CSFF Blog Tour – The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist, Day 2

csff buttonYesterday I introduced Books 1 and 2 of Sigmund Brouwer‘s Merlin’s Immortals series–The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist–as classic epic fantasy. The only problem is, one of the key fantasy tropes is … well, sort of missing. What we have is a fantasy with the promise of magic but no actual magic.

The protagonist sets his sights to conquer a secretive, fortified city built by none other than the wizard Merlin and rumored to protect magical secrets. There’s the promise of magic.

But throughout the story there is largely a scientific explanation for anything that looks to the people in the story as magic–potions, acid, technology, acrobatic trickery, scientific knowledge. It’s interesting, but I have to wonder if Mr. Brouwer is intentionally skirting the kind of magic the wizard Gandalf displayed in J. R. R. Tolkien’s books for fear of offending his Christian readership.

I suppose I’ll never know. Still, I thought it might be appropriate to re-post my thoughts on magic from two years ago, largely answering the question, Is magic un-Christian? Here, then, is “Standing Up For Magic,” a re-do.

The first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries is this: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … God’s work is miraculous, not magic, someone may well say. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Moses_rod_into_snakeBe that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

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10 Comments

  1. Great case for “magic” in Christian books! Very well-phrased. Thank you!

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    • Thanks for your feedback, Julie. Very encouraging. 😀

      Becky

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  2. I like your thoughts on magic. True there is no true magic in these books, but for the time these books take place what we know as science to most was magic. It is amazing how knowledge changes our views on a particular subject.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Looking forward to your day 3 post!

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    • Meagan, you’re right that at the point in history in which these books are set, the people were bound to think “magic” when in fact something we now explain by science happened. I think one of the themes Mr. Brouwer might be portraying in the series has to do with superstition, so obviously this scientific understanding of mysterious power is important. However, I think this “science can explain it” attitude might undermine our view of supernatural power. I think that’s one of the things I love so much about fantasy–it shows the unseen. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but in the Immortal series, it seems almost the reverse–making the unseen into the seen.

      Unbeknown to me over at Spec Faith, our Tuesday columnist, Christopher Miller also wrote about magic. You might be interested in his article “Magic In The Story: What’s The Big Deal?”

      Becky

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  3. I feel the need to thank you for the phrase ‘rod of God’. Thanks 🙂

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    • HA! I didn’t know that was anything special. I heard it years and years ago in a song about Moses. I don’t even remember now who the artist was, but the song, in a humorous way that ended up being serious, laid out Moses’s encounter with God in which God told him to free His people. The critical line is the one about the rod of God–his realization that God would do the miraculous through Moses and it wouldn’t be by his own strength or with his own ability.

      I’ll have to see if I can’t find that song.

      Thanks for stopping by, Steve.

      Becky

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  4. Thought-provoking as always! I am a BIG magic and fantasy fan, but run into many in my Christian community who fear it. I appreciate your well-crafted apologetic for magic/supernatural forces from good and evil sources.

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    • Thanks for your feedback.

      I understand the cautions people feel about fantasy. There’s some that I question, too, but isn’t that true about realistic fiction as well? I don’t think we should categorically dismiss any genre, but approach them all with discernment.

      For more thoughts on magic, stop by Spec Faith. I mentioned in my comment to Meagan the article Christopher Miller (no relation) wrote yesterday, but that’s actually the first of a series he’s starting. He looks at the subject somewhat differently, and I think what he says, Merlin’s Immortals illustrates.

      Becky

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  5. […] passage also touches on the issue of magic in Christian fiction, which Becky Miller raised in her post. I believe that Christians who categorically reject all “magic” in fiction […]

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  6. […] focuses on Christian fantasy/spec-fic/sci-fi and other underserved genres of Christian literature shared her thoughts on Brouwer’s use of – or lack of – magic in the series.  To be honest, this is an ongoing issue for me.  I was saved directly out of paganism and the […]

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