Fantasy and a Christian Worldview, Part 9

I want to garner some more thoughts from The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature, edited by Philip Martin (The Writer Books, 2002).

Interestingly, Martin’s comments indicate that the perception of fantasy as a genre appropriate only for children is not unique to Christians, but that some parents, not exclusively believers, worry about its effects on their sons and daughters. His response:

Might reading stories about dragons and magicians warp a child’s mind to confuse fantasy with reality?

The answer is no. Fantasy is unmistakably metaphor—even to a child. As C. S. Lewis wrote:

    We long to go through the looking glass, to reach fairy land ….[But] Does anyone suppose that [a child] really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale—really wants dragons …? It is not so.

    It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his lifelong enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it new dimension of depth.

    -C.S. Lewis, from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” in Of Other Worlds, quoted in The Game of the Impossible: A Rhetoric of Fantasy, by W.R. Irwin

Martin continues with what I think is one of the most salient arguments against objections to fantasy on spiritual grounds:

As one writer noted, it makes no more sense to believe that children will turn to witchcraft because of reading Harry Potter than that they would feel they need to talk to furniture after reading Goodnight, Moon.

Adults and kids alike “get” metaphor. If we didn’t, then I think Jesus would have sought a more “listener friendly” mode of communication than the parable.

Some people argue, of course, that many of Jesus’s listeners did not understand his intent, and I would concede that point, with this explanation: spiritual things are discerned spiritually. They require God’s Spirit to lead us into the truth of what God has revealed. For reasons we cannot know, God chose at that time to harden the hearts of many in the crowd. It wasn’t the “fault” of the parables.

Not to mention, fantasy writers are not writing Scripture. We are writing in metaphor that hopefully points people toward Truth. Martin again:

Once we believe—even if only within stories—in the chivalry of King Arthur’s knights or in Harry Potter’s struggles at Hogwarts, once we have stood with the brave small creatures of Redwall against the foe-beasts, or swayed with Frodo on the edge of the Crack of Doom, we begin to see the forms of good and evil. First as children, later as adults, we come to believe that even creatures as small as ourselves can play a role, that the world is affected by the actions we take.

In other words, we begin to see how we fit into the bigger picture.

Published in: on May 25, 2006 at 11:07 am  Comments (10)  

10 Comments

  1. I’m really enjoying this series. However, I think it is a really good explanation for the value of fantasy for my wife. She tends to be from the camp of “why go there” as far as reading fantasy. She worries that reading about dragons and wizards would unduly influence our young boys, and she doesn’t encourage it. She doesn’t like that all us boys in the house like Star Wars. This may be something that helps her understand.

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  2. Right on!

    Great, great series, Rebecca!

    Congratulations and regards from the Southside!

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  3. This comment has really nothing to do with fantasy as genre for Christian writers. I say go for it, and do it all for the glory of the Lord.
    The only thing I might add as a warning is that the Lord delivered some children from the throes of demon possession. It wasn’t speciified that these children were outside of the Jewish peoples–in other words, they weren’t necessarily in a pagan culture/household. No one will argue how easily influenced and vulnerable children can be. And their imaginations cannot always distinguish between real good and real evil. A little bit of fear can be enticing to some individual kids. Within that fear can hide all kinds of possibilities for seduction. Those Christians who write specifically for children have a huge responsibility to communicate the right things, and, needless to say, their parents have an even greater responsibility to protect them from those stories which could capture and entice them to seek after evil things.
    I know you all know that . . . Sorry.

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  4. Tales of wonder have been used for ages to teach children. Fairy tales served as cautionary stories–be good, obey your parents, listen to the wise, clean your room and fix your bead, do your chores faithfully, don’t bargain with Satan, don’t be proud, don’t be vain, don’t be shallow, don’t be greedy, be persistent and patient, be industrious, hold on to virtue, OR SOME TERRIBLE FATE WILL BEFALL YOU!

    I learned from Cindrella that prayers are heard and bad people eventually come to a bad end. Sleeping Beauty teaches that good can mitigate the effects of evil and that, eventually, even the worst curse bewitching humans will be broken. Beauty & The Beast teaches of the power of good to soften a hard heart, that love can change people, and that seeing only the exterior of a person is foolish. Mother Holle taught me laziness and pride was bad and hard work and humility was good. Seven Swans taught me that one should suffer for the good of others, even to save others, even at the risk of one’s life.

    All these tales have magic. They don’t corrupt kids. I’ve yet to see the kid who says, “Oh, I want to be the Wicked Stepmother.” No, little girls such as I was want to be the good princess or the clever girl who does the brave deed that saves her family.

    Many of the SFF books and popular tv or screen offerings leave out a God figure or include as moral things we’d consider dangerous and wicked. As Becky says, if we let the pagans, Wiccans, atheists, and radical feminists be the only ones with a voice in SFF, then we have failed to capture ground for the good army.

    We need to write the “fairy tales” for today.

    Mir

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  5. We need to write the “fairy tales” for today.

    Mir

    >Absolutely!

    And we need to write them with EXCELLENCE, illustrate them with EXCELLENCE and honor God above all.

    Chris

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  6. Thanks for visiting my site. Recommend me to friends. I know I will for you. You are a good apologist for fantasy and fiction in Christian lives.

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  7. Hi Becky-
    I’m the internet publicist for Bethany House (we publish Karen Hancock). Sorry to contact you through a comment here, I know how annoying that can be, but I wanted to get in touch with you – I notice you’re doing blog tours with some of our authors (Sharon Hinck, TL Hines), and I don’t have you in our publicity database (which would help us arrange other blog tours, as well as providing you review copies of books, etc). I saw that you’re not a big fan of the hype model of promoting books, but if you’re interested I could really work with you to get deserving books into your hands for reviews, as well as author interviews and the like. Could you please contact me at jim.hart at bethanyhouse? Thanks so much.

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  8. These are all great comments. Jason, I do hope your wife can join in reading the discussion. As Mir points out, fantasy can be a real distorment of truth if we leave it in the hands of anti-God people, so it is not wrong to be cautious. Nicole, I think that’s where a parent’s teaching a child to use critical thinking is so necessary.

    Like anything else God created, fantasy is a tool that should be used to glorify Him. We Christian fantasy writers want to restore that purpose to the genre. And, Chris, you are so right to include a call for excellence. That’s the only way we can have a serious impact.

    And thanks for your support, Otter. I’m adding your link to my blogroll.

    Jim, you should have my e-mail.

    Becky

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  9. You’re invited too. Please read my post from today. Don’t miss the comments. 🙂

    Blessings,

    Shirley

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  10. […] I’d remain completely silent on the subject, did you? ) After all, I’ve said my piece, over and over and […]

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