Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thoughts on Christian Fantasy

I’ll admit it, fantasy is one of my favorite genres. Send me off on horseback with a magic sword in my hand to fight some evil sorcerer. But one of the problems with fantasy and perhaps one of the reasons I’ve never completed a novel in this genre is that so much of it is based around pagan religion. This can really be an issue when we start talking about Christian fantasy.



For the most part, the magic in fantasy isn’t real magic. Real magic involves religious practices in which a person prays to the dead or to spirits in order to enlist their help. Sadly, this practice exists in some Christian denominations. There’s often some set of magic words that are spoken in fantasy, but it isn’t made obvious that the magician is calling on some spirit to help him. In fact, if the words are in English, there usually isn’t a name mentioned at all and the rule seems to be that as long as it rhymes it will work as a magic spell. In pagan magic, the belief seems to be that as long as the person knows the name of the spirit then the spirit can be commanded. But in fantasy, magic is often portrayed as some substance that exists within a person, giving the person some abilities he must learn to control. It is portrayed more like a talent or gift than a prayer.



I figure that if a wizard has some kind of invisible battery that stores his magic power, it is pretty harmless, but fantasy pulls other things from pagan religions as well. There is often a depiction of the afterlife. That should probably be a greater concern for those interested in Christian fantasy than where magic comes from. At Netflix’s recommendation, I watched The Legend of the Seeker series. In the first season, there is some indication that the good people go to the underworld and wait for their loved ones, giving us a pleasant picture. In the second season, several people are sent to the underworld, both good and bad, but they end up in the same place. The Keeper has the ability to reward those he likes and he only likes those that kill people, so it isn’t clear that the good people are not tortured, since the evil are rewarded.



What I like about fantasy, as a writer, is that it allows us to explore concepts that we can’t explore in the real world. And maybe we want to explore a world in which no one makes it past the final judgment at the end of life. Maybe we want to know what would convince people to keep fighting the good fight in that situation, so it’s hard to say that Christian fantasy must always portray Heaven and Hell in the Biblical fashion, but we must be careful that we don’t encourage people to view the world in the wrong way. If we portray God as a being who is in a battle with Satan, trying to prevent Satan from carrying off souls to be with him, and don’t show him as a righteous judge who will send the unrepentant sinner to hell, we risk making him appear to be Satan’s equal.



When we consider that, I wonder if the thing that gives Satan pleasure is when God is forced to send someone to Hell. Satan reads the Bible and he knows that it says that God is just, God is righteous and God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell. Satan is powerless to battle God in a head to head fight. Satan wins by using the attributes of God against him. He knows that it hurts God to punish people, so it makes his day when he can go to God and say, “If you are just, if you are righteous, you have no choice but to send this person to hell for rejecting you.” But there are times when Satan stands before God, ready to accuse someone and God says something along the lines of “have you considered my servant Job?”

2 comments :

Nathan said...

Interesting post. It got me thinking. I love fantasy! Always have loved it. I think it can be as effective a tool as parables used in biblical times.

Additionally, when you think about stories from the bible, you are overwhelmed by the fantastic, magical occurences surrounding those figures. Moses, Noah, Elijah, and so many others were all at the center of epic stories to top the best fantasy novels of our time. So fantasy can implement the fantastic in order to convey certain ideals, values, and ideas to those who read.

What makes fantasy so great to me is the potential power of the genre in the hands of those who really know how to use it, just as a fictional parable from Christ had real changing power when told to those in His time.

I agree that it can be equally dangerous when playing with certain ideas, but those ideas are in everything, not just fantasy. Like in all things, it is the good that it can have. Perhaps the definition of magic is changing.

Timothy Fish said...

Nathan,

You make a good point when you say that those ideas are in everything. When I wrote For the Love of a Devil, one of the things that I tried to be very careful of was that Geoff's love for Heather, his motivation and his way of looking at things didn't change throughout the novel. People and events change around him, forcing him to do different things, but he doesn't change because he is modeled after Hosea. Hosea was told to live a life that modeled God's never changing love for Israel. I felt that it would be untrue to the story if my character were to experience change that resulted in him getting his wife back rather than his wife learning to love him as he was. It isn't fantasy, but it requires just as accurate of a picture of God.