God and Fiction, Part 2

The first time I heard someone repeat the idea that fiction is nothing more than telling lies, I thought they were joking. I mean, would it be lying if I told you, I have made up some people who don’t really exist, and here’s what I’ve imagined these pretend people did in their pretend worlds.

Whatever else you might think about the story I proceed to tell you, you would not be accurate to claim I was lying. Fiction, by its definition, announces that what appears between the pages is made up. Imagined. Nothing but pretend.

And yet, I’ve made the assertion that a Christian writer can, and perhaps should, show God within the pages of fiction. Say what?

This apparent contradiction can only be resolved by understanding that truth is not dependent upon reality. Truth is True, whether I believe it or not; whether it is popular or not; whether a person discovers it within the pages of history or within the pages of fantasy.

Truth is not dependent upon the circumstances that surround it. Believing in Truth or not believing in Truth doesn’t weaken it or make it less truthful. Showing it in the lives of imagined characters does not make it less truthful.

Consequently, it is abundantly possible to show God in fiction. But as I see it, the Christian novelist needs to be more concerned with conveying truth about God than about realism in connection with God.

Let me use C. S. Lewis and his Narnia series as the prime example. While the Bible does call the Messiah the Lion of Judah, never does Jesus take the form of a lion and walk through the streets of Jerusalem.

But Lewis depicted Christ throughout his series as a lion. Was he being irreverent? Just the opposite. By departing from reality, Lewis was able to shed the light of truth about Jesus’s position as King and Sovereign.

Perhaps Lewis had an advantage—he was writing fantasy, after all. 😀 But I wonder if more couldn’t be done even in contemporary fiction with the use of types and symbols. While not contemporary, J. R. R. Tolkien showed God in The Lord of the Rings, not by including God in his cast of characters but by giving qualities or roles of God to those in the story.

Granted, some people claim The Lord of the Rings isn’t actually Christian fiction. But because fiction is a communication vehicle with one person giving information and another someone receiving it, there will inevitably be some errant interchanges. Some readers will miss Truth Tolkien intended, some will see it in places and ways he never envisioned.

Be that as it may, the writer’s role is to tell the truth as best he can, and for the Christian, it’s hard to deliver Truth and leave God out.

Published in: on May 14, 2009 at 11:12 am  Comments (5)  
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At Least I’m in Good Company

Still tied for the January CSFF Top Blogger Award winner! And I don’t have a tie-breaker set up! I would be so grateful if you’d take some time this weekend to look over the eligible blogs and vote. Poll closes on Monday. Thank you!

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On Thursday I left a comment to the post “Creation Is the Crux,” responding to some thoughtful discussion. The issue had been raised about evolution and it’s compatibility with the Bible. I made the claim that possibly God’s process of creation is inscrutable since He is capable of creating a fully developed universe that might look ancient when if fact it wasn’t. Here’s the relevant passage:

If God made a tree by speaking it into being, would it not have rings, as if it had existed for years and years? It’s the old “did Adam have a belly button” joke. Why wouldn’t he? He was also, presumable, a full grown man with a mature set of teeth. Though one would think he must have lost his baby teeth somewhere along the line, that would not be true because he never had them.

In other words, if a person believes God can create mountains, it negates the idea that we can actually figure out from the mountain, how old it is.

Just today I stumbled upon a quote from C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

Since that [divine] power, if it exists, would not be one of the observed facts but a reality which makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it.

So I feel like I’m in good company, though my point was that observing creation can’t of itself yield the truth about when it was created (and by extension, the process of creation) and C. S. Lewis was saying that observing facts can’t lead us to the Creator of the facts.

What we hold in common is the idea that science—observation of the natural order—is inadequate to arrive at all truth. Of course, if a person disallows the possibility of an all powerful Creator, he may think his observations are true because hypotheses emerge that account for existence.

But if God is IN the mix, then what once appeared “most likely” is no longer more valid than any other hypothesis, given that an all powerful Creator could do anything, including the unexpected and the unknown. The best we can do is say God created (and we know this because He told us so), and He might have done it this or that way.

Six day creationists may well say we know the creation process took six days because God also told us that. The problem here is two fold.

First, God said more than once in Scripture that to Him a day is like a thousand years. How can we know, then, that the “day” was a twenty-four hour period and not a thousand-year period?

Which brings up the second problem. God refers to the morning and the evening of the first day of creation before He made the sun. So how would time even be measured and what constituted morning and evening?

Understand, I believe the six-day creation theory has as much chance of accurately describing the facts as any of the other theories. The point is, We don’t know the process God used. No, that’s not quite right. We CAN’T know the process God used.

That God created the universe is unequivocal and must be affirmed at every opportunity. How He created may be speculated upon as long as our speculations don’t discount or contradict Scripture. The mistake we make is in affirming a process we cannot know.

The atheists do that, and quite frankly look silly in the process—no true scientist rules out a possibility before he looks at the data, but atheists rule out God first, then look at nature for an explanation to its existence.

Why would Christians want to look silly for a similar reason? No true Bible scholar rules out any but a literal translation of a Bible passage that Scripture itself indicates may not be literal. In other words, the scientist forces the facts to fit his preconceived theory and the adamant six-day creationist forces the facts to fit his preconceived theory.

So now I’ve irritated atheists and creationists alike. 😮 At least, if I understand C. S. Lewis correctly, I stand in good company.

Published in: on February 6, 2009 at 4:19 pm  Comments (6)  
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Fantasy Friday—the Saturday Edition—on Characters

I don’t know if the protagonists in fantasy are particularly different from the protagonists in fiction at large. Maybe. There is some “hero” quality a fantasy reader may expect, but I’m not sure that readers of other fiction don’t want that as well.

Here are some thoughts about fantasy protagonists from The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature, edited by Philip Martin (The Writer Books):

The hero has a complex dual role to play: to be human and to be larger-than-life. In many ways, Harry Potter and Bilbo the hobbit are like us, their readers. They are shy, quiet, reluctant to take center stage, not seeking fame or heroic stature. Yet they also have special powers, and when called upon, draw on their inner strengths to perform feats of great courage and personal sacrifice.

p. 98

I started thinking about the fantasy heroes I have loved. There is Taran from The Book of Three and the other stories in the Chronicles of Prydain. He was a young pig-keeper—apparently not a particularly good one—who wanted to be a knight. He was “relatable”—”human” as the quote above terms it. But he became larger than life, in part because of his desires to be greater than he was, but more so because he learned what that meant, learned how incapable he was, and then he did the really heroic.

There was Fiver from Watership Downs, the weakest rabbit in the warren, but with amazing powers that ended up saving them all. He was “human” because of his weakness and his inner strength. What mattered wasn’t just the exterior—the vulnerable part. He was more.

An obvious one is Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She was the youngest of the four Pevensies, which put her at a disadvantage. But when she found Narnia and came back telling her brothers and sister, their disbelief made her a sympathetic figure—more human. She was right but misunderstood and disbelieved. She became heroic because her belief was a cornerstone to their relationship with Aslan.

Speaking of C. S. Lewis fantasy, there is Oruel from Till We Have Faces . She was the unloved and unlovely princess, save for the special place she had in her sister’s heart. She too was sympathetic because of her humanness—her weaknesses, disadvantage, frailty, and her longings, her hopes. She didn’t become heroic until the end, which I won’t mention because I don’t want to spoil it for any who haven’t read the book yet.

This leaves me with a question, however. If the hero doesn’t become heroic until the end, will readers lose their interest in him (or her)? I mean, Till We Have Faces is not a well-known or popular work of Lewis’s. Is Oruel, perhaps, too human, and not enough larger than life?

What about some of the contemporary Christian fantasy? Billy and Bonnie in Dragons in Our Midst, Susan Mitchell in The Swords of Lyric series, Abramm in Karen Hancock’s The Guardian-King series, Kale and Bardon in The DragonKeeper Chronicles, Aidan in The Door Within series or Aidan in The Bark of the Bog Owl. Your thoughts?

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 10:48 am  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday—the Saturday Edition—on Characters  
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Fantasy Friday – Thoughts on Lewis

In one email group this week, someone posted a link to an article entitled “Awakening Narnia with Bacchanalian Feasts.” I don’t want to post the link because, quite frankly I’m not interested in driving traffic to that site. If you want to read it, of course you can simply by Googling it.

The gist of the article is captured in this quote: “Many [readers captivated by Lewis’s storytelling] forget that magic, divination and astrology — both real and imagined — clash with God’s Word.”

Unfortunately, this article was not posted on a blog, allowing for comment. I was able to find an email address, however, and this was my reaction:

Hi, [author’s name]

I read your article about Prince Caspian. I applaud your desire to read with discernment. Our culture, including the church, seems to be moving away from analytical thinking.

Unfortunately, I think your knowledge of Greek myths and undue literalism may be coloring your judgment.

Fantasy literature is very different from the realism of literary or other genre fiction. The fantasy world is one of the author’s imagination. Therefore, if Mr. Lewis wants the Creator-Lion’s power to be called magic, it does not mean he is ascribing to a belief in the “magic”—demonic power—of this world. When he brings in Bacchus as a character, there is no reason to assume Lewis was putting a stamp of approval on debauchery and madness. Rather, his implication is the redemption of the world.

In Surprised by Joy, Mr. Lewis’s non-fiction work recounting his coming to faith, he states plainly the tipping point was when he realized that the Christian story is actually the True myth. In his thinking, knowing that Christ did die on the cross and did rise from the dead, redeemed all myth, for he found in those pagan stories the echo of truth, the yearning after that which they did not know.

Of course, I have no way of knowing at this point how the movie will portray Mr. Lewis’s story, but the Narnia books, in my opinion, do a remarkable job shining light on Christ—the Creator-King, the Lion of Judah, the suffering Savior, the all powerful Friend, and so much more.

This, in my view, is the best kind of fantasy. The parts of the made up world are not to be understood literally or even allegorically. Rather, the stories are more reminiscent of parables. Even Jesus used an unjust judge in one of his stories to teach something about God.

Perhaps if you could set aside what you know about Bacchus or magic or witches, and read the story that Mr. Lewis wrote instead, you might see why so many Christians celebrate his fiction and desire to write like him.

No surprise, I haven’t heard back from the author. I suspect my line about the stories coming from his imagination didn’t win any points. She has a link (which I didn’t read) to an article (or articles?) about imagination. It’s associated with the reader’s imagination, so I didn’t think at the time it was relevant, but then, I don’t think I fully grasp the point from which arguments against fantasy come.

Thoughts on the Most Popular Post

😮 Picture me surprised. The post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction that gets the most hits—a steady number each week—is Myths and Legends, Fairy Tales and Fables … Oh, My.

When I first notice that post was receiving traffic, often from search words, I reread it to see what profundity had captured the minds of blog searchers near and far. What I discovered was … nothing profound at all. A throw-away post, I thought. Some good comments, but nothing controversial. Nothing that led me to explore the topic in more depth. In fact, the comments made me think categorizing fiction into kinds might be a waste of time.

This week I notice that this post had surpassed the previous high traffic article, so I reread it yet again, hoping this time to discover the magical element that brought readers to the topic. Nope. I still don’t see it. If anything, I ask more questions and give few answers.

The one thing that intrigues me about the post is that the definitions for the different fantasy types seem to indicate a differing purpose lurking in the minds of the authors. Was Lewis intentionally passing on lessons in the Narnia stories? Was Tolkien intentionally making a statement about the supernatural as he constructed a history of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings? When Stephen Lawhead embellished the stories of Robin Hood in his King Raven series, was he intending to take the reader away from the old traditional stories for a particular purpose?

In all these types—fairy tales, fables, legends, myths, and add in allegories—it seems the theme is a strong thread holding the stories together. In some cases, the thread is quite plain, while in others it is more subtly woven as a highlight, though it changes the entire tapestry with its presence.

What I’m wondering now is, Are some of the current so-so fantasies missing the mark because they are missing the theme element? Just wondering.

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