1. Kessie says:

    Haha, the contrast between Pooh and Timon and Pumbaa is depressing.
    In every science fiction book I’ve ever read, Man always becomes some form of God at the end. Always. Every time. There are many roads but only one goal. Deathless immortality, omniscience, all that jazz. They achieve it all different ways, whether it’s merging into the hive mind of the internet, or swapping bodies for something indestructible (like a robot).
    Reincarnation is interesting, too. I Am Ocilla by Diane Graham deals with it in a really interesting way.

  2. Bainespal says:

    You can’t talk about reincarnation in speculative fiction without mentioning The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.  Reincarnation is an important component of that series’ mythos, but it’s only a component.

    To me, the main emphasis of WoT is the concept of eternity.  The mythopoeia probably draws more from Zoroastrianism than Hinduism, casting a more-or-less eternal conflict between the Creator and the Dark One.  Not a Christian idea, certainly, but the notion of standing in the place of ancient heroes in the long struggle against evil is gripping and inspiring, and the reincarnation motifs and symbols help to produce wonder at the thought.

    Robert Jordan merged Judeo-Christian ideas with ideas from Eastern spirituality.  It’s not necessarily true that the Eastern influences are more prominent than the Judeo-Christian ones.  A good example of the merger between the two influences is the strongest oath in Jordan’s world.  Jordan’s characters swear — very seriously — by their “hope of salvation and rebirth”.  Salvation and rebirth.  “Salvation and new birth” would have been completely Christian in the most born-again way.  Just “rebirth” would be mainly Hindu, since rebirth without salvation is useless.

    I’m not sure what Jordan’s intent in using reincarnation was.  Being an Episcopalian, he probably didn’t actually believe in it.

    I suppose reincarnation can serve to illustrate the need and deep inner belief that we all have in the idea of starting over with a new life.  I think the need for rebirth is buried deep in the human heart, and that need must have brought about the reincarnation myths.  Therefore, I think reincarnation can be useful in fantasy as a representation both of redemption and eternity.  

    • Fred Warren says:

      Bainespal, thanks for mentioning Robert Jordan, whose stories I have not yet read, but have heard good things about. So many books, so little time. I agree reincarnation as a plot device can provide a useful metaphor for salvation/new birth in a speculative story, if it’s handled carefully.

      I suppose the most bothersome thing for me about reincarnation in fiction is that it tends to compartmentalize soul and body in the same way you might a computer and the box that contains it. You can swap the insides into a different box (short tower, tall tower, low-profile desktop, etc), and it remains the same computer. Likewise, reincarnation into another body doesn’t matter. The only meaningful “you” is the soul inside the body. Yesterday, I was a lion, or a German peasant, or Queen Victoria. Today, I’m a balding guy from the American Midwest. It’s all the same me, in different boxes.

      In Christianity, the body matters. A physical resurrection is pointless if the body isn’t an integral part of our identity. My soul in a different body isn’t me anymore, it’s something else. It would be like putting a Porsche engine into a pickup truck–it doesn’t make the truck a sports car, nor does the engine retain its identity as a Porsche without its original body and other component parts. 

  3. Galadriel says:

    When I try to explain Doctor Who to people, some of them immediately associate it with reincarnation. If anything, it’s closer to a physicalization (yes, I invented that word) of  regeneration, because he remains (roughly) the same age and body as he previously was.

    • Kessie says:

      The Doctor’s more like a phoenix, though. He gets reborn from the ashes and he’s still the same person. A reincarnated Doctor might come back as a girl, or a cow, or a beetle, and might not necessarily remember that he’s the Doctor at all.
      There’s a little book called Conrad’s Fate that really plays with this idea, finally coming to the conclusion that the main character really hasn’t been reincarnated. But then the Lords of Karma turn out to be real. So I don’t know.

  4. Galadriel says:

    Now that I’ve seen A: TLA, I’m  not sure that’s  a straightforward example either. The Avatar is reborn, and can access their past selves, but Aang is a boy, not Keoshi-Roku-whover.  The role of Avatar is more like an office, and its powers are only accessible at times of great need. It’s more like being president or pope, except you can talk with those who had the role before you even though they’re dead.

What do you think?