So what should we make of dragons … or magic or wizards or trolls or faeries? Do they belong in the stories our children read? Do they belong in the stories we Christian authors write?
I ended Part 1 of the discussion about fantasy with that question, generated from my reading of Richard Abanes‘ fine book, Harry Potter, Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings. Well, I just received a copy of a pamphlet entitled “In Defence of Fantasy” (yes, the British spelling of defense is intentional) by Australian author Andrew Lansdown. In part this booklet opened my eyes to some of the stringent opposition to fantasy others have talked about. Mr. Lansdown systematically and thoughtfully takes the major objections to fantasy and discusses them from a Biblical perspective. I’d like to follow his line of thinking for a time.
He identifies these objections to fantasy:
- people in false religions like fantasy
- fantasy is linked to the occult
- fantasy is not true (and why should Christians spend so much time reading a lie)
- (and the corollary) fantasy depicts things that have no basis in reality
- readers (especially young ones) may become confused about what is real
- fantasy is escapist
Mr. Lansdown easily defeats the first objection: people in false religions like fantasy, first by admitting the element of truth in the statement. But he goes on to point out that people steeped in false religion or philosophy like all kinds of things, such as gardening or classical music. Using the reasoning that something becomes evil because someone with a wrong worldview likes it, then all of God’s creation could be written off as evil. The conclusion a person should reach instead is that even people with wrong worldviews can like and enjoy good things.
However, Mr. Lansdown goes on to acknowledge that some writers use fantasy to further their wrong worldview. I thought of Phillip Pullman as a prime example of this.
Again, Mr. Lansdown defuses this argument as a reason to dismiss all fantasy:
A man who has sex with a prostitute does not thereby prove that sex in itself is bad and should be banned from marriages. A woman who poisons her husband with oleander sap does not thereby prove that oleander bushes in themselves are bad and should be banned from gardens. Likewise, a writer who poisons a fantasy with depravity does not thereby prove that fantasy novels intrinsically are bad and should be banned from libraries. He proves only that his fantasy is bad and should be banned.
(Here I’m hoping that “banned from libraries” refers to personal libraries because banning books brings up another completely different, albeit as equally high-charge, topic.)
The second point—the link with the occult—is probably the major issue and one I touched on in Part 1. I think it’s such a serious concern that I think it deserves more discussion. Let me lay out the arguments to give you time to think about the subject, then next time we’ll look at Mr. Lansdown’s refutation.
Some Christians object to fantasy writing because they feel that it is linked with the occult. By “the occult” they do not mean things that are merely “mysterious” and “outside the laws of the natural world”. They mean things that are darkly mysterious and wickedly supernatural. Quite legitimately, they use the term “the occult” to describe an interest or an involvement in supernatural things that are evil and devilish. And they view fantasy as occult because its realms may accommodate evil people such as witches, evil spirits such as demons, evil creatures such as goblins, and evil practices such as sorcery.
Interestingly, Mr. Lansdown divides fantasy into three categories—stories with no occult, stories with some occult, stories featuring the occult. He says, “In my view, the first category needs no defence, while the third category is largely indefensible.” So his refutation deals exclusively with stories containing some occult. And we’ll look at what he says about them next time.
Meanwhile, let me know what you think about the three categories, the list of objections to fantasy, or anything else that comes to mind on the subject.