Archive for the ‘jeffrey overstreet’ Category

Auralia’s Colors – Jeffrey Overstreet (2007)

February 25, 2008

The people of House Abascar are in perpetual winter — not only are the citizens are under constant threat from marauding beastmen, but the kingdom was stripped of color years before by the since-vanished queen. Now, only the royalty can enjoy color while the rest of the people are draped in grays and murky brown. Morale is low. Fear and paranoia are a given. All await a spring — a grand return of color and joy — that may never come.

At the center of Jeffrey Overstreet’s debut novel is Auralia, a young girl living with the outcasts and criminals camped outside of Abascar’s walls. She spends her time exploring, often collecting materials for the richly-colored weavings she makes. Her joy and compassion are a blessing for the downtrodden outside the city gates, as are the magnificent — and illegal — gifts she makes for everyone.

But while Auralia is the heart of the book and the catalyst for much of what happens, she isn’t the focus; Overstreet populates the Expanse with a great cast. There’s King Cal-marcus, broken by his wife’s disappearance and the ghosts of the past; Prince Cal-raven haunts the woods outside of the kingdom’s walls, drawn more to the outcasts than the aristocrats; and a humble, un-named ale boy who is quickly swept into the adventure. There are also numerous minor characters that richly populate the story.

Overstreet sidesteps some of the standard fantasy tropes and delivers something different, something wonderful. None of the characters fit into the standard fantasy archetypes — Auralia isn’t a harmless waif or tough princess, but a complex, tattered young girl that has a deep love and faith in things she doesn’t entirely understand. And instead of a novel based around swords-and-sorcery action or medieval political intrigue, Auralia’s Colors gives the cast room to breathe and move about and take their own path.

Sometimes the prose is a little too lush, but Overstreet writes beautifully. He’s not writing the story of Abascar — he’s painting it. I also wish the book could’ve fleshed out a few things that seemed glossed over. But that almost seems like a minor afterthought; Overstreet gets everything else right.

The allegorical aspects and themes are also woven into the story well enough that they don’t fall out on to your lap. It’s all pretty powerful stuff, from the children’s whispers and trust in the Keeper that haunts their dreams, to the power of imagination and beauty, no matter how rugged or worn it may seem. The attention to detail and nuance that he’s gained as a film critic (for Christianity Today, among others) pays off. Auralia’s Colors is an accomplished and satisfying debut, minor blemishes and all.

-Jason Panella

Looking Closer Blog
Auralia’s Colors on Amazon


Why I Write Film Reviews

September 5, 2007

Jason Panella interviewed Jeffrey Overstreet, film critic for Christianity Today. He also also written for Paste, Books & Culture and Image. Overstreet is also the author of the recently-released Through a Screen Darkly (Regal Books). His first novel Auralia’s Colors (WaterBrook Press) hits shelves Sept. 4. Visit his blog at

Jason Panella (JP): When did you first realize the importance of taking a critical/thoughtful approach to viewing films?

Jeffrey Overstreet (JO): For better or worse, kids tend to develop intense curiosity about anything that’s forbidden. When I was a kid, movies were all but forbidden—partly because they were expensive and my parents were frugal, and partly because my parents wanted to protect me from unhealthy influences. However, since both of them took me to the library for recreation and read me stories every day, I was addicted to good storytelling. Moviegoing had a certain fascination. I would see the commercials, see the advertisements in the paper and grow more and more curious about what movies were about.

Then I discovered two things: movie reviews in the newspaper, which summarized the stories and then criticized them thoroughly; and Siskel and Ebert’s television show. I remember being enthralled by Siskel and Ebert’s fevered debates. I came to realize that there was more to storytelling than just sitting and listening. There was discernment involved. I needed to decide if I agreed with Siskel or Ebert. I needed to learn the difference between good storytelling and bad storytelling.

This pursuit seemed to fit in which some of the things I was hearing in church. Philippians 4:8 exhorts you to “let your mind dwell on” things that are excellent. I wanted to learn how to recognize excellence.

Instead of keeping a diary like most kids do at some point, I began to write little magazines full of amateur reviews of books I read and music I heard. I even wrote reviews of the stories I composed, and I wasn’t always a friendly critic of my own stuff. When I started going to G-rated and PG-rated films, I reviewed those too.

JP: How did you end up as a film reviewer? What is the role of the film critic?

JO: I eventually contributed music and film reviews to The Falcon, the student newspaper at Seattle Pacific University. And when I graduated, the internet was opening up, so I started posting my own reviews on my first website: Looking Closer.

This was exciting because, having graduated, I was now missing out on the kinds of rigorous critical discussions of literature I had enjoyed at Seattle Pacific. By posting movie reviews online, and by making it clear that my faith played an important part in my engagement with art, I provoked readers to respond with some rather passionate e-mail. I got a lot of hate mail from Christians who thought I was serving the devil by talking about R-rated movies in public. And I got even more enthusiastic mail from Christians around the world who were feeling lonely in their churches because they couldn’t find other passionate cinephiles who would discuss movies with them.

Then I got an email from Steve Lansingh, who had been writing a column about film for Christianity Today. He was stepping down, and he had recommended me as his replacement because he liked my website. I was astonished and overjoyed. Suddenly, I had a large audience of Christian readers who were curious about movies and quite a few readers who weren’t Christians but who were curious about why a Christian was saying about movies. The conversation became much livelier and more interesting.

In my opinion, the role of the film critic is to help moviegoers learn to look closely, consider films more carefully, develop critical discernment and discover the rich rewards that great art has to offer. Like Anton Ego says in Ratatouille, it’s not a critic’s job to sneer and be condescending, but rather to be a passionate advocate for what is new and beautiful and profound. We don’t need food critics to tell us that McDonald’s food is unhealthy and cheap… we all know that. We need food critics to teach us about the art of fine cuisine and to introduce us to that little-known, hole-in-the-wall Thai food restaurant on the edge of town, so we can all enjoy what that place has to offer. When I discover something wonderful, I can’t wait to share it with people. That’s why I write film reviews.