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Saturday, August 13, 2011 7:40 PM
I know this has a slight potential to be a heated discussion, so I will ask straight up that anyone who posts a response be as respectful as possible. I am not starting this to discuss Christianity itself, only its place in writing fantasy books. Two of the great figureheads of the fantasy genre, Tolkien and CS Lewis, were Christian, and Lewis in particular let that influence his writing. Besides the Chronicles of Narnia, he also wrote fantasy for adults: the Space Trilogy and "Till We Have Faces." Recently, I have come to realize that contemporary Christian fantasy is on the rise. The only popular author I am really familiar with, though, is Stephen R Lawhead. I have also read a couple of Bryan Davis' YA books in his "Raising Dragons" series, which are cute, and Thomas Williams' "Crown of Eden," which is decent but not mind-blowing. Any other recommendations would be great. I don't have a specific question to start this discussion, only a general curiosity as to the opinions and ideas on how to incorporate Christianity into fantasy--does it work? how so? how (if you are Christian) do you maintain a balance between creativity and honor to God? Happy discussing!
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Sunday, August 14, 2011 11:58 PM
One would think that the Creator would not begrudge creativity in his children. If he made a Universe, why can't you? Frankly, I don't see the conflict.
I would suppose it depends on what you mean by "Christianity." If your definition is from a moral standpoint only, then when you paint your protagonists, they will embody (or eventually learn) traits of forgiveness, compassion, and humility. (Not the door-mat kind of humility, but the "there but for the grace of God go I" kind of humility.) Why would that not work? And, such noble human characteristics ought to resonate with everyone, not just Christians.
On the other hand, if you're thinking of "Christianity" in terms of doctrine, I suppose symbolism would be the easiest way to weave that in. You mention Lewis. He and Tolkien heavily used Christian symbolism, and it works rather well. But how well it works isn't about what philosophy or religion it comes from, but rather how well, how masterfully they wrote it.
A third aspect would be just presenting Christian faith as a daily part of your character's lives. We're a multicultural society. Viva le difference!
I've heard some Christians object to the use of magic as a plot device in stories, even in the Narnia chronicles. I'm sorry, but I can't take such objections seriously. I suppose one can argue about the details of it, about how the magic is represented, or what influence it might have on children to apparently lend our tacit approval of something that, in real life, is not a good thing. But then, we could also squash all imagination in our children and rob them of childhood by that policy. I long ago lost the energy to worry about such people's opinions. Perhaps that sounds arrogant or mean-spirited; and if it does, please just view it as a deficiency in my character.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:17 PM
An interesting example of Christianity in fantasy is in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. It's certainly not "Christian Fiction" on the whole -- the main character is pretty much agnostic -- but it comes into play. One of the major recurring characters is a Knight of the Cross -- a holy warrior, basically. He's a good, peaceful man (despite wielding a sword); he lives his faith, and it gives him strength and protection. There's also a priest whose church they often go to for protection/rest/aid. And an angel or two have shown up. The struggles in the series really are the forces of good -- magical, spiritual, and secular together -- striving against the dark. It's a great example of how Christianity can be integrated seamlessly into fantasy. (In this case, Urban Fantasy.)
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 2:37 AM
Thank you for your response. I agree with you completely about God not begrudging us creativity. As a Christian, I am completely in favor of using fantasy and magic in order to further His message. He gave us these beautiful imaginations--why should we not use them for His glory?
I guess I started this discussion with more a "doctrinal" Christianity in mind. Most of the fantasy books out there, at least that I have read, and I have read hundreds, deal with moral issues of good vs evil, with good triumphing. The morals inherent in Christianity are more or less the morals inherent in the major world religions and speak to the majority of people.
When we consider Christian fantasy, though, in terms of getting its doctrine and message across to readers, I think this relating-to-everyone becomes more difficult. You mention Lewis and Tolkien. Tolkien, I believe, did not actually completely approve of Lewis' use of allegory in the Narnia chronicles, believing it to be too obvious, too heavy-handed. He himself, from what I've heard/read, protested when people pointed out what they saw as blatant Christian symbolism in his writings. He was always preoccupied with being subtle. Lewis, of course, was a master wordsmith, so in my opinion his allegory worked very well. Those with lesser powers may have a more difficult time balancing beautiful allegory without resorting to Bible-bashing. Do you (or anyone else--just throwing this question out there) have ideas on how to craft a happy medium? There is probably no "right" answer.
I really appreciate your "vive le difference" comment. Christianity is often seen, I think, as lacking that said "difference" and therefore pushed aside in favor of exploring other less well-known religions. (Don't get me wrong; I am all for exploration and have many dear friends who are Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, etc.) The mere act of pushing Christianity aside, though, I think, has at least recently actually given it a renewed air of "difference" which I feel is ripe for exploration. In my own personal WIP, I am trying to include at least one character who is a modern, faithful Christian, and experimenting with how he/she might react when faced with magic and other worlds.
Thank you for your comments as well. I have read the first book of the Dresden files, but it has been a while. Perhaps I will revisit the series. I think your comments fall under the "moral" Christianity category that has been mentioned. There are plenty of great fantasies out there that espouse such morals. I greatly enjoy coming across a character who is not perfect, but truly strives to be faithful to their beliefs. This can be a difficult sort of character to cultivate. On the one hand, they must stay true to their morals, which may include, for example, abstinence from sex. On the other hand, they can't be boring. Many readers enjoy the occasional sex scene (again, this is just one example) and authors know this. I am thinking specifically of Sookie Stackhouse in the Southern Vampire Novels series by Charlaine Harris. I thoroughly enjoy these books myself. Sookie expressly says that she is a Christian, but not a very good one. This is one way of "working around" the religious strictures and still maintaining a well-moraled character. One of my very favorite series is the Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon, which I think may have the closest to a "Christian" (in this case subtly Catholic) main character of any high fantasy series I have read. Moon expertly creates a woman who stands by her standards yet is never boring.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 11:31 PM
You ask how we could balance presenting Christian doctrine in allegory, without becoming Bible-thumpers. Good question. I suppose it all depends on how skilled of a wordsmith you are, how sensitive you are to the characters you create, and how finely developed is your sense of "story."
Always in the back of your mind should be the little Editor, reminding you that there can always be exceptions to whatever views you're putting on paper. Maybe that will keep us from painting issues, and people, with too broad of a brush, and thus doing them a disservice. In other words, be very careful about what you say ... for you may be wrong.
The characters you create (at least, the protagonists) shouldn't be any of those stereotypes so often portrayed in movies, and TV, and poorly written books that do to Christians what I warned about in the previous paragraph of you doing to others. Which is, your protagonist shouldn't be self-righteous. He, or she, shouldn't come off as "someone with all the answers." Your protagonist should be human, with the frailties and doubts and uncertainties and flaws that come with it. In short, he or she should be like a real person, not some misguided ideal.
Above all else, be careful of your story. I picked up a book (which I won't name) that was written by a Christian author, with supposedly Christian symbolism in it. The premise was very intriguing. But I couldn't finish the book, because about a third of the way through it started sounding like a story being written by a twelve-year-old who had imagination, but handled it ... well, let's say he handled it poorly. He started to prattle on, and the protagonist started acting too juvenile. (I mean that in a bad sense.) Even if you're writing fantasy, the worlds you create should have a dose of realism. Given the fantasic situation your characters find themselves in, how would real people behave? Given the premises of your fantasy world, how would things really play out if Murphy's Law still applied? Etc. etc. etc.
I have not expressed that very well, but I don't know how else to say it without making you read certain books, and I don't want to name a book and call it "bad" if someone else likes it. It's a matter of taste, I suppose.
So rather than give a bad example, let me give a good one. Terry Pratchett created "Discworld," a parody on fantasy books. There're probably about 34 books in the series. Near the end of "Hogfather," the Grim Reaper is explaining to his adopted granddaughter why humans need to believe in fantasy. It's a very deep, very touching speech. And the idea echoes some rather fundamental thoughts you'll find in C.S. Lewis' theological works. Mr. Pratchett might be surprised to learn that, since I don't think he's ever professed to be Christian in any way, shape, or form. In fact, he often pokes fun at religion (along with everything else) in certain matters where religion deserves to be poked. The rest of the novel was simply playing out the truth of that final speech. (Even the movie version got that scene right. And the last 20 minutes of the film is absolutely hilarious.)
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