In Fantasy’s Defense

I mentioned last Friday that I’d followed a link to an anti-fantasy article, especially railing against C.S. Lewis. In truth, I’ve heard others talk about encountering such people, but I haven’t come up against them much and certainly not in a full-blown article reasoning against the genre at such a thoughtful level.

By saying “thoughtful,” I don’t mean to convey any agreement. I think it is not unusual for people to think something over, to reason it out, and to come to the wrong conclusion. Fantasy, however, doesn’t generally seem to be one of those topics. Instead, people seem to react emotionally. In reality, they are reacting to code words such as witch, magic, dragon, wizard, and such.

Not more that a day or so passed, and an author in an email group pointed to a discussion about theology and fiction in which another anti-fantasy writer condemned the genre as evil. YIKES! 😮 They DO exist. The do still exist! And are growing more vocal, it would seem, possibly because Christian fantasy is finally taking hold.

Ironically, this writer taking the anti-fantasy stand described the evils of “‘Christian’ fantasy” with apparently no knowledge of the genre. She repeatedly condemned it for using “evil”:

I will reiterate again – if life’s experiences lead you to share a story about how God has impacted your life, cool. But to make up stories using characters and images that have already been used for evil and then try to twist them into something godly – is to taint and corrupt any perceived “good”. You are giving satan the glory, not God.

I immediately ran over the books of Christian fantasy I’ve most recently read: George Bryan Polivka‘s – no, no witches, goblins; Sharon Hinck – none in her books either; Jeffrey Overstreet – don’t remember any; Andrew Peterson – no. Karen Hancock – not those either. Sure, each of these books have creatures representing evil, but they don’t fall into the category of “images that have already been used for evil.”

Granted, both Donita Paul and Bryan Davis have books about dragons and they make those dragons good. Davis actually gives a story explanation that gives God credit for the transformation. Paul seems to take a more traditional approach, letting the reader conclude on his own that wizards in the DragonKeeper Chronicles can be good or bad, that dragons are good but can be captured and/or corrupted.

Which brings up the issue. If some other writer uses a dragon as a symbol of evil, are all writers thereafter obligated to make the dragon a symbol of evil? I would loudly proclaim, NO! To take such a stand is to deny God’s power of redemption.

Ah, one might say, Satan is beyond redemption, and the Dragon is a symbol of Satan in Scripture. One writer in the discussion pointed out that we should not confuse the Dragon with dragons. The latter, of course, don’t actually exist! They once might have. Some people think possibly dragons were dinosaurs. Nevertheless, in literature today, they can take on the value the writer gives them.

To think otherwise is a kind of prejudice, akin to saying Germans were evil in the 1930’s and 40’s and therefore they must be considered evil in all writing from then on. Odd to think that people can be prejudiced against creatures that don’t actually exist, but there it is.

As you might suppose, I have much more to say on this subject, but will save it for Fantasy Friday. 😀

14 Comments

  1. The number one thing good Christian writers should be concerned with is the believable, tangible, detailed and horrifying representation of evil. I don’t care if it fantasy or otherwise.

    We’ve got the market absolutely cornered on the “illuminating evil” front. To flee from understanding as if understanding was the same thing as the devil (from whom we are to flee) is downright silly.

    That’s a lot like saying that we shouldn’t condemn lust because it will give people an idea of what lust is and how to commit it.

    Someone hasn’t been reading the book of Romans, I see. Or reading at all, probably.

    I’d argue the opposite: that if a Christian has the God-given ability, it is a sin not to write fiction of the fantastic: it is this modern culture’s version of an epistle: widely witnessed and deeply felt.

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  2. Oh dear. What do they do with the fact that God commanded Moses to make a bronze snake to save the people from the plague of serpents and that Jesus compared himself to it? (John 3:14)

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  3. A friend gave me a dragon sculpture for Christmas one year, because it resembled a character in my current project. My mother, a staunch Christian, doesn’t like the image, because she thinks it represents the devil. I don’t argue with her; neither of us will change the other’s mind.

    The article you quoted above was written by someone who has not considered her topic with any clarity or objectivity, nor is she likely (in my opinion) to be convinced to view it other than she already does. Frustrating. But I’m not writing for the kind of audience she might represent.

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  4. This is similar to an argument I’ve used about vampires. “If some other writer uses a dragon [vampire] as a symbol of evil, are all writers thereafter obligated to make the dragon [vampire] a symbol of evil? I would loudly proclaim, NO! To take such a stand is to deny God’s power of redemption.” Nevertheless, many publishers apparently still hedge at the idea of redemptive vampire tales.

    I can’t help but wonder if the objectors you mention don’t have a problem with fiction in general. After all, the moment you allow for “make believe” characters / creatures of any sort, aren’t you conceding to a new set of rules? Perhaps the real question is: Whose set of “fiction writing rules” should we play by? Thanks, Becky!

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  5. Yeah, the more I think of it, because of Night of the Hunter, we probably shouldn’t include pastors in our stories. Because of Catcher in the Rye, no teenagers. Because of Carrie, no Christians. Because of Don Quixote, no windmills.

    Good thing nobody’s written a novel about evil stones. At least we can have good and righteous rocks populating our stories. After all, if no one is left to proclaim Him Lord, it is the stones who will cry out.

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  6. xpaul, your observations about evil are excellent. It’s so ironic to me that this other writer is railing against Christian fantasy in particular because I’ve been saying for some time now how important it is to counter what’s in the world because THEY are the ones trying to redefine evil and good, a la Philip Pullman. Does she target the stories that have children protags killing God? No, she goes after the ones that depict The Lion of Judah redeeming creation.

    You said: fiction of the fantastic: it is this modern culture’s version of an epistle: widely witnessed and deeply felt. Yep. That’s it exactly. And if Christians are silent?

    Becky

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  7. Wow, Janet, what a great point! Jesus, the serpent. Either that writer missed the analogy or she goes apoplectic every time she reads that verse! 😮

    Becky

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  8. Keanan, Mike, thanks for your thoughts. I agree that I’m not writing for someone locked into seeing certain literary creatures as always and only evil. What is frustrating is this need this writer seems to have to hold a crusade against such redemptive writing.

    I recently read the book of Acts and noted two different people who were called magicians. While both eventually turned from God, never were they denied participation in the church because of this. In fact, at one point, when large groups came to Christ, they started bringing their books of magic to be burned. Clearly “magic” was not an insurmountable obstacle to keep a person from Christ in the New Testament church.

    And here I was going to use that info in a post. I get all hot and bothered and forget myself! 🙂

    Actually, Mike, some of the other on the board pinned her down, to see if she was against all fiction. No, she said, true to life stuff was OK, because Jesus’s parables were about real-life situations.

    I have yet to mention to her the story in the Old Testament about the thorn bush becoming king over all the other trees. 😉

    Becky

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  9. I’m actually glad to see Christian fantasy becoming more popular. The spiritual themes in CS Lewis’ works and Tolkien’s LOTR have been an influnce on my own writing (http://steventill.com/2007/08/02/whats-it-about/). I think there is an opportunity, no matter what genre you write in, to use the talents God gave you to write in such a way to glorify Him. In my writing, I use subtle Christian symbolism that a reader would really have to think about in order to realize it. As for using dragons as good or evil symbolically, I would think it’s up to the writer’s discretion how the dragons should be perceived. Personally, I’ve used the symbol of the dragon in my novel for evil, but that’s my personal choice, because that symbol is often used throughout the Bible for evil. Though there are instances where the Bible uses the same symbol for both good and evil: Jesus and Satan are both described at times as a lion. Jesus, the Lion of Judah. Satan, roaming about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

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  10. I’m actually pretty surprised their are christian fantasy books. Besides C.S. Lewis, I didn’t know thier were any other authors who did that.
    I do agree with you that the thought of dragons only being evil is kinda silly. I mean, they’re only animals. And the fact that they have bad cred from most fantasy writers doesn’t really help much either.

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  11. oh, goodness…I was once a CS Lewis hater. I was 12 and i didn’t know any better. Now, I’m trying to publish my OWN fantasy book AND the guy’s one of my heroes. whoda thunk it.

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  12. It seems to me that many in Christianity have a hard time understanding the allegorical nature of fantasy, in that Christian fantasy often contains nastier creatures to help personify the physically intangible. Personally, I’ve always loved fantasy because it helps me better see and understand real yet often invisible spiritual elements of our own world. And I love it when emotions, good, evil and other invisible things become tangible beings in a good fantasy novel 😉

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  13. I’m looking for an agent list for Christian Fantasy. Each time I try plain old Fantasy comes up or Historical Fantasy. My manuscript is both but its topc, The Enormous Ones, is about the giant children born to normal women by ‘the fallen sons of God.’
    Whereas it is fictitious on my behalf, Fantasy agents are very subject. They don’t want to offend other Christian denominations. As we know, many do not believe that there were giants. Others believe the giant human fossils found may have been aliens.
    I think they are treating the issue like they treated the dinosaurs. Is anyone out there with knowledge of an agent who likes controversial Christian Fantasy?

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  14. Meena, Christian fantasy is just beginning to find its legs. I doubt if there’s much interest yet in “controversial Christian fantasy.”

    The thing is, with the ease of self-publishing and the growth of ebook popularity, you don’t really need to wait for an agent or an editor if you think your book might be beyond the traditional scope. Check out Amazon’s publishing arm or any of a number of others.

    Becky

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