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?
MDW: Gideon’s 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.
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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 true.
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 Gideon’s Dawn?
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 to yourself.
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 published books?
MDW: My other books (to date) include…
- Alone With God: Biblical Inspiration for the Unmarried, a daily Christian devotional guide for singles. Published by Barbour Publishing.
- Extraordinary 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.
- Small Group Body Builders, a practical guide for any Christian leader involved in small group youth ministry. Published by Group Publishing.
- Get 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.
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?
MDW: The next book in the series, Waymaker, is scheduled for release in the fall of 2004. The third book, The Word That Prevails, will follow the next year.
EBG: Is there anything else you’d like to add for readers at the Edenstar web site?
MDW: I love hearing from you! Please drop my website at www.michaelwarden.com, introduce yourself, and read the latest happenings in my world.
EBG: Thank you, Michael!