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Fantasy, Compatable With Christianity?

Some time ago, I followed a link to an anti-fantasy article, in particular railing against C.S. Lewis. In truth, I’ve heard others talk about encountering such people as the author of that post, but I haven’t come up against them […]

Some time ago, I followed a link to an anti-fantasy article, in particular railing against C.S. Lewis. In truth, I’ve heard others talk about encountering such people as the author of that post, but I haven’t come up against them often, and I’ve certainly not read a full-blown article reasoning against the genre at such a thoughtful level.

By saying “thoughtful,” I don’t mean to convey any agreement. I believe it is not unusual for people to think something over, to reason it out, and to come to the wrong conclusion. Fantasy, however, doesn’t generally seem to be one of those “think-it-over” topics. Instead, opponents seem to react emotionally. In reality, they are reacting to code words such as witch, magic, dragon, wizard, and such.

Not more than a day or so after I read the article, an author in an email group pointed to a discussion about theology and fiction in which another anti-fantasy writer condemned the genre as evil. YIKES! 😮 These anti-fantasy crusaders DO exist. The do still exist! And are growing more vocal, it would seem, possibly because Christian fantasy is finally taking hold.

Ironically, this discussion-board writer taking the anti-fantasy stand described the evils of “Christian” fantasy with apparently no knowledge of the genre. She repeatedly condemned it for using “evil”:

I will reiterate again – if life’s experiences lead you to share a story about how God has impacted your life, cool. But to make up stories using characters and images that have already been used for evil and then try to twist them into something godly – is to taint and corrupt any perceived “good”. You are giving satan the glory, not God.

I immediately thought about the books of Christian fantasy I’ve read: George Bryan Polivka‘s – no, no witches, goblins; Sharon Hinck – none in her books either; Jeffrey Overstreet – don’t remember any; Andrew Peterson – no. Karen Hancock – not those either. Sure, each of these books have creatures representing evil, but they don’t fall into the category of “images that have already been used for evil.”

Granted, both Donita Paul and Bryan Davis have books about dragons and they make those dragons good. Davis actually gives a story explanation that credits God for the transformation. Donita Paul seems to take a more traditional approach, letting the reader conclude on his own that wizards in the DragonKeeper Chronicles can be good or bad, that dragons are good but can be captured and/or corrupted.

Which brings up the issue. If some other writer uses a dragon as a symbol of evil, are all writers thereafter obligated to make the dragon a symbol of evil? I would loudly proclaim, NO! To take such a stand is to deny God’s power of redemption.

Ah, one might say, Satan is beyond redemption, and the Dragon is a symbol of Satan in Scripture. One writer in the discussion pointed out that we should not confuse the Dragon with dragons. The latter, of course, don’t actually exist! They once might have. Some people think possibly dragons were dinosaurs. Nevertheless, in literature today, they can take on the value the writer gives them.

To think otherwise is a kind of prejudice, akin to saying Germans were evil in the 1930’s and 40’s and therefore they must be considered evil in all writing from that point on. Odd to think that people can be prejudiced against creatures that don’t actually exist, but there it is.

Re-posted with some editing from A Christian Worldview of Fiction, “In Defense of Fantasy,” May 22, 2008.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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Mike Duran
Member

Becky, would you apply this reasoning to vampires? They are fictional constructs and, like dragons, have traditionally represented evil. However, in Christian fiction land, vampires seem to trump even dragons and wizards as being virtually “un-redeemable.” Great post!

Kaci Hill
Member

If I may, I’ll give you a perspective coming from a rather jaded view of vampires. 0=) To date, my experience with vampire lore includes, in no particular order:

–2 movie versions of Dracula
–a friend’s educating me on the basics of vampire lore
–The movie Interview with a Vampire
–Underworld I & II
–Christopher Pike’s vampire series (forget the name)
–Twiglight books 1-3 (I refused to read the 4th)
–a few Buffy episodes (I know enough to get the gist)
–John Olson’s Shade and Powers
–a Discovery channel type episode on vampire mythology
–Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem’s Undead
–various internet discussions that include yours, I think
–other miscellaneous conversations
–a couple Dresden Files books

I like complicated characters, so the idea of a vampire seeking redemption appeals to me. The problem I find is that vampires, by nature, are basically parasites. The more plausible and more sympathetic versions, at least to me, are the ones where the vampires either don’t have to kill their victims (which makes so much more sense to me that they ‘d want to keep their food source alive as long as possible) or are able to feed off animals as well as humans. Otherwise, it’s really difficult, at least for me, to see them as anything but undead parasites.

The thing that makes me a bit wary of the genre isn’t so much the vampires as much as, well, I’m not a fan of a lot of sex and sexual violence, and, therefore, it’s difficult for my friends better-versed in the genre to make suggestions to me. That, I think, is where Christians can really redeem the genre: I’ve seen it done without being grotesque, so it most assuredly can be.

Anyway, hope that offers something. You’re right, though: Vampires get more flack than wizards, although, oddly enough, Twilight got less than Harry. I’ll admit: Between the two, I’ll pick on Twilight before picking on Harry Potter, and that has nothing to do with vampires and wizards.

I honestly don’t know why people harp on dragons. ::shrug::

Kaci Hill
Member

Oh, ugh. That’s Twilight without the second “g.”

Kaci Hill
Member

Some time ago, I followed a link to an anti-fantasy article, in particular railing against C.S. Lewis. In truth, I’ve heard others talk about encountering such people as the author of that post, but I haven’t come up against them often, and I’ve certainly not read a full-blown article reasoning against the genre at such a thoughtful level.

Could you find the original article? I remember reading it the first time and the quotes cited don’t particularly strike me as “thoughtful.” Nothing against you, I’d just like to maybe see the whole thing at some point.

Fantasy, however, doesn’t generally seem to be one of those “think-it-over” topics. Instead, opponents seem to react emotionally. In reality, they are reacting to code words such as witch, magic, dragon, wizard, and such.

In my experience they’re usually the ones who decry such things, but love Narnia and Disney movies, and associate the word “fantasy” with Dungeons & Dragons.

Like I said: If Harry Potter had any other setting besides a wizard academy, he’d have gotten no flack. But since the majority of the casts are wizards, you can’t expect them to act like anything but wizards.

Quoted text: I will reiterate again – if life’s experiences lead you to share a story about how God has impacted your life, cool. But to make up stories using characters and images that have already been used for evil and then try to twist them into something godly – is to taint and corrupt any perceived “good”. You are giving satan the glory, not God.

Becky’s responseWhich brings up the issue. If some other writer uses a dragon as a symbol of evil, are all writers thereafter obligated to make the dragon a symbol of evil? I would loudly proclaim, NO! To take such a stand is to deny God’s power of redemption.

It’s really a moot point because it’s not a true issue. I’d say the person you’re quoting has a limited grasp of Scripture. The Leviathan (which many think is a dragon) is described as this masterful, magnificent creature created by God and controlled by God alone. Jesus is the Lion of Judah and the Accuser is a devouring lion. The Bridegroom – that is, Christ – comes like a thief in the night to take his bride; the Accuser comes but to steal, kill, and destroy.

Moreover, I want chapter and verse saying it’s evil to use storytelling to explore an issue or to deal with an emotional experience–especially given the number of times prophets used that very method to deliver their messages (can we say “David and Nathan,” anyone?). Oh, and I didn’t mention Jesus yet.

But hey. I used to try to make plenty of arguments against literary magic. I’ve since been educated. If you can’t allow the world to stand on its own accord and accept the rules of the storyworld, then just don’t read it.

And my favorite dragons are the good ones. 0=)

Ah, one might say, Satan is beyond redemption, and the Dragon is a symbol of Satan in Scripture.

At the risk of creating a tangent, in theory, if everyone is redeemable, then everyone is redeemable – at least in theory. As it is, I think the demons’ hearts are simply so hard and their trust in God so irrecoverable that there’s just no turning back for them. But that’s my weird pet theory. Course, I think angels can still fall, so…

Nevertheless, in literature today, they can take on the value the writer gives them.

I just wanted to quote that line. 0=)

Rachel Starr Thomson
Member

I echo Kaci’s observation about the use of symbols in the Bible. I actually believe quite firmly in the dragon/dinosaur link, which means I believe God created dragons and called them “good” :). I love the KJV wording of Psalm 148:7: “Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps.”

And then there are serpents. Satan tempted Eve as a serpent, and God cursed the serpent as a result. But am I supposed to view the garter snake in my backyard as morally evil? Is the rattlesnake not just a shy creature given venom as a way to hunt and survive, but actually malevolent and out to destroy mankind? And here are symbols again: Christ was represented as a serpent lifted up on a pole.

(Ultimately, I think the symbolism there is that Christ “became sin for us”; He became the thing that was killing us. But I also think God was reminding us that Satan doesn’t get to claim any creature as his. They are all God’s.)

Kaci Hill
Member

Honestly, Rachel, the serpent may be the best example of dual symbolism.

Well said.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

I’ll join those asking Rebecca for a link to the original article (wondering to myself, and now aloud, whether an open-letter-format column in “response” might be interesting).

This is one of those issues that neatly crosses over between fiction and nonfiction. And last week on my nonfiction blog some discussion erupted after my column about three Christian positions on yoga, yoga elements, and Christians who say the equivalent of “it was all intended for evil, so don’t mess with it.” Recently Al Mohler weighed in on this, and while I appreciate his solid rebuttal of yoga as a religious system being incompatible with Christianity, he overreached just a bit (and didn’t correct for the potential opposite error). This is the same attitude some Christians take toward a literary genre like fantasy, and I wonder if some wrong theology is at the root of it.

For example, though I respect Al Mohler as a solid Christian thinker, with emphasis on God’s sovereignty and Biblical doctrine, it’s hard not to see that perhaps he’s not consistently applying his own belief about where sin truly originates. He’d hold that humans, not Things, spawn sin. But if so, why say anything related to yoga is bad?

Similarly, as many of you have already said, I see nothing Biblical about the notion that the Devil can get first “dibs” on anything, then get “glory” feedback forever from it.

I will reiterate again – if life’s experiences lead you to share a story about how God has impacted your life, cool. But to make up stories using characters and images that have already been used for evil and then try to twist them into something godly – is to taint and corrupt any perceived “good”. You are giving satan the glory, not God.

But the Bible does not say that Satan has that kind of power, or that Things can be evil.

In fact, Scripture directly says the opposite about sin’s origin: it’s not from the Things around us, but from the heart. Here I thought it was the “liberal” “Christians” who said it wasn’t the human heart that was automatically bad, but simply our Environment. How come conservative Christians are believing and assuming the same way?

Isn’t this actually a kind of superstition that actually compromises with false belief more than the Thing being condemned?

Royce
Guest
Royce

Why do I tend to find some of the worst logical arguments from Christians who ban forms of music, ban Christmas and Easter, and ban books or writing genres? The argument used above follows the pattern, “Because ‘A’ was originally evil, ‘A’ or any variation of ‘A’ is still evil today.”

This is a negative version of the logical fallacy argumentum ad antiquitatem. According to this fallacy, something that was true in the past is true in the same sense in the present. Just because something was true in the past does not mean that it is true in the present. Example 1: In the 19th Century, Democrats supported slavery. Slavery is evil. Therefore, to vote for a Democrat today is to vote for the evils of slavery. Example 2: People used to travel by horse. The widespread use of horses reduced the time of travel. Therefore, people should trade in their cars for horses.

I hope I haven’t bored too many people. I’m on a logic and philosophy kick of late.

Carol
Guest

Thought provoking post and comments. I think next time my choice of reading material leads some well meaning fellow Christian to question my faith, I’ll ask him to read this article before I agree to continue the conversation.

Timothy Stone
Member

Great article and posts. I really appreciate all of this you all do here. Great resource. 🙂

One extra point that I would make is that if the use of dragons and other fantasy myth is evil, even if it points to God, then the same people must logically think that Paul was all sorts of demonic. I mean Paul used the examples of PAGAN DEITIES, false gods, to point to the real God. Isn’t there a bit more along the supposedly “bad” side than fantasy elements.

Zoe
Guest

The person you quoted seems to have a limited understanding of creation, not just the fantasy genre. Satan doesn’t have “dibs” on anything – that is, he doesn’t “own” any creatures or ideas or creative processes. Last time I checked, God made everything good, and *Satan* is the one who twisted it into something evil. Saying that an idea or a creature or a creative process is inherently evil and can be “twisted” into something good is . . . well, twisted. And in my opinion it gives Satan too much credit. He can’t create anything. He can’t invent anything. All he can do is mangle and mar what already is.

I don’t think I can count the fantasy books that have changed my life and helped me grow spiritually, but I *can* remember the first that did. It was a series of books by John Bibee called the “Spirit Flyer” books and they were children’s allegory about magic bicycles. They are still some of my favorite books to read, some 15 years later, and they opened my eyes to many principles of faith, such as how the old man (my sinful self) can still be with me and influence me if it’s dead, and the power of prayer, and the importance of putting my trust in God and not in myself.

The Chronicles of Narnia, Arena by Karen Hancock, Frank Peretti’s novels, Ted Dekker’s Circle series, the Firebird trilogy by Kathy Tyers . . . these are the books that speak to me, and they are the books that stick with me after I’ve finished them. I think it’s sad that so many people would outright condemn an entire genre based on their own ignorance and fear. Unfortunately that’s the world we live in.

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