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This book series includes: The Brothers, Where Angels Fall, The Second Sun, Fury and Light, From the End of Heaven, and Clear as the Moon.
When a new book comes out in the six-volume Great and Terrible series by Chris Stewart, I can’t resist putting everything aside that I have been reading to delve into the next installment of a story that intrigues me. It is not just that these books are page-turners, though they are. Dramatic events of the Last Days are absorbing as the clash between light and dark is so starkly portrayed.
Yet what endears these books to me is something you just don’t see much elsewhere. Because the first book, The Brothers , begins in the pre-mortal world, you know who the characters are and what they are made of when they are born and are cast into some of earth’s most difficult and trying scenes. You know intimately which of Satan’s minions has an eye to defeat them, and who is gloriously on their side.
Though the narrative boils forward with spirituality and danger under the hands of Stewart, who is a deft storyteller, there are times when we are given to see the spiritual dimension as well. We see loved ones encouraging the mortals on earth, dark spirits needling them in whining voices.
We interviewed Chris to get his take on the epic.
Author Chris Stewart
Q – For those who haven’t read them, tell us about the story behind “The Great and Terrible” series.
A– The series begins in the pre-mortal world where we introduce four characters who are embroiled in the war in heaven. We don’t know much about the war in heaven. You can take all the scriptures that mention it and put them on the back of a postcard. We do know, however, that it wasn’t a physical war, but a war of values. So you see the characters fighting valiantly in the pre-mortal world, and the idea of the books is that they stood up valiantly once against Satan and defeated him, and now they are on earth, they must defeat his forces again.
Our characters on earth are living in the current day. They are born into different locations around the world. None of them come into an LDS family in Salt Lake City Utah , but they all play an important part at standing up for truth when the world is in great crisis. The role they play in major world conflicts is the intriguing idea behind the story. We have conflicts between Middle Eastern countries, some men from around the world who want to destroy the United States and particularly the Constitution and the characters have to fight to defend that.
Q- Your first novel takes place in the pre-mortal world. Have you always been interested in the pre-mortal world?
A- I’ve never even thought about it. If you start to investigate it in scriptures, it can take maybe a whole half an hour. I started writing a series on the Last Days and it just seemed that I had to start in the pre-mortal world. I wanted to show how these characters have faced Satan before and defeated him, and they can do it again. It also allows us to see some scenes from Satan’s point of view throughout the rest of the novels. That wouldn’t have been possible without the whole pre-mortal story from the first book.
Q-When I was younger, I used to think that the War in Heaven was a past event, a done deal. Now I see that was only the first skirmish and the war continues, only the location has been changed to earth. Your characters are still fighting the same war.
A- It’s kind of like the Korean War. There never was any peace treaty.
Military pilot Chris Stewart.
Q-Where did you get the idea for a series on the last days?
A -The premise was actually presented to me by Deseret Book. I was writing for the national market for St. Martin ‘s press. They had an idea for a series based on what would happen in the last days. I think a lot of us associate the last days with wars and rumors of wars. I think that they thought with my background in the military I would be a good fit. Certainly one of the drivers behind the novels is the military intrigue and the geopolitical strife that we might associate with the last days-the conflicts between nations. It isn’t the central premise but it plays a major role.
Q-There are great devastations in this story that the characters must cope with. Are the novels based on something that could really happen?
A- In all my writing, I really try to put a scenario together that’s realistic. My military background just doesn’t allow me to go into fantasy land. I think the story is way more interesting if the reader has a complete buy-in that this is completely plausible. As a writer, I can see these kinds of events happening today or tomorrow. I’m not predicting that they are going to happen, but that they could happen not so far in the future.
Q-One of the things that happens in your story is that an EMP, an electromagnetic pulse, devastates the United States . For those who may not know, what is an EMP?
A- The overall idea has been known for many years. It is interesting that it is talked about so little. This is the idea. If you take any nuclear warhead and launch it to a certain altitude and detonate it there, it interacts with the earth’s magnetic poles in the ionosphere and it creates an enormous electromagnetic pulse that destroys every electronic circuit in its line of site. Immediately everything would be different as electric power grids, generators, computer systems, electronics aboard air craft, all transportation including cars and trains, water purifications plants and refrigeration would all be fried and everything would grind to a halt.
You put that in New York or Washington DC , and that’s a very bad thing, but put that same nuclear warhead and take out massive areas of the country and take them back 130 years and the prospect of mass starvation would become very real. Nobody would die in the initial attack except those who were in airplanes at the time, but for the mass population to be without basic necessities would have a far greater impact.
In the book, we quote from the Senate Intelligence Report on EMPs from 2005, and a final report was released within the last few months. The U.S. Intelligence community looks at prospective threats and they could see that the Iranians were testing their missiles in flight parameters that mimic what would create an EMP.
Q-What’s interesting to me is that in your book, you vividly portray the evil that is let loose when the infrastructure of the nation is destroyed.
A– It is hard for us to understand what that would be like. There would be a lot of evil people who would see it as their opportunity to do whatever they want. Or there are people who are suddenly very desperate. If you have a family who is starving, the father may do whatever it takes to feed his family. It would be a lousy situation for nearly anyone.
However, I think it is interesting that at the same time the darkness grows, individually there are opportunities for miracles to take place and for great light and for great good to come as well. I don’t mean to say that if you obey the commandments and pay your tithing, nothing bad will happen to you, but the books portray a sense of hope that, if you are faithful, you are not just blown around like a leaf in the wind, but that miraculous events will happen and there would be people who would step in to help your family as well.
Q-What I enjoyed about your book, as a reader, is occasionally knowing that there were spirits from the other side, both good and evil, who were seeking to influence the characters, people who were connected to them, and had known them before.
A -I don’t know if there’s scriptural evidence of this, but it makes sense to me that those relationships carry on beyond the veil in more intimate ways than we think. I was asked this once–I’ve been separated from my family for a long time as I’ve been deployed in the military. It doesn’t make me forget them, it makes me think of them more. Perhaps the separation from our loved ones makes them in some ways more anxious to help us when they are allowed.
For those who have lost really close loved ones, we have the sense that the Lord has ways to intervene in our lives, especially when the situation is desperate, and he needs us to be successful. We have seen lots of times in history where the Lord stepped in to protect those who needed to be protected. And, there are times when we are just given comfort through the veil, and for those who have experienced it, it is memorable.
Q-You paint a desperate situation in your books, a world where everything is unraveling very quickly.
A– It was my hope to write something uplifting, but the topic is distressing. We are not writing about a memoir of growing up with my family. We’re writing about the last days and by definition those are going to be trying times, so the book describes those things with characters who respond with courage and faith.
Q-Do you think some of these things you describe will happen?
A– I think it is absolutely likely, but it is just a question of when. It is impossible to imagine that some of these things wouldn’t have to happen at some point, or something like them. The only question is when–in the lives of our children or our grandchildren?
I joke around with my wife that I know it is not the winding down time because the scriptures say that in the last days men will understand Isaiah.
Still, I remember flying with a good friend of mine in 1989, who is not LDS. He knew a little about the Church, and he asked me, “Do you think you’ll ever have missionaries in Russia ?” Russia was on our mind at the time, and I remember thinking, I think we will, but not in our lifetime. It was six months later that the Berlin Wall came down and soon after we had missionaries there. The timing for events of the last days can catch us unaware as well. It is why we listen to the prophets and why we read the scriptures to be prepared.
In the Book of Mormon, Samuel the Lamanite came and gave them a five-year warning before Christ’s birth, maybe we’ll get that.
Q-I think we are given messages all the time, not about time frames, of course, but about how to be prepared, but we don’t hear them because they sound so casual to us.
A– The Spirit warns us individually as well about the things we have to face. A few years ago, I had a sense of concern and asked my brother, “Do you feel a kind of sense of warning?” He said he had no warning sense at all. As it turned out, that sense of concern was for me personally about my own family because I had a child who got very sick and we worried that we might lose him. If He is capable of warning us of challenges in our family, He is capable of warning us as a people of challenging times.
I didn’t set out to do these books because I have any particular insight about our times. I view this as an opportunity to tell a story, and at the same time, make it meaningful and insightful for the readers. I don’t want to infer that I have any more insight than anyone else, but I think that we all agree that we have some challenging times ahead.
Q – Do you have any favorite characters in the series?
A– I love Sam because he came from a fractured family and didn’t have the advantages of some of the others, but at some point he decided the gospel was right, and he acts on it after that. I also love Azadeh who was born in Persia and just had to overcome overwhelming challenges. At one point, before she leaves the pre-mortal realm, Satan did not know the details, but he showed her a tragic scene from her life and asks her, “Who loves you more-me-or someone who would make you go through this?”
Q-I hate to see this series come to an end because I have enjoyed it so much.
A– When we started the series, we had thought we might take it right up to the millennium. Yet, as we started writing, the whole series takes place, instead, in about a year and a half. I’m going to take a couple of years now and finish some books for my national publisher, and then I’ll come back and write a trilogy and release it quickly with the same characters. The time frame will have moved forward a few years and it will feature some amazing events just prior to the millennium. That lapse of time will allow us to do things that we couldn’t otherwise.