In Friday’s guest post, “Is ‘Christian Speculative Fiction’ an Oxymoron?” debut novelist Mike Duran (if I “got” him correctly 😉 ) hypothesized that a Christian’s theology may get in the way of speculating about our world — that which is seen and that which is unseen.
I had to think about the question for some time and finally decided my thoughts about the subject would be too lengthy for a comment. Hence, I’ve opted for this blog post.
My initial reaction was this: all writers are “limited” in our speculation by what we believe. Consequently, atheist Phillip Pullman (His Dark Materials) couldn’t (or wouldn’t) speculate that there is a loving, sovereign, eternal God who created the world and wants to be known by Mankind. This concept would clash with what he believes to be true.
This realization led to another important point — novelists, no matter the genre, desire to reveal the truth. The problem is, not all novelists know the truth.
Thomas Hardy (Far from the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure), for example, wrote stories in which fate — pure happenstance — turned success into failure, hope into despair, joy into grief. Truth? Hardly. Yet I think it’s safe to say Hardy didn’t set out to write stories that were untrue in the ultimate sense. He, in fact, believed in “supernatural forces that control the universe, more through indifference or caprice than any firm will” (Wikipedia).
My point is that whatever a novelist deems as true puts natural constraints upon his writing.
For we Christians, then, our theology is the “constraint” with which we must write.
So far, you might think I made a mistake in writing the title of this post, because undoubtedly I’m sounding more like I do think Christian speculative fiction is a marriage between two incongruous concepts. In fact I’m saying “speculative fiction” is incongruous. Novelists of any strip only “speculate” within the parameters of their belief system, Christians not more so than any others.
In fact, I would venture to say that Christians have a greater opportunity to speculate than any other writer. Yes, greater.
L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, created an imaginative world with a talking lion; a living, breathing scarecrow; and a similar tin man. When it came to the wizard, however, the best he could come up with was a fraud. Not a real being of power who could do miraculous things in the fight against evil. Instead, sweet Dorothy and each in her company were as good as it got. Whatever “miracle” that was to happen would come from within them. How limiting!
Christians, on the other hand, believe in an all powerful God. What can’t He do? Think of what a Christian Wizard of Oz story might have looked like. How would the wizard have intervened on Dorothy’s behalf? Or would he? How would she, a stranger, find access to the ruler of Oz? By completing a near-impossible task? By putting on glasses that turned the city into pretend emerald? I think we could do better than that.
We know the truth about how we as actual humans have access to the Throne of Grace — not by what we do but by what God did for us. If we would apply C. S. Lewis’s method of “supposal” to the world of Oz, might we not find a creative way of giving the lion courage, the scarecrow a brain, the tin man a heart, and sending Dorothy home that would be More, not less, than Baum’s humanistic reveal? What would an all powerful Wizard in Oz have done?
The only thing I can think of that God can’t do, is violate His nature. Does that mean a Christian can’t write a story in which the ruler is a liar, unkind, or selfish? Not at all. In that story, however, the ruler would not be God. A human ruler, sure, or one with a demon; or the ruler might even be a demon or a monster or an alien, maybe from a world Satan tried to create after God made this one (hmmm, has that story been written already? 😉 )
And of course the “ruler” could be a scientist or a drug lord or the CEO of a respected business. He could be a she.
The point is, the characters are important on the story level, but when it comes to the theme, they shrink.
Hence, in reading The Shack, I was much less bothered by the representation of God as a big black woman than I was about the things the book said about God’s character.
C. S. Lewis used a lion to represent God in the fantasy world he created. I know and understand that God is not an actual lion, even though the Bible calls Him a lion (and Jesus a Lamb). These are metaphoric representations. Why can’t Paul Young use a metaphoric representation of God as a big black woman, if he sees similarities? (If you’d like to know my complete thoughts about The Shack, you can find my ten-part series at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, starting with this one.)
As I see it, all the world, and all the pretend worlds we can imagine, are before us to people as our imagination allows. And we can infuse those worlds with a Being capable of coloring outside all boxes — because He made the boxes and the colors. How unlimiting for a writer. How speculative. And how Christian.