J. R. R. Tolkien (is there a week that goes by without reference to either Tolkien or Lewis? What giants of the genre!) made an oft-quoted statement in defense of fantasy. In part, author Michael O’Brien explains Tolkien’s view in Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children:
In his essay “On Fairy Stories” J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out that because man is made in the image and likeness of God he is endowed with faculties that reflect his Creator. One of these is the gift of “sub-creation” — the human creator may give form to other worlds populated by imaginary peoples and beasts, where fabulous environments are the stage for astounding dramas. The primal desire at the heart of such imagining, he says, is the “realization of wonder.” If our eyes are opened to see existence as wonder-full, then we become more capable of reverential awe before the Source of it all.
Wonder. I think of it as a mixture of fear and astonishment, the sort of thing that made people fall on their faces in the presence of angels, to start confessing things like “I am a man of unclean lips.” Wonder, I think, has a way of sizing us down while holding God up.
In this same article, O’Brien makes an interesting an interesting observation about fantasy in its current form:
much of contemporary fantasy for the young is actually closer in style to television than to literature. It overwhelms by using in print form the visceral stimuli and pace of the electronic media, flooding the imagination with sensory rewards while leaving it malnourished at the core. In a word, thrills have swept aside wonder.
What an indictment. Is it true? That was my first question. Are Christian fantasies thrilling our kids and leaving them malnourished at the core, or are we offering something more?
One piece of advice I’ve heard repeated at every writers’ conference I’ve attended I think, is that authors must first write a good story. I disagree. A good story alone may thrill but it will not offer wonder. A good story first, with a vitamin pill added for nourishment will pass quickly. Only a good story written with the intent to create wonder will have a chance of doing so, in my opinion.
But that’s my opinion. What’s yours?