What Makes Fantasy Work, Wrap

I’ve read a few fantasy books whose authors are trying to Imitate Lewis. But there’s a catch: their Christ-figures, a la Aslan, aren’t much like Aslan, much less so the Biblical Christ. Sure, they have all the loving-humble-helpful parts, but few to none of the sovereign-holy-kill-his-enemies parts. And these Christ-equivalents exist, not with their own missions, but mainly as sidekicks for the real hero of the story, the Self-Doubtful Often-Angsty Gifted protagonist, who is on a Quest.

Stephen Burnett penned (typed) those words as part of his post today over at Speculative Faith. Interestingly, those lines state, in part, what I wanted to address today.

Fantasy that works says something important.

There are lots of ways that fantasy can say something important. Stephen particularly addressed the issue of stories with a Christ figure. Not every story written from a Christian worldview needs an allegorical Christ figure, in my opinion. But those that include one have set themselves a huge task.

After all, C. S. Lewis created such a strong character that remained consistent with Christ’s nature, that any other may seem either derivative (there’s that dreaded word again!) or inadequate.

Does that mean we should shy away from showing Christ in Christian fantasy? No, I don’t think so. However, I believe that’s a high goal. If an author sets that high goal, rightly the reader must judge whether or not his story works by whether or not he successfully met the goal.

I tend to think that the problem Stephen mentioned in the quote above—that the Christ figure is a “side-kick”—occurs primarily because some authors back away from the high goal of putting Him meaningfully into a story as Lewis did with Aslan.

One secret here is that Lewis said he was not writing an allegory. Today, I think many Christian fantasy writers are writing an allegorical character, if not an allegory.

What was Lewis doing instead? He termed it “supposal.” In a world with fauns and talking animals and centaurs and dwarfs, Lewis asked, how would God show Himself?

Perhaps that’s the question we fantasy writers need to ask more often rather than forcing Christ-by-another-name into our stories.

But I said earlier that I don’t think stories have to have an allegorical Christ figure to still be Christian.

That doesn’t mean I think a story about not telling a lie is automatically Christian because it contains a moral value consistent with Christianity.

Rather, I believe—and this is quite subjective—stories that “till the soil” can be powerfully Christian. Such stories create the longing for the wholeness Christ gives, or for the acceptance His sacrifice made possible, or for the purpose His relationship frees us to achieve. I believe stories can show sacrificial love that is extraordinary and that will create a thirst for sacrificial love. I believe stories can show forgiveness that is pure and unmerited and it will create a thirst for similar mercy.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Instead of putting God into a story, I think it’s possible to put one of God’s characteristics in a story and show it so clearly that it becomes something that draws people, maybe even causes them to say, Wouldn’t it be great to know someone like that?

Last point. I think the biggest thing we Christian fantasy writers have to be careful about is saying the same thing over and over in the same way. No examples on that one. I’ll let you mull it over for yourself (as I mull it over too 😀 ).

5 Comments

  1. I still remember staying up past midnight to finish Ted Dekker’s Red, crying, breathless, spiritually awed. I still believe that novel contains one of the best representations of Christ I’ve ever read in fiction, primarily because of what you and Steven point to: He is a true character, a power and frightening one, a personal not just lovable in word and deed but powerful in authority and commanding of respect.

    An opposing but equally moving example is Tersius in Karen Hancock’s Light of Eidon. While Tersius is an obvious “supposal” form of Christ, He is almost absent from the overall narrative: discussed, challenged, questioned, but the world of the novel is one in which the Son has already died and risen, thus not as physically present as in Red. Yet Hancock shows the reader and her protagonist Abramm who Tersius is by the example of one of His earthly followers, the soldier Trap Meridon. Trap is imperfect, completely human and accessible; yet he continually presents the Christian (or Terstan, in LOE vernacular) way of living through his faith, even in the bleakest of situations. While Abramm eventually has his own spiritual encounter with Tersius, it is Trap’s peristant witness that sets off and continually undergirds his faith journey. I find that a far greater inspiration than a weak deus ex machina “God moment.”

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  2. Iam all aware christian writers tend to put words into their characters mouth .What do we need between showing and telling a story ? DID JESUS DID both ? As a student in fiction writing I think I need the two. Itis said we feed the the world with junk lit. making it difficult to publishers turn down our works. SIMON k. mureu kenya

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  3. I’ve read this series of posts with great interest. What makes fantasy work so well it becomes a classic? is a question that puzzled me for many years. I used to run a camp for kids each winter based around The Chronicles of Narnia and, while I loved some of the stories (and loathed others), I recognised that there was something ‘other’ in them that made kids love the books to bits. Since most of the kids didn’t recognise what Aslan represented and since CS Lewis doesn’t write nearly as well as a lot of other authors, I wondered what that something ‘other’ was.

    At the end of a lot of thought, I humbly submit that what makes fantasy truly work is how closely it aligns itself with a Hebrew worldview: that fantasy works when it is not an escape from reality but an escape to it.

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  4. Great observations, Michelle. I’ve not read Dekker’s trilogy or Green. You’ve given me reasons to check into those.

    Simon, I agree that we need to do both—have our characters show and put the appropriate words in their mouths. Definitely keys to good fiction.

    Anne, I love your conclusion—that fantasy works when it is an escape TO reality. Excellent! 😀 Makes me especially eager to read your work.

    Becky

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  5. […] weeks I’ve also meant to credit and thank Becky Miller for her further thoughts on glorifying Christ as more than a “sidekick” in stories, instead making them increase our […]

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