Samwise Gamgee, gardener from the Shire, is one of my all-time favorite characters. This unassuming hobbit embodies so much of what it means to be honorable, faithful, trustworthy, and honest. This speech from the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) speaks volumes to me:
Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are.
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
I’d be willing to bet that anyone who has read a great novel has been forever impacted, even changed by it. Characters will travel with you as you trek through this journey called “life.” Trials faced by fictional characters help you cope with your own struggles. And sometimes, you even end up adopting some of the beliefs held by the heroes.
This is the power of storytelling.
Let me share a personal story from my own life. Years ago I read a book by Francine Rivers called Redeeming Love. Although my favorite genres are science-fiction and fantasy, I decided to try a romance novel because I had heard so many great things about this particular one.
It was a retelling of the story of Hosea from the Bible set in California in the 1850s. The main character feels a calling from God to marry a prostitute. Due to her horrible past of abuse, she did everything in her power to reject him, mock his faith, and tear him down. Yet he remained faithful. In the end, his unfailing love won her over and changed her life.
And mine as well. When I faced a difficult time in my marriage, it was that story of faithfulness that kept me going. I wanted to give up and quit so many times, but I knew that wasn’t what God wanted me to do. In many ways, I can credit Francine Rivers and her novel Redeeming Love for saving my marriage.
Stories have a way of affecting us for good, or for evil. Some can uplift, others tear us down. But all have a way of shaping our thinking, our actions, and our culture. Just look at how TV shows and movies have impacted our country over the past fifty years.
One example is the show Will and Grace. Regardless of how we feel about LGBT issues, this show had a profound impact on culture. Vice President Joe Biden had this to say about the NBC sitcom: “Things really begin to change … when the social culture changes …. I think Will and Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.”
When talking about the impact of Star Wars, George Lucas said, “[Star War is] designed primarily to make young people think about the mystery. Not to say, ‘Here’s the answer.’ It’s to say, ‘Think about this for a second. Is there a God? What does God look like? What does God sound like? What does God feel like? How do we relate to God?’”
C.S. Lewis said, “The most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones that are being argued, but the ones that are assumed.” I believe we are seeing a shift in our society. There is a growing number of people who don’t think through their beliefs. Instead, they ‘feel’ them. They find characters they like in a story (often TV or movies) and they adopt the worldview of that character because it ‘feels’ right. Since they like the character, and the character seems wise, they uncritically ‘assume’ what that character says as gospel truth.
As Christians in this cultural moment, we have the ability to do the same. We are image bearers of a creative God. We are made to create, not just consume. Christians should be on the front line of creating quality stories. After all, our model is the greatest story ever told. We can help readers see the world through a biblical lens or worldview.
I believe there is a hunger in the Christian community for stories that contain the excitement, thrill, and fantastic elements of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel superheroes, etc, but that incorporate Christian elements, themes, and theology. I think we’ve all been there. How many times have you read a book or watched a great movie, only to be frustrated when the author suddenly inserts elements into the story that are blatantly anti-Christian?
I write in a genre I call apologetics fiction. It is fiction that weaves apologetics (answers to tough questions about God) into the plots in a way that helps the readers think through biblical concepts and issues. In particular, I write sci-fi apologetics fiction. One of my primary audiences are homeschooling families. Over the past twelve years, I’ve had numerous parents come up and thank me. They say things like, “My son wants to read Hunger Games, or Percy Jackson, or stuff like that, but I’m uncomfortable with some of the content. I’m concerned with the secular worldviews presented in them. Thank you for writing books that my son wants to read, and I can rest assured will draw him toward God, not away from Him.”
These parents recognize the power of storytelling to shape the attitudes and beliefs of their children. As followers of God, we need to be careful what we feed our minds. As Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Our culture has an increasing fascination with darkness. Recently, there have been a growing number of movies where the main characters are anti-heroes (Deadpool, Venom) or even villains (Suicide Squad, Joker). As much as we Christians are hungry for uplifting story, our culture is malnourished and starving for that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
Christian speculative fiction accomplishes many things. It can make the Christian faith plausible. It can point the reader to the good that we all long for. It can make Christianity attractive and desirable. It can impart Christian worldview and theology. It can strengthen the faith of a believer. In can play a part in watering the seed planted by others that may one day result in altering the eternal destiny of a person made in the image of God.
For writers, making these stories is a high calling indeed. Bathe it in prayer. Draw close to the One who gives talent, skill, and inspiration for all we do.
And for all of us as readers, we need to use discernment about the stories we digest. They can often be like catchy songs with bad lyrics. They invade our minds and spirits like viruses. We need to feed our souls with stories that are, in the words of that wise sage, Samwise Gamgee, “stories that really matter.”