Recently someone1 asked in a Facebook group: Why isn’t there more Christian fantasy?
In a few more words: Why don’t more Christian publishers want to publish “speculative”2 or fantastical novels that explore magic and/or new worlds?
It’s a common, simple question. I don’t believe I’ve ever directly explored it here.
So here are my answers, expanded from my original Facebook reply.
I know a little about The Industry. At least, I have seen some things mainly from the “just short of being actually published in The Industry” side; I’ve been in orbit for a few years.
I’ve done much advocacy for Christian fantastical stories at SpeculativeFaith.com, where a team of fans/writers and I explore fantastical stories for God’s glory. We’ve also put together the SpecFaith Library of every fantastical Christian-written novel we know about, from any publisher. I think that’s helped give me a perspective on what’s available.
Here are a few points I’ve gathered and tend to harp on.
Q. Why isn’t there more Christian fantasy?
Answer 1: There has been, but it failed.
I know many Christian editors and authors who did or do publish fantastical titles, e.g. supernatural/fantasy/sci-fi. And that effort went over like a dead drone. Not because the publishers were not willing. But because the readership did not respond.
Without exception, the Christian fantastical titles I enjoyed in the 90s and 2000s3 are now out of print at their original publishers. Some, such as Oxygen and the Firebird series, ended up being republished by Marcher Lord Press, now known as Enclave, which is now an imprint of Gilead Publishing.
Answer 2: There is, but you haven’t heard of it.
Some Christian authors who tried fantasy/sci-fi at larger publishers ended up jumping genres. Or they moved into indie or self-publishing. In some Christian circles, this means even less opportunity for the Ministry platforms a traditional publisher might afford.
Even apart from that, you likely haven’t heard of an author’s self- or indie-published works.
From here it appears that a new author must be able to be a full-time author/marketer to work at making a living from being a full-time author/marketer. Catch-22?
3. There is, but readers aren’t there.
This question is not about the writers/publishers not giving the supply.
It’s about readers and what they demand.
That’s why I overtly push against the “why don’t Christian publishers and writers do X” line. Fact is: Christian publishers and writers have done X, and readers did not respond.
I’ve begun to wonder, among some of the “Christian fantasy” circles I know, whether some writers simply do not know of the many, many writers and publishers who have tried this, and are therefore led to conclude “Well, someone should try it,” e.g. reinventing the wheel.
After I wrote this material, an editor with a Christian publishing house commented:
It’s not that publishers haven’t tried to publish speculative fiction before, but the Christian readers didn’t respond to it. I actually have on my desk a fantasy trilogy that [my publisher] did in 2007; no one bought it and it’s out of print now.
And while Christian publishers definitely should be more willing to take risks, Christian readers (and Christian stores, even in the age of Amazon it’s actually amazing how much they influence what gets published) have often punished those who took risks. That’s why we’re stuck in a never-ending vortex of Amish Romance (and now coloring books).
So here’s the real question we ought to ask:
Q. Why don’t more Christians want more Christian fantastical stories?
Our faith is supernatural, fantastical, even “magical.” It’s about a divine/human Hero, Jesus, come to slay the dragon of sin, save His Church, punish evildoers, and redeem the whole world. Given all this awesome, why opt for another (Adjective) Romance novel?
Answer 1: Shallow theology and legalism.
The notion goes: We only need to read “clean” stories, if any, about “realistic” things.
Answer 2: Wrongful pragmatism.
This notion goes: The only books we “need” are about real-life-like people and events and valuable things like Family and Evangelism. And even if we do get crazier, like with Frank Peretti or Left Behind, well, those are about biblical facts or events that could really happen.
Answer 3: A flawed and un-biblical view of the purpose of human stories and culture.
This notion goes: We only have stories and songs because of some deficiency because of sin (e.g. to educate, evangelize, or entertain). But stories and songs serve no purpose as part of God-given humanity or God’s command to make something of the world and thus glorify and imitate Him.4
What if we work to correct this flawed belief in ourselves and then others? What if we point to the holiness-endorsing, God-glorifying purpose of what stories and songs are really for?
That’s what I want to do: Challenge poor justifications for popular culture (e.g., human stories and songs). I want to explore biblical purposes for these things: To help us glorify God and enjoy Him forever. If we do “inception” on people with this idea, we’ll have more reader demand for better and more fantastical stories. And then more Christian publishers will naturally respond. Because they are not just pastors/ministers who should “do the right thing” regardless of what customers want. They are businesses. And that’s okay.
- Fantasy novelist K.B. Hoyle. ↩
- Despite our site’s name, I’ve begun to prefer the term “fantastical.” “Speculative” makes me think of tech-startup stocks. ↩
- The Left Behind series doesn’t count as “fantastical” here, or to many people, because many Christians believe it is based on prophecy and events that could really happen. This is why they allow(ed) for the series, because it’s “useful.” ↩
- Genesis 1:26-28. Theologians call this the “cultural mandate.” ↩