraments blessed by sinful bishops would be invalid: which is absurd.”

I said, “But in D&D, clerics of any alignment can turn undead, with a holy symbol of their god or goddess. It’s pretty generic.”

Foster and Parthenope both looked at me like I was an idiot.

“Sorry,” I said, shrugging. “Me Technomancer. Show me a gun. I know the difference between a clip and a magazine.”

Let me say a word so you can follow who is who.

Our hero is young Ilya (who, despite the name, is Roman Catholic, not Russian Orthodox) who has been kept in ignorance his whole life about his father’s real job as an inter-dimensional silver-bullet-uzis-in-both-fists-and-knife-in-teeth style vampire-slayer and werewolf-hunter, crusader, high-tech knight, warrior-missionary with kung-fu action grip, and all-around holy badass for the Templar Knights, who still exist in secret, and reports to the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office in the Vatican.

Backstory: The Templars found and used the Ark of the Covenant not just to melt Nazi faces but to open up inter-dimensional portals to parallel timelines, only to find an older and stronger organization discovered the secret of paratime travel since the bronze age. Oops.

Ilya is attempting to protect the Mad Scientist’s beautiful daughter when he accidentally falls through a portal in the continuum and into an evil parallel timeline. Hilarity ensues.

(Yes, I made the Inquisition the good guys in my novel. If Anne Rice can make vampires her good guys, why not?)

And, no, the Ark in my version is not locked in an American warehouse. That would be absurd and unbelievable, whereas this story is utterly realistic.

And by ‘utterly realistic’, I mean is utterly and really just like what would happen if truck full of pro-Catholic apologetic tracts, rammed into a warehouse full of pulp magazines, Batman comics, and old episodes of MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., and a novel was flung from the resulting explosion into low Earth orbit, was exposed to space radiation, mutated, and fell to earth in the Arctic, only to be unearthed by unwary scientists who are murdered one by one.

Or if the poet and magician Virgil saw the movie VAN HELSING, went mad, and decided to write an episode of the Highlander-meets-Buffy TV show. That is what I mean by utterly realistic. It is as realistic as a Dan Brown novel, in other words.

Foster Hidden is the best friend and bowhunting partner of Ilya. Both are Boy Scouts in Troop Two from Tillimook, Oregon: and in the scene just before this, stumbling across Foster in the Darkest Tower of the land of Ur, Ilya only then learned Foster is not the American boy he always thought he was: Foster is actually a student of the Dark Elves from the world where Albrecht never lost the One Ring nor the Tarnhelm, and Foster has learned the art of clouding men’s minds to walk unseen among them. Foster had been living on earth in disguise, spying on our hero.

The mermaid Parthenope is speaking. She is from a world where the flood waters of the Deluge have not yet receded. Although young, she is a Mara Hari the sub-aquatic espionage service, and knows more than the rest of the character what the heck is going on. She had been living on Earth, disguised by magic as a surface dweller, spying on our hero.

Abanshaddi is from a parallel time line where the miracle of the fall of the tower of Babel never happened, so she has the power to speak and understand all languages, and acts as the translator for the group.

Our world is one in which the miracles and ministry of Saint Peter and Saint Paul founded a Church in Rome, the city of sin, as unlikely as that sounds, and eventually converted an emperor named Constantine. In this timeline, exorcism was practiced by the Catholics in sufficient number to overthrow the diabolical Gods of Olympus, and quell witchcraft and magic to the point where, odd as that sounds, there are actually people alive on Earth who do not think such things exist! Crazy, huh? The absence of magic allowed for the development of technology, which people from other timelines think is the particular form of magic studied and practiced on our world: and the word they use for someone with firearms and electric flashlights, low-light goggles and all that jazz is ‘technomancer.’

In the scene above,  Parthenope is telling Foster Hidden to take Ilya’s crucifix (which contains the fingerbone of Saint Demetrius of Sermium) and protect the party during a short side-mission.

My personal opinion on the matter? Glad you asked:

The Catholic teaching is that the efficacy of the sacrament is a result, not of the holiness of a priest or minister, but rather of Christ Himself, who is the Author of each sacrament.

With regard to sacramentals (not the same thing as a sacrament: Christ instituted the sacraments and the church instituted and can abolish sacramentals) their efficacy is derived from the prayer and good deeds of the Church as well as the disposition of the beleiver.

The difference is: A sacrament imparts grace in the virtue of the rite itself, while the grace of sacramentals depends on the dispositions of the recipient and the intercession of the church. Some sacramentals are objects such as holy water, scapulars, medals, rosaries. Others are actions such as blessings and exorcisms.

I leave it as an open question to the reader whether driving back a vampire with a crucifix in real life is a sacramental or a sacrament.

But my my text, I am following the original authority of DRACULA, where the protagonist, a Protestant, carried a crucifix, which he regards as little better than a pagan throwback to the darkness of the Middle Ages. He is distinctly unconfortable taking it, but does so out of his well bred English courtesy toward the old Catholic lady who pressed it on him.

His skepticism does not prevent the crucifix from working.

I do not believe there has been an official word from the Vatican on that point, but I believe Saint Ozymandias of Blatherskate holds that while crucifixes repel vampires, it is the Jewish star, also called the Seal of Solomon, which can imprison Genii, but that a golem can be deactivated by anyone who strikes out the proper letter on its brow, not just a Cohen or Rabbi.

Werewolf? Silver bullets. They are servants of the great wolf Monogarm, and silver is apotropaic to them, being a lunar metal.

Mummies? You need to read the BOOK OF COMING FORTH BY DAY, which the vulgar call THE BOOK OF THE DEAD, particularly the Greater Invocation of Isis in the Descending Node. Also, your beautiful daughter will fall in love with him, because she is the reincarnation of Ankh-es-en-amon.  You should have thought of that before you became a meddling British archeologist.

Boris Karloff and Zita Johann in 'The Mummy'

Phantom of the Opera? Good luck with that. He might not have any preternatural powers, but he is nearly impossible to kill. It is like fighting Batman. Hold your forearm always near your neck so that he cannot drop a loop of strangle-wire around it. Also, your hot girlfriend with the great singing voice is in love with him.


Creature of the Black Lagoon? Like Black Manta, everyone thinks this is the weak link in the Legion of Doom, and that you can take care of this Bad Boy with some scuba gear and a speargun. Actually, the Gill-man is a Deep One, and serves some dank Howardian or Lovecraftian creature. He survived being shot with all those bullets, surface dweller. Your hot girlfriend might not be in love with him, but he sure likes her.

june adams

Aliens? It depends: but the general rule is that only science can beat science. The smart kind of alien, the ones with big heads from dying planets, you just sneeze on, they catch a headcold and die. Or you throw a glass of water on them, which is frankly kind of stupid. The dumb kind with molecular acid for blood? Nuke the site from orbit. It is the only way to be sure.



My comment:

Okay, the paragraphs quoted above are not directly related to the point being made by the reviewer, but they are funny, and I wanted to post them again.

If I understand him (and I confess I find his wording a trifle unclear) the reviewer in this case holds that it is the author’s arbitrary fiat, nothing more, which has the crucifix drive back vampires while not explaining how another character can have a magic ring. (If, in fact, it is the use of the magic ring is what the reviewer thought was theologically unsound, given that Odin, or a demon impersonating him, exists in this background, and so does Christ.)

The reviewer apparently feels the text does not sufficiently dispel the doubts that naturally arise to shatter suspension of disbelief in such a case.

I am writing a book where magic works, and God Almighty allows it by His permissive will. The reviewer apparently (if I understand him) feels it shatters suspension of disbelief that I do not address and reconcile the following doubts: How can God Almighty allow magic to work? Or allow the pagan gods to deceive mankind?

Since these are not doubts I have ever heard anyone express aside from a fundamentalist evangelist, one who never read science fiction and who thought Gandalf, Aslan and Harry Potter to be in the service of demons, as an author I took no pains to address or dispel those doubts.

No, I take it back. My evangelist friend did think witches and miracles could both exist in the same world: he merely thought their source of power was different.

The reviewer here is objecting, as best I can tell, that by positing a world where crucifixes repel unclean spirits AND witches and alchemists call up unclean spirits, therefore I am asserting a self contradictory theological model so arbitrary that it can only be attributed to my Catholic worldview overwhelming my narrative skills, and forcing me to pen unbelievable and arbitrary rules for my world, rather than thinking through their ramifications. This, because I do not explain how witches and saints can both exist in make-believe-land.

I should point out that witches, or at least Wicca, and Saints, or at least men and women we revere as saints, do actually exist in the real world. As an author, I judge it not to be necessary to explain, as fiction, what is known in reality as fact. I assume the reader to be familiar with reality.

I should also point out that Gaiman’s SANDMAN has both witchy magic and Christian divinity in the background, as does Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Joss Whedan’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, as well as Mallory’s LE MORTE D’ARTHUR. It is a commonplace trope.

Now, if this reviewer finds this point to be something so jarring that it drives him out of the story because and only because a Christian penned a tale where magic works, then it his knowledge of my worldview that is distracting him and robbing him of the reading experience.

Because, if so, he would have enjoyed the selfsame tale had he thought a non-Christian wrote it. In other words, who the author is, not what he wrote, hinders the reviewer’s reading.

If that is not what the reviewer’s objection was, I am baffled.

It is to shrug. If you are a reader whose tastes and expectations are like those of this reviewer, you are wise to be guided by his advice, and find something to read more to your taste. With my blessing, go in peace, and trouble yourself no more.