1. I think the assumption, or rather fear, of many people unfamiliar with the fantasy genre is that any magic in a fantasy story will be of an occult or at least occult-ish kind that readers might be tempted to try and emulate — drawing circles or pentagrams on the floor, burning candles, calling on demons or spirits or false gods for power, and so on. They see this as a “gateway drug” to real-world involvement in the occult.

    But of course, there are plenty of instances of magic in fantasy stories which are completely different from any real-world occult practices and couldn’t be duplicated or emulated by a human being even if they wanted to. Some fantasy stories, like my first novel KNIFE, restrict the ability to use magic to non-human characters (in my case, faeries) who are born with magic as an inherent part of them just as you or I are born breathing. Others, like my most recent book A POCKET FULL OF MURDER, use the term “magic” to describe a practice which is basically 100% scientific, or even culinary — put together ingredients with inherently magical properties, follow the recipe, and end up with a “spell” in the form of a small biscuit or a silver charm that releases the magical power when broken. It’s no more occult, in that respect, than baking cookies or making jewelry.

    I think Christian authors need to be aware that there is or can be an occult connotation to magic and that some readers may find it a stumbling block, and look for innovative ways to set their fantastical magic systems apart from anything that smacks of evil or anti-Biblical practices. [1] Tolkien did this not only by avoiding the word “magic” as much as possible but by restricting its use to non-human characters; Lewis did something similar by giving power to people like Aslan, the White Witch, and the “fallen star” Ramandu but restricting his human characters to the use of certain magical items given them with Aslan’s blessing. But there are plenty of other ways to approach magic if we take the time to think about it, as well.

    [1] Unless, of course, the characters practicing the magic are themselves evil and we’re meant to understand that their use of magic is evil as well. In my second and third faery books the non-human villain is known to practice a form of dark, forbidden magic using blood, and all the heroic human and faery characters are appalled by it and determined to put a stop to it.

    • Exactly, R.J.

      Ironically it is the (often well-meaning Christians) who fear story magic who are actually practicing a kind of “magic” themselves. They fear not just the actual occult practices God forbids in Deut. 18 (because these are meant to get direction from God and avoid harm, instead of trusting in Him to reveal Himself with a Final Prophet). Instead they fear anything they think could be like those practices. This results in a type of “white magic” practice against supposed “black magic” of books and stories.

      However, Christians must not respond with accusations against this view. Instead we address this view with biblical challenges. God is bigger than the boogie-man. And the Devil is both not as frightening as we think and more frightening than we think, because his work is a lot sneakier–not so easily discerned in books with “magic.”

  2. Eeeeeep, I love this article. Definitely including it in my “Simmer Starters” link roundup today! It’s reminded me of a children’s series or book I want to write about Jesus, presenting everything in a fantastical/heroic light that provides a new perspective on how amazing He is. 🙂 Kids are far too often taught about Jesus as a mild nice-guy, without much emphasis on his POWER and sacrifice.

  3. Alex Mellen says:

    Those were powerful vignettes. What a great way to remind us that we’re drawing inspiration from the greatest myth–as Tolkien described it–the story of Jesus!

  4. Athelas says:

    Those examples were fabulous. *applauds*
    I usually shy away from overly-miraculous things in my stories, simply because of personal preference, but I may try some experimentation now.

  5. Audie says:

    Trying to equate Elijah with a wizard seems like much the same problematic comparison some make in equating the Holy Spirit with the Force in Star Wars. There are a few outward similarities, but even greater differences, and those differences are very important.

    The main difference is in the idea of who has control, either real or apparent. In the magical view, if the user says the right words, makes the right gestures, uses the right tools, and so on, then the user gets the desired result. The magic user is the one in control. But the point of the biblical view of God is that we are not in control, we come to Him as petitioners, but He is free to act as He sees fit, and even to act when we would rather He didn’t or not act when we desperately wish He would.

    And that’s one reason trying to equate “miracles” with “magic” is questionable.

    Perhaps to better understand most people’s wariness of magic in stories, some parallel examples might help. Could we imagine a Christian story set in a world in which adultery was morally ok? Or one in which child sacrifices were a holy sacrament?

    There are things that cannot be salvaged. The best that can said about them is that they are perversions of the truth–adultery is a perversion of marriage, child sacrifice is a perversion of the sacrifice of Christ. Magic isn’t the same as the miraculous, it is a perversion of it.

    • And yet Gandalf, called a “wizard,” behaves much more like a miracle-working prophet than the stereotypical mage character who does not serve a Power higher than himself.

    • sheesania says:

      I think the key issue has to do with this phrase: “…magic has connotations of supernatural power derived from somewhere other than God. But does it _have_ to?” If we follow the suggestions in this article, we’ll write magic that is clearly supernatural power derived from God. The problem is, then we’re making statements about what kind of power comes from God. If we’re not careful, this can result in problems like the you one pointed out – magic is generally presented as being under our control, yet we know that the power from God manifested in miracles is totally under His control.

      This is one reason I like logical, naturalistic magic systems, for lack of a better term – powers that are presented as just another part of the world, with nothing particularly supernatural about them. They still derive from God’s power, of course – but in the same way the whole world works by His power. Magic is something to use for good or ill the same as any plants, animals, natural laws, resources… You can avoid some of the problems of making statements about the nature of God’s power, because you aren’t creating a new type of power derived from God; your magic is just another variation of the existing power manifest in God’s creation.

      Anyways, I think you raise some very good points, Audie, but they are not insurmountable obstacles to writing theologically sound magic.

What do you think?