1. Mj Knop says:

    I have a book being published this year. Classified as religious fiction we journey through a land that time’s forgotten with a twelve year old girl. Several adults who claim to be Christian go through struggles, wrestle with faith, along the way she demonstrates wisdom beyond her years and angels appear. Christ rescued me from the darkness l once practiced so it’s my literary endeavor to write the Christian counter to the Potters.

  2. notleia says:

    I’m not convinced that this is a problem worth so much worrying. Or even that it’s actually a real problem. Kids understand the difference between real-life expectations and just-a-story, except for maybe very young kids, and they grow out of it.

    Except this isn’t about the kids, is it. This is about weird holier-than-thou games that church people play. But you have to play it, too, if you want to sell them books.

    • Travis Perry says:

      I believe there are several real problems dealing with magic but I intend to talk about that next week in more detail.

      Selling books matters, too. But my primary concerns don’t revolve around selling books.

    • Usually it isn’t a problem, though now and then it is, and those uncommon times it’s a problem are probably what people react to.

      I don’t really write the way I do to play church games. I’m not afraid of Christians at all and write what I want to write. Honestly, if there’s any ‘games’ that I worry about, it’s more along the lines of worrying about Woke Tumblr and the like, since there’s a lot of people like that that misconstrue what people say and then attack them based on false premises.

      But my focus is more on communicating effectively and clearly so that people hate me less, rather than completely trying to fit a mold just to be acceptable.

      • notleia says:

        Woke Tumblr probably seems scarier because you’re less familiar with the many many MANY varieties of liberals. You got your Bernie bros and your marxist-flavored workers’ rights peeps, anarchists, Antifa, the many assorted flavors of identarians from your feminists and the racial equity people and the disability advocates to the porpskillion subtypes of gays and gender noncomformists.
        But besides falling under the liberal umbrella, but thing they most have in common is that they fight amongst themselves as often or more so than with outsiders. Like the various Christian denominations.

        • Eh, yeah. There’s different groups that will behave differently, and even further it’s probably something that has to be defined by what individuals do. I kind of said Woke Tumblr because I wasn’t sure how to define the type of people I’m talking about, except to say ‘radicals’ or ‘unreasonable toxic jerks’ maybe.

      • I fear God. Not my brothers and sisters.

  3. Well, I had a friend growing up that wasn’t even allowed to read/watch Narnia because it talked about magic. My parents sort of forbade magic too, but not nearly to that extent. I was still allowed to watch mythology stuff like Hercules, but not things revolving around sorcery like Harry Potter.

    I sort of bypass the problem in my fantasy stories by not really having magic in there at all. Most weird things have some sort of natural or spiritual explanation, though I don’t consider spirituality and magic the same thing, at least within a story. To an extent I also favor approaches 4 and 5.

    I guess to an extent my approach can make the story blur the line between scifi and fantasy, but I don’t think fantasy has to have magic or even spirituality in it to qualify.

    But I sort of sympathize with people that love fantasy but either aren’t allowed to read magical stuff or aren’t interested in magic, so that’s one reason I write the way I do, though not the main one.

    Now days, though, there also really does seem to be a trend to treat magic almost like science or a natural ability. To an extent it does make Christians look bad, because people hear Christians protesting so hard against magic, and then their minds go to how it’s depicted in stories: as another form of science or a natural ability. So they see it as yet another situation where they think Christians would hinder scientific progress or harass people over harmless things they can’t change, if magic was indeed real. So to them, it proves some stereotypical mentalities they think all Christians have.

    • Travis Perry says:

      I heard the series Merlin takes the approach of showing magic as an ability people are born with–though the series also praises Druids and shows them as enlightened and good, when we know for a certainty they practiced the kind of magic God condemned in the Bible.

      What’s a bit funny to me is how many people seem to be looking for an “easy” button for spiritual matters. That’s what’s appealing about legalism–a rule to cover everything, so you don’t have to think things through individually.

      But the opposite does the same thing! Going Libertine or against all rules ALSO is a way to make life simpler. Simpler than legalism–no rules at all!

      When in fact I’d say the spiritual life requires some work and some effort and some thought and Bible study and prayer. Not all situations are alike and so they require different solutions, each one, that can’t be captured in a set of simple rules–though some rules still might apply.

      But in regard to your comment about magic being like science, I’m saying that’s a legitimate way to portray magic. So my post isn’t anti-science…you didn’t specifically say that it was, but I thought it best to be extra-clear. 🙂

      • Yeah, it does require work, as well as self awareness and stuff. The ironic thing about people that dance around and say ‘yay, no rules!’ is that they actually DO believe in rules and structure in some form or another, even if it’s just in the form of getting mad at people that transgress any instinctive boundaries they may have.

        As for Merlin…I’ve only seen some of the earlier episodes, but I found it weird that the show was essentially trying to depict everyone that opposed magic as bigoted and evil, while also having the vast majority of the magic users be bad or harmful in some way. Yeah, maybe the King went too far and needs to rethink his mindset, but he obviously was responding to a real problem. The exact way the show handled the issue (in the episodes I saw) seemed to undermine the point it tried to make.

        And yeah, don’t worry, I didn’t think you were being anti science at all. 🙂 I was just saying that I do prefer a more scientific approach to fantasy, and that I often won’t even have magic there as an ‘energy source’. But I know some people act like fantasy HAS to have magic, so I was trying to address anyone that might think that. And in the last paragraph I was just commenting on the societal trend of stories depicting magic as a natural ability or science, and the effect that has on the way Non Christians might view us.

        • notleia says:

          I’ve only seen enough Merlin to know that it annoys me on an irrational, b*tch-eating-crackers level. Like, is Arthur ever not wearing chain mail? Does Merlin ever not wear his neckerchief?

          • I think I actually know what meme you’re referring to right there 😛 I didn’t really care for that show either, though not for the same reasons. I guess I care more about characterization and how much the narrative makes sense. I don’t detest the show, but I wouldn’t watch it unless I was hanging out with someone that wanted to see it.

  4. Thank you for covering such a sticky topic!

  5. In my No Ordinary Fairy Tale series, where most of the main characters are faeries, magic is an inborn energy given to faeries by the Great Gardener to protect themselves and serve humanity. It becomes Dark Magic when it’s used for selfish gain or to manipulate another person against their will (ie. mind control), and that’s unequivocally described as evil. A “spell” or “charm” is simply a description for anything that a faery does by concentrating and exerting their magical strength — there are no words, gestures or objects involved.

    My most recent fantasy series, however, takes place in an alternate-universe version of 1930’s Toronto which runs on spell power. The magic in this world is definitely more like science — it’s brought forth by combining items that are naturally imbued with magical power, whether you do it in the form of cooking/baking magical herbs and other ingredients into tablets (Common Magic) or by shaping magical gems and metals into charms (Sagery). It’s a matter of using resources already part of the created universe, rather than seeking to steal power that wasn’t rightfully given to humanity.

    All that being said, it’s interesting to note that my mother (who doesn’t read much fantasy, or indeed much fiction at all) had no theological beef with the faery books when she read them, but when I gave her A POCKET FULL OF MURDER she was a bit troubled by the idea of my human heroine baking “spell-tablets” in her kitchen. We ended up chatting about the difference between fantasy magic and the occult, and she seemed satisfied that I wasn’t endorsing something the Bible rightfully condemns. But it did make her uneasy at first to read about a “good” human character making “magic”, and it reminded me that a lot of people from conservative church backgrounds feel uncomfortable reading fantasy, even avowedly Christian fantasy, for that reason.

    • Travis Perry says:

      Yeah I agree that some people are simply uncomfortable with fantasy. My post isn’t really about them–it’s about how to write fantasy that takes the Biblical prohibitions against magic seriously–but is fantasy nonetheless.

      • Well, my mother isn’t uncomfortable with fantasy on principle, she just isn’t familiar with anything beyond Lewis and Tolkien (which my father read aloud to the family when I was young). So I found it fascinating that she was A-OK with the idea of magic as a good thing when practiced by non-human characters, but troubled by the portrayal of magic as a good thing when practiced by human ones. I would have thought that she’d either be troubled by both or neither.

  6. Brie Donning says:

    This is something I’ve thought about a lot. I grew up with Narnia being the most magic my parents approved of and I was fine with that. But since I starting reading more fantasy, and begun writing, I’ve developed more complex views.
    The one thing I want with fantasy magic is to know where is comes from. Is this sorcery, witchcraft, demonic power? If it is, is it portrayed as evil?
    I still don’t write with magic much. One story I worked on last year didn’t have clear enough explanations for my liking, and blended inborn ability and evil power. It just didn’t sit right with my conscience.

    The other novel with magic that I’ve begun writing uses a mixture of methods 1,2, and 4. It also features a protagonist who believes magic is evil. I challenged to write a portal fantasy novel and it turned into an exploration of the question of magic.

    • Travis Perry says:

      I think linking demonic power to magic is an important story distinction to make. Perhaps some magic would be clearly linked to demons (in a story) but others might tap into what symbolizes the power of God.

  7. Travis, thank you so much for your words on this topic. Magic is a subject I and many of my writer friends have discussed at length. I think your comment “…what really matters in this discussion is how God is portrayed in stories and what is the relationship between the user of magic and God” is so true. I think as Christians we can tend to recognize God as the source of miracles, etc., but we often act like there isn’t a real source or real power behind things like spells and divination here in the real world. However, since this kind of power isn’t just a concept in fantasy but does actually exist here, it is very important for us to be handling supernatural power accurately and identifying its source correctly (either of God or of Satan) both in our life and in our writing. Thank you again for addressing this topic.

    • Travis Perry says:

      Given, I think what has happened is the skepticism of the Enlightenment about the supernatural affects Western Christians (Christians in the developing world have different attitudes). We Western Christians really do tend to think Witchcraft is simply fictional and as a result tend to blow off any effects of the supernatural in the real world–but it isn’t fictional. (Or we overreact the other way and ascribe too much power to Satan…)

      Thank you for pointing out power can come from God or Satan in the real world because I forgot to mention that in the real world there are some people who actually claim to be doing magical spells by the power of God. But in reality, God gives His people prayer to seek him. Yes, the Old Testament had something else, the Urim and Thummim by which to seek the will of God, but that doesn’t exist any longer. So people trying to use a form of divination to seek God’s will are in fact doing something they shouldn’t do. Prayer is the means we are taught to seek God in the real world.

      Thank you again for your comment.

  8. Stephen Smith says:

    Great article, and written at the appropriate time for me. I’m editing my 190k epic fantasy novel and my developmental editor pointed out that my magic system needs to be better defined. The novel shows how the bad guys have all the (evil) magic, and the good guys only have passive resistance if they have committed themselves to God. But I’m thinking of changing that so my protagonist has some form of active “magic” bestowed by his father, and I’m struggling with how to do that from a Christian worldview. So I’m going to print out your article and keep it!

  9. There is also surrealism or magical realism–think Kafka, Borges, and others–in which weird stuff happens for no clear reason and characters deal with it. No one tries to harness it. It just happens.

    It might work in the hands of a Christian writer.

    • Travis Perry says:

      Thanks for pointing this out. Though I think events of magic happening for no reason rather reinforces notions of a Godless and irrational universe…though doesn’t have to, of course.

      • No apparent reason. This happens even in the natural order of life. Why did my neighbor’s five year old drown in a freak accident? Why does my godly preacher have bone cancer?

        It reinforces the idea that science does not hold the answers to everything. Scientists are only human and the best acknowledge how little is still known about our physical universe and its laws.

        Weird stuff can be used to symbolize truths in an indirect way. For example young salesmen don’t wake up transformed into big bugs but they can have nervous breakdowns or develop tuberculosis. Like the technique used in poetry called a “metaphor conceit.”

  10. Connie says:

    Good thoughts on something that bogs a lot of folks down! And thanks for the mention as well, though I’m afraid my treatment of magic was much less intentional than you made it sound! ?

What do you think?