Monday, July 9, 2012
Bryan Liftin Interview with Mary Nichelson
When Mark Elfstrand, Executive Producer and Host of the radio show Morning Ride, asks the question, “Ever wonder about a world with an almost-absence of God?”, author Bryan Litfin rises to the challenge and provides the answer in his action-packed, adventure and romance laden series The Chiveis Trilogy.
Litfin, a theology professor turned weekend writer, has penned an addicting fantasy series that has readers comparing him to Stephen Lawhead and anticipating each addition to the trilogy. With the release of The Kingdom, the final installment in the series comes enthusiasm for some, melancholy to see the series end for others. Understandable in that Litfin has successfully engaged his readers into the plots of each book, and some reviewers have admitted to thinking about the characters long after the last page was turned. I recently asked Litfin about the basis of The Chiveis series, what it was like to get an endorsement by Jerry B. Jenkins, and if his readers could expect another Chiveis-like series in the near future.
MN- One reviewer of The Chiveis Trilogy wrote, “Entertaining, but not highly realistic.” For readers that do not fully understand the premise, can you explain what The Chiveis Trilogy is?
BL- I definitely wanted to write an entertaining series with lots of swashbuckling adventures that will keep the reader turning of the pages. The premise of the Chiveis Trilogy is that there's a terrible virus in the year 2042, which leads to a global nuclear war that wipes out most of earth's population. But that's just the prologue, the setup. The story itself is set four centuries from now--yet it is neither futuristic science fiction nor post-apocalyptic dystopia. Instead, the novels read more like sword-and-horse adventure stories set in a chivalrous context. There are no magical devices or mythical creatures--it's all happening in our real world. This isn't fantasy fiction. A noble kingdom has developed in the Swiss Alps (Schweiz is the German name for Switzerland, and in my imagination the word has evolved to be pronounced "Chiveis"). The people have gotten back to a medieval level of technology. However, the Bible has been lost and the Christian religion is forgotten. So the central story question is, "What if there were a people who had no knowledge of Christianity, and then suddenly a Bible were discovered...what would happen?" The hero and heroine find a Bible and strive to bring the message of its God to their land.
MN- It must have been an amazing moment for you when you got the endorsement on the series by Jerry B. Jenkins. Did that surprise you or did you have a sense going into this that it would be well received?
BL- It was indeed an amazing moment because I respect Jerry so much as a writer, and even more so, as a spiritual leader. He is the chairman of the Board of Trustees for Moody Bible Institute (the college where I teach) so I know him a little bit in that capacity. A few years back I had the privilege of going on a small church history cruise in the Mediterranean, so I got to know Jerry and his wife in that setting. He is such a hilarious guy, he always keeps everyone laughing. And we all know he is a great writer. But what stands out about Jerry Jenkins to me is that he is a godly man who is providing strong leadership for my school. I was very grateful that he would endorse a novel from a new fiction writer like me.
MN- The third book in the trilogy was just released, and obviously that means it is the final in the series. Does The Kingdom neatly tie up all of the storylines with closure or will there be any left that will cause the reader to presume their own ending?
BL- I really hope that I tie up the story lines. I don't want the reader to have to make up an ending. It seems unfair to do that to someone after he or she has journeyed so far with the characters. So I would suggest that all the plot points raised in the story do find their resolution in the third book. Writing The Kingdom was challenging because it not only had to conclude its own self-contained story, but also the macro story of the trilogy. I hope the reader will feel I have done that. I believe I owe this to the reader who has come to love Teo and Ana (the central protagonists). However, what is left open-ended is the expectation that they didn't quit having adventures together after the story ends. They are just not that sort of people. "Happily ever after" for them could not be some kind of settled and tame existence. They are both boundary-pushers, so the novel leaves you with the sense that new horizons will open up to them after you turn the last page. However, I don't have any plans to actually write those stories. I think the trilogy tells one grand narrative from beginning to end -- the return of the true God and his eternal Word to Europe.
MN- Sometimes when you have a series this popular with readers, it isn’t long before you see it on the small or large screen. Any word on whether the series will be made into a movie of sorts?
BL- I would love to see this made into a movie, but I can't imagine it happening because the production values would be huge. You'd have to have all kinds of costuming and props and so many characters and lots of locations in castles and cathedrals and so forth. The trilogy is sort of epic as it sweeps you from the highest alpine mountains to the Black Forest of Germany to the Italian Riviera to the grandeur of Rome to the fiery slopes of Mt. Etna on Sicily to the cities of Marseilles and Geneva and then back to the Swiss Alps again. Really, the cost would be prohibitive. The publisher did, however, make a cool video trailer which might provide a hint of what a movie could be like. It is available on the web at www.chiveis.com. Just click on the banner that says "Watch the New Chiveis Trailer." I suppose if anyone wants to make this into a full length movie, they could contact Crossway.
MN- As a professor at Moody Bible Institute, you have said that your greatest joy comes from investing in your students, especially when you can take them on study tours. Where have you been able to travel with your students, and what is a typical tour like?
BL- I just returned a few days ago from one of those tours. It was fun to get Facebook messages that the third book was starting to move on Amazon, even as I was sitting on a balcony looking at the actual snow-capped peaks of Chiveis! Moody has fantastic students, and it is both my responsibility and my privilege to teach them theology and church history. Over the years I have taken students on academic tours to places such as Italy, Switzerland, Germany and France. These lands are layered into the narrative. As we traipse around the continent exploring the history of our faith, I also look for fascinating story settings. Whether or not every reader picks it up, the Chiveis Trilogy is absolutelyloaded with historical and theological references. The ancient and medieval landscape of Europe is such an important part of this series. In fact, the third book provides an appendix that explains the real-world locations behind the made-up place names.
Perhaps I might also add a word here about the dedication that I make in The Kingdom. My dear friend Dr. Jeff Ligon died of a brain tumor a few months ago. Jeff was a big part of this trilogy because twice he met me in Europe and we struck off on our own as I did research for the books. He drove the car while I imagined the plot. So many of the story locations in the three novels are places we visited together. Sometimes we even happened on a place by chance, and those spots were so cool, they had to go into one of the books! All of this is to say, it is a hallmark of the Chiveis Trilogy that its locations are real places in Europe which can be visited today.
MN- You are a history buff as it applies to world history and church history. How can past events influence the world view of the modern generation?
BL- This is a great question, and the answer to it is what I try to do in my "real" job -- which is not to be a novelist, but a professor. I very much believe our modern generation needs to have a greater sense of connection to the past, and in particular the ancient past. What I mean is that contemporary Christians (especially Evangelicals) need to rediscover their roots in the ancient church, that is to say, the "early church fathers." Evangelicals today are extremely untethered to the catholic church (by which I don't mean Roman Catholicism, but simply the orthodox faith passed down through the ages). In our churches today, anything goes. Churches and their pastors make up stuff as they go along. Where's the sense of rootedness in the ancient past? Where is true, historic Christianity as expressed by the church fathers and encapsulated by the Apostles' Creed? Why do our churches feel more like shopping malls or movie theaters than sacred spaces? Where has all the mysterygone? The problem is, we have lost our ties to the forefathers -- and foremothers -- who have made us who we are. If someone wants to read more about this subject, my bookGetting to Know the Church Fathers was written to provide a helpful introduction to our spiritual ancestors from the ancient period.
MN- It was interesting to me to read that you helped open a Christian school in Wheaton using the classical model of education. Can you define what a classical model of education is and why it is so important?
BL- My interest in classical education goes hand in hand with my appreciation of the ancient past. Helping to start Clapham School in Wheaton was a privilege that my wife and I had a few years ago. Classical education is simply the way people were educated during the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, continuing through the Middle Ages, and indeed, it's the way many Europeans are still being educated today. Unfortunately, many American schools have abandoned the world's great ideas--as expressed in art, history, poetry, philosophy, politics--so that today it seems what matters most is a kid's self-esteem. In contrast, classical education is an approach that leads a child not into himself, but toward an encounter with the great minds that have shaped Western society. The model uses the "Trivium" -- grammar, logic and rhetoric. In other words, it first teaches fundamental building blocks, then teaches you how to think logically about them, and finally teaches you to express yourself beautifully and persuasively. This works fine as a secular model, but it works even better as a way of bringing all culture under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The name ‘Clapham’ comes from a group of Christians associated with the British evangelical politician William Wilberforce who fought for the abolition of the slave trade. The members of the so-called Clapham Sect used their wisdom and eloquence for the glory of God and for justice on earth until the Savior returns. To me that is the true purpose of education.
MN- Are there any more writing projects on the horizon that your fans can be looking for?
BL- Fiction fans might have to wait a little bit. My next project is a non-fiction book in which I will provide easy-to-read translations of several ancient Greek and Latin texts written about the martyrs of the early church who died for their faith in Jesus. However, I do hope to return to fiction in the near future, if God allows it. And if I do, the novels will be like the Chiveis Trilogy -- full of action, adventure, romance, and best of all ... theology!
Author bio- Bryan Litfin was born in Dallas, Texas, and raised in a Christian home as the son of a seminary professor, pastor, and college president. In addition to Texas, he has lived in Memphis, Tennessee, and Oxford, England.
Bryan earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from the University of Tennessee as well as a master's degree in historical theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. From there he went to the University of Virginia, taking a PhD in the field of ancient church history. He is currently professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute in downtown Chicago, where he has been since 2002. He teaches courses in theology, church history, and Western civilization from the ancient and medieval periods. He is the author of Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Brazos, 2007), as well as several scholarly articles and essays. Bryan has always enjoyed epic adventure stories as well as historical fiction, but most of his reading these days is taken up by academia.
Today Bryan lives in downtown Wheaton in a Victorian house built in 1887. He and his wife Carolyn are parents to two children. For recreation Bryan enjoys basketball, traveling, and hiking anywhere there are mountains. The Litfins attend College Church in Wheaton, where Bryan has served on the Board of Missions and as a deacon. He also helped start Clapham School, a Christian primary school in Wheaton using the classical model of education.
To learn more about author Bryan Litfin or for ordering information, visit http://chiveis.com/index.html
About Mary Nichelson: http://www.marysworld411.com/
Other interviews featured in the July edition of The Wordsmith Journal: Rodney Hennigan, David Vince, and William D. Burt.
This interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine