Category Archives: Tween the Weekends

Always Winter, and Never Christmas…Until it Was




Merry Christmas! December’s “Tween the Weekends” falls today, on December 25, so I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a wonderful tween book/series that incorporates the celebration of Christmas: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. I have mentioned several times on this blog that one of the hallmarks of a good tween book is its ability to speak to multiple groups of readers, providing surface and deeper level meanings that can spark conversations and provide food for thought for tweens and adults alike.

For those few of you who might not have read Lewis’s classic series, it is set in Narnia, a magical country that has been cursed. The evil White Witch has by her power made it always winter – always winter, in the sorrowful words of Tumnus the Faun, and never Christmas.

This horrible scenario speaks to young readers at a visceral level, and also to adult readers on a more intellectual and theological plane. Christmas, the time in Western Civilization marked for joy and love, for gift-giving, laughter, and light, is done away with. In its place is winter, a time of cold and heaviness and death. Young readers are struck by the unfairness of it all. No time off of school. No carols. No holiday spirit. No Christmas presents! Truly, the White Witch is thoroughly evil and must be defeated. Similarly, the great lion Aslan first reveals his goodness from afar, as Father Christmas appears in Aslan’s name and gives presents to the book’s protagonists. All will be all right, the book indicates, now that Christmas has returned.

On a deeper level, this taking away and return of Christmas also speaks powerfully to the theological themes that C.S. Lewis purposefully weaves into his Narnia series. As a Christian theologian, Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to be a reimagining of the gospel story. In Christianity, Christmas is celebrated in remembrance of the fact that God came to Earth as a man, becoming one of His creatures in order to fulfill the promises that He made: that He would redeem them from their sins and bring them back into fellowship with Him. Without Christmas, there is no incarnation, no redemption, and no hope for mankind. “Always winter and never Christmas” is in fact a profound lament of the state of the soul of Narnia: cold, hard, frozen, and without hope.

The appearance of Father Christmas, therefore, not only is a tangible show of the joy and “Christmas Spirit” that return to Narnia as the White Witch’s power wanes, but also a nonverbal foreshadowing of the incarnation and redemption that will come in the rest of the book. Aslan is revealed to be the savior of Narnia, a talking beast who lived among talking beasts, the king of all and the son of the great Emperor Beyond the Sea, the good and faithful one who is willing to die in the place of a traitor and in doing so overturns death itself. The redemption of Edmund, the overthrow of the White Witch, and the establishment of the Golden Age of Narnia all flow directly from Aslan’s choice to enter the world which He sang into existence as a beast of flesh and blood. They flow directly from Christmas, which the White Witch cannot hold back once Aslan decides to return to Narnia.

And all of this wrapped up in a tween fantasy book loved by generations of children and adults. Wow. Now that’s a level of meaning-making for an author to strive for!

Tween the Weekends: Good, Evil, and Tween Books


There ought to be a bright yellow sign that pops up whenever an author sits down to write tween fiction. Caution! Develop with care! Why this warning? Because tween fiction is harder to write than it looks.

This “Tween the Weekends” post addresses one of these problem areas. If handled correctly, it helps your tween read become a powerful, memorable, and satisfying story. If mishandled, however, it makes readers want to gag and throw the book out the window. What is this problem area? The stark handling of good and evil in typical tween fiction.

It’s well known among psychologists that developmentally, children think in far more black and white terms than do adults. Things are either wonderful or terrible. They love brussel sprouts, and they hate whipped cream. (Or maybe that was just me.) More relevantly, people are either good guys or bad guys: there is no in between.

Most beloved tween fiction, even if not written specifically for children, maintains its broad appeal because of its strong good versus evil characterization. Harry Potter versus Voldemort. Percy Jackson versus mythical monsters. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader. Aslan versus the White Witch. Even historical figures and ancient myths are made “child-friendly” by simplifying motivations or characterizations and painting individuals as either good or evil. Robin Hood versus the Sheriff of Nottingham. King Arthur versus Mordred. Hercules versus Hera. (That one’s fun to read in its childproofed versions…) As a note, non-tween fiction may also employ the use of good versus evil, but also tends to feature characters who are far more gray. Examples include the popular Game of Thrones series, or even C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.

A problem, however, comes in when authors see the form on its surface, but fail to look more deeply at the characters beyond the form. “Oh,” says this prospective author, “I can write a tween book! Captain Perfect versus General Despicable, here we come!” The result, unfortunately, is ghastly. Once you’ve met one perfect character, you’ve met them all. The same goes with reprobate villains. I won’t name names, but I recently put down a tween book halfway through because its Evil King who poisoned the rightful heir to the throne did nothing except, well, be evil. It was simply boring.

But, you ask, how are Voldemort, Darth Vader, and the White Witch any different from General Despicable? The same way that Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Aslan are all different from Captain Perfect. They’re all people. And that’s the trick. A talented author of tween fiction writes a person and uses him or her as an embodiment of good or evil in a given context. A less talented author writes an embodiment of good or evil and calls it a person. People are complex; embodiments are flat. People are interesting; embodiments are boring and predictable.

Going back to examples from popular tween literature: Harry Potter has anger issues, is impulsive and stubborn, and doesn’t take school seriously. But he’s still “the good guy.” Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar from Tamora Pierce’s The Circle of Magic are “the good guys,” even though Sandry is imperious, Tris is hot-headed, Daja looks down on those of other cultures, and Briar is, well, a convicted thief. Even those protagonists who don’t have major flaws still have personalities: Jonas from Lois Lowry’s The Giver is a very different person from Lucy in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Matthias the mouse in Brian Jacques’ Redwall. (And not just because of differences in sex and species.)

Similarly, villains can be presented as “pure evil” and still have a personality. Voldemort fears death, hates those of impure blood, and cares for Nagini his snake. Darth Vader fears no one but his master the Emperor and serves him loyally – until he has to choose between the Emperor and his family. The White Witch is eager to claim her rights and fearless when she knows the law supports her, but terrified of the Lion who can break her curse.

These are the stories that children and adults enjoy together. The ones where good triumphs, where evil is vanquished, and where an ending is unambiguous. But just because good triumphs, evil is vanquished, and an ending is unambiguous doesn’t make a story enjoyable. Caution. Develop with care. Your readers will thank you.

Why “Tween” Books are Amazing

This is an “Emblazoners: Tween the Weekends” post. You can find out more about this group of writers of “tween” fiction at


I dare say that most of my favorite book series either are, or started off, as “tween” fiction. What is “tween” fiction, you ask? It’s fiction written at a higher level than children’s books – high school level, typically – but that doesn’t involve what is stereotypically called “adult material.” The type of books that you’re looking for when you’re a ten year old who consumes books like locusts consume crops, voraciously devouring words until the children’s section of the library is bare of new material in what seems like mere seconds. (Do I speak with the voice of experience here? Why yes, I do.)

When you’re ten, and twelve, and even thirteen, you want a good story with enjoyable, believable characters, a story that’s well-written, a story that’s fast-paced and exciting and ends well – in fact, you want everything that an adult reader wants – it’s just that you want it without the four-letter words and bedroom scenes that are so typically found in books written for older readers.

And you know what? I still love to read them. From C.S. Lewis‘s The Chronicles of Narnia to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, from modern novels like Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Carol Kendall’s The Gammage Cup to classic works such as Tolkien’s The Hobbit, there are a large number of critically acclaimed and beloved works that, in my opinion, fall into this niche category.

Call me simple and naive, (Ph.D. student though I be), but I often come away from more current books written for adults with the thought, “I really enjoyed that story and those characters, but I wish they’d left out the language and graphic content.” It’s because of this desire to see more books that I would want to read myself that I write what I would term “tween” fiction. (Not that I typically call it that – I stick to “YA” in general company, or when I’m speaking to older audiences, I just say that I write fantasy.) But I do love to be able to recommend my novel, The Quest of the Unaligned, to adults as enjoyable reading material, to professors as potential class supplemental reading material, and to parents and grandparents as Christmas gifts for their tween family members.

One of the best compliments I got on my book was left as an Amazon review written by a pleased father of a 12-year-old girl: “thank you…for teaching while delighting both my daughter and me (and for provoking some good evening discussions about some very important topics).” That’s what’s amazing about tween books: deep enough to teach adults, safe enough to delight children (and their parents on their behalf), tween literature is a common ground where adults and children alike can enjoy the beauty of a well-crafted world and the journey of its characters together.