Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 5

In case you’re wondering how we got to Part 5 in this discussion, I’m adding in the last three days of the blog tour because I shared pertinent thoughts about magic.

But before returning to that subject, I want to highlight a couple people. First is Jeff Gerke, fiction acquisitions editor at NavPress and founder of Realms, the brief fantasy imprint for Strang. Jeff is probably the most fantasy-friendly editor in the CBA. I thought belatedly that I should invite him to join the blog tour, though his blog posts are … sporadic, at best. 🙂 (Averaging once every three months, as near as I could figure).

I did contact him Friday, and he seemed supportive of our endeavors. He reminded me, in fact, that he also is a fantasy writer. You can check out an excerpt of his work at his blog.

In his e-mail, Jeff put in a plug for one of his authors at Realms, Miles Owens. Tim Frankovich reviewed Owens’s novel Daughter of Prophecy, something I hope to do, too. I think Miles is one of the best, up-and-coming Christian fantasy authors I’ve read. I’d buy more of his work whenever possible.

On to magic. Let me wrap up the serious side of the issue with this conclusion: if Christians shy away from writing and publishing fantasy because it deals with magic, or supernatural power, we are, in essense, yielding the megaphone to those without a Christian worldview who wish to speak to the topic. Writers who want to say stuff such as man has power—the true magic—within himself.

Let’s face it, in stories dealing overtly with a good/evil conflict, we need writers who define “good” as “of God” and “evil” as “anything opposed to God.”

Doesn’t that pretty much wipe out all secular fantasy, and a good number of other genres as well, if we were to look deeply? Yes … and no.

Yes, because stories that are not “God-centric” are false. No, because we need to look at what is not “God-centric” and identify it for what it is. Which might be garbage or good art as far as it goes. In other words, we need to bring our critical thinking to bear on the subject and not give an unreasoned view because the word “witch” is in the title, or a dragon appears on the cover.

And this brings me to the lighter side of magic. When I was growing up, there was a great world of pretend out there, things and places and people that were made up, that existed in our imagination. Santa Claus and the North Pole. The Little Engine that could. Brer Rabbit and his briar patch. Cinderella’s fairy godmother.

In this day and age, it seems we have lost an understanding of pretend. To pretend means to play, to suspend belief and accept new parameters. Casper the Friendly Ghost, then, ceases to be a symbol of evil. Gandolf the wizard is not an agent of the devil. And magic doesn’t have to represent power opposed to God.

Which brings me back to critical thinking. Somewhere we have lost the ability to identify what is a real spiritual threat.

We’ll pick up the discussion there next time.

Published in: on May 20, 2006 at 9:52 am  Comments (9)  

9 Comments

  1. Gandalf is an agent of God. Gandalf says he is a servant of ‘the secret fire’ and Tolkien expressly said in an interview that the secret fire represents the Holy Spirit.

    In regards to your second last line, I think we often don’t know who our friends are and who our enemies are. There’s a line in a play which takes place within Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun in which an angel meets a giant. The angel calls on God to defend him. The giant says “Oh, do you work for him? So do I! I am also one of his servants.” The angel asks how the giant gets his instructions from God, and the giant responds, “Oh, well, He doesn’t talk to me directly. I just have to guess what He wants me to do.”

    The angel says: “I was afraid of that.”

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  2. You know that Gandalf is an agent of God, and I know that Gandalf is an agent of God, but … hate to clue you to this … there are some people who see that he is a wizard and cannot accept him as a good character. And certainly not a type of Christ.

    I know that identifying who our friends and enemies are may not be easy. Satan, after all, disguises himself as an angel of light. But Scripture tells us to use discernment in spiritual things, even to test the spirits. That, and other factors, leads me to believe that we can and should be able to identify true spiritual threats, rather than focusing on the peripheral puff of smoke an illusionist wants us to be looking at.

    Elliot, thanks for your continued interaction. Your comments stretch my thinking.

    Becky

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  3. “Good is God” and “Everything else is evil.”

    (Well, I didn’t promise I wouldn’t respond to this one!)

    I think that the cut and dryness of good/God and bad/evil is fine. HOWEVER, (uh-oh, here she goes) sometimes good is simply “good.” Example, I used to be into the New Age before I became a Christian. I was a breath’s away from getting into Wicca. New age contends that “White magic” is good and “Black Magic or Arts” is evil. Well, “White Magic” may want what’s good and do good and work to do good but it is also a deception.

    So, what else can a Christian SciFi/Fan writer do? Communicate that goodness is not enough; it is TRUTH that must be communicated. That there is something better than goodness alone.

    I recommend hitting them over the head with a bible and including the four spiritual laws! LOLOL!

    A good writer, whether Christian or secular, can communicate to their audience very subtly, through characters, through different peoples and cultures, anything in the imagination. I have a friend who is writing about tribal fiction–it’s fantastic!

    There are many who absolutely abhor imagination; that it is dangerous. Like you, I disagree. As a parent, I am trying to let my children have imagination so THEY CAN use critical thinking. How are they supposed to question the world around them–are they supposed to rely on Rush and Dr. Dobson or the McLaughlin Group or whoever? SciFi/Fan questions our own world by bringing us into a new one and making the writer first, then the reader evaluate what’s happening around them.

    In adults, I believe that it’s a sign of maturity to exercise that type of thinking; however, there are many in our community who won’t. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but at least in America, the tolerant cannot tolerate narrowness. LOL Our commandment is to take care of and love our brethren AND GO OUT; I believe with my whole heart that God can use well-written, imaginative Christian SciFi/Fan to draw people who wouldn’t seek Him in any other arena. And we don’t need to hit them over the head or spell it out; we don’t need to anyway, because really, what does the Holy Spirit do?

    “Lost our ability to identify…a real spiritual threat.” Amen and Amen.

    Off soapbox, Becky; thank you for letting me comment–it was facinating to see all the different sites. ChrisD

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  4. And let’s not forget that Jesus was not as overt as the FOUR SPIRITUAL LAWS tracts. He said things that were befuddling and obscure. He seemed at times to be justifying the law and upholding it, then criticizing it. Christ was Savior, but he never made it easy. He was a puzzling, marvelous agent to provoke thought and spiritual growth. He wanted people to have to think and work for the nuggets in his story.

    Well, that’s part of writing. It’s not telling people the gospel, it’s showing it. Or it’s not telling people there is a battle between good and evil spiritual elements, it’s showing it. It’s not about telling people the humans are a frail lot who need to be rescued, it’s showing it.

    Tolkien’s use of the term “secret fire” could have as much meaning to a pagan as a Christian. Pagans worshipped sacred fire–in temples, in hearths of Vesta, in the rites of mysteries. A wizard and sacred fire are good in the LOTR because he is good in the context OF THE FANTASY WORLD. Middle Earth is not earth, medieval or otherwise. We don’t have elves and hobbits, and never have. We don’t and never have had orcs or dwarves of the fantasy sort.

    It’s the context. What is the witch, what is the wizard, what is the half-human, what is the spirit being within the story? That’s how you discern the good and bad guys, because you are participating and rooting for the “good guys”, unless you’re some kind of sociopath who wants the White Witch or Sauron or Baron Harkonnen to win. Most people want the virtuous or the repentant and the brave and the honorable and the self-sacrificial to win, not the power-mad and selfish and cruel and murderous.

    We aren’t totally depraved in that way.

    thank God.

    Mir

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  5. Chris, I see what you’re saying about “goodness.” I’m an admitted fan of Oprah. I think she does some wonderful things and makes a positive difference in any number of people’s lives. But the truth is, her goodness comes up short. When measured against God’s goodness, His holiness, any human goodness is as a filthy rag. And the lie that man is somehow good enough turns the goodness into harm.

    As to imagination, it is a gift from God. We are made in His image, and I believe that means He made us creative beings. No, we can not speak worlds into existence from nothing. We need to start with whatever materials God puts in our hands. But the designs, the twists, the freshness come as a result of the minds God gave us.

    Can imagination be exploited for evil? If the body can, then of course the mind and imagination can too.

    On the other hand the imagination can be a wonderful conveyence of truth. The Bible from cover to cover is filled with types and symbols and parables. God revealed Himself often in similes or metaphors, showing the unknown by comparing to the known.

    To turn around and say that a writer must not use those same devices is short sighted, in my opinion. Why would we want to limit the ways God would show Himself? Why would we choose a 21st century sanatized self-help book as the only way to learn of God?

    Don’t get me wrong. There are many fine non-fiction works out there that do point people to Jesus Christ as the way to the Father. But why limit ourselves? That’s like saying we can learn only from the math textbooks.

    I like sharing the soapbox with you! 😉

    Becky

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  6. Most people want the virtuous or the repentant and the brave and the honorable and the self-sacrificial to win, not the power-mad and selfish and cruel and murderous.

    I agree, Mir, and I think that’s because we all need God, long for what only He can give. When it’s played out in a story, it resonates with us. It deepens our longing or cheers us with the reminder of what we have or infuriates us because of what we have denied. I don’t see people neutral, just like few were neutral about The Passion of the Christ.

    And you have it exactly right—the context in fantasy or sci fi tells readers how to understand the players. Is a dragon evil? In most stories, yes, then along comes C. S. Lewis and says, in his story, not evil but lost, in need of redeption, of shedding his dragon skin. Maybe he wasn’t the first to give the dragon a new interpretation, I don’t know. But others since have done wonderful, interesting twists that show us, not what a “real dragon” is like, but what we as people are like.

    Funny story, I may have told before. One reader of Dragons in Our Midst (probably the first book, Raising Dragons—from her comment, I can’t imagine she read more than one) wrote up a review and blasted the books and Bryan for straying from the “real story of King Arthur.” LOL Poor woman. I wonder if she’s learned yet that King Arthur is as “real” as the tooth fairy. Point is, Bryan has taken a legend and twisted it. Merlin isn’t a wizard but a prophet of God. But if, in Bryan’s storyworld, he wanted wizards to all be prophets of God, he could have done that too.

    Great discussion.

    Becky

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  7. Good comments all round!

    It sounds like there’s over-all agreement.

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  8. Oh, just FYI, I finished reading The Dream Thief (twenty-three years late!) and posted a review of it: http://clawoftheconciliator.blogspot.com/2006/05/dream-thief.html

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  9. Loved your review, Elliot. I left my comments at your site.

    Becky

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