In July we discussed religion in Christian fantasy (see Stuart’s post, Lacking Worlds: How a Spiritual Focus Can Hamper Christian Fantasy), but I’d like to revisit the subject.
Specifically I’d like to explore a question first posed by Moira Allen to Orson Scott Card in an interview first published on Phantastes in 2000: “What are some of the perils and pitfalls of writing about religion in a fanta`sy setting, and how can they be avoided?”
Part of Card’s answer is applicable to Christian fantasy in particular:
The first is that when you use magic in a story, you have to deal with the people who really believe in magic—i.e., fundamentalist Christians who think witchcraft really exists and that you really can invoke the powers of the devil to do magical things. Naturally, they don’t want fantasies that make “satanism” seem attractive to be part of the reading of the children in our culture, and would, if they could, stamp it out entirely.
In November, I’ll be speaking to a group of teachers on the subject of fantasy. The course title is “Fantasy—From Narnia To Harry Potter—Does It Belong?” And the description of the workshop:
There is no denying that fantasy has captured young people and pulled them into imaginative worlds. Do such stories have any value for Christians? What’s an English teacher to do—add the best fantasies to the reading list or ban them from the classroom?
When I first started gathering my thoughts, I considered joking by standing up, repeating the title, saying “Yes” and sitting down.
But the more I’ve thought about the subject the less clear the answer to the question becomes. After all, as Card points out, “fundamentalist” Christians believe witchcraft really exists and that you can invoke the power of the devil to do magical things. This belief clearly stems from the Bible.
Does that mean inclusion of what the Bible calls evil, necessitates a Biblical treatment of it? a la Harry Potter.
I know, I know—it’s getting a bit tiresome to talk about the books and the objections to them, but they serve the purpose.
In the past, I’ve explained the fantasy elements in Harry Potter as just that—fantasy. There are no brooms that fly, no half-numbered train platforms, and no school with shifting staircases and talking pictures. It is fantasy, meant to be imaginative. Meant to create a world that does communicate something about the real world, but not by advocating the reality of the fantastic.
But what happens when a Christian writes about the fantastic that is real, as if it is indeed real? a la Frank Peretti and This Present Darkness?
Must such a story then be measured by Scripture? Does that move the story out of the realm of fantasy and into the realm of supernatural thriller or supernatural suspense?
In other words, aren’t the two drastically different, one being “speculative” because it creates what is not and means for it to be understood as pretend while the other creates what is and speculates on that existence?
Isn’t the real pitfall, then, in mixing up the two, to the point that readers can no longer distinguish the parameters of the pretend?