I’ve just read Mark Carver’s Speculative Faith article (“Sharper than Any Double-Edged Sword”) in which he talked about the Bible being the ideal guide for Christians in what we watch or read or otherwise partake in terms of stories, with our goal to be more and more Christlike. I’m taking what he said on an admitted (but I hope good) tangent: Why isn’t there more Biblical speculative fiction?
(TANGENT TO THE TANGENT: I personally always capitalize “Bible” and “Biblical.” Under English usage, so-called proper nouns like “Canada” and adjectives derived from such nouns like “Canadian” are capitalized. [Tangent to the tangent to the tangent: I was going to use “America” as an example, but that seemed very American of me. 🙂 ] Common nouns, like “book” and adjectives derived from it, like “bookish” are not capitalized. I would say that there is only one Bible, no matter how many particular translations exist, that the Bible is unique, and that “Bible” is its proper name in English, and therefore it should always be capitalized. Yes, I know people who see “bible” as a common noun for “authoritative book” are not necessarily wrong, technically speaking. But that’s not how I use “Bible” or “Biblical”–and Mark Carver did the same as what I do.)
Granted, there has been an upsurge in recent years in movies that feature Biblical events–and Biblical epics have always been popular in films. Yet stories set in Bible times (usually) feature retelling or amplifying what the Scriptures said (hey I just realized I also capitalize “SCRIPTURES”!!!). Sure, we could say showing Satan watching Christ suffer is a speculative element in the Passion of the Christ–speculative not because Satan is fictional, but because we don’t really know what Satan’s involvement would have looked like if it could have somehow been made visible. And there is always some minimal speculation involved in portraying exactly what people looked like or said or did at particular moments. But that kind of minor, historical-fiction-related-story speculation is not what I’m talking about.
Though (tangent again, but a minor one), there’s something to be said for historical fiction set in Biblical times. Tosca Lee’s Sheba or Iscariot bring light to characters in the Bible who are focused on less in the way most people think of the Scriptures. And of course, Ben Hur would be the classic example of Biblical historical fiction, a sort of book for which there is clearly a market. But why are relatively few historical fiction works set in the era in which the Scriptures were composed? I can’t help but feel there is much more potential for such stories.
But I’m not talking about historical fiction set in Bible times, even though that can be cool and interesting. I’m referring to truly speculative stories. Why are there virtually no time-traveler tales featuring characters going back to Biblical days, for example? Or Biblical figures traveling to the present (or future)? Or why are there so few Biblical tales retold in the context of alien or future culture? And while there have been a relative plethora of stories about spiritual warfare, I don’t know of any set in Bible times.
I can offer some answers to my own questions, at least to a degree. It seems Christians are a bit afraid of being accused of misrepresenting the Bible by inserting speculative elements in it. So if a writer were to create a book on the spiritual war of angels and demons during the time of Daniel’s Babylon, such an author could be accused of adding to the text of the Bible in a sacrilegious way.
Or such stories might suggest that God was not really in control of the events of Biblical history. For example, some people might see the act of a time traveler, say, trying to kill the Romans who killed Christ–but failing because of the intervention of another time traveler–would suggest that God was not really in charge of events.
Note that certain Jewish storytellers have not felt any such inhibitions. Darren Aronofsky crafted a movie based on a Biblical character, Noah, that had speculative elements.
I’m not one hundred percent pleased with Aronofsky’s vision. But for me, that points out that Christians who think more along the lines of how I think ought to be writing, directing, and producing such movies. Presumably, we could include speculative elements while still showing more respect for what the Bible has to say than Aronofsky did.
A story of angels and demons in Bible times could come with an author’s preface saying that while we know angels and demons are real and their conflict relates to the book of Daniel, “this work is fiction and not intended to exactly reproduce” etc. Or the time-traveler story I mentioned could be written in such a way that God’s providence is evident in the events of the story, including the actions of the time travelers themselves. Or one set of time travelers could be believers–or the story could even feature angels battling time-travelers! (Why not?)
If the Bible is to be our guideline, why shouldn’t it also be our inspiration? Not just in fantasy genre allegories or in Biblical worldviews of good and evil, which are fine and good, but why not also more directly? Why aren’t there more speculative fiction stories set in Bible times or Biblical figures seen in speculative fiction stories? Why can’t we work past the potential problems and objections?