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Why I Read Fantasy

This is the third day of the CSFF blog tour highlighting the Christian webzine Dragons Knights and Angels, which features Christian short fiction and poetry in the speculative fiction genre. If you’ve not had a chance to investigate it, I […]
| Nov 1, 2006 | No comments |

This is the third day of the CSFF blog tour highlighting the Christian webzine Dragons Knights and Angels, which features Christian short fiction and poetry in the speculative fiction genre. If you’ve not had a chance to investigate it, I encourage you to do so. I plan to do just that, myself — as soon as I have turned in the final draft of my work in progress, Return of the Guardian King, last book in my Guardian King series, due… um… yesterday. Since things are not going as I had hoped or anticipated, neither with the events in my life nor with the events in Abramm’s… my editor has given me an extension. So now it’s due next week.

Unfortunately, my post for the month here at Speculative Faith is due today. Alas, what should I write?  I have a number of partial ideas, but no extra time or brain cells to develop them now, so I’ve decided to post a piece I wrote up some time ago that I include when I mail out bookmarks and also sometimes provide to bookstores and libraries, called “Why I Read Fantasy.” (Some of you will have read a slightly longer version of it on my website, and on my blog) It echoes some of the sentiments other posters on this blog have expressed when asked the question why they read and write speculative fiction, and I think adds a few additional elements. I offer it now because I continue to be perplexed by people who claim to dislike the genre, having never read it. What better time for a reminder than during a blog tour? Several Christians — and even a bookstore owner — to whom I have given this, responded in surprise, saying they never would have realized there could be such parallels to the Christian life in fantasy had it not been pointed out. I wonder how many others are like that.

Why I Read Fantasy

The Lord of the Rings, The Song of Albion, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, The Wheel of Time, The Farseer Trilogy, Watership Down, The Prydain Chronicles, The Sword of Shannara,  The Belgariad, The Chronicles of Narnia… All are well-known, well-loved fantasy series, many of them my personal favorites. Why do I love to read Fantasy? Because, of all the genres, I think fantasy, by its very nature, most leans toward illustrating important spiritual truths. Even secular fantasies do so—in rather great numbers—despite the fact it is sometimes obvious their writers had little intention of doing so

The typical fantasy is epic, involving great battles for freedom, even for the survival of the world—concerns that overreach the mundane and petty details of day to day life. These battles almost always involve the supernatural forces of evil at war with the supernatural forces of good, usually in a visibly manifest conflict that parallels the invisible supernatural war believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are involved in on earth. Knowing about this battle and our place in it gives our lives meaning and purpose. Even if we must engage in mundane activities, we can know that they have great significance in the unseen war.  Of all the genres, fantasy is the only one that acknowledges the existence of this battle, and for that reason I would claim it is in some ways more representative of reality than more “realistic” stories which, if anything, tend to convey the message that it doesn’t exist.

As there are always certain characters who possess the ability to discern the presence/approach of evil forces in a fantasy story—and defend against them—so Christians, through the filling of the Holy Spirit and the serious, daily study of the Word of God, acquire the ability to discern and defend against the supernatural forces of evil in our own world. Evil which is far more pervasive and subtle than people generally think. The devil, after all, “has deceived the whole world,” is the Prince of the powers of the air, and walks about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. He is a master counterfeiter, appearing as an angel of light, sending out counterfeit ministers who teach people how to be righteous (!) and in so
doing keeps most people completely ignorant of his schemes. And he delights in using the most mundane details of a believer’s life to bring him down.  And just as in many fantasy stories, he will succeed if the believer doesn’t recognize what’s going on and work to fight against it.

The frequent presence of kings and other royalty in fantasy stories is another aspect of fantasy that I enjoy. This set-up provides an obvious metaphor for our relationship with the Lord, and illustrates not only the humility and devotion required of those who serve the king, but also the responsibilities and self-sacrifice required of the king himself. Contrasting characters show the pitfalls of refusing to submit to the rightful authority, and the destructive power of having authority and abusing it. The use of characters who have royal blood also reminds us of our own status as kings and lords in the royal family of God.

Fantasy themes typically include loyalty, courage, self-sacrifice, and the need to be ever vigilant in fighting against the forces of evil. Because fantasy worlds tend to be modeled on our own historical past and their storylines focused on issues higher than any one person’s self-absorbed goals, the characters and societies, at least the good ones, tend to have more respect for virtue and honor, and so cultivate a higher standard of morality.

Best of all, fantasy novels are almost always about great heroes, which I see as illustrative of our Lord, the greatest hero of all.  Courage, confidence, humility, self-sacrifice, virtue, perseverance, love—the qualities of a hero reflect our Lord’s character. They are also the qualities to which we ourselves should all aspire since we have been designed by God to be heroes just like Him in the unseen battle in which we fight. Especially significant to me is the fact that being a hero always exacts a price.

Often the hero is presented in the context of a journey which echoes that of our Savior’s. He typically begins the story as a menial of unknown parentage (often turning out to be a king’s son) who suddenly comes to realize not only that there is a great battle raging—or is about to break out—in his world, but that he has a calling upon his life to fight in it. He also discovers in himself unusual abilities that will be required to win it. After enduring many trials and difficulties (the cross before the crown) the hero and his followers  succeed in defeating the evil and delivering the realm. Justice prevails and the rule of good triumphs, as will eventually occur in our own world.

All of those principles I see as having important bearing on my own life, and I love to see them play out in the different ways authors choose to develop them. I love heroes, love following them through their journeys. They always make me think of my Lord, and often give me new ways to relate to Him. Finally, I love using the imagination God has given me to create in my own mind the fabulous and fascinating realms that others have devised for their stories.  Not only is it just plain fun, it also provides ways of looking at spiritual truths from angles I might not have considered before.

With echoes of the Savior’s life and character, stories that remind me of who I am and why I am here, and themes that provoke thoughts of God’s sovereignty, justice and love—why would I not love to read Fantasy? Add in the elements of suspense, mystery, action and romance that characterize many fantasies, and how could I not recommend the genre to one and all?

Karen Hancock writes Christian fantasy and science fiction. She has won Christy Awards for each of her first four novels -- Arena and the first three books in the Legends of the Guardian-King series, The Light of Eidon, The Shadow Within, and Shadow over Kiriath. For discussion and further information, visit her blog and her website.

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