Michael D. Warden is the author
of the fantasy novel Gideon's
Dawn (Barbour Books, 2003).
Here he discusses his approach to writing fantasy in the
tradition of Tolkien.
EBG: Could you give
a quick description of the story and setting of Gideon's
Dawn? What are some of the major themes?
Dawn is a complex epic of
heroic adventure set in a unique, mysterious world where
two magical languages—one born of Creation, the
other of Destruction—are building toward an ultimate
war for dominance.
The main character in the book is a graduate student named
Gideon Dawning, an enigmatic and somewhat unlikeable young
man who's studying geology at UT in Austin. Early on,
we figure out that Gideon isn't terribly balanced as a
person. He's cynical, isolated, and sad. He suffers from
violent sleepwalking episodes that have forced him to
live aloof from the rest of the world. But then, through
a series of amazing events, he finds himself mystically
transported to a very different sort of world—a
world where words can literally kill. Once there, he's
quickly pegged as the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy
regarding a great deliverer, and is set on a path to fulfill
an incredible calling he neither wants nor believes is
At its core, Gideon's
Dawn is a story full of
questions—questions about the real power of redemption,
the doors that faith can open in an ordinary person's
life, the impact of hurtful words on the human heart,
and the ways we all try to wriggle around these issues
without ever really confronting them. It's also a story
about the importance of friendship, and the abiding need
in every human heart for deep and true community.
EBG: It's clear that
you put a lot of effort into world-building for Gideon's
Dawn. How did you develop the detailed history and geography
of the Inherited Lands? Was it developed as you wrote
the story, or did the history and geography come first?
MDW: I did about six months
of historical research before I began writing the first
book. It was in that time that I created the history of
the Inherited Lands, drawing much of the detail from the
histories of various cultures, and stories from the Bible.
Creating the geography of the lands came naturally as
I created the stories that led up to Gideon Dawning's
arrival. I wanted the Land to be permeated with history,
because I knew how important that was to conveying a sense
of trueness and depth to a story. You can't travel through
Europe without getting a profound, almost mystical sense
of the hundreds of generations of people who have been
there before you. I wanted Gideon's experience in the
Inherited Lands to be like that—steeped in history,
tradition and ritual.
EBG: The epic scope
of Gideon's Dawn can be compared to Tolkien's Lord of
the Rings. What do you consider your major influences
that shaped your approach to this story?
MDW: Tolkien is a hero of
mine, so I naturally looked to him for inspiration in
how I approached these books. But I also gleaned insights
from other authors, including Herman Melville, C. S. Lewis,
and Robert Jordan. What I remember most about these authors'
works is the impact they had on me. I knew the stories
were fiction, but they nevertheless resonated in me as
being real and true. They have a sense of continuance
about them. You get the feeling that the stories in those
books have been going on for a long time before you came
along, and once you've finished the book and put it down,
the story still goes on without you. It was important
to me that The Pearlsong Refounding trilogy had the same
effect on people who read it.
EBG: Gideon's Dawn
introduces several complex characters. What is your approach
to characterization? Did you know all the details about
the characters before you started writing?
MDW: As with the historical
research, I started getting to know the characters months
before the writing began. I don't know how other authors
go about creating their characters—for me, it became
a sort of interview process. I'd create a rough outline
of a character—let's say Donovan Truthstay, for
example—and then I'd start asking him questions
to find out what he was really like. In that sense, I
don't really think I create the characters in my books.
I may introduce them to the story, but then they tell
me who they are. Donovan was particularly interesting
to me. When I first created him, I really didn't like
him much. He seemed so stoic and uncaring. But the more
I learned about his story, the more I came to see him
for the truly heroic character he is. Now he's become
one of my favorites.
EBG: What is the greatest
benefit that you hope readers will receive by reading
MDW: That we're all called
to greatness in our own way—and no matter what you've
been through or how deeply you may think you've screwed
up your life, that genuine greatness of heart is still
within your reach. All it takes is faith, and an authentic,
sincere choice to go after the Truth. Brokenness is not
a real hindrance to nobility and heroism—if anything,
it's a prerequisite. In the end, it's always our choices,
and not our circumstances, that define us.
EBG: A cursory reading
might suggest that the Wordhaveners are engaging in magic
spells. How does the Wordhaveners' use of the words of
power differ from occult activity?
MDW: The fact of the matter
is that words do have power. That's the way God designed
us. Our words matter. The Bible is rife with examples
of how a well-placed blessing or curse shaped the life
experience of a person or a nation. Gideon's
Dawn highlights this supernatural
reality, first through Gideon's own life experience with
his abusive family, and then through the world of the
Inherited Lands itself. One of the key messages of the
books is simply this: Words CAN kill—they can kill
your heart, they can kill your will, they can kill your
desire to believe—so be careful what you say, even
That has nothing to do with occultism. Rather, it speaks
to an innate supernatural truth of our existence as beings
created in the image of God.
EBG: What do you think
makes a Christian fantasy novel distinctively "Christian"?
MDW: Actually, I don't like
the label "Christian fantasy" or "Christian
fiction" because I think it creates a false separation
in the marketplace that isn't really helpful to God's
cause. Tolkien's Lord
of the Rings, Kingsolver's
The Poisonwood Bible,
Enger's Peace Like
a River—none of these
are labeled as "Christian fiction," but they
all carry great depth of meaning for anyone who follows
Christ. And the absence of that artificial label broadens
the appeal of those books to include readers who've never
darkened the walls of a church. I prefer to think of my
books simply as great stories that make people think more
deeply about their lives. The fact that I'm a deeply committed
follower of Christ has a powerful impact on my writing,
of course—just as it did with Tolkien. But I don't
think Tolkien would relish the thought of his books being
labeled as "Christian fiction." I'm with him
on that one.
EBG: Based on your
other published works, it sounds as if you have a diverse
writing background. Could you describe your previously
MDW: My other books (to
EBG: The ending of Gideon's
Dawn clearly paves the way for a sequel. What is the next
title in the series and when should we look for it? What
is your vision for the series?
With God: Biblical Inspiration for the Unmarried,
a daily Christian devotional guide for singles. Published
by Barbour Publishing.
Results From Ordinary Teachers: Learning To Teach
As Jesus Taught, an in-depth look at the strategies
and cost of following in the steps of our Master Teacher
in modern times. Published by Group Publishing.
Group Body Builders, a practical guide for
any Christian leader involved in small group youth
ministry. Published by Group Publishing.
Real: Making Core Christian Beliefs Relevant to Teenagers,
the landmark youth ministry book that challenges youth
leaders to build a strong biblical foundation in the
next generation. Co-authored with Mike and Amy Nappa.
Published by Group Publishing.
MDW: The next book in the
is scheduled for release in the fall of 2004. The third
book, The Word That
Prevails, will follow the
EBG: Is there anything
else you'd like to add for readers at the Edenstar web
MDW: I love hearing from
you! Please drop my website at www.michaelwarden.com,
introduce yourself, and read the latest happenings in
EBG: Thank you, Michael!
Contact info: Learn
more about Michael D. Warden at his web site, www.michaelwarden.com.
April 17, 2004