GREEN KNIGHT’S SQUIRE and the Greydanus Occult Glamor Rating

Congratulate me, for the first draft of my latest book, GREEN KNIGHT’S SQUIRE, was finished last night.

It is my first attempt at a juvenile, and tells the story of Gilberec Moth, a sixteen year old from North Carolina, who is unpopular with students and administrators alike because he tells the truth fights for the weak, but does not inform on his fellow students. He also can understand the speech of birds and beasts. He is expelled for fighting, and must find honest work. At the advice of his dog, Ruff, he decides to become a knight.

Even though there is really not that much call for knighthood in the modern age. He follows the dog into the woods, and far from the fields we know.

He finds a one-eyed bear and a mermaid, and an elfin feast, an Arthurian monster and a monstrous saint. He enters places on the globe forgotten to normal men, unseen by satellites and mapmakers, and not a small spot either, but whole citadels, cities, mountains taller than Everest, a third hemisphere. In this untouched, hidden continents are skies where passenger pigeons still fly, plains where American Indians still hunt, jungles where Aztecs still sacrifice, and battlefields where elfish knights adorned in glory fight over which misfortunes to impose on their slaves and cattle, mankind.

And I just wrote the last word of the curtain line last night. Pop the corks and blow the horns!

Now, the first thing to ponder, of course, is the question any Christian fantasy writer must sooner or later encounter: Whether the portrayal of magic powers in his fantasy tale step over the bounds into glorifying occultism?

At one time, I held it to be absurd to worry about the portrayal of magic in books like Lord of the Rings. I thought only that fretful Christians with too much time on their hands, the kind who worry about whether Dungeons and Dragons is satanic, held such knuckledheaded ideas. But then my mind changed (and grew knuckleheaded) in college I met not one but several practicing neo-pagans, modern witches, who listed Tolkien’s work as their primary inspiration for an interest in the supernatural, which led to an interest in manipulating the supernatural by any means that presented themselves, that is, occultism.

To me, it matters not one whit whether occultism actually was real or all elaborate self delusion: worshiping devils and bowing to pagan gods in return for health and happiness, victory in battle or good crops is not so bad, but when you start asking for money and power, revenge on your enemies, curses and diseases, and even the alleged ‘white witches’ who seek only the good of others are reduced to a grinding hatred for their foes and hearts hard and pitiless, that is very bad, and that is precisely where the road of witchcraft lures.

I am not here arguing the point; I am speaking from experience. I have seen people, friends of mine including my closest, who are a good and kindhearted as any man alive, on an instant turn into sniggering, swaggering, sneering bundles of paranoia, malice and malignancy in a fashion that looks like demonic possession; and this is due (as far as I can tell) in their dabbling in occult forces they think they understand, but don’t. It is freaky.

It is also immensely stupid, like watching the intern pick up radium in her hand without donning gloves or protective goggles.

Nonetheless, the abuse of the imagination should not lead to the banning of the imagination, but to its healthy and proper use.

We exiles from Eden know as if by instinct that the material world is not all that there is, and the span between life and death is not the whole story, or, rather, a story of grinding fury, futility, mocking irony and final despair. If it is the whole story, it is senseless, absurd, and ugly. For the Exiles to dream of the realms where glory and power arising, singing, in the vales of endless light is no more contemptible than a muddy soldier in a foxhole clutching the photo of his fiancée, seeking comfort in the image of his true love to whom he will one day return.

To extend the metaphor, if the captain sees some soldiers carrying a picture of a girlfriend, allowed by army regulations, and others carrying a Playboy centerfold that is clearly pornography and against regs, he has to make  judgment about pinup girl photos of Betty Grable or Rita Hayworth.

To do this he has to list the ways in which the first case is like or unlike the second, and if it is too like the second case, it falls into the rules applied to the second case.

Now, those puritans who would throw out the girlfriend’s picture along with the Playboy bunny, be off with you. I need not hear your argument and will not.

There are Christians who eschew Wizard of Oz and Disney’s Tinkerbell for the same reason the monstrous Cromwell banned Christmas and burned violins and smashed stained glass windows.

Anyone who would throw away Narnia for fear of the occult is throwing away a book that saved more souls than their sour rigorism ever did. I am not giving up my Christmas Tree and not given up my D&D. You may, if this forms a particular temptation to you, you give them up, but not everyone need be teetotalers just because you cannot hold your wine.

For the rest of us, there has to be a judgment made between the harmless use of magic as a metaphor for real miracles and the harmful use of magic as a lure toward the occult.

So what are the two cases when it comes to fantasy magic?

Miracles display the power over nature Adam before the fall knew in Eden, and which prophets and martyrs are allowed in crucial moments to display. Occultism is the false promise by devils to give man such powers for the sake of accomplishing those evil works one dare not carry to heaven in prayer. Lucifer promises he will grant your will for filthy, mundane, and shameful things the magician would not dare insult the Virgin to grant.

Miracles in fairy stories are like the blessings of the fairy godmother in Cinderella. The theme of that story is the same as in the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary: He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.

The fairy godmother is a childhood stand-in for the real Mother Mary in the same way that Santa Claus is a stand-in for the real Saint Nicholas, patron of Mariners and protector of children.

Such stand-ins are less prone to mislead the misleadable if certain fences or hedges are placed about the way magic is portrayed in fantasy stories.

The critic and apologist Steven D. Greydanus, in his essay ‘Harry Potter vs. Gandalf’ (, identifies seven possible hedges that serve to divide the magic of fantasy from occultism. Here is the summary by Tom Simon, whom I quote to provide me with an excuse to link to his excellent essay ‘A Taste for Magic’

  1. The pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation is restricted to wholly imaginary realms, unconnected with our own world.
  2. The existence of magic is an openly known reality of which the inhabitants of those worlds are as aware as we are of rocket science.
  3. The pursuit of magic is confined to supporting characters, not the protagonists.
  4. The author includes cautionary threads in which exposure to magical forces proves to be a corrupting influence on the protagonists.
  5. Magical powers occur naturally only to characters who are not in fact human beings.
  6. Magic is the safe and lawful occupation of characters who embody a certain wizard archetype — white-haired old men with beards and robes and staffs, etc.
  7. The author gives no narrative space to the process by which magicians acquire their powers. Although study may be assumed as part of the back story, the wizard appears as a finished product with powers in place, and the reader is not in encouraged to dwell on the process of acquiring prowess in magic.

I am going to add my own hedge 8 beneath this: does the magic in the story act or feel like what real occultism does or pretends to do? Is the character turning to a magician to learn the outcome of a business deal, buy a love potion, lay a curse on a foe? Does the magic involve a rituals mocking of real Roman rites, including bad Latin, and mystic passes, calls and responses, mockeries of baptism or anointing and so on? Does the magic involve open or implied supplications to demons or dark powers, or is it just a superpower or psychic power like the Mind Meld of a Vulcan or Supergirl’s ability to fly, which might as well be a hitherto undiscovered branch of science and technology? Because if the wizard is an adventurer who throws fire from magic wand like a gunfighter blasting away with a sixshooter, in the fashion of Harry Dresden, this is about as occultic as the magic ring of the Green Lantern, which is to say, not at all.

So, the whole world from pole to pole is no doubt breathless and dazed and suffering stomach cramps of wonder and astonishment over the question of how my unpublished manuscript that no one has read lines up with this rather haphazard list of hedges against occultism. Well, gasp with brain-dazzled wonder no more!

Some very mild spoilers are below, but no one has read this manuscript, so it does not matter. Let us step through the list.

Hedge 1: I am not sure how much sense this alleged hedge makes. The world of Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast takes place in late Medieval Europe, and Aladdin somewhere in Araby, but I have never seen anyone lured into occultism by Disney or Cocteau. On the other hand, Middle Earth and even Narnia, because they were lands where spirits were alive, and not the dead world of modern science-worship, provoked an occultic interest, an almost romantic longing for the otherworld, in many a member of my generation.

In my case, GREEN KNIGHT’S SQUIRE  tale takes place allegedly on the modern earth, but it is one of those ‘secret history’ conspiracy yarns that says huge swatches of what the muggles and mundanes think to be reality and real history are fraud and mesmeric illusion. Whether this counts as ‘unconnected to the real world’ is a matter of semantics. It is as connected to the real world as HARRY POTTER or THE MATRIX or MEN IN BLACK.

Unlike Cinderella,  I used the names of real places, mountains, streets, schools and Arthurian figures. So my book as about as real as a Dan Brown novel, where he scrupulously assures us that “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate” and whether you think that bucketload of guff is the real world or not is more a question of your character than anything else.

Hedge 2: I cannot think of any fantasy book where it is not the case that the magic is not openly known, except in cases where those who wish magic to be illegal are the bad guys (the TV show MERLIN for example, or Van Vogt’s SLAN or X-MEN or Larry Correia’s HARD MAGIC).

In fact, aside from WAR IN HEAVEN by Charles Williams, I do not think I can name a fantasy book where the magic was occultist, bad for your health, or required bargains with demons. Hmmm. Well, what about Michael Moorcock’s Elric books? I really sucked to be Elric, but everyone in Melnibone knew what magic was and what it did.

My book is like Harry Potter or Larry Correia’s HARD MAGIC, where the practitioners of magic are kept secret from the normal world. So magic in my book is clearly the province of a secret invisible college or inner elite, which is a big part of the draw of occultism, the chance to know secrets hidden from the world.

Hedge 3: The main character of GREEN KNIGHT SQUIRE is a squire. He knows a charm which allows him to hide his sword under an ordinary looking coat despite that it is much too big — like in the movie HIGHLANDER. He can talk to animals, but he does it by talking, not by a ritual or charm.

By the end of the book, he has a magic dog, magic horn, magic boat pulled by magic swans, a magic girlfriend, a magic sword, a magic horn and an enchanted tower, but that just means he went to the same outfitter as Perseus. And he has magic hair. But he is not a magician.

Hedge 4: Howboy, have I got this is spades, and it is pretty darned creepy if you ask me.

In this Pale Realms of Shade background (this book takes place in the same universe), any poor sap who finds out about the elves is sworn to silence and gets an elf or other familiar spirit to help him get things like gold, opium, harlots, tenure, revenge, dark secrets of the universe, and to commit abortions, adulteries, and thefts undetected. In return, the poor sap must perform the rites and rituals and abominations the elfs use to placate the darker and older powers to which the elfs are beholden.

I decide to make the witches very ‘old school’ in his story. They traffic with fallen angels, not with ‘energies’ or ‘life forces’ or blither like that. They sign a contract in blood and have their tear ducts removed, so no tears of repentance can be shed. The witch or warlock is forbidden to step into a church, speak the name of Christ, or be baptized, and living creatures are placed inside his body with orders to torment and kill him should be disobey.

And whenever the dark powers would otherwise rise up and take an elf away to the darker world of which it is better not to speak, the elf surrenders his pet magician instead, who is hauled off screaming in his place.

The only way for the doomed magician so save himself is to acquire an apprentice and teach him enough magic, but not too much, and feed the ambitious young fool to the darkness in place of the magician.

This is not like being a graduate of Hogwarts. It is more like being heavily in debt to a ruthless drug cartel who has ordered you to sell opium to schoolchildren. If they ever make this into a role playing game, playing a magician in this system will be like playing a vampire in World of Darkness where you loose humanity points each time you do your mojo.

Hedge 5: In my story, this is ambiguous and complex.

Elfs were given power over nature, before the fall, in order to aid mankind, but when Adam and Eve fell and were declared to be rebels, the elfs rebelled against Adam and his children, and brought nature into rebellion with them. The elfish ability to cast illusions and glamour and sing songs no natural thing can resist are native to them and lawful; humans employing such powers are magicians, and accursed.

To make things worse, a third of the hidden peoples are ‘Twilight Folk’ who are neither of the daylit world of man nor of the night time world of elfs. The are halfbreeds, offspring of fairies marrying mortals, and so they sometimes have supernatural talents (such as healing hands or the gift of tongues or the second sight) but the actual ritualized summoning and traffic with demons and fallen Watchers is regarded with horror and detestation by all godfearing halfelfs.

In sum: elf magic is natural to them and is allowed, human magic is not not natural and strictly not allowed, and half-human half-elfs trifling with magic is unseemly, but not directly against the laws of heaven: venal rather than mortal.

Hedge 6: In my story, sort of.

The human warlocks with long robes and pointed hoods and such are doomed because they sold their souls. There are wise old men figures like Merlin or a wise woman who ties the sword belt onto the boy knight and wise old physicians from Atlantis who can concoct potions and philters. The dog has a spy kit and a bottle of hair dye, so he can pass for a collie.

There is a Man in a Black Room who hired Gil to be a member of the Last Crusade and fight against the Supreme Anarchist Council, but let us not speak of him now.

Hedge 7: This looks like a hedge which is only erected as a means to trip Harry Potter.

I can think of a few, very few, books that include a training sequence for magicians (off the top of my head, A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA by Ursula K LeGuin, MASTER OF FIVE MAGICS by Lyndon Hardy, SORCERER’S SON by Phyllis Eisenstein. I cannot recall if the Deryni books by Katherine Kurtz contained any training sequences or not).

I cannot imagine either that the inclusion or the exclusion of training sequences promote or fail to promote anything. I am sorry, but I do not believe this hedge is actually a hedge: nothing of the training and early career of any of the Seven Samurai is shown on the screen, whereas nearly all of NARUTO is nothing but training sequences, but my desire as a viewer to be or play at being a samurai or shinobi, a musketeer or prizefighter is not enflamed or quenched by montages of swordsmen shown doing sword drills over and over, or Rocky punching the hanging bag and doing onehanded push ups.

I make one exception: if an author wrote a scene where the real practices of real occultism was described and explained, this might lure the unwary into occultism. Otherwise, watching the Astrologer’s apprentice learning how to calculate trigonometry and learn the epicycles of Venus is as likely to make a reader crave astrology to make make him crave geometry. Learning the math is the unromantic part. Being told you can have power of your fate is what lures losers to the occult.

In any case, there is no magic school training shown in my story.

SO what is my final score in the Greydanus Glamouring Occultism scale of  0 to 7?

I will give myself a half point each for semi-violations of point 6 and point 5, take away a point or two for a powerful portrayal of magicians as damned and doomed, ignore point 3 because I cannot figure out if it applies here or not since my hero is dripping with more magic items than a magic shop run by Houdini and Celebrimbor the Ringsmith, and give a point for violations of point 2 and point 1, since this is an urban fantasy set in the modern world, but magic is hidden beneath the Mists of Everness, and therefore quite literally is occult.

So the resulting score is …. who care? This book is old school, and the elfs are not the good guys. They are not even the arguably neutral guys: they are rebels against heaven and the tyrants and tormentors of mankind, whom they collectively hate and despise. In this book churchbells terrify elfs and the sign of the cross burns them, and the saints and angels in heaven are the only help for a knight fighting the powers of darkness, so any youth who reads this book and ends up thinking he’d like to be a magician rather than a paladin probably should not be allowed to read the back of a cereal box, because that is just as likely to inflame his curiosity about the occult just as much.