The Blog Hop Tour

Ten Questions for “The Next Big Thing”

A lot of my author friends have been doing the “Blog Hop” tour, in which we all answer the same set of questions about our newest (or future) releases. My thanks to award-winning suspense novelist James L. Rubart, author of Rooms, The Chair, and Soul’s Gate for pointing the way to my blog.

Thanks, also, to Dorothy Love, author of fine Southern historical fiction, for linking to this page. Dorothy is the author of the Hickory Ridge series, including Beauty for Ashes and Every Perfect Gift.

1. What is the working title of your book?

Actually, I want to talk about a series, not just one book. My Timebenders series, first published in 2002, has just been completely revised and updated, with Books 3 and 4 debuting on Christmas Day 2012. Plus, I am currently writing a brand-new book in the series with the working title War of the Electronic Brain.

The first four books in the series are Book 1: Battle before Time, Book 2: Doorway to Doom, Book 3: Invasion of the Time Troopers, and Book 4: Lost in Cydonia. These books are for middle grade readers, ages 9 to 14.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea for the Timebenders series came from my son, who was a kindergartner at the time (he’s now working on his master’s degree!). One day, he came to me and said, “Daddy, would you write a book with me?” I said, “Sure. What kind of book should we write?” He said, “I want to write a book about a time machine and dinosaurs.”

So we started working and we wrote a little each day for a week or two, then we forgot about it for a while. A few years later, I took a fresh look at the pages we had written, and I decided to finish the book. That first book was Battle Before Time, and the publisher asked me to write three more. Last year, I got the rights back from the original publisher, and I updated and rewrote the books, and Greenbrier Books has reissued them with stunning new covers.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

The Timebenders series is science fantasy for young readers. I deliberately chose titles that would have a campy, pulp-science-fiction feel.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a science fiction fan. When I was five years old, my favorite TV show was a space opera called Space Patrol. It had spacemen in space suits with fishbowl helmets spouting dialogue like “Smoking rockets! A cosmic storm!” And my favorite cartoon at that age was Popeye, the Ace of Space, in which Popeye battles space aliens on Mars.

In elementary school, I searched for science fiction books in the school library, and was ecstatic when I discovered A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle on the “new arrivals” shelf. I was only nine, but the scientific concepts and appealing characters captured my imagination. (I wrote about the impact of that book on my life in a recent op-ed piece.)

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My protagonists in the Timbenders series are in their early teens. To play Max McCrane, I’d cast Zach Mills of Super 8 fame (with round-lensed eyeglasses, Zach is Max). The perfect Allie O’Dell would be another Super 8 alum, Elle Fanning (with the addition of red hair and braces). C. J. Sanders, who played a young Ray Charles in Ray, would be well cast as Grady Stubblefield. For villainy, either Max von Sydow or Christopher Plummer would make an excellent Dr. Delyrius, the evil alchemist in Doorway to Doom.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Here’s Book 1: Battle Before Time in one sentence:

“Boy inventor Max McCrane turns a rusty orange Volkswagen into a time machine and takes three friends across time and space to battle a deadly dragon in a place before time began.”

Here’s Book 2: Doorway to Doom:

“Max and friends go back in time to an ancient kingdom ruled by evil King Wyvern and Max must either serve the king or doom his friends to a horrible fate.”

Here’s Book 3: Invasion of the Time Troopers:

“Max McCrane is hijacked into the past by scheming Luna Skyes, and his friends are chased through time by robot warriors of the fourth dimension, the Time Troopers.”

Here’s Book 4: Lost in Cydonia:

“A frightening miscalculation sends Max and friends to Mars, where they encounter an ancient secret guarded by strange blue-skinned creatures, the Timelings.”

Here’s Book 5: (working title of work-in-progress) War of the Electronic Brain

“Max and friends go back in time to Los Angeles in 1942, and must foil a plot to attack America and change the outcome of World War II.”

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agency.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

My first four Timebenders books were each first-drafted in about six to eight weeks (each is about 45,000 words long). Once the first draft is written, there’s a lot more work to do—additional drafts, substantive editing, copyediting, first proofs, and second proofs.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I set out to write the kind of books I enjoyed when I was a boy—a wild roller coaster ride through time and space. I wanted my readers to have the same experience I had when I was a boy reading A Wrinkle in Time, The Martian Chronicles, and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

As time travel fiction, the Timebenders tales are part of a literary tradition going back to Washington Irving, H. G. Wells, and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. There’s even an echo of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in Lost in Cydonia.

And, of course, there’s a great tradition of adult time travel literature that I’ve enjoyed over the years—classic short stories such as Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies—” and “By His Bootstraps,” Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner’s “Vintage Season,” and Harlan Ellison’s “Soldier,” to name a few. Great time travel novels include Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol series, Gordon R. Dickson’s Time Storm, Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time, David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My son, who was in kindergarten at the time, inspired the Timebenders series. That’s why the first book in the series is dedicated to him.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I vividly recall the writing process of the first four Timebenders books, especially Book 2: Doorway to Doom. I was a couple of chapters into the second book when we were attacked on 9/11. At first, the horror of that event disrupted my creative flow. At that time, some of my writer friends actually stopped writing for a few weeks. I had a tight deadline, so I had to keep writing. I wrote with the cable TV news blaring in the background, so I could keep an ear open for news developments.

As I wrote, I kept coming up with new ideas, including a new ending for the book. Later, I realized that most of those new ideas had to do with darkness. My mood was dark, and it showed in the writing. I added a scene where Max, my protagonist, was tossed into a dungeon by the villain, Dr. Delyrius. I added another scene involving Max’s friend, Allie, threading her way through an underground maze by torchlight.

Even though the scenes dealt with darkness, they demonstrated the light of faith, hope, and courage. A number of readers have written to say that those scenes are their favorite passages in the whole series.

I recently gave an extensive interview that provides more background on the writing of the Timebenders series. You can read it at Random Writing Rants.

Thanks for stopping by on the Blog Hop Tour. Check out the Blog Hop interviews by these fine authors:

Southern historical writer Dorothy Love (author of Beauty for Ashes)

Fantasy novelist Jill Williamson (author of By Darkness Hid)

Science fiction writer Steve Rzasa (author of The Word Reclaimed)

The Callahan Kids: Tales of Life on Mars

Stories by Ben Bova, Marianne Dyson, Jim Denney, Michael Carroll, Brian Enke, Rebecca K. Rowe, and Tom Hill, lavishly illustrated by Michael Carroll and Phil Smith

FearTerror-04-w-4FCc_tnWhat would it be like to live on Mars? Find out in The Callahan Kids: Tales of Life on Mars, an anthology for middle-school readers created by science fiction writers and a team of engineers at 4Frontiers Corporation.

The stories take place at Bradbury Base, a realistic Mars settlement that is full of surprises for the first kids growing up there. The nine original tales in the book are beautifully illustrated by Michael Carroll whose artwork has flown in space.

Proceeds from sales of the books will support educational projects to promote the human settlement of the space frontier—and the kids who read this book may be the very ones who open the final frontier to human settlement!

Contributors include Hugo-winning author Ben Bova, Timebenders author Jim Denney, Rebecca Rowe (author of Forbidden Cargo and Circle Tide), artist Phil Smith, former NASA flight controller Marianne Dyson, space scientist Brian Enke, and aerospace engineer Tom Hill. For more information about The Callahan Kids: Tales of Life on Mars, visit the 4Frontiers Authors’ Page.

And visit the Crazy4Mars site for free games, comics, and more!

50 Years of Wonder: ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

A Wrinkle in TimeIn September 1962—fifty years ago this month—my third-grade class filed into the school library in search of adventure. I found mine almost immediately—a book called A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. In my new opinion piece at FoxNews.com, I recall the profound impact this one book had on my life and career. I hope you’ll read it and let me know what you think. —Jim Denney

The Enigma of Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

The true nature and identity of Tom Bombadil is a mystery even to scholars and fans of The Lord of the Rings. Some have suggested that he is one of the Valar, the Powers of the World, the rulers who were sent to Eä (the universe) by Eru Ilúvatar. Possibly so. It’s clear that the jolly, silly, carefree Tom Bombadil persona serves to disguise a deeper, wiser, more powerful reality than Tom lets on. Tolkien isn’t telling, and we can never know for sure.

Tolkien in 1916

We do know that Tom’s stature as a mythic figure grew in the telling. Tolkien originally conceived Tom Bombadil as a having a smaller role and lesser significance in a planned sequel to The Hobbit—the role of a mere forest sprite or spirit. In a 1937 letter, Tolkien pondered whether “Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside, could be made into the hero of a story.” As Tolkien’s vision for The Lord of the Rings grew, so did the stature—and mystery—of Tom Bombadil.

As filmmaker Peter Jackson demonstrated, you can advance the storyline of Tolkien’s tale quite economically by leaving Tom out. But in doing so, you lose something that is very important to the tale—and to Tolkien. As Tolkien himself wrote in a 1954 letter, Tom Bombadil “represents something that I feel important.” I believe Tom represents an elusive but crucial piece of Tolkien’s Christian worldview.My purpose here is not to pin down Tom Bombadil’s precise identity in Tolkien’s legendarium. Instead, I want to talk about Tom Bombadil’s unique place in Tolkien’s spiritual vision. The worldview, structure, and themes of The Lord of the Rings are drenched in Christian memes. So here is my theory about Tom:I believe Tom Bombadil represents the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity in Christian belief. If Eru Ilúvatar, “The One, the Father of All,” is an echo of God the Father, and if Gandalf, Frodo and Strider are echoes of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, then there must be, embedded in The Lord of the Rings, an echo of the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Like the Holy Spirit, Tom possesses an irresistible power and authority, including authority over the created order (see Genesis 1:2). Tom brings comfort and wise counsel to the hobbits, much as the Holy Spirit, our all-wise Comforter who speaks healing to our souls (John 14:26). The Spirit calms our fears and brings us joy and peace. He refreshes us when we feel exhausted, gives us sound guidance and advice, and reminds us to avoid evil. These are all ministries that Tom performed among the hobbits.

The Spirit is God, so He is rightfully the Eldest, who was here before all things. The Spirit knew the dark under the stars before fear came into the world. The Spirit knows all things before they come to pass. Nothing catches the Spirit by surprise. We can conceal nothing from the Spirit, and sin (like the Ring) is no match for the power of the Spirit. We can’t hide from the Spirit, and He rescues us when we call to Him.

Perhaps the most important parallel is this: The Holy Spirit gives us gifts. Tom Bombadil echoes the Spirit by giving gifts to the hobbits. Tom gives them ponies, and he also gives them daggers from the Barrow-wights’ treasure horde. The daggers have blades that “seemed untouched by time, unrusted, sharp, glittering in the sun.” The daggers are swords for the hobbits to use for self-defense on their journey. “Old knives are long enough as swords for hobbit-people,” Tom tells them. “Sharp blades are good to have.”

Clearly, the hobbits don’t fully appreciate the true nature of the battle they have joined. Tolkien writes, “Fighting had not before occurred to any of them as one of the adventures in which their flight would land them.” This echoes our own obliviousness to the spiritual battle of this life. As Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).

And how does the Holy Spirit arm us for spiritual warfare? The same way Tom Bombadil armed the hobbits: with a sword. Paul writes: “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17 NIV). And Hebrews 4:12 also compares God’s Word to a sword: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Tom’s gift of the ponies enables the hobbits to carry out their mission more effectively. The ponies remind us of the gifts of ministry that the Spirit gives to believers, as described in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and elsewhere.

The God-likeness of Tom Bombadil is reinforced by Goldberry. When Frodo asks her, “Tell me, if my asking does not seem foolish, who is Tom Bombadil?,” she replies simply, “He is.” That is clearly a parallel to God’s own statement about himself, “I Am that I Am” (see Exodus 3:14).

In all of these ways, Tom Bombadil is an echo of the Holy Spirit. Is Tom an allegory of the Holy Spirit? No. Tolkien disliked and distrusted allegory. Symbolic characters in The Lord of the Rings offer a resonance of a deeper reality, but they are not intended to teach Bunyanesque lessons.

At the Council of Elrond, we hear many things about Tom Bombadil that are both like and unlike the ministry of the Spirit. Like the Spirit, Tom has set the boundaries of his realm and will not step over them. The Spirit is a still, small voice who invites us to follow Christ—but the Spirit respects human free will and will not step over that boundary.

House at 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, England, where Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings

But at the Council there are things said about Tom that directly contradict the idea that he is a symbolic echo of the Spirit. First, Gandalf says that Tom would be “a most unsafe guardian” of the Ring, and “would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away.” That certainly doesn’t sound like the Spirit! Second, the elf Glorfindel says that Tom would ultimately fall to the onslaught of the Enemy—”Last as he was First; and then Night will come.” Clearly, the Holy Spirit could never be overcome by the evil of the Enemy.

So these descriptions of Tom at the Council of Elrond seem to undermine my theory that Tom represents the Holy Spirit. I see two possible explanations for this contradiction:

1.  In Tolkien’s mind, Gandalf and Glorfindel might simply have been wrong about Tom. They might not have recognized the true depths of Tom Bombadil’s power and wisdom. But I think this explanation is unlikely. It’s hard to imagine that Gandalf could have misread Tom so completely. I think the likelier explanation is:

2. Here is where the similarities between Tom and the Holy Spirit end. Tom is not an allegorical figure. He echoes some aspects of the Spirit—but not all. At some point, the analogy must fail. Tom is a character of fiction after all. Tolkien didn’t intend to teach us about God through Tom and the other God-like characters. He intended to connect with something we already know about God, so that these characters would have greater depth and resonance than mere words on a page. He was tapping into our consciousness of God.

I’m not sure that Tolkien consciously and deliberately created Tom with all of these echoes and resonances of the Holy Spirit. Some of these symbolic parallels may have originated in a subconscious act of the author’s creativity and imagination, infused by his faith. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author wrote that Tom Bombadil “represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyse the feeling precisely. . . . Even in a mythical age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).”

As I was writing my Timebenders series (beginning with Battle Before Time), I often discovered spiritual symbols and parallels in the work only after I had written it. I didn’t always consciously intend for this event or that character to stand for something larger.  But later—sometimes years later—I would reread the story and discover what my subconscious imagination had been up to while hiding from my conscious intellect. I’m sure Tolkien must have had similar experiences again and again.

I was very impressed with the Peter Jackson film version of The Lord of the Rings—but I did miss Tom Bombadil. The enigma of Tom Bombadil is a crucial dimension of Tolkien’s original story. Tom gives us a glimpse into the underlying spiritual reality of the War of the Ring. Without Tom, without that still small voice of the Spirit infusing the earth and air and water of Middle Earth, something doesn’t quite ring true.

Much of the power of Tolkien’s story comes from the fact that it feels like it is also our story—the story of spiritual warfare in the real world, the story of a struggle that is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world, and against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms. The enigmatic Tom Bombadil is an irreplaceable part of The Lord of the Rings. Tom visibly represents that invisible Presence, the Holy Spirit, whose still, small voice speaks softly to us throughout the tale, and throughout our lives.

The Enigma of Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings (Part 1)

For years, I’ve been promising myself a return trip to Middle Earth. It’s been at least fifteen years since I’ve read The Lord Of The Rings. Too long. Well, a couple of weeks ago, I finally took Volume One down from my shelf and began re-reading.

It’s been a long time since I last viewed the Peter Jackson film trilogy, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I am still able to visualize the story through the lens of my own imagination, not the movie images. I still see the characters and scenes as I remember them from my first reading of the book when I was a teenager.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

My latest trip through Middle Earth is doubly enjoyable because I am reunited with one of my favorite Tolkien characters, Tom Bombadil, who was unfortunately omitted from the film version. I’ve always thought it was a mistake for Jackson to leave Tom Bombadil out of the movie.

Though many people think of Tom Bombadil as a minor supporting character in The Lord Of The Rings, he is actually the key to understanding Tolkien’s worldview—a worldview that saturates every page of the trilogy. Tom is character of great symbolic and spiritual depth.

I’m not saying that Tolkien’s intentions are allegorical. Far from it. Tolkien himself once wrote, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” In other words, Tolkien disliked stories in which various characters and story elements are mere symbols intended to teach the reader some sort of lesson.

When Tolkien stated his dislike of allegory, I’m sure he had in mind stories like Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which the protagonist (named Christian) journeys toward the Celestial City (heaven), carrying a heavy burden (sin), and meets various characters along the way with names like Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Help, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality, and on and on. Tolkien’s close friend, C. S. Lewis, captured Tolkien’s viewpoint in a December 7, 1929, letter, saying that some of Tolkien’s early material (which later evolved into the Rings trilogy) had “mythical value: the essence of myth being that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader.”

As a mythmaker and storyteller, Tolkien knew that his first duty was to tell his tale and captivate the reader. There is not a single sentence in the entire three-volume work that is deliberately intended to teach the reader a lesson. Yet, as you read, you encounter, again and again, images, phrases, snatches of dialogue that have “the ring of truth.” These story elements touch our souls as glimpses of an underlying truth—but never as a “lesson” or “the moral to the story.” These glimpses never intrude on our enjoyment of the tale. If we fail to recognize them, no matter—the story still enthralls. If we catch Tolkien’s deeper meaning, our reading experience is that much richer.

So I’m not suggesting that Tom Bombadil is an allegorical figure, or that The Lord Of The Rings as an allegory at all. Yes, there is Christ imagery in The Lord Of The Rings, and it is resonates powerfully in the Christian soul. In fact, the tale contains not one Christ figure, but three: Gandalf the Grey, Frodo Baggins, and Aragorn (Strider). These three figures resonate with the three biblical roles of Jesus Christ—prophet, priest, and king—and each of these figures undergoes a symbolic death and resurrection.

Gandalf represents Christ the prophet. He is the one who understands Deep Wisdom. Like the prophets of the Bible, he is not as much concerned with foretelling the future as with “telling forth” the deep truths that Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring need to know. Like Christ, Gandalf sacrifices himself for his friends in the mines of Moria—and later rises again, changed and glorified.

Frodo represents Christ the priest. He is the Christ figure who carries the sin of the world—the Ring. As Christ bore the cross along the Via Dolorosa, Frodo the Ring-bearer carries the crushing weight of the Ring. He takes the Ring to the gates of hell itself, the Cracks of Doom. As Christ defeated sin on the cross, Frodo succeeds in unmaking the Ring. Frodo even undergoes death (after his battle with the giant spider Shelob) and resurrection. In the end, Frodo experiences an ascension into Paradise when he sails with the elves to Valinor, the Undying Lands.

Aragorn represents Christ the King. The third volume of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, is named for Aragorn. He is a king who, like Christ, has left his kingdom and is destined, according to prophecy, to return and regain his throne. In Aragorn, there’s a resonance of the second coming of Christ. There is also a scene in which Aragorn descends into “hell” in order to find the ghostly Dead Men of Dunharrow.

Is there a being in The Lord of the Rings that corresponds to God the Father or God the Creator? Yes. He is known as Eru Ilúvatar (which means in Elvish, “The One, the Father of All”). He is a remote presence, rarely referred to in The Lord of the Rings, yet there is a sense in which the divine will and providence of Eru Ilúvatar weaves its way throughout the story, influencing events in the same way that the divine will of God the Father shapes human history. While God and Eru Ilúvatar both respect human free will, both are sovereign over history, and their purposes cannot be thwarted, either by Satan or by the Dark Lord.

That brings us back to Tom Bombadil. If you’ve read the trilogy, you remember that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin meet Tom Bombadil in the Old Forest when he rescues them from the evil tree spirit, Old Man Willow. He later rescues them again from the zombie-like Barrow-wights. Tom Bombadil also appears in a 1962 book of poems called The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

Tolkien originally envisioned Tom as a merry nature spirit of the Old Forest and River—whimsical, carefree, and untouched by the cares and evils of the world. Yet Tom also possesses an irresistible power and authority. Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wights fear the power of his voice. At his command, evil creatures retreat from him. Called the “Master of wood, water, and hill,” Tom is married to Goldberry, the River-woman’s daughter. He speaks in a poetic meter, so that his dialogue lilts with a song-like rhythm.

After rescuing Frodo and the other hobbits, Tom feeds and shelters them for two nights. On the first night, Tom tells them stories, sings songs to them, and gives them advice. When he speaks to them, they lose all sense of time and experience a soul-deep healing. Tom calms their fears and tells them, “Have peace now.” He brings them joy, saying, “Let us now laugh and be glad!” As Frodo listens to Tom, time passes without any sense of feeling hungry or tired—only a sense of wonder.

At one point, Frodo asks, “Who are you, Master?” Tom replies, in part: “Eldest, that’s what I am. . . . Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the Little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless—before the Dark Lord came from Outside.”

In an understated way, Tolkien makes it clear that Tom’s meeting and rescue of the hobbits was not a chance encounter. Tom clearly expected the four hobbits—though we are not told how he knew they were coming. It’s clear that Tom expected them because, on the hobbits’ first night in his house, Tom takes them to their guest bedroom, opens the door—and there are four beds already made up and waiting for them, with a pair of slippers beside each bed. Even before their arrival, Tom had prepared a place for each hobbit.

There’s a significant moment near the end of Book I, Chapter 7, where Tom questions Frodo about his travels, and Frodo finds he can conceal nothing from Tom. Frodo finds himself telling Tom more about his own hopes and fears than he has even told his friend Gandalf. Then Tom suddenly commands, “Show me the precious Ring!” Frodo, to his astonishment, finds Tom’s command irresistible: he takes out the Ring and hands it over.

Tom places the Ring on his own finger—yet the Ring has no effect on Tom. It doesn’t make him invisible as it would anyone else. In fact, Tom spins the Ring in the air, and the Ring vanishes with a flash. When Frodo is alarmed at the disappearance of the Ring, Tom makes it reappear and gives it to Frodo. Then Frodo, to make sure it’s the actual Ring, slips it on his finger and becomes invisible to everyone—except Tom.

Why does the Ring have no effect on Tom Bombadil? The Ring does not stir Tom to desire its power—an influence that the Ring has on everyone else, even the Christ-figures, Gandalf, Frodo and Strider/Aragorn. Just as the humanity of Christ was tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) and the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-44), the three Christ-figures were tested by the Ring—and they passed the test. But Tom Bombadil, who calls himself the “Eldest,” and who “remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn,” is completely beyond the Ring’s power and influence. He is neither tested nor tempted by the Ring.

Before sending the hobbits on their way, Tom gives them sound, biblical advice to not be afraid, but to avoid evil. And he gives them a rhyme to sing if they fall into trouble. Tom promises to hear and come to their rescue. The hobbits later use this rhyme to summon Tom when they are captured by the Barrow-wights.

There’s a significant moment in Book II, Chapter 2, during the Council of Elrond in Rivendell. Elrond, the Elf Lord of Rivendell, calls Tom Bombadil by his ancient name, Iarwain Ben-adar, which means “oldest and fatherless.” He is “older than the old,” says Elrond.

When Erestor, Elrond’s chief counselor, suggests that Tom could help them because “he has a power even over the Ring,” Gandalf replies, “No, I should not put it so. Say rather that the Ring has no power over him. He is his own master. . . . [Tom] is withdrawn into a little land, within bounds that he has set, though none can see them, waiting perhaps for a change of days, and he will not step over them.”

Erestor observes that, within those bounds, “nothing seems to dismay him.” So why not give the Ring to Tom and let him keep it there, “for ever harmless”?

Gandalf rejects the idea. If Tom were given the Ring, Gandalf says, “he would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away. Such things have no hold on his mind. He would be a most unsafe guardian.”

Another elf, Glorfindel, adds his opinion that in the end, even Tom Bombadil would fall to the onslaught of the Enemy. “I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First; and then Night will come.”

Who or what does Tom Bombadil—Iarwain Ben-adar, the oldest and fatherless—symbolize? Or should we avoid reading any hidden meaning into this character?

The answer will be revealed in Part 2.

On Writing for Children

Here are a few of my favorite quotations about reading and writing literature for children:

“You must write the book that wants to be written. If the book will be too difficult for grownups, you write it for children.”
—Madeleine L’Engle

“When I was young I longed to write a great novel that should win me fame. Now that I am getting old my first book is written to amuse children. For aside from my evident inability to do anything ‘great,’ I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart and brings its own reward.”
—L. Frank Baum

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”
Walt Disney

“It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one’s adult enjoyment of what are called ‘children’s books.’ I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all. A mature palate will probably not much care for crème de menthe: but it ought still to enjoy bread and butter and honey.”
—C. S. Lewis

“I love letters from little kids. Adults never proclaim themselves ‘your number one fan!'”
Lauren Baratz-Logsted

“The only lastingly important form of writing is writing for children. It is writing that is carried in the reader’s heart for a lifetime; it is writing that speaks to the future.”
Sonya Hartnett

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
G. K. Chesterton

“The tale is often wiser than the teller.”
Susan Fletcher

“We must meet children as equals in that area of our nature where we are their equals. . . . The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man.”
C. S. Lewis

“You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better.”
Maxim Gorky

“I believe that good questions are more important than answers, and the best children’s books ask questions, and make the readers ask questions. And every new question is going to disturb someone’s universe.”
Madeleine L’Engle

“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations-something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.”
Katherine Patterson

“In our time, when the literature for adults is deteriorating, good books for children are the only hope, the only refuge.”
Isaac Bashevis Singer

“Children’s literature must build a bridge between the colorful dream world full of fantasy and illusion, and a tougher real world full of twists and turns. The child armed with the torch of knowledge, awareness and guidance must cross this bridge and set foot to the intense harshness of the bigger world.”
Samad Behrangi

“Most children won’t remember an author’s name, but they remember a good story.”
Amy Timberlake

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
Ursula K. LeGuin

“First rule of writing: When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.”
Zadie Smith

“Imagination has brought mankind through the Dark Ages to its present state of civilization. . . . Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams—daydreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing—are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to invent, and therefore to foster, civilization.”
L. Frank Baum

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”
Jacqueline Kennedy

“Good writing is difficult no matter what the reader’s age—and children deserve the best.”
Aaron Shepard

“Some people argue that life is not always pleasant and that children’s books should reflect reality. Others feel that young people should be protected from the disagreeable side of life, and have their innocence left unsullied for as long as possible. Both of these views are to some degree didactic and neither takes into account young readers’ right to make their own decisions about what they read, to make choices about what interests them, and to seek out books that will help them make sense of their worlds.”
Prue Goodwin

“Don’t you think it’s rather nice to think that we’re in a book that God’s writing? If I were writing the book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right—in the way that’s best for us.”
E. Nesbit

“Edgar Rice Burroughs never would have looked upon himself as a social mover and shaker with social obligations. But as it turns out—and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly—Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world. By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special. That’s what we have to do for everyone, give the gift of life with our books. Say to a girl or boy at age ten, ‘Hey, life is fun! Grow tall!’ I’ve talked to more biochemists and more astronomers and technologists in various fields, who, when they were ten years old, fell in love with John Carter and Tarzan and decided to become something romantic. Burroughs put us on the moon. . . . The need for romance is constant, and again, it’s pooh-poohed by intellectuals. As a result they’re going to stunt their kids. You can’t kill a dream. Social obligation has to come from living with some sense of style, high adventure, and romance.”
Ray Bradbury

“I’ve never written for kids. I’m just trying to tap into the kid in myself and just go with my taste.”
Andrew Stanton, screenwriter, Finding Nemo and WALL-E

Fifty Years of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

Original 1962 edition of
A Wrinkle in Time

Half a century ago this year, my nine-year-old soul was impacted by a brand-new book called A Wrinkle in Time. At that tender age, I was already a devoted science-fiction fan, starved for books to read. (I got hooked on SF at age five while watching black-and-white TV space operas like Space Patrol and Tom Corbett—Space Cadet.)

I still remember seeing A Wrinkle in Time standing upright on the “new arrivals” shelf at my elementary school library. The cover illustration—three silhouetted children inside of radiating concentric circles—attracted my attention and the intriguing title pinned my imagination to the wall.

I checked the book out, took it home, and got lost in it. I’ve re-read the book many times since. I remember being impressed by the way L’Engle seamlessly wove science and religious themes throughout the story.

A Wrinkle in Time contains many biblical quotations and allusions. For example, the beings of the planet Uriel sing lines that echo passages from Isaiah and the Psalms, and the character Aunt Beast quotes from Paul’s Roman epistle. The angelic Mrs. Who quotes Paul the Apostle’s words from his first letter to the Corinthians—words I adopted many years later as a central theme of my Timebenders series:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are (1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NIV).

The spiritual warfare theme of good versus evil, light versus darkness, in A Wrinkle in Time is more than just a matter of dramatic conflict. It mirrors the spiritual struggle that all believers understand—a struggle against hidden authorities, not flesh and blood. The book calls the reader to reject neutrality and join the cosmic conflict in the real world.

A Wrinkle in Time also introduced my young mind to the concept of paradoxes, which are commonly found in both the world of physics and the world of faith. I would define a paradox as a statement or condition that contradicts logic and reason but which is true nonetheless. For example, experimental physics shows that light is both a particle and a wave, even though logically this cannot be true. Rationally, light must be either a particle or a wave, not both. Yet it is both. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment.)

Animation of a tesseract.

One of the paradoxical concepts Madeleine L’Engle wrote about in A Wrinkle in Time is the five-dimensional tesseract—also known as a hypercube, a geometric construct that exists in four dimensions of space and one dimension of time. L’Engle uses the tesseract as a device for “warping” space and allowing travel across the universe without being restricted by the speed of light.

L’Engle paid a price for including such advanced concepts of both faith and physics in A Wrinkle in Time. The manuscript was rejected twenty-six times before she found a publisher, and one of the criticisms she heard again and again from editors was that young readers would be turned off by these advanced scientific concepts. But she persevered, found a publisher—and was vindicated by her readers.

Ideas like the tesseract were heady concepts for my nine-year-old mind, and I eagerly absorbed them, thought about them, and wondered how much of it was true. Concepts many editors condemned as “too advanced” for young readers were, for me, the essence of its appeal. And when I began writing my Timebenders series in 2001, I was encouraged by L’Engle’s bold ideas to include some challenging concepts of my own. And my editors, to their credit, didn’t raise an objection and tell me I had to “talk down” to young readers.  

I believe one of the many reasons I embrace both science and the Christian faith today is because of the influence, fifty years ago, of A Wrinkle in Time. If you’ve never experienced A Wrinkle in Time, now would be a good time to discover it. If you enjoy the book as I do, maybe it’s time to read it again.