My literary idol is J.R. R. Tolkien, a lifelong Catholic who created the world of Middle Earth and developed his characters and stories–The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings being the best well-known–to depict the epic struggle of Good vs. Evil.
I was baptized Catholic as an infant, but I didn’t start practicing until I was 19. I write young adult science fiction and fantasy, albeit on a smaller scale than Tolkien, but like him, the religious underpinnings are in my works, even if readers may not immediately notice.
My first published work, Dragontamer’s Daughters (released in two parts in 2012, and re-issued in one volume this past summer), tells the story of Isabella and Alijandra, two sisters in an alternate Old West, who take home a small, injured dragon they find after a storm–and needless to say, their lives and that of “Pearl,” as they name the dragon, are never the same again.
Even though there are cowboys and native people, horses and six-shooters and all sorts of other elements you’d expect to find in a Western, the world of Dragontamer’s Daughters is a little different from ours. One such difference is the Church.
In my novel, it has a more feminine aspect: one can say it’s even more Marian than in real life, with many references to “Our Mother,” for example. One of the most important characters is a priest, Daon Raul, who helps Isabella and Alijandra take care of Pearl, and who is a crucial ally later in the story, when things look most bleak for the girls and their family.
The girl’s mother is guided by her faith, relying on it to endure years of hardship, and drawing from it the compassion to take in and look after Pearl, which isn’t easy. When we first meet the dragon, she’s difficult to like, she’s a lot of trouble, and, as the family learns, she’s extremely dangerous.
Even one of the main antagonists–I won’t call her a “bad guy,” because she’s neither–lives steeped in her faith. Governor Guzmarr is looking to arrest the girl’s father, the dragontamer of the book’s title, for high crimes he’s accused of, but she does so not out of malice. She’s a hard woman, ambitious too, but she’s devout. She studied in a religious order for 12 years before the tragedy that the dragontamer was involved with changed her life and set her on the collision course with him, his daughters, and Pearl.
I didn’t intend my follow-up novel, Lost Dogs (published September 2014), to have religious elements, but it did anyway, first appearing here and there as I drafted it, then having more and more allusions as I realized what was happening and embraced the approach.
Lost Dogs is told from the point of view of a German Shepherd named Buddy, who witnesses the end of the human world. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. How could a story about the apocalypse NOT make references to faith?
While reviewers have latched on to how true-to-life my canine characters seem, as well as the unique “dog dialect” that they speak, few have noticed the subtle religious mentions. But they’re there:
- The Garden of Eden;
- Adam and Eve, and eating the forbidden fruit;
- The Satanic figure embodied by one of the dogs;
- Manna falling from the sky;
- Beings that may be “angels” appearing from the skies;
- A character spending 40 days alone in the wilderness.
All those and many more in the story, but they’re subtle or inverted. For instance, the “manna” is not good to eat. The “angels” (if that’s what they are) are not friendly. It’s not fruit that someone is tempted to eat. And so on. Readers might not recognize them, but hopefully they’ll pick them up subconsciously.
My next work–a modern-day fantasy/horror novel tentatively titled In Lonely Lands–will continue to express my faith, but I’m worried that not everyone will embrace it. Though it’s intended for young adults, In Lonely Lands will be darker, scarier, with wounded characters who don’t have God’s love in their lives–and it shows.
In Lonely Lands looks Evil with a capital “E” right in the eye and rips off the glamorous facade that pop culture sometimes gives it. There aren’t any sexy vampires or oh-so-cool supervillains, just monsters pulled from my nightmares. I’m hoping to publish that in October 2016. Keep checking back here for more on In Lonely Lands as it develops.
Kenton Kilgore is a member of St. Christopher’s parish in Chester, MD; and is a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus.
Kenton is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. In addition to the novels mentioned above, he is also the author, with Patrick Eibel, he of Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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