Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 8

I did a little online research and learned that the Narnia books have sold anywhere from 85-95 million copies worldwide.

In addition, 11 million DVDs have been sold since right before Easter. That compares to 10 million DVDs of the latest Harry Potter movie.

Speaking of Harry Potter, as of Oct. 2005 those books had sold 300 million copies worldwide. According to Wikipedia the online encyclopedia:

Over nearly a decade the books have garnered fans of all ages, leading to two editions of each Harry Potter book being released, identical in text but with one edition’s cover artwork aimed at children and the other edition’s aimed at adults. The world wide success of Harry Potter including sales from the books, as well as royalties from the films and merchandise, has made Rowling a billionaire and by some reports richer than Queen Elizabeth II.

Why the fixation on numbers? Because sales—how people actually spend their money—translate into what people really like and, from my perspective, what they want to see more of.

Speculative stories are popular, and as the quote above indicates, this interest is not exclusive to children. Consider the top grossing movies of all time. Nine of the top ten are either science fiction or have sci fi/fantasy elements. Only one of those films, Shrek 2, could be considered a children’s movie primarily (and even then the humor is targeted mostly to adults).

Wikipedia’s list:

1 Titanic $1,845,034,188
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King $1,118,888,979
3 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) $976,475,550
4 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers $926,287,400
5 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace $924,317,558
6 Shrek 2 $920,665,658
7 Jurassic Park $914,691,118
8 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire $891,719,985
9 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets $876,688,482
10 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The next ten is similar. In fact all ten belong in the spec fic category. And the next ten? All but two.

The love of fantasy, the fascination with imaginative places or extraordinary creatures, is a part of our culture.

And here’s the point. If Christians do not enter into this arena in a meaningful way, non-Christians will have the say-so regarding the focal point of fantasy—the good/evil conflict. Non-Christians will define the terms and ultimately determine the winners.

Take one example—The Lion King. A harmless little animated children’s film, right? Here’s what a writer at soyouwanna.com said:

It’s not only animated, it’s also pretentious! Yes, the “circle of life,” a sort of kiddified Social Darwinism, comes across as “philosophy lite.”

I’d also mention the heavy New Age themes and a few more problematic issues. But what should we expect from writers and film makers who do not believe in the God of the Bible?

So why should Christians care about fantasy? Because the rest of our culture does. Because fantasy has great capacity for good but also great capacity for evil.

It depends on who wields it.

Published in: on May 24, 2006 at 1:10 pm  Comments (14)  

14 Comments

  1. “If Christians do not enter into this arena in a meaningful way, non-Christians will have the say-so regarding the focal point of fantasy—the good/evil conflict. Non-Christians will define the terms and ultimately determine the winners.”

    Agreed. Do you think CBA fantasy (for lack of a better term) accomplishes this? Are writers entering into THE arena, or into a separate, parallel one? It seems to me that if the motivation is to get the Christian message out there to battle other worldviews expressed in fantasy lit, then the Christian authors need to be focused on the same market as the others. But maybe I’m missing something. Are there a lot of non-Christians who read Christian fantasy now? (I know that when I was growing up, the rationale would have been more of a substitution — i.e., we need “good” fantasy to give the kids in place of the “bad” fantasy they can get out there. Admittedly, the concern when I was growing up was more about D&D than fantasy in general.)

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  2. No surprise to find I agree with you, Rebecca. And Mark, I’m wondering more and more if at least some of us (Christian sff writers) shouldn’t be aiming more at the secular market. Not with a particularly watered-down message, but more of a parallel message.

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  3. Rebecca, I agree with you. And Mark, CBA’s fantasy? What is it? Does anyone know? Do THEY even know?

    Christian SFF writers are caught between a rock and a hard place. The Christian Booksellers are leary because of the potential of wrong messages and pointing people to something other than God.

    The Secular Booksellers are leary because they don’t want to be preached to or at. (although, has anyone else read “Eldest”)

    As writers of this genre, “perhaps” we as a group need to pray for wisdom and direction in this particular area.

    Great Job, Rebecca! I’ve really enjoyed your discussion!

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  4. Mark,

    From my perspective, I’d say there isn’t enough Christian fantasy on the market to be able to detect a trend.

    I would postulate that what little is being published is for Christians, though I suspect the writers wish they could be out in the broader arena. The ones I know who are in Barnes and Nobel and Wal-Mart or wherever are glad and it has nothing to do with royalties.

    But even if CBA was publishing fantasy only for Christians in CBA stores, it would still provide a counterpoint to the stuff that is coming out from secular writers. If you talk to someone who has been to a secular SFF convention, you get an idea of some of the depraved stuff that is being written.

    The thing about message, Valerie, as you might guess from my posts on theme if you’ve read them, is that it needs to square with Scripture if it is from a Christian worldview. That does not mean it needs to be overt allegory or a portrayal of Christianity under a different name.

    It does mean that “good” doesn’t come from Man or from the devil, however he may be represented. These are the kinds of things Christian fantasy needs to counter, in my opinion.

    Becky

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  5. 🙂 Chris, you posted while I was answering the previous comments. You have done a nice job explaining where Christian SFF writers find themselves. Every time we hold a discussion about writing for the ABA, it’s the question of being too religious. And everytime we discuss trying to find a CBA publisher, it’s a question of being too close to traditional fantasy.

    Close to traditional fantasy is exactly where I want to be. I just want the good of my stories to always represent God. Not overtly. Not in a preachy way. But I want readers to come away longing to know Him more.

    A good example. In my crit group, I’ve had a couple people comment that they like some of the fantasy objects I have in my story. They’ve said things like, “Where can I get me one of those … ?” I want to portray God in that same way where He is desirable to know, where readers long to spend time with Him themselves. OK, maybe it’s a lofty goal, but there it is.

    So is that ABA or CBA?

    Becky

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  6. Okay, I think I’m beginning to “get” it. There isn’t much CBA fantasy, so on the one hand you’d like to find ways to convince them to publish more — to be open to something that looks like traditional fantasy. On the other, you’d like to have a Christian influence on the genre as a whole. And the way is fraught with challenges. Is that it? I can relate. 🙂

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  7. Mark, There is PLENTY of CBA fantasy. It’s not PUBLISHED!

    The long and the short of it–“Christian fantasy does not sell,” according to Christian publishers. They don’t market it well (or at all) so it doesn’t sell–chicken or the egg.

    ABA publishers are probably afraid to go near it–and with good reason, sometimes. (sorry. I say this as a reader, not a writer). Again with the preachiness

    Has the discussion of Christian Fantasy even come up at CBA? Or at ABA, for that matter?

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  8. Oh, and one more thing. The depravity of Secular SFF. Why are WE there? Are we not welcome? Probably not, but for crying out loud, maybe that’s exactly where we need to go.

    I can tell you that there are sooo many of us that read young adult literature because of the trashiness of adult fiction. And I don’t think it’s just Christian’s either.

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  9. I meant, why AREN’t we there. Sorry, Rebecca.

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  10. Before you kick me out, Rebecca and all, here’s discussion by Donna Farley on the subject. Good article, sad though.

    http://www.christian-fandom.org/ess-strangers.html

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  11. There isn’t much CBA fantasy, so on the one hand you’d like to find ways to convince them to publish more — to be open to something that looks like traditional fantasy. On the other, you’d like to have a Christian influence on the genre as a whole. And the way is fraught with challenges. Is that it? I can relate. That’s it in a nutshell, Mark. And I know you can relate. That’s what’s thrown the genre chick in with the literary guy at the same discussion board. 😉

    And Chris is right about the chicken/egg issue. The titles, children or adult, that are well-written haven’t been marketed to the degree that books in other genres are. And some books, just like in other genres, ABA or CBA, you scratch your head and wonder how they got in print—but with NO surprise when you learn they haven’t earned out. Yet pub houses use both instances as “proof” that fantasy doesn’t sell.

    I look at that list of movies and think, Christians are buying some of those tickets, and probably a good number of the DVDs that are out too. Why shouldn’t that translate into books?

    Thanks for the link, Chris. And no one’s kicking you out!

    Becky

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  12. Becky,

    Thoroughly enjoying this discussion since I, like you, are one of those SFF writers stuck between a rock and a hard place. Before I started writing fantasy, I wrote historical. I had planned to continue with that in preparation for the conference, but alas, the Lord has led me to yet, another in story in this difficult genre. I’m wondering, too, with some of my recent thoughts (including a blog post) if I won’t be one of those who will write for the ABA.

    Blessings!

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  13. It is difficult, Beth, on the outside—the publishing part of things. But I think it is also abundantly fulfilling, as I’m sure you do too.

    Becky

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  14. […] She tells us: Speculative stories are popular, and as the quote above indicates, this interest is not exclusive to children. Consider the top grossing movies of all time. Nine of the top ten are either science fiction or have sci fi/fantasy elements. […]

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