Last time, I digressed from a look at fantasy through the writing of Richard Abanes to a discussion of “In Defence of Fantasy,” a pamphlet by Andrew Lansdown answering the main objections some professing Christians hurl at fantasy. I left off with the explanation Mr. Lansdown gave for the occult from the perspective of those objecting to fantasy:
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.
In addressing this issue, Mr. Lansdown turns to the Bible, pointing out that all kinds of occult activity is recorded in the text—from information about Satan, demons, witches (think, the Witch of Endor), mediums, false prophets, and false gods to idol worship, human sacrifice, sorcery, and magic. I’ll even add that Daniel was put in charge, at one point, of the magicians in Babylon. These were not men of God, but nowhere did God tell Daniel to flame them. In fact, God gave Daniel one of the king’s dreams, and its interpretation, which just so happened to save the lives of all the magicians, a group of which Daniel was a member.
However, as Mr. Lansdown pointed out, the Bible is clearly not an occult book. It is God’s revelation of Himself—His purpose, His plan, and His work in the world. I find it instructive that His work includes His clash with forces of evil, never more clearly seen than in Jesus’s ministry.
But what does that have to do with fantasy?
As Mr. Lansdown points out, the mention of the occult in fantasy clearly cannot be considered as evil or the Bible would need to be considered as evil. Instead, a reader needs to look at intent. Is the author glorifying evil? Are the dark characters set up as heroes? Is dark power portrayed as desirable, something to be sought, something to be emulated?
Interestingly, Mr. Lansdown then addresses the terms used when referring to the occult. He points out that some terms, such as “seer” are used in Scripture in conjunction with men of God. In other words, the existence of supernatural power should not automatically come across as evil supernatural power.
I wonder what these critics of fantasy would think if the word “magi” used in the New Testament to name the visitors from the east who brought gifts to the Christ Child, would be translated “astrologers,” which is the literal meaning. Horrors! Astrology in the Bible? And it wasn’t condemned?
I also think of Moses and Aaron pitted against Pharaoh’s magicians, doing the same kinds of supernatural deeds. What separated them was the source of their power and their purpose in using it. Clearly their miraculous acts were designed to point to God.
Does that mean that fantasy, to be Christian, must identify God as the source of miraculous, not magical, power? Here’s Mr. Landsdown’s response:
A Christian fantasy writer may openly identify God as the source of the supernatural power that good characters draw on to overcome evil. But then again, he may not. He may decide to leave the source unidentified for reasons of literary integrity. And yet, as in the book of Esther where God is nowhere specifically mentioned, his fantasy may carry a strong implication of God and of godliness.
But back to the topic of occult terms, Mr. Lansdown points out that words such as “magic” and “wizard” have been retooled by the notable Christian fantasy writers, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. In Narnia, Lewis said Aslan used “deep magic” and in the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien created a race of wizards, as distinct from men as were elves and dwarfs. In neither case is there anything evil implied.
I can’t help but believe that this latter “retooling” is a legitimate creative exercise. Consequently, when Bryan Davis wrote Dragons in Our Midst series and Donita Paul wrote the DragonKeeper Chronicles, the presence of good dragons as well as evil ones seems consistent with what we know to be true about real beings in the real world: some angels fell and some did not, some men remain in their unredeemed state and some do not.
Isn’t such fabrication, of itself, dangerous because it … well, isn’t true. So say the critics, which means we’ll take a look next time at fantasy and truth.