Friday, May 6, 2011

Christian Fantasy?

Today I want to talk to you about Christan Fantasy. No doubt some of you are thinking, "What?", some are thinking it's all bad, and some love it.
I want to talk about three things today:
  • History of modern Fantasy
  • Is Christian Fantasy any good compared to regular fantasy?
  • Is Fantasy good for Christians to read?

First, I want to say that I hope my writing is enjoyable to everyone. That said, every authors writing is influenced by how they think about things. Many writers put a deliberate message into their works, and some don't, but you can still see how they think based on what they write. My writing has a deliberate Christian message in it, hopefully not the kind that says "I'm better than you, quit doing all that wrong stuff" (sadly, there are lots like that). I'm aiming for more the "God loves you, and their is hope and purpose in living" kind of writing. How can the Fantasy genre do that?, is the question many ask.

History of modern Fantasy
There's tons of more detailed sources on the web, so I just want to gloss over this. You'll see why later in the article.
First, what is fantasy?
Fantasy books generally have magic as some kind of plot element, and take place in a fictional world. It's very similar to science fiction, except magic is often used instead of scientific or sudo-scientific explanations for the imaginative goings on.
Fantasy as a genre has it's roots in various fairy tales, modern fantasy started with the work of George MacDonald. It really didn't become popular until the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were published.

Is Christian Fantasy any good compared to regular fantasy? 
Why ask this? Because the general opinion among readers is that materials created strictly for a "Christian" market are of lower quality.
To counter this point, I'd like to point out that both Tolkien and Lewis wrote about Christian themes in their work (Lewis more-so...)
I'd also like to point out the works of Stephen Lawhead.
Sadly, these are about it for christian fantasy. There are a few others that very few have heard of. This leads into our next point.

Is Fantasy good for Christians to read?
One reason there isn't much christian fantasy is that there is an opinion among some that the fantasy genre is "evil".
See the link below for a summation of this position:
http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/fantasy.htm

To sum up that position, the Bible says magic is evil, and so we shouldn't have anything to do with it at all, period, even if it's pretend.

Obviously, I don't agree with this position. (Since I write fantasy and all...)
I think there is a difference between "magic" in the real world, and "fantasy magic"

First, the Bible does say that magic is evil: Acts 8:9-25; Acts 19:19; Rev. 9:21; Eze 13:18; Rev 21:8; Rev 22:15; Lev 19:26; Isa 3:3; Eze 13:23; Mar 3:22; Jer 27:9;

So if magic is evil, why is it OK in fantasy? We need to define magic here:
1. the art that, by use of spells, supposedly invokes supernatural powers to influence events; sorcery
2. the practice of this art
3. the practice of illusory tricks to entertain other people; conjuring
4. any mysterious or extraordinary quality or power: the magic of springtime
5. like magicvery quickly
Reading that definition, and then the verses were magic is used in the Bible, we see a few things:
  • Magic is either fake power, or comes from the devil
  • Practitioners thereof attempt to control or do something without God
So how is this different from magic as used in fantasy books?
Quite frankly, sometimes its not.
In christian fantasy, however, magic is either used as an analogy for God working through someone, or power is given from God, to accomplish his goals.

I'm going to pause here a moment. Go read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.
Some people have a big hangup about the word "magic", and can't see it as anything but evil. If this is you, I think that Fantasy as a genre is not for you. If you know someone with this opinion, I'd say don't try to talk them out of it, and don't try to get them to read fantasy.

So to sum up, I don't see anything wrong with "magic" if it's using the bottom three definitions from above, or if its an analogy or allegory for God's power.
Where do I find in the Bible that analogy and allegory are okay?
Jesus taught in parables all the time: Luke 5:36-39; Luke 6:39-45; Luke 8:4-15; Luke 10:25-37; Luke 12:13-21; and many others... (John Chapter 7 has some interesting and macabre metaphors...)

What about supernatural things happening in the Bible (People using God's power to accomplish things that could be seen as "magic"), can such things really come from God?
Luke 11:14-23; (Most of Exodus); Joshua 3:15-17; Joshua 10:12-27; and, some of my personal favorites: 1 Kings 17:1 - 2 Kings 8:15

In summary, I think reading and writing fantasy is fine as long it's done in the right way, for the right reasons.
If you're not a christian and reading this, I hope you've found it interesting anyway and that you'll find a few new good books to read.
If you are a christian and reading this, I hope it's helped you in some way.