Monday, August 20, 2012

Angels and Nephilim and other Biblical Beings in Fiction - CSFF Blog Tour

Julie here! This month, the CSFF Blog Tour is reviewing Karyn Henley's Eye of the Sword (blog, Facebook).

I'm not a fan of angels in fiction. In addition to the concern Henley expresses on her website about not wanting to go through God's middleman, I also notice the media tends to get angels wrong. No, I never thought that when a bell rings an angel gets its wings, but I was shocked in 7th or 8th grade to discover that no, angels are NOT actually dead people, but created beings.

There are a lot of things about angels in Eye of the Sword that I personally disagree with, despite Henley's extensive Christian work history. Full disclosure, I did not read the first book in the series, Breath of Angel, so it's possible some of these points were addressed there. However, in Eye of the Sword:
  • Humans and angels can have children, and the end result is Nephilim, who are neither giants nor bad. (See Genesis 6, where God is very angry, in close conjunction with the angels taking human women as wives. One explanation, though not the only one, is that God needed the flood to wipe out the half-breed Nephilim from the Earth.)
  • Female angels can bear children of human men.
  • Unless I read wrong, angels seem to be able to die as humans die.
  • Outside of heaven, angels seem to consistently look like humans (aside from wings they hide under a cape).
  • Many angels spend their time with humans, acting more or less like humans; I saw little evidence of them thinking about God and His affairs.
  • Angels can't get to heaven if their stairway is missing.
Some people will find no problem with these rules applying to angels. Others might argue that this is a fantasy world, so the Biblical portrayal of angels doesn't have to apply. For some reason, I have no problem when Christian fantasy portrays dragons (commonly portrayed as Satan in the Bible) and pegasii (Pegasus was a "god"). I think C.S. Lewis even redeemed dryads in Narnia. (Not so sure about Bacchus, though!)

But I personally can't view angels with the same flexibility I give dragons. Angels are absolutely real, Biblical beings, not figurative portrayals. They are involved in human affairs, and are second to God. Even if we speculate that God created countless worlds (and I love to speculate about that), would the angels themselves be so drastically different in those other words?

Even allowing that angels might be different in other worlds, Eye of the Sword takes place in a world where the term "comain" is used for people who seem to basically fulfill the function of knights.  I don't agree with everything Orson Scott Card has to say, but he (and I believe many others) argue that in fantasy, if you use a new term for an item, there should be a good reason for it. If someone's eating a fruit that looks a lot like an apple, and tastes a lot like an apple, and grows on trees that look like apple trees, and is made into pies that taste like apple pies, it's probably best to just call the fruit an apple.

So by that logic, I as reader assume that the so-called "angels" and "Nephilim" are supposed to be MORE similar to the real angels and Nephilim of our world, than the king-serving, sword-and-shield bearing, horse-riding "comains" are similar to the knights of old. And given that these angels and Nephilim do not at all match up to my expectations, I got alternately irritated and offended when reading about them.

Anyway, angels obviously fascinate a lot of people, and just a cursory look at Henley's website reveals how much they interest her. She has an engaging writing style and writes a good fantasy. I'm almost certain I would have really liked Eye of the Sword if the angels had been another race, aliens, or something besides "angels." That said, angels are so popular, I would imagine they helped the book sell.

So! What you think about fantasy portrayals of Biblical things like angels? I'll review the book tomorrow.

Here are the other blog tour participants:

Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Jackie Castle
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Theresa Dunlap
Cynthia Dyer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Karen McSpadden
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Mirriam Neal
Faye Oygard
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

(I received a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for a review.)


  1. Thanks for the review, Julie. i didn't get to read this tour book, but your review makes it sound interesting.


  2. I never really thought about people having an issue with the angels. I didn't, but I can see where you're coming from.

  3. Didn't have a problem with uses of different terms i.e. "comain", because it lends a sense of otherness to the story. It's shorthand, way of quickly, efficiently taking the readers to another place. I do it all the time in my own writing, and I enjoy when it's done well in other books.

    As for angels, yes, I understand and agree with the argument that they are not portrayed in the novel as we know them from the Bible. However, I was expecting sappiness and the usual "angelology" that we've been fed (angels are the souls of the dead, for instance, or as the mysterious begins co-opted by New Age adherents). Instead, I read realistic characters in a deadly-serious world, and these angels are muscular rather than ethereal. I dig that.

  4. Interesting thoughts and something to think about.

  5. Julie, I don't know if you're a fan of Harry Potter or not, but I've argued before that the wizards in Ms. Rowling's imaginative world are not in any way real wizards. They are constructs of her imagination. I read the angels of Ms. Henley's world the same way--otherwise they would have given me the same problems you mentioned.

    I skimmed the Angelology page on Ms. Henley's site and from what I saw, I believe she was "sub-creating" (as Tolkien would say) a world in which angels were beings other than the real beings of the Bible (and our world). I didn't get the sense that she was trying to portray them "as they really are," but rather populating her world with beings that could just as easily have been called elves with wings.

    I wonder if the angels were a help or a hindrance to selling more books. I think among a lot of Christians, they would be difficult as you found them to be. I certainly saw them as a barrier to overcome.


  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Thanks for sharing your viewpoint, Keanan! It may have been someone else, but I THINK Card argued (regarding "apples" etc.) that if, as an example, the apple-like fruit actually has a notable difference or societal function from our apples--such as if apples turn into bananas when they rot, or if people worship apple trees as gods--then it is good to use the different term. I personally think it enhances the speculative element if these renamed items (or people's perception of them) ARE different than our versions in some interesting way, but obviously the idea's up for debate. I find a lot of fantasy more complicated than I like, but obviously the target audience loves it!

    Becky, I'm impressed you shared certain concerns but overcame the angel barrier better than I could! I'm not a FAN of Harry Potter exactly, but I did enjoy the 5 books I read before I understand they kind of stopped editing. ;) I guess I was able to compartmentalize Rowling's wizards versus real ones because Rowling's are very different from the witches and wizards in our current world, and (rightly or wrongly) I tend to see the old wizards like Merlin as fictional/mythological instead of threatening. Though, fictional wizards or not, I have no fantasies of enrolling in Hogwarts...magic spells just don't interest me that much. Internal powers like mutants, on the other hand, I adore. Magic in CHRISTIAN speculative fiction...that sure is a debate!

    I also wanted to clarify (not in response to anyone) that alternate readings of Genesis 6 say the "sons of God" are not angels. Given the use of Nephilim in the book, however, I assume the angel interpretation is either Henley's actual view, or at least what she is "speculating" on in this book, so that's what I meant by that reference.

  7. Interesting take on the angels. They seemed a lot more akin to Tolkien's elves than angels as I think of them.


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