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Learning From The Secular—Part 1

Last week we had some lengthy discussion about Christian sci fi and fantasy (CSFF). Must it be overt? Should there be allegorical elements, specifically a Christ figure or type? I began to wonder, What makes CSFF distinct from secular SFF? […]

Last week we had some lengthy discussion about Christian sci fi and fantasy (CSFF). Must it be overt? Should there be allegorical elements, specifically a Christ figure or type?

I began to wonder, What makes CSFF distinct from secular SFF? To put it another way, What is it secular SFF tries to accomplish?

To answer the question, I turned to the author who had a great influence on me—Stephen Donaldson. A year ago, on a discussion board, Stuart Stockton drew attention to an article Donaldson wrote entitled Epic Fantasy in the Modern World.

I think the topics he touches on are so important, I plan on spending the next several weeks dissecting some of his thoughts.

To begin with, it seems pertinent to look at his definition of fantasy:

Put simply, fantasy is a form of fiction in which the internal crises or conflicts or processes of the characters are dramatized as if they were external individuals or events. Crudely stated, this means that in fantasy the characters meet themselves – or parts of themselves, their own needs/problems/exigencies – as actors on the stage of the story, and so the internal struggle to deal with those needs/problems/exigencies is played out as an external struggle in the action of the story.

A somewhat oversimplified way to make the same point is by comparing fantasy to realistic, mainstream fiction. In realistic fiction, the characters are expressions of their world, whereas in fantasy the world is an expressions of the characters.

Would we Christian SFF writers agree with this definition? Or are we, instead, using fantasy to dramatize the spiritual world at large, rather than the spiritual world of a particular character?

I wonder if it isn’t stories that dramatize the spiritual world at large that don’t take on a redundant feel.

As I read Mirtika Schultz’s post and comments last week, I had to agree—I love hearing, in real life, the account of another believer coming to Christ. I don’t get tired of it. It causes me to marvel and to rejoice.

But at the same time, as I read Stuart’s post and comments, I also agreed—the stories that should induce that response of celebration, too often feel ho-hum.

I have postulated in other places that I think Christian SFF—Christian fiction in general—needs to explore our faith more deeply, instead of camping on the beginnings. This is how life in Christ gets started.

Now I am wondering if there isn’t also this second problem: CSFF most often dramatizes the spiritual in general terms rather than in the particular. It’s like writing, What is the spiritual journey of Everyman, instead of writing, What is my spiritual journey.

Could it be that we are still writing for the sake of others—what we think They need to learn—rather than writing what we have had to learn?

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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