CSFF Blog Tour – Auralia’s Colors, Day 3

Yesterday I posted a rather lengthy excerpt from Auralia’s Colors author Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog Looking Closer when he was discussing The Golden Compass. Today I want to give my reaction, starting with the lines I emphasized:

Christians have become so suspicious of fairy tales, fantasy, and imagination that we have created an environment in which it is very unlikely that we will see another imagination like Tolkien and Lewis emerge.

I view this kind of rhetoric as self-fulfilling prophecy. Jeffrey Overstreet is a respected voice in Christian circles in the discussion of culture, and here he is saying Christians are suspicious of fairy tales, fantasy, and imagination. What editor, then, is going to rush right out and acquire a book that is what the professionals declare to be the very thing Christians are suspicious of?

And without editors acquiring fairy tales, fantasies, and books of imagination, how can we possibly see anything like Tolkien or Lewis emerge?

First, I argue that “Christians” are not suspicious of the imaginative. Perhaps a vocal minority has been in the past, with a few still tenaciously clinging to that view. In my comment to an earlier post, I identified these as people who are perhaps legalists (and therefore not really Christians) or perhaps Christians coming from a lifestyle they fear to fall into again (such as the occult). There are others too, those that have not been introduced to good fiction. It could be because of their schooling, their family culture, or the lack of child-friendly books when they were growing up. There also might be those who have never been taught to look for depth in fiction.

The point is, these are not ALL Christians. From time to time on this blog I have pointed to evidence that Christians, just like others in the culture are engaging works of fantasy—books or films. The most telling statistics are the Barna Group report from several years ago showing that 76 percent of Christian kids from the ages of 14 to 18 (I think) had seen or read Harry Potter. How much might that figure have grown by now?

In reality, all we need to look at is the sales success of the Narnia books to know that Christians do want quality fantasy. A half a century after they were published, these books are still some of the most loved and top many best-selling lists.

Why would anyone think Christians at large are suspicious of imaginative literature as a body in light of these facts and a growing number of others I could cite (though I’d be repeating myself ad nauseam 😉 )?

The next critical issue, I think is, What does it take for an imagination like Lewis or Tolkien to emerge? For one thing, these men were well read. They were also scholars. That says to me that they understood the underpinnings of a story, they knew how language works, they had a grasp of history, and they were more than conversant in theology. In other words, the worlds they created were not accidents of their imagination. They didn’t employ some kind of stream of consciousness writing, and from that emerged this intricate fantasy, with a Christ-like super-protagonist.

I’m overstating Mr. Overstreet’s position to make a point. Certainly Lewis and Tolkien, by their own words, did not write allegory. However, that does not mean they wrote without intention or purpose. Allegory is not the only way to show spiritual truths. Instead, both classic writers employed types and symbols, something I suggest Mr. Overstreet himself does, though he seems to be denying it in the excerpt I quoted.

Now you know why I want to have a conversation with him. 😀

For actual discussion about our featured book, Auralia’s Colors, spend some time at these other blogs:

Brandon Barr Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Jackie Castle Carol Bruce Collett Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour Gene Curtis (Not on the list posted at CSFF). D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Jeff Draper April Erwin Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Creative contest underway. (Not on the list posted at CSFF). Heather R. Hunt Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Kait Karen Carol Keen Mike Lynch Margaret Rachel Marks Shannon McNear Melissa Meeks (Holding a book give-away). Mirtika or Mir’s Here Pamela Morrisson Eve Nielsen John W. Otte John Ottinger Deena Peterson (Holding a book give-away). Rachelle Steve Rice Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Rachelle Sperling Robert Treskillard (Not on the list posted at CSFF). Donna Swanson Steve Trower Speculative Faith Jason Waguespac Laura Williams Timothy Wise

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11 Comments

  1. “In reality, all we need to look at is the sales success of the Narnia books to know that Christians do want quality fantasy.”

    I disagree. Yes, in one sense it means that Christians want fantasy, but I think Narnia’s success has less to do with its genre and more to do with its acceptability. Even the vocal minority you mention finds it acceptable becasue it was written by the someon considered on of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century.

    Narnia is fantasy, yes, but it is also acceptable allegory by someone well respected.

    I like the rest of your argument, I just think your example is a little flawed.

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  2. Thanks again Becky! I’m going to keep asking the Lord for an opportunity for you and Mr. Overstreet to talk soon!

    Kim

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  3. My sister is big on the “no fantasy” thing, saying that it isn’t right, and the Christian’s shouldn’t read it (her husband also once told my husband that my husband needed to stop me from reading such “occultish” books, although the books in question were certainly not Christian, I didn’t feel it was his place), like Harry Potter. My sister would never let her kids read these books, nor watch the movies. However, they LOVE CS Lewis. It just seems so incongruent to me. Drives me crazy.

    I think that there is a very vocal minority that is fearful of anything of the fantastical nature. It’s just sad that these are the people that get attention, and that those of us who love and accept literature for what it is aren’t heard.

    I think that it would be nice if people stopped saying “Christians”, in a broad very generic term. I admit that I am very guilty of this – something that I need to address. There are very few things that all Christians will agree on, and I think that the only thing that ALL Christians agree on is that Christ came from Heaven to Earth, died for our sins, rose from the dead to return to Heaven, and will one day return to take his followers home with him. Other than that… it seems that every Christ-follower has a different set of rules as to what is acceptable.

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  4. Becky, both you and Mr. Overstreet are making generalizations. First, he says, “Christians have become so suspicious of fairy tales, fantasy, and imagination…” Then, you say, “I argue that “Christians” are not suspicious of the imaginative.” Yet both statements are fairly unverifiable. Statistically, it’s hard to qualify who is or is not a genuine Christian, so the figures from Barna must be taken with a grain of salt. And really, all that shows is that fantasy IS popular among readers and film-goers. But remember, Harry Potter is not “Christian Fantasy,” and that, I suggest, is an important difference.

    While it may only be a “vocal minority” that rigorously opposes “Christian fantasy” and “fairy tales,” there is still protest. Call it “legalism” or whatever, it is still “Christian brethren” protesting. If you consider the amount of “Christian Fantasy” being published and the resistance among these pockets of “Christians,” I think Overstreet’s point is valid.

    Furthermore, I question your inclusion of Tolkien and Lewis in the “Christian Fiction” camp. Fact is, many New Agers, pagans, and secularists embrace both authors. Narnia and Middle Earth are, thankfully, not found in the “Religious Fiction” section — a fact that immediately limits the scope of any work. It is the breadth of story, the beauty of language, and the thematic elements that have endeared us to those tales. And, for believers, it is knowing the authors to be brothers. The fact that their “message” is nuanced is what both sets them outside the Christian camp and gives them broader range.

    Blessings, Becky! Love your site…

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  5. Remember that fantasy can be allegorical, and Jesus himself used allegory in His parables. Was there actually a good Samaritan, or did Jesus construct that narrative situation to make a point? So a story can be a lesson conveying a very important point, and fantasy writing is not limited to this world as we know it – or think we do! Are you aware that in the Bible a donkey speaks with a human voice? And a prophet was actually carried to Heaven in a fiery chariot? It could be that modern westerners have become so ‘rationale’ that they have dulled their spiritual side, and its ability to see things not observable in a laboratory. As they say, love does not show up on an X-ray, and the human soul has never been dissected or observed, but these things exist. Fantasy deals with that which may be real but not of the observable world we’ve had built around us.

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  6. John, I almost went off on a tangent to explain why I named Lewis as an example of Christians and fantasy. I think it is significant that none of his other fiction is as popular as Narnia. It was, in part, that he transports readers to this wonderful other world that has made them so popular.

    And yes, Christians do trust him–even with Bacchus making an appearance and Santa Claus, even with the presence of a dragon, magic, and a witch. Why? Because it is apparent that there is something More to the stories than a fairy tale. I suggest it is because of Aslan. We all want our relationship with God to be just what Lucy and Peter and Susan and Edmund (eventually) experienced with Aslan. Yes, Narnia is wonderful, but Aslan is more wonderful, and it is He that makes the books compelling.

    Does that destroy my point that Lewis’s popularity proves Christians want fantasy? I don’t think so. It does mean Christians want a certain kind of fantasy, something I think we are just beginning to see produced.

    I’ve read some of the early CBA fantasy works, Lewis knock-offs really, and found then wanting. I’m guessing the sales record would indicate others felt as I did. Consequently, the conclusion—Christians won’t buy fantasy.

    So, with ABA being what it was at the time (the conveyor of smut and nihilism) and CBA not publishing any more fantasy, Christian fantasy like Lewis’s work was not to be had. That pretty much left fantasy in the hands of those who told a good vs. evil story, with good being human ingenuity or the brotherhood of man or some such non-Christian interpretation. Add to that the rise of the occult and their affinity for “magic,” and you have the formula for prevailing buzz that fantasy and Christianity don’t mix.

    But this particular buzz is saying things that are no longer true. CBA has begun to publish fantasy, which is selling well, in CBA stores and in ABA stores whenever it can be found.

    Somebody has to stand up and call a rumor a rumor, and that’s really all I’m trying to do, as I’m sure you understand.

    Becky

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  7. Kim, thanks for your feedback and prayer. I’ll answer you privately about your other question.

    Becky

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  8. Kait, great comments. Perhaps you can get your sister to read a book like Jonathan Rogers Bark of the Bog Owl or Wayne Batson’s The Door Within. A lot of times, if a person can see that there is at least one thing that doesn’t fit with their all inclusive taboo, they will actually be willing to rethink their views.

    And about the all inclusive “Christians,” I’ve become aware that many people equate all Christians with those who have media profiles. Certainly some televangelists are Christian, but there are also a number of Big Name Speakers who are not. The secular media can’t decipher the difference. And of course those who follow include themselves as Christians.

    Jesus Himself made it clear that not all who name His name are in relationship with Him. So why do we so readily lump all Christians together as if we speak with one voice?

    We should speak with one voice about the Lordship of Jesus Christ, God’s co-equal and co-eternal Son, and about His death and resurrection for the remission of sins, about His Holy Spirit and the Scriptures He inspired, about His Church, His bride, about His soon and coming return to claim His throne.

    But perhaps, just perhaps, we won’t all speak with one voice about fantasy or art or fiction in general. 😉

    Becky

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  9. Andrew, you may not have read my post through to the end (it was fairly long, much like my answers to these comments 😮 ). In the penultimate paragraph, I said Allegory is not the only way to show spiritual truths. Your points are well made for anyone who does not believe fantasy can be used in any form. There’s even an Actual Fantasy that one of the Old Testament characters told.

    Mike, my dear friend. I had to save my remarks for you for the end so the others can go one with their lives rather than wading through a lengthy answer to you. I toyed with making this response a post on its own. You have a way of prompting my thinking.

    Let’s start with this: Statistically, it’s hard to qualify who is or is not a genuine Christian, so the figures from Barna must be taken with a grain of salt. Normally I’d say you were right, but that particular study did a couple things. One, it separated Christian from church-going (church-goers, by one percentage point, saw/read Potter less). Second, here is what the study said: “Three-quarters of all church-going teens (77%) and born again Christian teenagers (78%) have seen or read Potter.” Study details: “The data described in this article are based on three national surveys of teenagers (ages 13-18). The studies were conducted in 2002 (612 interviews, 2004 (1448 interviews, and 2005 (2280 interviews … [the margin of sampling error ran from ±4.1 to ±2.2 depending on the year] ‘Born again Christians’ are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as ‘born again.'”

    In other words, this study would reflect the most evangelical arm of the Christian community.

    Next you said, But remember, Harry Potter is not “Christian Fantasy,” and that, I suggest, is an important difference. I am not claiming that Christians like “Christian fantasy,” not at all. I’m claiming that Christians, like everyone else, enjoy fantasy. There is something powerful about the genre. It makes Truth come to life. Or error. The point is, the genre is nothing but a tool, but because of it’s good vs. evil trope, it is tailor-made for Truth. People who don’t know that’s what to expect in fantasy are still drawn to it because when good wins, it resonates with our souls.

    Next you said, If you consider the amount of “Christian Fantasy” being published and the resistance among these pockets of “Christians,” I think Overstreet’s point is valid. Again, I have to disagree. Why should “pockets of resistance” bring the statement that ” Christians have become so suspicious of fairy tales, fantasy, and imagination”? Again, I repeat, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people repeat it long enough and loud enough, editors, at least, will be wary if not completely scared away. Then we will fall back into the wasteland of reality and miss this opportunity to define Good in fantasy the way Lewis did.

    Furthermore, I question your inclusion of Tolkien and Lewis in the “Christian Fiction” camp. Mike, since I know that you and I do not view “Christian fiction” the same way, I suspect you’re not reading my post closely. First, I didn’t include them in the “Christian fiction camp.” That they were Christians and that they wrote fantasy that reflected their beliefs is undisputed. Sure, Tolkien has been idolized by those outside Christian circles. This is one reason I want to be published by a CBA publisher, quite frankly. I hate to think my work would ever be used against God, and the chance of that seems … reduced if a known Christian publishing house is behind it.

    It is the breadth of story, the beauty of language, and the thematic elements that have endeared us to those tales. I agree. The redemptive themes in both works are part of the package. If separated out, there would be no great fantasy works for us to aspire to apart from the older classics.

    The fact that their “message” is nuanced is what both sets them outside the Christian camp and gives them broader range. I certainly disagree! A nuanced message is still a message. That it is done well does not make it less Christian. But here we come to the difference in your and my understanding of “Christian fiction.”

    Love, you brother.

    Becky

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  10. From my perspective, it’s not all fantasy that’s suspect but specific fantastic elements that keep Christian Fundamentalists from reading a large quantity of fantasy. Tolkien and Lewis both had dragons as evil (Eustace turned into one as the result of greed). Bryan Davis asks us to look at dragons as heroes.

    It’s no secret I enjoy Davis’ books but many people I know look at me funny when I discuss them. Why? Because good-guy dragons make as much sense as the Gospel of Judas in their eyes. We all know dragons are evil and are the devil and all that. Reading about dragons when they are evil is OK because that fits their descriptions in Scripture. Davis’ dragons don’t fit the typecast and are tougher to swallow.

    Magic also has to fit the Fundamentalist mindset to be accepted in fantasy. Narnian magic is very different from the magic of (am I really using this example?) Harry Potter even though both are “magic”. One “feels” like a (Holy) Spiritual power while the other appears to be what has been commonly considered “witchcraft” – and we all know that witchcraft is evil. But I’m repeating myself with this line.

    Some Fundamentalists will argue against all fantasy just like some argue against all modern music because it’s easier to group than it is to discern on an individual basis. Also, others (other flavors of Christians and non-believers) argue for all fantasy without discerning the differences between types, seeing nothing wrong with Harry Potter (there he is again), for example, and can’t see why someone would object.

    I do agree that lumping all “Christians” together is incorrect and that most, even Fundamentalists, are looking for good fantasy stories. It appears that Overstreet and others think objecting to specific fantastic elements and their usage equals an objection to all fantasy, which is clearly not correct.

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  11. My goodness there’s so much in this blog it’s hard to pick something out and comment on it. I guess I will comment on this since as of late it’s been a contencious thorn in the side of Christian Publishing.

    So, with ABA being what it was at the time (the conveyor of smut and nihilism)

    ABA stands for American Booksellers Association. The definition of ABA is a group of Independent Booksellers who banded together(bookstores not publishers) to form an alliance and make it easier for Independent Publishers(publishers not associated with a large conglomerate) to get a foot in the door of bookstores. They formed in 1900.

    and CBA not publishing any more fantasy,
    CBA stands for Christian Booksellers Association. They are a group of Christian Booksellers who decided to set themselves up apart from the ABA and larger publishers to sell their ware in a Christian bookstore setting. They formed in 1950. CBA affiliated stores have final say about what goes into their stores and since their restrictions go hand and hand with ECPA, Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, it’s very difficult if not next to impossible for a non-conservative Christian writer to get a book in their stores.

    Christian fantasy like Lewis’s work was not to be had.

    I think it was to be had just clearly not in CBA affiliated stores or from ECPA publishers. Thanks goodness there are tons of other Chrisitan Publishers and Christian bookstores out there.

    That pretty much left fantasy in the hands of those who told a good vs. evil story, with good being human ingenuity or the brotherhood of man or some such non-Christian interpretation.

    That pretty much left fantasy in the hands of all the other Christian publishers including MANY ABA affiliated publishers and many Indpendent publishers who weren’t affiliated with the ABA and also the bigger publishers who are also publish Chrisitan works and always have. For instance Tolkien. It isn’t fair to say Tolkien isn’t a Christian writer because he’s in a bookseller’s store that supports both Christian and Secular writing. So ECPA publishers weren’t around then. CBA bookstores either. Wouldn’t have mattered. Their guidelines, that being evangelical and restrictive in nature wouldn’t have helped Tolkien get in their stores. And he probably wouldn’t have worried about it for that very reason. He’d be right where he is now; a Christian author published by a Christian publisher (you don’t have to have the word Christian in your name nor do you have to be CBA/ECPA affiliated to fit this description) in a bookstore that supports both Christian and Secular and every other kind of book.

    See, I told you this would be long. But it is so very confusing if the terms being used aren’t used properly and in accordance to their true definitions. 🙂

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