Monday, February 20, 2012

The Pros & Cons of Bryan Davis

Bryan Davis is a Christian fantasy author especially known for the Dragons in Our Midst and the Oracles of Fire series. He is one of the foremost Christian fantasy authors of this generation—in fact, I’ve found his books in local libraries from Arkansas to Asia.

Below, I’ve outlined some of the pros and cons of his work that I found when reading the Dragons in our Midst and Oracles of Fire series (I haven’t read any of his other works yet, so none of the comments below apply to them).

o   One of the best things about these stories is the strong Christian themes found in each story. I love that Davis upholds the Christian ideas of redemption, sacrifice, sin, prayer, repentance, and so forth. He provides an excellent example of strong Christian elements yet exciting fantasy worlds and characters.
o   Davis’ Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire series contain a fascinating interpretive history of the earth spanning from creation through the modern age. I was enthralled and captivated by the creative ways in which Davis chose to weave events in our history—like King Arthur, the account of the Genesis flood, and Nimrod from the Old Testament—with his stories of dragons.
o   While I found some of his earliest writing (Raising Dragons, for example) a trifle stiff and plain, I have really enjoyed reading Davis’ progression as a writer into much more subtle and complex grounds in his later works.

o   The stories may feel “pushy” to non-Christians, since they overtly advocate such activities as prayer and trust in God. However, since these books were written for a primarily Christian audience, this may not be a real issue.
o   As with all interpretive stories, Davis’ theology can be contended. For example, in Circles of Seven, the hero must travel through the seven “levels” of hell and be the human savior of the dragon race. While Davis does explain this in the story, some may feel rather squeamish about spiritual liberties taken therein.
o   For myself personally, I was not always satisfied with Davis’ writing style and with the plot of the stories themselves. Several times, I felt that the climaxes were forced by characters’ stupidity rather than their conscious choices. In addition, I disliked how some of the female characters felt like damsels-in-distress without much individual personality.

On the whole, despite the flaws mentioned above, I enjoyed Davis’ work and I would recommend it. As Christian fantasy writers, it’s important for us to see what others are doing well, and seek to imitate them. It’s also important to discuss them, so here’s a few questions to get you thinking:

If you’ve read any of Davis’ books, what did you think of them? Do you agree with the pros and cons I wrote above, or do you have some of your own to contribute? What elements in his stories make them “Christian” fantasy, and have you used any of these in your own writing?

If you haven’t read any of his books, then, without further ado, I point you in the direction of your local library: go get ‘em! (Don't let their size--or their dragons--intimidate you. They're worth the read.) Then come back and join the discussion :)



  1. I read the first Dragons in Our Midst book because I knew he was coming to the 2011 Summer Workshop.

    I don't normally read fantasy because I don't really care for it beyond classics like Lewis and Tolkien.

    And...I wasn't that impressed. Just kinda a "meh" experience for me. Of course, that IS his first and I bet they do get better...

    But I still don't really read fantasy, so I haven't tried anymore. *shrug*

    From the workshop, though, he seems to be a guy with his heart in the right place, and I'm glad he's touching Christian teens with his work. :)

    1. Yeah, I agree with you...I didn't love the first few books that much. However, they did seem to grow on me as I finished up the second series. I do think you can see a lot of improvement. However, yes, it takes a certain (fairly specific) audience to really love his work.

      And you're totally right, Nairam--the most important part is the heart! :)

  2. I read this books a while back, and although I enjoyed the plot, I found the writing to be dry. Dry to the point of me not finishing the series. Like you said, lots of good elements, but bad as well.

    1. Yeah, I agree, Sunny--it was a mixed experience for me, too. If I was to recommend reading order, I'd definitely say start with the oracles of fire series, just because the dragons in our midst has a lot of really weak writing in it, as you said. Still, it's good to learn from his writing and see how we can do it better :)

  3. These are really interesting thoughts. You mention that it's pretty explicitly Christian; do you think there should be different levels of blatantness (for lack of a better word) in fantasy by Christian authors? Because if it's so obvious as to be uninteresting to non-Christians, then it doesn't shed very much light on any sphere except that of the Christians. Just a thought.

    1. Hmm...good question. Whether or not there should be, there certainly are different levels of subtlety in communicating Christian messages in fantasy. For example, we might say that JRR Tolkien is on one end of the spectrum, and CS Lewis is on the opposite side. Both of these men wrote amazing works with real literary quality that both Christians and non-Christians appreciate. So even though we might call The Chronicles of Narnia "obvious," they've spoken to Christians and non-Christians alike. I guess that's what sets apart literary quality from the mediocre: true masterpieces appeal to audiences across the board, because their themes are universal. Everyone can relate to them. So if we want to write more "obvious" Christian books and want non-Christian audiences to read them, we'd better make certain to write masterpieces!

      Sorry for the mini-rant! And thanks for the great comment :)

  4. I read the Dragons in Our Midst series several years ago, after a friend loaned it to me with the promise that it would be good. One thing I can remember enjoying was Davis' interpretation of Biblical events/beings. Some of the conclusions he drew were very unique; however, as you mentioned, I think he took a few liberties with some of his interpretations.
    I don't remember the characters very clearly anymore, but I do recall that, for the most part, they were a little bland.
    Yes, the book was definitely written by a Christian; that's very plain =) I think it can be a good thing; but then again, the blatant statements he makes could also "turn off" potential readers who don't want a sermon. I don' know how I'd deal with that if I were writing a fantasy novel. Oh wait. I am.
    Ha. I suppose I'd better start thinking about that =P

    I liked your review! I might even reread the series now and re-evaluate my opinion, since I'm not fully convinced that my memory is trustworthy =P

    1. Glad you liked the review, Elisabeth! Actually, I started the series because a friend also told me it was good :) .

      Yeah, I agree with your comments. Some interesting and unique ideas, but occasionally shaky theologically. Plus the somewhat bland characters, and the obvious "moralizing" message. Yup.

      Personally, I think CS Lewis has a lot to teach us about "obvious" Christian fantasy that appeals to Christians and non-Christians. I guess the answer to that is to write a masterpiece? :)

      Thanks again!!

  5. Some of these first 'commenters' have really good points, and for the most part, I would agree with you. For me, I just love 'Dragons', and I especially love how he tied in the 'King Arthur' and 'Dragon' legend in with Christianity and mainly the 'creation'. I enjoyed the 'storyline' as far as the whole group of books go. His style of writing is a little different...but at least at the same time, he's fairly simple to understand. True, his books are a little 'preachy'...and that's why I would mostly recommend it to Christian teens, same with Wayne Thomas Batson. I do really like the first book in the other Bryan Davis series, Diviner or something like that. It had better characters, I believe, and it doesn't seem to be as preachy. Of course, I've only read the first book of that I'm not sure about the rest. I think I really enjoyed the DIOM series because I'm obsessed with old 'fantasy' legends such as King Arthur and dragons, and as I said before, the Truth in this world, and I think it was a good mix :) Anyway, that's what I have to say. As Christian Fantasy writers, I think we should take into the account every 'Christian Fantasy' writing, including DIOM, (Davis' other series that are a little bit more interesting), LOTR, and The Chronicles Of Narnia to be sure. I also love Wayne Thomas Batson's stuff...but I'm pretty sure he's a little more preachy then anyone else.

    1. Yeah, I do love the general idea of dragons and weaving that into the history of Christian Creation. It's pretty awesome! And, yes, I agree; it's definitely more for a Christian teen audience. If not quite so much as Batson's work.

      Right, exactly! It's important as Christian fantasy writers to look at everything that's been done, from the old classics to what people are publishing these days (Ted Dekker, Wayne Thomas Batson, Donita K. Paul, etc.).

      Thanks for the comment :)


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Proverbs 15:1
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