What Harm Could Come from Fictional Magic?
Last week I shared an updated version of a personal blog post I wrote before I had any interest in becoming a publisher–a post that discussed ways to avoid the problem magic in stories creates for Christian authors. A post that didn’t in fact proscribe any specific solution but offered some potential answers. I also said that the only solution I don’t recommend is to ignore or downplay this issue altogether. I could say I had established “why not” well enough without referencing any potential harm that can come to people. I did so by explaining the Bible uses the terms that translate as “magic,” “sorcery,” and “witchcraft” when addressing supernatural power that comes from a source other than God (because God has allowed has allowed his enemies some measure of power, something Rebecca LuElla Miller also noticed, as captured in her post from 2016)–which is forbidden by the Bible. Therefore, if God forbids it, we should be concerned about reproducing in fiction that which God doesn’t allow.
I found myself a bit surprised by several comments that in effect stated this isn’t a real issue at all–it’s only an issue to treat seriously in order to avoid triggering the ire of certain Christians. And one commentator implied perhaps my only reason for stating this concern was based on a desire to sell books to Christians. Um, not so–again, I wrote this post for the first time before I had any inkling of conforming content to match reader expectations.
For me, the issue most importantly is about the commandment Jesus stated was first, that we are to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:36-38, which refers back to Deuteronomy 6:5). If we consider God to be the source of supernatural power we are allowed to have access to through prayer, a power which at times was also accessed by other means in the history of the Bible, such as via the urim and thummim or Moses’s staff, then why would we want to portray supernatural power that has no connection to God? Why would we want to give credit where credit is not due and create stories where God is left entirely out of the picture–where magic is power that does not in any way point back to the Creator of all power or which even worse is stated to come from gods other than the One Lord? Why would we want to undermine the authority, power, and wonder of the God we love “heart, mind, and soul”?
But the issue is more complicated than where I think our hearts should be in regard to desiring to honor God in our portrayal of magic. Yes, we should desire to honor God–but does a mere portrayal of, say, a world that entirely excludes God, does that represent some kind of potential to do harm?
Again, the issue here isn’t just about a potential to do harm, it really should be about us desiring to honor God even in fiction. But is there any potential to affect someone in a negative way via a fictional portrayal of magic? Is there any potential to do harm?
Let’s make this question broader. Is it ever possible to put something in fiction that could harm people?
Let me give a specific example that ties directly into the genre of fantasy. I started reading speculative fiction first in science fiction. But around age 16 or so I started reading quite a bit of fantasy (actually for me it was Narnia that opened the door to reading all kinds of fantasy, whether with Christian themes or not). And I happened to read a book called Tarnsmen of Gor. Gor, if you haven’t heard of it, is a sword-and-planet type fantasy in which the protagonist travels to another world. There’s a lot of sword fighting and nefarious bad guys (who were priests in the first book if I recall correctly). Standard fantasy stuff–though in Gor, slavery is common. Sexual slavery too. Oh, did I forget to mention that in the Gor books women like being enslaved sexually, it gives them pleasure, and is portrayed as a positive good? That women are shown getting slapped around in these stories at times–and they like it? “Slavery is good for woman” is a direct quote from one of the Gor books if my memory serves me right. I don’t remember which one, but it had to be from one of the two I read (at least I stopped at two).
How could that possibly do harm? It’s only fiction, right?
The example I just shared, dear reader, is intended to illustrate how ridiculous the “it’s only fiction” response is to this sort of thing. Yeah, could it be that certain men might read Gor when young and impressionable and draw the conclusion that women really are to be treated as sex slaves? Or at least they could be influenced in that direction? And why in the world would we want to portray women that way in the first place–who would even want to read about women being treated that way?
Though…in spite of my purpose to ridicule the “it’s only fiction” response, I know some people will still offer it. And mean it.
And let’s “give the Devil his due” here, they are not entirely wrong. You can read books that portray serial killers in graphic detail without getting anywhere close to becoming a serial killer yourself. You can read about sexual slavery of women without ever joining the modern trade in sex slaves. And you can read stories that portray magic tied up in Paganism without ever having any interest in becoming Pagan yourself.
But on the other hand, how many serial killers had never even heard of other serial killers? And how many sex slavers had never fantasized about domination of women (and children and men at times) before actually going out and doing it? And how many practicing Witches and modern Neo-Pagans (literal worshipers of gods other than God) had never read about fantasy magic before seeking out the power they perceive exists in their religion(s) of gods and goddesses? (Or for Wiccans, i.e. modern Witchcraft, the singular male god and the singular, much more important, female goddess?)
News flash: People who engage in lifestyles we think of as shocking from a Christian perspective hardly ever jump right in without ever having imagined it first. Normally people are first exposed to an idea, then they think that idea over for a time (sometimes a long time), then after that, after the idea has been meditated on for a while–then they actually do it. Yeah, sometimes a person is introduced to the full thing directly from someone they know and don’t go through much of a “thinking about it stage.” But “normally,” as I said, people think about it first.
Sometimes people never get past the “thinking about it” phase. Frequently even. And some people think and fantasize about evil for a while then wind up violently rejecting this kind of thing and go the opposite way–like a certain publisher of Christian fiction I happen to know very well (ahem).
But in general, even though we cannot predict all the things people do, people in general empathize with the protagonist of a story and at times adopt attitudes and even on occasion practices and beliefs the protagonist holds. Portraying magic in a positive light in a way that has no connection to God invites some-but-nowhere-close-to-all people to seek out magical power via means other than God. And such magical practices really do exist in the real world, even though they are quite different from how fantasy magic is usually shown.
Some people will never even fantasize about using magic themselves based on reading about fantasy magic, some will fantasize about it but that’s all, but some, even if a tiny percentage, will actually seek out real magical power and will find in the world of the Occult not exactly what they were looking for, but real power nonetheless.
Note how different what I’m saying is from the standard Christian objections to, say, Harry Potter. A perception based on a certain view of spiritual warfare holds that particular actions or thoughts give Satan rights to interfere with your life. YOU WILL BE OPPRESSED BY THE DEVIL! if you read Harry Potter. Supposedly. But the view of Satan having rights over a Christian based on specific activities is not actually found in the Bible and I don’t believe things work like that. Satan will not rip off the top of your skull and crawl into your brain if you should ever dare crack open a volume that contains fantasy magic that ascribes power to gods other than God (like Percy Jackson) or continually shows people having power without them ever thinking about God or tying anything back to their Creator (as happens in Harry Potter and Cinderella and Frozen and most other stories that feature fantasy magic).
In fact the latter is the most common kind of fictional story in our world–whether referring to a tale that features magic or not–most stories simply leave God out and thereby encourage the notion that God really isn’t that important after all. So that’s another reason to cite God as the source for magic or to seek out a way to honor God in your magical system, however you decide you want to make one. People should not be apathetic to the importance of God in their lives but often are.
I want magic systems in fantasy I write or publish to point back to God, even if very subtly, not just because there is a real, not-high-but-not-zero-either chance of actually doing harm to someone. But because I want to honor God and remind people to think of their Creator. Though that doesn’t mean the issue of harm doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t matter.
I’m going to end this article with what will seem at first like me changing the subject to something completely unrelated to fantasy magic. But bear with me–it relates.
Did you know the ancient Romans used lead piping to deliver the water that aqueducts brought in to homes and public fountains? Did you know they also used containers made of lead as cooking or serving dishes at times–in particular to cook a syrupy sweetener made from grape juice?
Did you also know that some Roman writers actually warned about the dangers of lead exposure based on observation of medical problems for workers in lead mines? But in fact lots of people used lead piping and lead dishes and it didn’t harm them right away. The Romans lacked statistical methods and sufficiently developed standards of public health to prove that exposure to lead could have long-term affects on people. Modern analysis concludes that the exposure from water piping wasn’t so bad because the water supply system flowed continually and flushed out dangerous oxides quickly–but the lead dishes and in particular the sweetener cooked in lead pots was very dangerous. Yet the Romans could never prove the harm was there. People just absorbed the poison over a long period of time, suffered, and died. And life went on as if all of that was normal.
Did you also know that statistical methods of modern times work well in identifying medical ailments, but detecting how attitudes and ideas spread is much harder to measure, because it depends on surveys, and surveys require people to both know the truth about themselves (sometimes people are in denial) and to tell the truth (of course sometimes people lie)? So don’t look for any percentage figure of modern Neo-Pagans who started out being exposed to their religion via fantasy magic. Such a measurement probably cannot be made.
But let’s not ignore effects just because we can’t measure them. Let’s not in effect cook our stories in lead containers and then feel justified if no one is affected right away. Let’s try to avoid things we have reason to believe are contaminants, even if the effects are subtle. So lets take the portrayal of magic without any reference to God seriously–let’s work to avoid doing that, because there actually is a potential for harm. Even if harm isn’t the primary issue that we should care about.
Note I did not say to ban all portrayal of magic or adopt some sort of legalistic standard in how magic must be portrayed. I haven’t said that at all. Nor have I made any comment on stories you may happen to enjoy. I’m talking about guidelines for creators of stories here.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Of honoring God and concerning the potential for harm?
All things are lawful. But not everything is expedient.
Will this concept glorify God? Will it help people to understand and love each other better?
Annoying as Mrs. Fussbudget may be, am I adding parts to my novel just to “trigger” her?
There are joyless scolds on both sides of the political spectrum. In the church and in the world.
But if putting something in a book may get kids in your audience playing with ouija boards or tarot cards maybe leave it out? 1 Corinthians 8.
Rachel more basically I am in favor of Christians altering the conversation about these things by producing what naturally flows from creative impulses given by God and shaping those impulses based on a strong relationship with God. Christians who do that will write many things differently in ways at times subtle, at times obvious. War, sexuality, the role of faith and yes magic too (among many other things) will wind up looking different.
My concern is that in refusing to let Mrs. Fussbudget tell us what to do, we are throwing out as unreasonable some considerations which actually make sense. We don’t have to be binary, all in or all out. There are means to include magic that respect the issue but which still use magic–I listed six ways last week and my list was by no means exhaustive.
By the way, “all things are lawful” is set within a specific context of things not directly forbidden by Scriptures. Yet not all things are lawful for me to do, say, or think if we include things I know can cause me to sin. Such things exist for me–and I’m not the only one like that by any means. Etc. (Follow that reasoning to where it leads…and restricting things that can hurt others is based on love of God and our fellow human beings, not on fear.)
I totally agree with all that. And this especially: ” restricting things that can hurt others is based on love of God and our fellow human beings, not on fear.” Yes. Not fear, but love for God and people.
Precisely. Mrs. F’s concerns may be legitimate. At least in a less extreme form.
I know some people who condemn books with talking animals in them. Others view fiction itself as wasteful or even a form of lying. (Augustine of Hippo held this view.)
“Why would we want to give credit where credit is not due and create stories where God is left entirely out of the picture–where magic is power that does not in any way point back to the Creator of all power or which even worse is stated to come from gods other than the One Lord?” – for the same reason that we take a bath to enjoy ourselves. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Not everything is meant to be spiritual. God made the physical to be physical, and we are commanded to pour time into purely physical things, like sleep, and going to the bathroom. This is the kind of argument that makes people roll their eyes.
“Is there any potential to do harm?” – I think that’s a much more reasonable question. But the answer is that you can do harm even by preaching right theology in a way that doesn’t hit people right. It’s worth it to consider these things, and every responsible writer does, but there’s far too much anxiety about this topic, IMO.
“because I want to honor God and remind people to think of their Creator.” – this, in my opinion, should be the only reason for writing magical stories that point to God.
Brennan I increasingly see everything as spiritual. Even baths are a gift from God.
However, of course the physical world exists and is engaged physically. But magical power under some contexts is denifitely spiritual and not physical, right? So your physical example isn’t really appropriate to the subject, correct?
Also: “There’s far too much anxiety on this topic” in regard to doing harm from the point of view of people I referenced as believing in essence “the devil’s gonna get you if ever do that.” But here on Speculative Faith people are claiming the opposite for the most part–because of over-the-top extreme reactions against magic, those who voice their opinion here are pretty much in favor if expressing as much magic in stories of whatever type they want. Yet the actual reality is some harm is possible even if rare and taking some steps to minimize it is reasonable.
It is possible to recognize something as mildly dangerous or dangerous on rare ocasions without freaking out about it and staying 100 miles away. Things don’t have to be all one way or all the other.
As for those who would roll my eyes at my reasoning I roll my eyes back. And am reminded of the ancient Romans who scoffed at lead poisoning. Or the people who claim smoking can’t be bad for you because “grandpa smoked and lived to age 90.” Yeah anecdotal info on people who are apparently unharmed does nothing to track actual harm…
Thank you, Mr. Perry, for stating (for me) the obvious: ALL things are spiritual. There is no “secular vs spiritual” – there is only what is done for God. “Do everything as for the Lord” – whatever we eat, drink, do say… we do it all for the Lord. If my stories do not point back to the Creator of All, then I can’t say I’m writing for HIm… but only for my own selfish pleasures. And how does that, then Honor Him?
Granted, not everyone shares my conviction that all of life is for God. (But they’re wrong, of course…) But within CHRISTIAN fiction, within CHRISTIAN Speculative fiction, our very name says we honor Christ in all we do. If we aren’t about Him, then take the Name off your book, and sell it where you wish.
Read the Book of Esther. Not one mention of God… yet the entire book speaks of His providence, His control, His watchfulness over His people. No one felt the need to “add on” anything to please someone’s sensibilities: God was inherent in the story throughout. Writer’s can do the same thing. If we care enough. If it matters above all else. Which, for me, it does.
We’ll die a physical death yet if we’re Christians, it won’t be a spiritual death. It’s naïve (and wrong) to imply the Bible doesn’t make distinctions between the physical and spiritual.
Travis: your responses are well taken. But no, magical power is not always spiritual in stories. So my comment is actually quite appropriate. Especially in regards to the fact that we can perform activities that are perfectly legitimate and NOT spiritual. If you disagree, then please explain to me how pooping is spiritual. (On second thought, please don’t try.) Just because something is a gift from God doesn’t mean it’s a spiritual activity.
I thought your article was fine, I just get squinty-eyed when the main argument for Christians to do or not do something is fear-based rather than God-based (meaning “I’m afraid of harming someone” rather than “I’m doing this for the sake of joy in God”). I thought your final points were good and helped reframe things for me, but wanted to point out a couple things I had thoughts on.
I dunno, I think that the question of harm is a legit one. My parameters for what constitute “harm” are different than Travis’s, tho.
Thanks for your thoughts, Colleen!
You do seem to be leaning harder on the more mystical, spiritual-warfare stuff lately. I’m genuinely baffled by it because I don’t swing that way.
Hi, Mr. Perry. I just wanted to say that I really appreciate how thoughtful you’ve been on this subject in this article and the one before it. I agree with the majority of your points and have handled magic in my own stories similarly to the ways you suggest handling it. Even on the few points where my opinion differs with yours (albeit, only slightly), I still agree that whatever we put in our stories, as Christians, we need to be prayerful about it and have a thought-out reason for it being there as well as for the way we chose to handle it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
Thanks for your comment! Yes, I agree with being thoughtful and prayerful.
Well, I think pretty much everything can be harmful, so I’m not one to say that something should be avoided solely because of that. But we should still be conscious of the context and manner things are portrayed, at least.
Since I tend to be a fan of portraying the reality of life, and the bible itself depicts people using magic badly, merely talking about it in a story doesn’t bother me. Maybe I’d question a Christian author lingering so long in a pagan ritual scene that it sounds like they were delighting in it, but I don’t think that usually happens. But like…I don’t know. Not every people group in a universe is going to know and love God, and it might be valuable for a Christian author to explore a character from that people group. That might mean depicting traditions quite different than ours without interference from God. Though an author could use that as an opportunity to show those pagan traditions as undesirable even within their natural context.
But there’s a question of why people are actually drawn to magic and other things in the first place. It isn’t solely a matter of the story convincing them. Some of it has to do with who the person is innately.
I seriously doubt I would ever want to skydive, for example. I would learn if I felt I had to, but that’s a far cry from actually liking it. Other people, however, are so high on thrill seeking behavior that they need very little encouragement. Nurture does play a role in what people choose, but things often have to make an appeal to someone’s nature as well in order to draw them to it.
People should be more self aware and select their reading material accordingly, though getting people to actually be that self aware is the hard part.
Have you ever read the Dragonkeeper Chronicles by Donita K Paul? From what I recall she did a pretty good job of integrating fictional magic and Christianity in that series. I think I was a little bored with the first book in that series, but liked the rest of it.
I haven’t read the Dragonkeeper Chronicles but perhaps I should.
As for “pretty much anything can do harm” I agree, but I remember reading The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy in which he wrote an explanatory part (can’t remember if it was before or after) that said even though the plot of his story pointed out that building and atomic bomb isn’t hard once you have the materials, because all the information is online, he could not in good conscience fictionally write how it really is done, so he deliberately changed real physics so that nobody could use his fictional books as a manual to do evil via building an a-bomb.
I feel that certain topics warrant a bit of care above others and I think matters that could possibly relate to a spiritual connection to evil spirits might fall in a category of “more caution.” (Not avoidance, but “more caution.”)
Though I recognize that each of us are responsible before God for what we create and I also recognize my solutions may not be your solutions. Though my bottom line interest is persuading people to simply take this seriously and in correct Biblical context–without overreacting.
Eh, yeah. I think I mostly agree with you in that sense. In general I guess I tend to disagree with how people tend to apply that with various topics. And then of course it gets more complicated when we realize that different arguments/presentations of certain topics are needed to affect different people. I think in that sense each author is going to have a different niche, and that God calls all of us to address different issues in different ways.
Oof, batten the hatches y’all, this topic is gonna garner a rambling essay-comment from notleia.
But I wasn’t targeting you specifically for purely mercenary motives for catering to a conservative audience. It’s kind of an economic reality that to sell stuff to people, you (generic you) have to cater to their ofttimes questionable tastes.
But oof, OOF, (((((OOOOOOOF)))), you brought up Gor. My ex-bf liked Gor and tried to justify it as not being straight-up wishful smut. But the baseline problem was that he WANTED to believe that all women were secretly turned on by domination, his particular fetish. Silly me, I thought by constantly reminding him of specific things I was Not Into would keep our relationship on track, in regards to expectations and stuff, but LOLcryingintomybeer, my preferences and needs were not really on his track at all, we were just deluding ourselves into thinking so in our separate ways (he thought I just wasn’t *awakened* into my “true” nature as a woman [[[retrospective UGH, CRINGE, and BARF]]]). (If I cringe hard enough, can it travel through time so my naive a** breaks up with him sooner?)
And to tie this into a previous comment of mine, THIS, ye unattached, inexperienced-in-romance readers, is one of the blind spots that Christian culture has about relationship compatibility. (I’m at least as qualified as those newlywed youth pastors who want to boost their signal by writing marriage books.) My ex’s church (which he was active in) couldn’t see any problems.
But getting back to the subject of fictional magic, it’s kind of the same thing about expectations mismatched to reality. Do some people WANT fictional magic to be real so bad they collect weird crap like crystals and tarot decks and do weird crap like feng shui? Yes. Except I can’t find the wherewithal to give a crap because the vast majority of them don’t do any harm with it. If they wanna burn sage in their new apartment because they like the ritual aspects, who cares, just open the windows and fan the smoke detector so it doesn’t go off. On the flip side, there are those weird Christian Scientists who suffer, die, and let their kids suffer and die from preventable causes because they WANT to believe that pure Jesus-hoodoo will cure them over tainted science medicine.
So TL;DR I care about people’s wellbeing over ideological purity. And while ideology does affect people’s wellbeing, I wanna see some hard evidence. We plenty of evidence that sexual violence is bad and not seeing a doctor is bad.
His church didn’t have any problem with it at all? I guess that’s pretty weird to me since a pretty decent amount of people at my church probably would have. I mean, if they were talking to an adult that WASN’T asking for advice, they may or may not have said anything about it, but a lot of them would have at least thought it weird or uncomfortable. A lot of people at my church take an anti porn stance, too, so that’d help.
That said, even if they didn’t, my parents would have been pretty upset if I insisted on dating a guy like your ex.
Ur ex bf sounds like a creep.
My point above about being God-based rather than fear-based was that our motives should be out of care for others rather than for a particular ideology. God-based is my term for it because you can’t love God without loving other people. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” – 1 John 4:20
Your post appeared as a reply to me, not notleia, even though you meant it for her…
Ya not sure why that happened… pretty sure I clicked reply to Notleia, but maybe not.
Thing is, his creepiness is deep-seated enough that it was (probably still is) invisible to the vast majority of people. He’s ostensibly a functioning member of society who sublimates his white-knight-savior complex into being an EMT and a firefighter.
But it’s not really that uncommon a creepiness. How many dudes feel entitled to ignoring women’s physical OR mental/emotional boundaries in order to get their jollies? Or that women could use a good ****ing to cure their psychological ills? But I will say that my ex actually liked women and was perfectly capable of just being friends with women. But that just hid his creepiness under another layer.
IDK why people don’t see it easier. (It makes sense why you didn’t, there was a romantic relationship there, that makes it tough.) But to me, it seems supremely clear when guys are that way, and I avoid them like the PLAGUE. Worse though, is that people like that end up getting popular, and everyone in churches ends up thinking they’re wonderful. And you can’t say anything negative about them without the tables getting turned on you, and people shunning you. It’s the worst when people put turds like that in positions of spiritual leadership in churches, but it happens ALLLLLLL THE TIIIIME. It’s like when you’re having a nightmare and you see a polar bear breaking through a window, but no one else seems to see the polar bear, and no one believes you when you tell them it’s a polar bear and not their best buddy Frank, who’s a “Stand-up-guy.”
No, no, the Gor thing was not a thing that was public. But even without the specific details, sexual compatibility is not really a thing in church culture radar beyond tab A fitting into slot B. Most of them still hold to the 50’s stereotype about women being frigid but being obligated to put up with horndog men to make the marriage work. (Are the straights okay? I’m asking as a straight myself.)
We had slightly more visible issues about expectations around boundaries, but not even his parents would have really picked up on it, because they were the ones who taught him that he should have no boundaries from family, so he thought it was unfair if I had them. My mom probably picked up on it, but my mom is the hands-off type and not prone to earnest lectures, unlike when my dad gave us a private earnest lecture about sexual purity (CRINGE). (Also, that lecture did absolutely diddly, I’m speaking from experience when I say that sort of thing doesn’t do any good.)
It was secular sources like Captain Awkward that really gave me the hint and the space to start questioning the cultural assumptions that the church contributed to.
Ah, I see. That makes a little more sense 😛
My views on the way the church handles it are a little complicated, since it’s not even like any two Christians actually think exactly the same on those subjects. Like, my parents were pretty much like ‘No dating until you’re 18’, but I had other friends that were allowed to date in highschool. And then at least one or two of my classmates were allowed to date during elementary school.
Discussing the importance of purity does actually help in some instances. Like, I think my parents talking about it in those terms helped me lean more in purity’s direction where I might not have otherwise cared at all. That said, I think the rhetoric I tended to hear and the presentation was different than what you experienced. I do legitimately see abstinence as healthier, now that I’m older and have had years to form an opinion on it. Though, being just a teeny bit on the ace/aro spectrum, I’m not as blinded by hormones as other people seem to be. But I think that helps me make more practical decisions on that stuff, rather than basing my decisions around lust.
What I usually do is gather people’s thoughts and opinions, as well as a hell load of observations, then constantly analyze them and ask what I think of them. Then I form opinions from there, rather than just taking whatever people at church or the liberal media say. Furthermore, I dunno. Regardless of believing in abstinence and not wanting their kids to read inappropriate things, my parents still gave constant hints that romantic relationships could easily go wrong for some reason or another. They also hinted at sexual compatibility issues when I started dating, though I don’t think they would have talked about those much unless I asked or got engaged. Regardless, they were very far from pretending those issues don’t exist.
Personally, I believe in abstinence, but when two people have dated for a long time and are starting to get serious, they should start having some rather frank discussions about what they want and expect, though they should still realize things could go completely against their expectations and make sure they can handle that.
Heck, maybe we should just make an open thread about the discrepancies between the literary portrayals (with or without porn) of sex life and what we ourselves have experienced in real life? We can thread that back to discussing how to bring more realism to romances and literary sex expectations.
Except I have a feeling that I’m the only person here who is remotely okay revealing such personal and embarrassing stories. Could I tell you IRL? Prolly not, but yay for the anonymity of the Internet! I think it would be an interesting discussion, but I can see lots of people noping out because of the potential crassness and cringe.
It would be enough to camp on: “Sex is mutual, relational, and other-centered.”
Hm…sometimes I have a very frank and blunt way of discussing things in a very practical ‘reading from a textbook’ manner, but then there’s also times when I think that sort of thing is super awkward and have a hard time discussing it at all, so I don’t know exactly how I’d feel about such a forum. I don’t really have anything in the way of personal embarrassing experiences to relate, so people might think it’s unfair that they’re airing their embarrassing stories while I’m not. So I’d only really be able to contribute ideas of how to discuss and present things. That could still be valuable, but, again, a few people might not think it’s very fair of me.
That said, this kind of reminds me of Brent Weeks. Like, I was at Barnes and Nobles recently and started looking at one of his books that was in the bargain bin for super cheap. I figured I may as well give that author another try, especially since he was at the most recent conference, if I recall correctly. But, skimming through it, I didn’t get the book after all.
Thing is, I never really could get myself to finish his books because of the specific way they make a fascination of sexual issues. If discussing those matters makes sense for a story or just feels like something the chars would naturally do, then I mind it less and take it as a study of human nature. But I didn’t really get that vibe off his books.
Sometimes it was just because it seemed randomly stuck in there as a stylistic thing. Sex in his stories seems to be culturally seen as a constant ‘marital duty’, (even for poor people that don’t need heirs, if I recall correctly). So it was just weird that most of the chars had so much similarity in mindset on that subject, even when it made them miserable. A lot of chars would have probably been happier if they’d just realize that people aren’t really watching them and they could probably skip out on sex most of the time…?
But then reading the back of that book I dug out of the bargain bin, there was an authors note mentioning vaginismus (if I recall correctly), and apparently he actually was having two chars struggle with that issue to raise awareness about it.
I still don’t know that I like his presentation style. I feel a little bad for saying that since I’ve never read one of his books all the way through and thus there might be a lot of nuance I’m missing. I might finish reading his Night Angel Trilogy someday just because it revolves around assassins, but that’s it.
That said, a lot of issues can be dealt with without being explicit. I mean, sheesh, growing up my teachers (I went to a Christian school for elementary) gave some rather strong anti cheating messages without discussing sex. And if one is writing for adults…well, adults are going to understand a lot of the author’s points without the author having to spell them out.
Maybe I can comment successfully now.
But as pure anecdotal evidence, dude authors don’t seem that good at making sex sound like fun.
I don’t necessarily even always notice the author’s gender(don’t exactly care), so I don’t think I have an opinion on general tendencies like that. Especially since ‘fun’ is subjective.
To me, literature in general kind of just seems to express the idea that people love sex and tend to find it enjoyable and are even willing to be irresponsible/get themselves in trouble over it. Not necessarily that they’re trying to convince the reader that it’s amazing.
A lot of modern media kind of fails when it comes to making romance itself look like fun, though. Or at least when talking about a lot of our mainstream movies, where the two love interests just sort of end up together because Formula Requirements.
Many of those relationships just look flat out boring and remove a lot of the context that would actually make them desirable. Due to real life experience and finding media that actually does a good job with romance, it’s a little more understandable why people are obsessed with it, though they obviously still shouldn’t be.
Gonna also say that I actually don’t mind books like Gor existing. Yeah, there’s a lot of negative to them, and I wouldn’t read that series, but to an extent I appreciate having a revelation of how some people think, that way it’s easier to find ways to counter it, rather than it just being buried underground, waiting to be triggered like a landmine.
Sexy portrayals: clothes fall of gracefully, nobody loses their balance, and no one ever needs lube.
IRL: I’ve gotten my ankles tangled in my underwear, knocked half the crap off my bedside table searching for the lube in the dark, and nearly fell off trying to put his [redacted] in at the right angle and my thigh muscles spasmed.
Well, in the book I skimmed through from the bargain bin, that scene had the chars utilize a primitive form of lube…which exemplifies a bit of how graphic it was and one reason I didn’t feel like getting the book, considering how often Brent Weeks discusses crass stuff in his books.
Granted, I doubt I made sex sound all that fun just then. 😛
Gor… man. I haven’t read those in decades. I remember the straight-up sexism. I remember my girl-friend at the time surprising me by telling me she read them, too.
Re: Gor, I didn’t believe women wanted to be treated badly. I personally knew quite a number of women and since my parents were divorced and my dad was absent, I knew quite a lot about what women thought. (My mom is quite overt.)
Yet when I read Gor I was in fact introduced to the idea that women could be sex slaves for the first time. Well, the first time in any kind of portrayal–I supposed I had heard it mentioned in history prior to that. But the dry historical mention had no effect. I am ashamed to say what I read in Gor I found arousing. But I did.
I have rejected that temptation entirely–have done so for decades now. But the fact I once fantasized about sexual slavery because I read about it in a fictional book shapes what I had to say today. Fictional stuff isn’t trivial just because it’s fiction.
And I also very much know my older sister read a lot about fantasy magic before becoming a Neo-Pagan herself. So did her Pagan friends as far as I know. So I think I was onto something in talking about the connection between imagining fantasy and then going into witchcraft.
As for the reason you don’t care about magic, you seem to be a typical Westerner who downplays the importance of all spiritual things, in effect creating a material universe. I am keenly interested in the material universe–but I think there exists a spiritual universe as well.
Though perhaps I’m wrong about you. I can only guess based on things you actually say.
Well, while you both were turned on by the content of Gor, you didn’t cling to the fantasy in the face of a lot of evidence that most women are not like that and are also not okay with that. You’re different from him in that respect.
And I guess I come down on the material end of the spectrum. To me, it’s a question of where the power comes from. Do herbs and patterns and Victorian parlor games have innate power in of themselves, or does the power of such things derive from the meaning we give them?
Like, if there’s an earthquake and a set of wet tea leaves falls into a cup in the sink. Does the pattern they make summon evil vibes? If I apologize to my coffee table for smacking it with the vacuum cleaner, is that proof that I believe it holds a spirit?
Gonna also add that sometimes depicting a magical but non Christian character could serve a similar purpose as me having the main char in my superhero story be an atheist. Often enough, Christians don’t understand the other side. I’m not talking about understanding in a vague informational way, I’m talking about truly understanding someone’s thought process and emotions. I’m not saying that understanding should go so deep that Christians start falling away from the gospel, but often enough Christians end up being so out of touch that they drive people away and look ridiculous, rather than convincing people.
At the very least, depicting three dimensional atheist characters could clear up common myths and help Christians debate based on actual reality, instead of stereotypes. The same thing could sort of be accomplished with magical chars as well. Even if they don’t follow all the religious practices of someone that practices magic in real life, they can be given some of the same attitudes for educational purposes.
To come at that from the viewpoint of expectations, Christian culture WANTS to see atheists as have simplistic thoughts and motivations, because then it would be easy to “fix” them. And if they won’t be fixed, it’s the atheists’ faults rather than because the apologetics rhetoric is lame and inadequate (lookin’ at you, Ken Ham).
Sometimes. Other times it’s just a lack of knowledge and experience. But of course that’s the sort of thing I want to clear up. Honestly, though, I see atheists doing presicely the same thing to religious people, so to an extent that story can address that a bit as well since the atheist char does have a Christian mother he respects in spite of disagreeing with her belief system.
It’s a failing of our time and place that we de-emphasize the spiritual nature of reality. People who have messed with the dark side understand that it’s real and dangerous. That’s why they often have a different perspective than those who generally deny a spiritual existence….and believe it or not, Christians are prime among those. They just can’t see why “harmless” activities like celebrating Halloween aren’t always harmless. But the ex-Wiccan convert to Christianity will avoid it like the plague because she knows firsthand what it is.
Conversely, many Christians worship a God who isn’t really present for them spiritually. We live in a materialist culture.
Jill, this is the unspoken element here, something I considered talking about but chose not to. Perhaps I will pick this up later–but you are entirely right. People don’t believe that the Occult is an actual thing and don’t know what it really entails. I do know more than average, not because of my involvement in magic but because of having met so many people who were into the occult, including both of my sisters and their children and most of their friends and acquaintances (only some of whom I’ve met).
People doubt the Occult is an actual thing because Western culture is materialist and downplays the existence of Satan in the first place.
I find it very rare to find people who have what I consider a reasonable balance concerning spiritual warfare. We shouldn’t be terrified of Satan as some are and be constantly looking under every chair for demons (so to speak). But we should not on the other hand deny that the power of Satan exists. We should be alert, aware, not afraid, bold in even using magic, but with some thought and caution before we do so.
Well said. I very much appreciate your insight and diligence in covering the topic thoroughly. This is exactly the issue that concerns me about “Christian fantasy.” I personally love fantasy/sci-fi myself, but I see so much blurring of the lines and confusion in the current generation of believers. I think the Church has forgotten our mission too often and made an idol out of entertainment. It is good to hear a level headed perspective expressed and a voice of reminder to keep Kingdom things first, lest we become just like the world and find ourselves offering nothing to the reader but more of the same banal entertainments.
Thank you for your comment. Yes, I worry that a tendency seems to be ongoing to become just like the world. We can be different from the world in many different ways–God allows for our creativity and different individual approaches I believe. But we should be different!
To get back to the ‘magic” theme of the original post – has anyone read any of Randall Garrett’s ‘Lord Darcy’ short stories & novels? They’re from the 50s or 60s, set in something of an alternate universeI where magic is the *science* of the universe. One of the recurring characters is a Catholic priest; there is a thriving church; the characters believe in God and believe He allows the magic to function. If you know of the stories & novels, what do you think of his approach?
I haven’t read the Lord Darcy series, but I have recommended making magic science by another name. Though of course science itself isn’t necessarily GOOD, but I certainly find it interesting to explore crossing the lines between science and magic.
I think I’d find the Lord Darcy series interesting. Thanks for mentioning them.
Excellent series. “Too many magicians” was interesting. The wizards are licensed by the Church, actually, and must conform to its theology, both in deed and in word. I would recommend them to any serious “urban fantasy” reader.
I really appreciated this take on fantasy magic in fantasy writing. I have written short stories with a secular bent (no mention of any faith, or God), and I’ve written stories and novels with an obvious nod to Jesus by using Bible verses as “wisdom” from ancient texts, had a system of magic in which the user either had faith-based power from God – which didn’t always work the way the user thought it would – or had a blood-dark-pain-based magic from an unidentified “dark” source. I didn’t use any unsourced magic because my point in the series was that the main character (a young swords-woman of faith) could not succeed against the dark tide of oppression trying to overtake her country and her world without faith. In the end, her sword-fighting skills really didn’t come close to her need to pray and allow God to work through her. A few people have found the book offensive (non-Christian and Christian) and some have found it odd (same grouping), and some won’t read it because there’s magic of any kind. It’s a tough road as an author who loves fantasy and science fiction to find a way to share faith without over-doing it, but with an open acknowledgment that God is our source of life. Any author making an honest attempt at giving God the glory, even in a fictional way in a fictional world, is doing tough, but good work. We have to wrestle with the questions about fantasy and Christianity because they are real and they need to be addressed.
Thank you very much for your comment about fantasy and Christianity–I completely agree. The same is true in other genres as well, of course.
Your book sounds genuinely interesting. Is it the Champion’s Destiny books you are referring to? (I found them by searching your name on Amazon.)