Daniel, Head Magician—A Reprise


When the first Harry Potter book came out, it quickly became embroiled in controversy largely generated by Christians who were opposed to a book about magic written for children. I understand the thinking. It’s not my intention to rehash the issue, but I can’t help but make a comparison: Harry with Daniel.

Yes, I’m referring to the Daniel-in-the-lions’-den Daniel. First, both were teens. Well, Harry was only eleven when the books started, but he grew up before the eyes of his adoring public. Daniel was a teen at the beginning of his true story and became an old man by the end.

Second, both lived as aliens and strangers. Harry was a gifted, powerful wizard living with people who hated and feared him because of it. Daniel lived with people who had captured him and held him as a slave.

Third, and this is really the point of this post, they were both gifted in magic. Harry’s magic, of course, is pretend. He could learn how to mix potions, wave his wand just so, incant spells, fly his broom—things which are make-believe. Daniel learned, too—the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Did that include their astrology, necromancy, sorcery? Hard to say.

We know he interpreted dreams, starting with the one Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t describe. But he had already earned a spot as one of the “magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans” marked for death, because it appeared no one could do what the king demanded.

And Daniel’s reward when he did actually give the king the dream and its interpretation? He was promoted. Among other duties, he became chief of the magicians (see for example Dan. 4:9).

Think about that for a moment. He not only lived among those people who worshiped idols, but now he was head of those who used the dark arts to guide their king in his decisions. Talk about being in the culture!

But Daniel and his three friends early in their captivity made up their minds that they would not defile themselves. At issue in those days was what they were to eat. Seemingly, Daniel knew the Mosaic Law, and he intended to abide by it.

We know years later he was still maintaining a regular prayer life, one that was not secret. He lived, as he intended, in communion with God.

And yet his job was chief of the magicians.

I imagine these were people like the Egyptian sorcerers who matched miracles with Moses and Aaron for a short time. In other words, they had real power—just not God’s power.

And Daniel was their chief.

I find that incredible! Today many Christians run from reading about pretend magic, and Daniel was put in charge of real magicians, people who knew how to read the heavens.

Sure, some of what they did was undoubtedly a scam. I suspect that’s why Nebuchadnezzar came up with his impossible request: they were to first tell him what he dreamed, and only then interpret it. I imagine he was fed up with what he had detected to be party-line interpretations. He wanted to know what the dream actually meant, not whatever flattery those fakes might come up with.

But later if they were all fakes, all the time, and Daniel was their chief, why wouldn’t he simply clean house and get good, honest Jews in their place, men like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego whom he could trust? He could have turned the magicians’ arm of the government into a Christian uh, a department run by believers in the One True God.

Of course, Daniel might have been the only person God gifted with the power of divination among the Jewish exiles. But what did he think of the pagan diviners? That they were illegitimate? That they were tapping into the power of the evil one? That they were just one more evidence of the sinfulness of the nation in which he was forced to live? Did he respect them? Or did he squelch them as often as he could?

They owed him their lives because they were due to be executed, but that fact didn’t stop the from coming up with a scheme to get Daniel killed. Clearly, there was no love lost on their part.

Why all this speculation?

I think Christians today in the Western world tend to run scared when it comes to evil. I know I have. I’ve been places where offerings were made to idols, and I sensed evil in a way that freaked me out. But I think that plays into Satan’s hand. The truth is, he is not stronger than God—that would be He who resides in the heart of every Christian. Why are we running scared? it should be Satan running scared when he sees us advancing on our knees.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in May, 2012.

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Published in: on May 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Standing Up For Magic


magic-book
Several speculative writers (E. Stephen Burnett at Speculative Faith, for one) have been looking at the subject of magic from the vantage point of Christians trusting something other than God and His word in their pursuit of righteousness—including their efforts to controvert magic. As a result, some in this camp take a stand against speculative fiction, whether from a Christian or not, that includes magic.

I’m convinced that those who would blackball a work of fiction for including magic are in the minority, but I don’t think it hurts to take another look at the subject. Here’s a reprise of an article that examines magic using the lens of the Bible.

– – – – –

Some time ago I had a discussion with a Christian who considers much of speculative fiction to be opposed to the Bible. I’ve only had a few encounters with people who hold this view, though other writers have spoken of being surrounded by such folk.

The exchange reminds me that it’s wise to confront this attitude head-on, with Scripture, starting with the fundamental question some ask: how does a Christian fantasy writer handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting.

Here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “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 … Someone may well say God’s work is miraculous, not magic. 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.

Be 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 of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in 2010 and was republished in August 2013.

Cinderella – Not A Review


Cinderella posterI don’t see the point in reviewing a movie that has been out since March, but I do think the newest iteration of the Cinderella story is worth talking about.

Thanks to a local two-dollar theater, I was able to see Cinderella the movie today. It’s interesting to watch a story that you’ve known since childhood. At first I was curious to see how this non-animated movie version would compare with the fairytale I grew up with. I soon realized I was watching the same story, revised only to add a sense of realism.

For instance, this movie gave character motivation that answered questions like why did Cinderella’s step-mother hate her so and why didn’t Cinderella simply leave? It also added more interaction between Cinderella and the prince to make their attraction to one another a little more believable.

Inevitably I compared this version of the fairytale with one of my favorite movies, Ever After, also a Cinderella re-telling. What Cinderella did that the Drew Barrymore movie didn’t attempt, was to preserve the magic. I suppose being a fantasy person, I appreciated the fact that that which we do not understand, always believe, and can’t control played a significant role in the story.

Ever After, with its “I don’t need the prince to rescue me” heroine, carried more of an “I AM WOMAN” message, flavored with a touch of “I can do for myself.” It was entertaining because it treated the story as historical and this telling, the real account which sorted fact from myth.

Cinderella, on the other hand, accepted the myth and the magic and made both come alive. In that context it developed a strong and clear theme: live life with courage and kindness. Though repeated often enough not to be forgotten, the principle arose from the events of the story—Cinderella’s dying mother instructing her pre-teen daughter to live life with those qualities. Cinderella, in turn, committed to living out her mother’s wisdom even in relationship to her step-mother and her step-sisters.

Not surprisingly she passed on the core principles to the prince in her first encounter with him, and it was this—her inner beauty—which first drew him to her.

Courage and kindness. Not principles many could call into question. They have universal appeal. But those weren’t the only things this movie encouraged. Surprisingly, given our current cultural trends, the movie is quite pro-marriage. The movie called Cinderella’s biological family perfect or ideal. The idea was, she and her parents had such a great love for each other, it couldn’t have been better.

Later, Cinderella and the prince have the same kind of connection, and the king acquiesces and gives his son his blessing, saying that he should marry for love, not political gain. In contrast, the step-mother is trying to pawn off her daughters to whatever rich lord might accept them (and of course, the prince would be the greatest catch of all if she can finagle it). The juxtaposition of the two approaches makes a very pro-relationship statement. People—spouses—shouldn’t be used to gain power or wealth. They are to be loved and cherished.

There’s a great deal of hope in this movie: hope that courage and kindness will take you through grief and mistreatment, hope that love is better than manipulation, hope that the small can survive without compromising what’s right.

Yes, there was magic, and I know this might trouble some Christians. Where magic cropped up, wouldn’t it be better, more true, if God replaced the fairy godmother?

But God doesn’t wave magic wands, and unfortunately, there are Christian stories out there that make it seem as if He does. Instead of a fairy godmother showing up to turn a pumpkin into a coach, mice into horses, and so on, a Christian story might have Cinderella pray and then miraculous things or coincidental things happen. Which isn’t far from saying, God waves His magic wand and fixes things.

Except, we all know of situations we’ve prayed for that God didn’t fix. So the stories are misleading. Yes, sometimes God does bring a miraculous end to suffering, but a lot of times, believers simply grow stronger in their faith as they endure the suffering. (Agent Karen Ball wrote an awesome blog post on this subject today).

So I’m fine with the pretend fairy godmother who could create a temporary coach, horses, coachman, and footmen, but a permanent glass slipper that only fits the foot of its rightful owner. It’s awesome to make believe. And it’s awesome to wish for what is not. It puts a longing in our hearts that C. S. Lewis identified as a longing for the world put right. We want good to win. We want the young woman who suffered greatly and responded with courage and kindness to have the happy ending, not the woman who suffered and responded with self-protection and bitterness.

In the end, Cinderella forgives her step-mother. I don’t remember that in any of my fairytale versions. But it’s another positive this movie slips in under the radar: winners don’t have to gloat or exact revenge. They can forgive.

Would that we had more fiction flooding the movie and book industries like Cinderella. These are the kinds of stories that can prepare the soil of the human heart to hear the true message of lasting Hope.

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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Standing Up For Magic


magic-bookRecently I had a discussion with a Christian who considers much of speculative fiction to be opposed to the Bible. I’ve only had a few encounters with people who hold this view, though other writers have spoken of being surrounded by such folk.

The exchange reminds me that it’s wise to confront this attitude head-on, with Scripture.

Some years ago Stephen Burnett recounted a question that came up at an ACFW Conference. Seems one of the conferees was asking how a Christian fantasy writer is to handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting.

Here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “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.

Be 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 of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

This article, except the opening paragraphs, is a re-publication from an earlier post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction

Published in: on August 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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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.

Have You Heard The Latest About Harry?


When I was a kid we sometimes played a stupid game on rainy days called Telephone. The idea was, the teacher (usually) whispered something into the ear of the first student who then turned and repeated it in his own whisper to the person next to him. Finally after what seemed like hours, everyone in the room had passed the phrase along, but it no longer resembled the original. (Ha, ha, ha! So fun sitting there watching other kids whisper! 🙄 )

It was a boring game, but the message got through — repeating a thing can change it, and we really shouldn’t believe what we hear when it’s a rumor. Some kids even intentionally changed the original phrase just to spice up the game. Others filled in gaps when they didn’t hear the whole message clearly, adding in their own thoughts so what they were passing along made sense. One way or the other, the original always changed.

I think some adults need to play a round or two of Telephone. Today, with Internet chatter and email forwarded messages and Retweets, it is so easy to start a juicy bit of something going, and people believe it, often without challenging the veracity. I read it, they say, which makes it so. Or I heard it from my ___ (pastor, hairdresser, friend, spouse, co-worker, boss, or some other person in the know).

Off we go, then, repeating a thing as if it is true when in fact we have no idea if someone someplace along the line of repetition didn’t misunderstand or intentionally change the message.

How does this connect with Harry Potter? Once again, because of the recent release of the final Potter movie, Harry is making headlines. It seems some Christians are once more claiming untrue things about the books, movie, and author. As a result discussion is popping up on Facebook and on blogs at at media sites.

In his article “Pat Robertson Warns Against Harry Potter, TV Witchcraft And ‘Demonic’ Ouija Boards,” Eric Hananoki posts various video segments of Robertson expressing his views about Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling. The latter bothers me the most. Here’s the most troubling line”

“Well, Narnia is different. It’s not glorifying magic and the occult,” Robertson replied. “The lady who wrote Harry Potter [J.K. Rowling], I understand, was deeply involved in some of the occult things.”

Back in 2008, the watchdog site Snopes debunked a letter that was circulating about the evil influence of Harry Potter and how the books were drawing kids into the occult. It seems that much of the source material for the letter came from a satirical article meant to poke fun at the very ideas the letter embraced.

In my article “Harry, Harry, Harry” I concluded that bad logic, an indifference to the meaning of words, or closed ears had to be behind a continued accusation of the occult against Harry Potter and his imaginative author. I’ll add one more likely possibility: people are simply repeating what someone else before then said — never mind that the message may be scrambled or completely made up. Why, after all, should we let a little thing like the truth spoil a good rant.

And ranting against the occult gets attention. I remember when a pre-school director and her staff were mercilessly grilled in court and their entire school torn apart, the yard dug up, because they were accused of ritualistic Satanic abuse. Those people’s lives were destroyed, yet no evidence ever turned up and several witnesses later recanted their testimonies.

We Christians should do better. It’s not a minor thing to accuse another person of involvement in witchcraft. For an influential television personality to do it despite evidence to the contrary, breaks my heart.

After the last book came out in 2007, Rowling finally discussed the religious themes of the series. Witchcraft and satanism wasn’t part of the mix.

Are the Harry Potter books Christian? I have no reason to believe they are. I have lots of reasons to believe they are not entwined with the occult. And it’s time Christians stop parroting uninformed bits of falderal, especial when it slanders someone else. Did we not learn what idle repetition does when we played Telephone?

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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Harry, Harry, Harry


With the final Harry Potter movie at last in theaters, much talk has once again turned to how the stories about a boy wizard should be understood. Apparently there is a die-hard group clinging to the claim that the Potter books represent a threat.

It seems there are two main criticisms. One claims that these stories about wizards advance the cause of the occult. A second claims that Harry behaves in such unrighteous ways, and receives the approbation of his elders in doing so, that he is no role model for young people.

I’d like to consider each of these more closely. Does Harry Potter advance the cause of the occult? I’m no expert on the occult and have no desire to become one, but I do know that the description of sorcery and witchery in the Bible is not in Harry Potter.

In the imaginative books, wizards have power but must learn to use it and control it (hence the school for witchcraft and wizardry). What is it the young people learn? How to fly their brooms, how to make their magic wands do what they want them to do, how to mix potions for desired magical transformations, and how to defend themselves against evil spells.

The students are not taught how to bring up the dead or how to acquire more power from a spirit.

As it turned out, the more the accusations were leveled at author J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, the more Christian leaders spoke up to say the idea was false that the books advocated the kind of sorcery the Bible condemned.

Ted Olsen, Christianity Today‘s online and opinion editor, put together an Opinion Roundup on the subject.

One of the most quoted supporters of the Potter books is Christianity Today columnist Charles Colson, who, in his November 2 Breakpoint radio broadcast, noted that Harry and his friends “develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another—even at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world.” Colson dismisses the magic and sorcery in the books as “purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don’t make contact with a supernatural world. … [It’s not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns.” [emphasis mine]

Even a less than supportive review in World magazine drew the same conclusion as Colson did:

Still, [World] magazine notes that Rowling’s witchcraft bears little resemblance to modern wicca. “A reader drawn in would find that the real world of witchcraft is not Harry Potter’s world. Neither attractive nor harmless, it is powerful and evil.”

Interestingly, Rowling herself weighed in on the controversy:

In a quote from a CNN interview: “I have met thousands of children now, and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, ‘Ms. Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.’ They see it for what it is. It is a fantasy world and they understand that completely. I don’t believe in magic, either.”

Certainly there are pastors and others in Christendom who have spoken out against the Harry Potter books — I heard of another just last week. However, I have yet to hear anyone explain how books written as pretend, with no connection to genuine occult activity, still manage to teach the unsuspecting about the sorcery condemned by the Bible.

That logic is inescapably bad. I can only surmise that someone holding this view cares little for the actual meaning of words or the context in which they appear. Or that they have not read Harry’s story and have closed their ears to all reason.

I’ll look at the second major objection to Harry another day.

What Makes Fantasy Work, The Continuation Continued


One of the elements that good fantasy needs happens to be part of world building, and it’s one of the genre’s tropes. Fantasy needs magic. I’m using the term loosely. A good number of Christian fantasies don’t have traditional magic. But they do have something mysterious or “other.”

In George Bryan Polivka’s Trophy Chase Trilogy, for example, the only “magical” element was the firefish, and that was enough. It was both mysterious and other—not of this world.

I personally like more magic, not less. I wanted Gandolf to overcome the Balrog and the Hobbits to escape the Black Riders. I wanted the Ents to stir up the trees and the Elves to shield the Hobbits from the Orcs. I wanted the White Tree to provide Gondor with protection and Boromir’s horn to bring the help he needed. I wanted to warn Pippin not to look into the palantir.

The more magic, the more intrigue. Anything can happen, and the reader is left equally to wonder and to worry because the best stories give magic to both sides.

Intrigue leads to the next point. Fantasy that works also has a plot that works. Rule one for a good plot is, Create conflict.

Like other fiction, fantasy is best when the character faces an external conflict and an internal conflict. Ideally the two battles will coalesce at the climax. That’s what J. R. R. Tolkien did so well in The Return of the King. Frodo wasn’t only fighting against Orcs and Sauron and Shelob. He was also fighting against becoming another Gollum.

Shockingly, the latter is the fight he lost. Which brings up another element that makes fantasy work—surprise. I think one of the reasons so much epic fantasy gets criticized is because of a lack of surprise. Readers and reviewers will say a story is “derivative” (the kiss of death to a fantasy) though you never hear that accusation made of romance or even of mystery. I have to believe that what the “derivative” accusers are actually saying is that the story tipped its hand and didn’t hold any surprise.

One of the things that kept me reading furiously through the last three Harry Potter books was the unpredictability. Was Snape good or evil? Would Harry be able to leave the Dursleys and go to live with Sirius Black? Would he win the Triwizard Tournament? Who was trying to kill him during the competiton? Why was he seeing such vivid visions of Voldemort? How would Harry find the horcruxes? And on and on.

Questions create intrigue, twists create surprise, and delay creates suspense. All of these elements, along with conflict, make a fantasy plot work.

There’s still more, I think, so I’ll tackle those last elements another time.

Standing Up For Magic


Monday being my regular blog day at Speculative Faith, I posted an article yesterday about magic (a reworking of three articles I’d first posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction nearly four years ago). One of the commenters (and fellow Spec Faith poster) Stephen Burnett recounted a question that came up at the recent ACFW Conference. Seems one of the conferees was asking how a Christian fantasy writer is to handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting. But here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “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.

Be 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 of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

Published in: on September 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm  Comments (7)  
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