Monday, June 13, 2011

Some Questions for Christian Fantasizers

I have multiple internet and personal Christian friends who enjoy the genre of fantasy, some of whom also write fantasy themselves. Many of the latter congregate at http://www.holyworlds.org/ , and I find this from their (old) front page very encouraging: "We want to above all advocate writing that is consistent with a Biblical worldview and which encourages us to dedicate our lives more fully to God."

It is for people like these specifically that I write this post. We agree that The Foundation is and must be Scripture, and that is a huge first step. I hope to here pose a few questions, and I pray that God will use my thoughts here to edify His children and bring us (especially me!) to a better understanding of His desire for Christian fiction.

For starters, I want to say that I believe that Christians should be the best storytellers out there. We should be the best at everything (so long as it is lawful and God-honoring). From garbage men to novelists to film composers to public speakers to astronauts, Christians should be the best of the best. Why? Because our God has authority over everything- Matthew 28:18. He made it all, He holds it all together, it's all for His Glory, He claims it- Romans 11:36.

So we should be excellent. We should be the best. However, we must be sure that what we are pursuing excellence at things which please God. And so, applying this premise to fantasy, I come armed with questions, behold!

Important definition- by fantasy, I mean the creation of worlds, alternate universes, which don't actually exist. I don't mean sci-fi, though some things carry over betwixt the two.

Also note - I am not saying that Christian fantasy is bad, necessarily. I don't know. I'm asking- I'm exploring. It doesn't really matter what I say anyway- may God lead us into His Truth.

Many proponents of Christian fantasy, from what I've seen, hold up, as the two great triumphs of said genre, J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of The Rings and C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, so these two will be the staple examples of the worldview that I'm questioning.

On to my questions!

1. Is it OK to create a fictional world in which something which God's Law/Word forbids is not forbidden?

I say no! May it never be! 2 Tim. 3:16 and Psalm 119 come readily to mind. If we deny God's Word as the foundation for morality in the worlds we "create", how can we really call it Christian fantasy?

And I say that this means that sorcerers, witches, spells and magic, when cast as being good things, do not belong in Christian fiction. Harry Potter isn't OK. He's a hero who's studying sorcery. Gandalf is a huge problem. He's a good guy and a wizard who shouts incantations at snowy mountains. This is contrary to Scripture- Deut. 18:10. How about Aslan's "deep magic"? I'll leave that one to be pondered.


Now mind that I don't mean to say that Christian fantasy, or Christian stories of any genre, shouldn't include sin. But to "create" a fantastical world in which something that God calls sin is no longer sin is to have created a place where we may run to hide from God and His Reign over our lives, is it not?

Which is, of course, folly, and unScriptural on a number of levels.

Somebody stop me if I'm missing something here.

Another note - I'm not saying that watching or reading Lord of the Rings is sin or anything like that. It is worth watching on a number of levels, for analysis as a cultural classic and as a study in excellent art especially. My issue is whether this is truly God's Best for Christian fantasy.

2. How does the fact that man is created in The Image of God play into our fantasies?

OK, question 1 I wasn't really asking. I'm pretty firm there, though I'd love to hear (Scripturally-based) rebuttals. But on this one I'm honestly wondering.

A. Is it OK to create a fictional blend between man (or woman), who has been created in The Image of God, and a beast, an animal, which has not been created in The Image of God?


What do we do with centaurs and mermaids? See note #3 with my problems as to their modesty, but I'm pondering an even deeper issue that I've never even really thought about before just recently.

We know that man is made in The Image of God (Gen. 1) which separates him from the beasts, the animals. We also know that we were created to reproduce after our own kind, as were the animals. Blending man and beast is certainly not a Scriptural pattern- is it a Godly one?

Note #3 - I have another problem with centaurs and mermaids- they are (often) naked. "But it's only the top half!" I don't see such a distinction in Scripture. And if Ariel is wearing seashells, she's still revealing a LOT. Let's be honest- sure, she's a (remarkably shapely) fish from the waist down, but she's an almost nude woman from the waist up. Is this modeling Christian patterns of dress or protecting the purity of the viewers or readers of our stories?

B. Is it OK to create things like hobbits, elves, and dwarves, which are both obviously not beast and are by their very definition not man?

Obviously we don't see any such thing in Scripture. Frodo and is like another species of human- but Scripturally humanity started with Adam, and man is the only creation made in Imago Dei. How does this weigh in?


C. What about talking animals?

This one I'm not as bothered by. After all, both the serpent in the garden and Balaam's donkey spoke, so such things aren't Scripturally unprecedented.


3. What about the whole concept of fantasy? "Creating" something beyond what God has already created?

I don't know about this one. Whatever we do must be subject to God's Law/Word, including the worlds that we "create", but beyond that... may God give us wisdom as we seek His face. A few thoughts, though- nothing is truly beyond what God has created. Even our fantasies are bound by His Natural Law. I am amazed at how many fantastical creatures still conform to the basic template that God gave us in nature.

If we ever get to a point where we believe that our fantasies are real, there is most certainly a problem there. God has created reality for us, and that is where we belong. (Pointed glance at Avatar)


Also, we are created in God's Image, and part of that includes a desire to create, to produce, to "fill the earth and subdue it". So again I do not say that fantasy is inherently bad- simply that we must be careful, as with everything, to subject our fantasies to God.

It's something I have failed at before, and probably will in the future. Yet we repent and press on. May God's Kingdom be advanced further in our world and in all the worlds we make up.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

68 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sir Gabriel,

Before I offer anything, I would like to remind you once again that God did not only give us scripture, but he also gave us our brains. I regret to say that I don't have an answer to your questions by using scripture (that would be rather like answering mechanical questions about a motor with sacred tradition, don't you think?), however, I am willing to let Tolkien speak for himself. Here you are: "http://told-tales.livejournal.com/142160.html". It is Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories." Don't worry about the link. I've checked it out myself. I don't know if you've looked deeply into one of the prime fantasy author of this age's opinion, but at least tell me what you think of it!

Kind regards,

~Katherine G.

BushMaid said...

This was a very intriguing and thought-provoking post. I must admit, that although I am an active member of HolyWorlds, many of the points you raised I still struggle with.

I agree with your answer to the first question. Anything the Bible denotes as evil and/or sinful should not be reversed to become "righteous" in fantasy writing. (This is one of the reasons why I still have not seen or read the LOtR or Narnia series'.)

It pays to remember where part man/part animal creatures originate from. Didn't most of these fantasy creatures such as centaurs and mermaids originally spring from Greek mythology? (correct me if I'm wrong) As entertaining Greek mythology is, it is highly un-Godly and un-Biblical, so would including creatures that extend from such a background in Christian fantasy be a wise thing? I am also uncertain, and would like to hear other answers to this question.

As to different races, I can understand the appeal. We were made in the image of God, which makes us highly creative beings. The desire to create something entirely unique is understandable. However I can't think of a way to create a race in such a way that it would mirror God's original plan without being an obvious allegory. So in this case I can understand the appeal, but not how to implement it affectively.

I'm fine with talking animals. After all, who is to say they don't talk already? They just don't talk in our language.

In regards to the whole concept of fantasy, it is one that still leaves me with questions. Hopefully everyone else who leaves a comment will help enlighten me, too. :)

Sir Emeth Mimetes said...

I am debating between posting a comment, and posting a blog post on my blog in response. :D

Needless to say, I intend to do my best to thoroughly respond to all your questions. You phrased them very very well, and they are very commonly asked, so I don't want to pass it up. :)

By the way... did you mean Inception, rather than Avatar, in that last reference? The pic is from Inception, and that movie seems to fit your statement better. :)

Gabriel Hudelson said...

KT, thanks for the comment! I definitely plan to read that and get back to you.

BushMaid, to the mythology, I thought I'd mention that we should be careful lest we commit the genetic fallacy. Just because Plato, a pagan Greek, "came up with" Logic, that does not mean that Logic isn't true.

Even a blind hog can stumble across an acre of corn.

Nevertheless, you bring up a good point that it is good to know where things come from- there's a reason it comes from pagan mythology, methinks!

Thanks for the comment. :-)

And Mr. Mimetes- I shall look forward to it!

Aubrey Hansen said...

I have been eagerly awaiting this post of yours, Gabriel! I respect your opinion highly. I also find it very edifying to engage in theological discussion with you. Therefore, as promised, I will give you my full response to your article, as well as my own thoughts about fantasy, later today.

I'll send them to you elsewhere - either on CF or via PM. But I wanted to post a comment here to say "Thank you for writing this!"

God bless!

Jamie T said...

Very, very good post, Gabe. I like all your points and I've not been very comfortable with any of them either, though I can't say too much because I have not seen LOTR or Narnia.

And I completely agree with your first point; I believe it might even be the reason why my parents have not allowed me to watch or read either of these two sagas. Which, praise the Lord, is a good thing that they have kept confusing things like 'good' magic out of my head, especially when I was younger. I intend to do the same with my kids.

~Jamie Joyce

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Thanks to you both! Oh, and yes, I meant "Avatar" and I meant to use a picture from "Inception". To clarify. :-D

Kayla T said...

:D Amen!

Moriah Renata said...

Amen! Great post Gabriel! You hit the top of the top of the top of the…. you know. :)

Luv u!

~Moriah Renata

Rebekah said...

A very good post! While I haven't ever really written fantasy, I have considered it. Some of the questions you mentioned, I have considered, (and still debate with myself). Others gave me more to ponder.

One question: Would you consider allegories (i.e. Pilgrims Progress) to be in the same category as fantasy?

To the KING be all the glory!
Rebekah

Jennifer said...

Hi Gabe! What a great post!

Here's my thoughts on performing magic in fantasy: it's a complex thing. I believe some people are blessed with special gifts, like prophecy, and the disciples could Biblically even forgive sins after Christ's death! In Harry Potter, the "wizards" were blessed from birth by gifts that not every person had; they didn't even really LEARN magic, they learned to channel and control it. It was, for them, purely a mechanical force (like unlocking doors and cleaning houses by using their forces of mind and not their hands), NOT a spiritual experience, the way it is for Wiccans. In the HP world, most people don't have these gifts, and those who don't shouldn't try to have them (like people without prophecy shouldn't claim, or try, to be prophets). I would compare the people in HP, as well as people like Gandalf, to people in the Bible blessed with extraordinary gifts; they're rare beings who are given the responsibility to guard their gifts and use them for the forces of goodness (Gandalf often resembles an archangel more than anything else). Do I believe that such people exist? No, but the idea as fiction, in the limits and conditions I've described, do not conflict with my Biblical convictions.

I am also not against creating different worlds in fantasy. Why? God never told us this was the only world! He could have created others and other races, and if so, they could be like the beings in "Avatar". I for years have imagined another world (not as one that really exists, just my ideal of fantasy). In this world, there are beings like centaurs and elves (since the Bible reveals beings other than humans, I have no problem with them, either) and many humans blessed with the extraordinary gift that we often call "magic". These people are called to be incredibly humble and beholden utterly to God for their gifts, which are used only in His structures and for His purpose; their relationship with Him is Holy and everyone in this world, human and not, worship Him utterly.

Please know that I'm not trying to convince you one way or another; this is just my mindset. And I should add that there are some kinds of spells, in worlds like the HP one, that I do NOT approve of. Anything that would affect or control another person, like love or memory spells, are not only morally wrong to me, but I'm certain would never be allowed by God to even exist. God does not control our minds and hearts, so why would He allow any human this power? He would not! If I see such spells in a fantasy book, I either discard the book or discard that part of it.

Jennifer said...
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Jennifer said...
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Jennifer said...

I should also add, in this vein, that HP as well as LOTR uses MANY Christian analogies. I'm sure you're aware of the many in LOTR, but allow me to tell you the outlines of the analogies in the overall story of Harry Potter. In order to do this, I will summarize the life of one major HP character. *spoilers ahead, for anyone who seriously plans on reading the books*:

Basically, once upon a time, there was a race of people blessed with rare gifts, and a school in England that helped them channel these gifts, called Hogwarts. Many years ago, a mysterious orphan came to Hogwarts and progressed greatly in his powers, showing unusual intelligence, great cunning, and a charisma that drew many. By his sixteenth year, which was his sixth year at Hogwarts (students spend seven years at the school), he had grown into a young man darkly handsome, with a brilliance of mind that usurped that of every other student. Superior in looks, intelligence and power, he became one of the Head students and promised to be one of the best pupils ever to graduate Hogwarts.

But his gifts were not enough for him; deep inside his being, he lusted for dark, forbidden power, seeking methods considered horrible and even unspoken of among people with his gifts. He wanted unlimited power, followers, practical worship. More than anything else, he wished for immortality. After his graduation, he disappeared from all who knew him and for years immersed himself in incredibly dark, soul-damaging magic. It wasn't until years later that he reappered, under a new name: Lord Voldemort. No one remembered his original name; where a promising student had once been, a great leader and force in evil emerged, with many loyal followers well-versed in the Dark Arts who cloathed themselves in black and called themselves the Death Eaters, in homage to their leaders' hatred of mortality. Among Voldemort's many advanced powers was an ability to enter and detect people's minds, the ability to speak to and control serpents, and the ability to transform into a serpent. People feared him so much that they would not even speak his name, referring to him instead as the Dark Lord.

For years, Voldemort terrorized people undefeated, though many stood against him and fought as hard as they could. In his great power he continued to seek immortality and feared no defeat..until, unexpectedly, a new prophecy came. A prophecy that promised a new wizard, a boy-child, to be born within the next year, who would one day defeat the Dark Lord. For the next year, Voldemort searched madly for the parents of this child, seeking to eliminate his future rival in his infancy. Although the parents knew he was coming and went into hiding, protected by benevolent magic, a traitor revealed their hiding place and Voldemort found them. He killed both parents, the mother directly in front of her child, and attempted to kill the baby as well. But he couldn't; in the way of benevolent magic, the mother's life-sacrifice for her son protected him from harm. Voldemort failed to kill him, and in the process almost died himself: his powers vanished, his body was destroyed, and his followers scattered. His spirit, however, remained alive, and roamed for years seeking a new body and another chance to rise to power. The baby, meanwhile, was saved and hidden among ordinary people with no powers; from a young age he knew he was different, but would not learn of his gifts until he was eleven years old. People in his world waited for him to return to their own, many knowing that Voldemort was still alive and would want him dead, and that he would one day fulfill the prophecy and have to confront Voldemort, a conflict that would yield only one survivor.

The child's name was Harry Potter.

Pretty interesting, huh?

Jennifer said...

I personally have a lot of art and stories with fairies, mermaids, elves, centaurs, etc. I just love them, their beauty and unusualness; IF they existed, they'd be God's creatures like everything else. They are my dreaming mind's glory.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Thanks for the comments, Jennifer! I enjoy hearing from you. There are multiple things that we disagree on, judging from your posts, but I am unsure as to whether you desire discussion or simply a clarification of opinions. :-)

Jennifer said...

Thank you! I enjoy commenting here :) Thanks for asking whether I wish to discuss or not. I doubt we'd need a laborous debate, but I'd be happy to know your thoughts on my comments.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

OK, here's one- regardless of how we allegorize it to spiritual gifts or even to God's Providential Works of history, I don't see how that justifies our heroes doing something that God calls sin. (I mean, what other sin would it be OK for people in fantasies to be "gifted" with? "Hi, my name is Veheil, and I have the gift of stealing.")

Jennifer said...

Supernatural gifts were given in the Bible, so it is comparable to this, not sins of the flesh.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

But God never forbade prophecy, so having a gift of prophecy would be different than having a gift of magic, right?

Jennifer said...

The thing is, I think "magic" is a relative term in many fantasies. The power God called witchcraft was generally the seeking of pagan, arcane, ritualistic powers to control others and divine false truths. The power that those in these fantasies have is different; it's something they're born with, more of an extra-mobility than anything else (they can do things with their minds most can do only with hands). I do wish that the authors had not called it witchcraft, because as God defined it, the false and pagan efforts of greedy mortals, it's not like that at all. Even the term magic is more harmless than witchcraft, an altogether darker thing. The people in these stories are almost like a different race; they live longer and sometimes attain rare wisdom. They are rare beings, ones blessed with gifts not given to all.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

OK, interesting perspective. So would you say that Gandalf engages in sorcery when he's yelling spells at the mountains, and if so then is that OK?

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Rebekah, no, I wouldn't- I'd say Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory, very distinctly, and from what I recall it doesn't include anything that doesn't actually exist.

Jennifer said...

I would say that spells, in this sense, are ways these people have of organizing their powers into workable patterns to achieve a certain purpose. From what the Bible terms as sorcery-no, I don't think Gandalf was performing that. This would be, rather, sorcery by the fantasy definition-the practice of a given power/gift. Gandalf is one of the most angelic, Elijah-like patriarchs I've ever seen in the fantasy genre, and I believe he greatly personifies a Christian presence.

You've really helped me reconsider this, Gabriel. God defines witchcraft as something bad: people with no God-given gifts or permission seeking spirits, divination, controlling, lying, summoning otherwordly and unGodly power. When I look at these fantasies, this is not the behavior of its heroes; certainly not the Gandalfs of the genre. What they do is mechanical and magnificent, almost like electricity (human power) and gifts similar to those shown in the Bible. But to call it witchcraft and to promote that is bad and confusing of the authors who write them to do. I'm guessing the authors simply had no other term, but they definitely define it separately from what the deceivers in the Bible practiced.

I see these fantasy worlds, the ones of Narnia and Middle Earth, with creatures like unicorns and fairies, to be possessing elements of heaven. And the people in them, experiencing sometimes heavenly power, to be doing so as part of their kinship with these otherworldy creatures.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

"I would say that spells, in this sense, are ways these people have of organizing their powers into workable patterns to achieve a certain purpose."

Well, I guess we've nailed down our disagreement. That Deuteronomy passage specifically forbids one who "casts spells", so I don't believe that it's OK to then have some people who cast spells just as a part of their particular gifting.

I love it, though- I've been handed a lot that I haven't thought about previously, both from you and others. So thanks! :-D

Jennifer said...

No problem :) Thanks for having me re-examine this. I always wondered if such people with like gifts did exist, and were forced partly to hide their gifts because of those in the Bible who sought what wasn't theirs (only a much darker form of power) and twisted the image and what we know of, and call, "magic". (As it happens, the people in Harry Potter kept their gifts hidden). Another thought of spells: some have suggested that God used a special word for everything He created, and that spells are like that, bringing forth something with special words. In my line of thinking, about worlds like the one I described where people practice God-given powers, this fits perfectly. But we do indeed have to be careful how we term and define these things.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

"Another thought of spells: some have suggested that God used a special word for everything He created, and that spells are like that, bringing forth something with special words."

Well, god-like power is definitely not something that I can see being a good thing Biblically- eh?

Jennifer said...

Well, I meant if it was bestowed BY God :) Look what He let the disciples do; wow.

Jennifer said...

On the subject of Wicca and occult witchcraft, I highly recommend a YA Christan book called "Moon White: Color me Enchanted". It's about a young woman who gets caught up in this and it's VERY interesting, as she compares Wicca to Christianity and meets different Wiccans. It's part of a Christian series called "True Colors" that covers a wide variety of teen issues. Melody Carlson is like the Judy Blume of Christian YA.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

OK, but what the disciples did was clearly an act of God through these men- not some inherent power that they were born with or learned. Eh?

(I like ending posts with "eh?", apparently... :-)

Jennifer said...

Yes, but many are born with gifts from God.

One Catholic lady put the wizards matter pretty clearly: she pointed out that one, fantasy magic is different from occult magic. And two, the wizards and witches we see in fantasy are really a sub-human race, not regular people; they are to regular people kind of like unicorns compared to horses.

I do hope anyone wanting some good modernr eading material will check out Melody Carlson. Here's the link to her book about Wicca: http://www.amazon.com/Moon-White-Color-Enchanted-TrueColors/dp/B002T452BM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1308634681&sr=1-1

Looks good, eh? :P

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Well, I guess we'll just have to disagree.

I believe that if God has forbidden it then we have no right to act as if it is a gift in some cases and is therefore not a sin. The argument that I would need would need to be something more like how Gandalf's wizardry does not fall into what God has forbidden- otherwise, gift, allegory, or what have you, I hold to be irrelevant.

Jennifer said...

That's actually simple: occult magic means having familiar spirits, scrying with objects or nature, summoning the dead, human sacrifice. Gandalf did none of these things. Besides, recall what I said: Gandalf is not a regular human. He is, in fact, a different race of human. "Wizard" isn't simply a faulty term to describe what he does, it describes what he IS. Like an elf.

Jennifer said...

"I'm fine with talking animals. After all, who is to say they don't talk already? They just don't talk in our language"

SO true it's not funny :)

Bushmaid, I hope you find peace on this. You certainly don't need to be ok with characters practicing magic, but I hope you don't feel pangs about fantasy creatures and worlds; I think of them as other planets God might have made :)

Jennifer said...

BushMaid, you're an edgy and diverse reader (just looked at your review blog). I LOVE it!

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Which still in my mind is a distinct parallel with someone who just IS a murderer or a rebel.

Jennifer said...

No, I mean like an angel is an angel, therefore has different powers than a human.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

...like the power to commit some kind of sin?

Jennifer said...

No, obviously angelas have different powers.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Right.

Which is my problem with Gandalf- or one of 'em- because if he is doing what God has forbidden, then I'm not for making up other races so "gifted".

Eh?

:-D

Jennifer said...

Well, I'm sorry you'll miss LOTR. It's one of the most beautiful stories inspired by God's image that I've ever seen.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Oh, no, I watch those. I read the Hobbit and started TFOTR. I just wouldn't want to write them... quite like that.

Jennifer said...

Then what on earth would you call them? Gandalf is a wizard, plain and simple.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Right! I'd call him a wizard and say that I wouldn't want wizards in my stories.

Stephanie Hodgson said...

Really good post, Gabriel! :) It is one of the things I struggle with, partly because my Parents aren't keen on fantasy at all, and they really don't like LOTR. Although they are quite happy to leave me to make up my own mind, them being uncomfortable about it often makes me wonder, is it ok? I love LOTR and often read/watch it. :) However, I have got amazing ideas off the people on Holy Worlds and I have written some fantasy stories because I joined there although I try not to bring magic in and never use wizards. Is it ok to do so? I still haven't decided! Fantasy has always been one of my 'greatest weaknesses' I love that genre of writing.

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Gabriel Hudelson said...

HA! Welcome, Jessie!

Allegories are all well and good, but to, in an allegory, portray something that is bad as good is still an issue that I haven't been satisfied on.

And talking animals... no, not normal, but not Scripturally unprecedented.

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Jennifer said...

You know what you could do, Stephanie? You could put in beings with God-given power, but not magic. They could have supernatural abilities, but use these with no spells, wands, etc; rather than spells, in fact, they could use ritualistic prayers. The world I imagine that I described to Gabriel above? It's full of God's power :)

Lisa said...

Hmmm....I have some opinions of my own, but I don't think I want to type them all out.

Besides, I'm a little biased as these are two of my FAVORITE books. Yes, the movies change the worldview of the books, but that is expected...it's Hollywood.

As far as history on LOTRs goes, reading the Silmarillion is really interesting to get some more of Tolkien's worldview.

Oh man...I'm talking and I said I wasn't going to.

Jessie said...

How did u see those?!?!? I meant to delete them...IDK how you read them. I deleted them because I wanted to revise them.....

Were you expecting me?? That "HA"...man!

What evil is portrayed as good besides the magic? And again, define magic.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

No, I wasn't expecting you necessarily. You just made me laugh. :-)

I read 'em before you deleted 'em.

Thanks for the comment, Lisa.

And by magic I mean... supernatural powers which God has not given to man being used by man (or some other man-like species) including the use of spells, "The Force", and any other suchlike.

Jessie said...

I think I make most people laugh...
ok I'm not taking up the argument because I don't want to take the time, soooo adios

Varon said...

Did Emeth ever respond?

And yes, Gandalf is not a human. He is an angel, essentially, sent to Middle-Earth to guide, instruct, and aid the Free Peoples in the fight against Sauron, which why he leaves Middle-Earth at the end. His task is finished.

The problem I find with condemning series based on "magic" is that it's such a broad and vague word, that what is magic in a series is often not at all what it's like in the real world. Then there's also the definition of supernatural when dealing with fantasy worlds that have their own unique sets of laws that govern their existence and the way things works.
(I'm still waiting for someone to write a fantasy novel that doesn't have gravity. ANYONE? Fine, I'll write it myself.)

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Varon- I guess it boils down to a disagreement over whether we have the right to create a world in which something that God forbids in our world is OK.

Varon said...

Which I think stems from a disagree definitions of terms.

Emily said...

I have recently discovered your blog, and have enjoyed reading it. :)
I just wanted to respond here, since I feel there is more which was never addressed in the comments. But before I do (since it's been a couple of years since you posted this), I was wondering if you have read Tolkien's Silmarillion, and the essay "On Fairy Stories"? Have your thoughts on this topic changed/developed since posting this?

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Hey Emily! No, I haven't ever read that one (I'm not even going to try to spell the title :-D ).

As far as my views changing (thanks for checking on that...), no, if anything, my opinion has only grown stronger in the same direction.

Looking forward to your thoughts!

Emily said...

I forgot to ask whether you had also read Lord of the Rings. I hope this is not too long for a comment. :) I wholeheartedly agree that if God forbids something then it's not ok, even in fantasy. Every story written reflects the author's worldview, and our worldviews ought to be shaped by Scripture.

I am mainly going to address the Lord of the Rings, because I believe it is worthy of defense. Regarding the newer fantasy movies like Avatar...I was uncomfortable with that one because it made humans, made in God's image, so contemptible.

The Silmarillion is kind of like the bible for Middle Earth. It describes creation, and many, many stories and genealogies etc. It is helpful in understanding Tolkein's worldview. From what I can tell, he (and C.S. Lewis) used the word magic for lack of a better term. Also, their worldviews are pretty consistent with Scripture--except that Tolkein SEEMS to have the "God wound up the clock and set it on a shelf" theology (deism).
In Tolkein's world of Middle Earth, God sent a number of beings called Valar to create the world (I suppose this is in the style of Greek and Roman mythology). One of the Valar wanted to do his own thing, and completely messed up everything, so...I forget how they fixed it. :S But at a later time, several Maia ("angel"-like, and not as powerful as the Valar--they can't create things) were sent to Middle earth to help keep the evil of Sauron at bay. These were Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, and a couple of others.

All this is to explain that those with "magic" were more like spiritual beings sent with a purpose. Their power is more "spiritual", just because of who they are. The "magic" which the elves have is more like very advanced technology which other people can't understand. (Swords that turn blue, doors that require a "password", etc.)
In the books it is only those who are evil that do things like controlling people with spells or incantations. Gandalf and the other Maia have power to fight it (and the elves with their technology have several things they can do as well), but it's harder for them because the the bad guys don't follow the rules and get more power unethically.
I don't remember Gandalf yelling at mountains. I do remember Saruman doing so in the movies, but I can't remember if Gandalf every did anything similar.
In Tolkein's essay "On Fairy Stories", he brings up how God created man in His own image, and therefore man has the ability to create, and he can create other worlds of the imagination (makeing trees purple or the moon orange, other creatures/beings etc.). I think that these fantasy worlds are, of course, going to be lesser than this world which God created, and their laws (as compared to scripture) may be flawed, but that is because we are fallen human beings, and whatever we create is going to be flawed in some way.
On creating other creatures: If the elves, hobbits, and dwarves were not described, you would just think they were the normal different types of people. That makes me think that Tolkien simply categorized certain personality types into different "people groups". The elves are intellectual and formal, the hobbits are homebodies that don't like adventures, the dwarves are miners and are rather feisty. These all still reflect what is really in this world, just from a different perspective. See? :)
As for mermaids and centaurs, their source is mythology and a corrupted, warped worldview, and while I can accept them in certain stories, I don't prefer them.

Emily said...

(my comment was too long to post all at once.)
I read your recent post on rock music. I am a musician myself and greatly enjoyed reading it. Your point was, it is what the music is saying that matters. What if a fantasy story says "There is a good God in this world, and there is a war to be fought with evil, and no matter how bad things get, God will ultimately win", is not that a message which God can bless? If, on the other hand (as in Harry Potter), the lines between good and evil are blurred (the good guys and bad guys use the same tactics, it's ok to break rules etc.), then I think that blurs our perception of reality, and of God. (I should add that I have not read those books.)
I think that LotR and Narnia accurately reflect our struggle between good and evil, the reality of God and the spiritual realm, and the truth that evil will ultimately be conquered. I see them as combining the physical and spiritual realms, and allowing us to see the spiritual realm with our "eyes". So if the genre of fantasy, written by a person grounded in Scripture, can give us a picture of reality from a new perspective, then why would not God use that to bring glory to Himself?

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Good thoughts.

"So if the genre of fantasy, written by a person grounded in Scripture, can give us a picture of reality from a new perspective, then why would not God use that to bring glory to Himself?"

I'm not necessarily contending that the genre of fantasy has no lawful or edifying uses, but that however we use the genre of fantasy it must be both lawful and edifying. :-)

Furthermore, I believe the issue goes beyond what something communicates; Christ is Lord not only of what is communicated but also of how it is communicated. So, as with music, something may communicate a good message, but it might not be communicating it in the best way possible. I would say that's true of LOTR (I read the Hobbit and started FOTR), for example. Lots of great morals and lessons- courage, the corrupting power of sin and lust as shown by the ring, etc.- but communicated in a way that toys with the demonic in a way that I would contend should not be something that Christian authors aspire to.

Make sense?

Emily said...

Yes, I think that makes sense. I completely agree that the end does not justify the means. But, I guess I just don't see what you mean by LotR "toying with the demonic".

Gabriel Hudelson said...

By that I'm referring to the varied forms of witchcraft and wizardry, spells and potions which, even if they're technically explained away by the way Tolkein constructed the world, still at least toe the line of "magic."

Emily said...

Ok. I can understand that. :)

Hmm. I just had a thought. I mentioned that I kind of think fantasy combines the physical and spiritual realms and the result is being able to see spiritual beings (in the story). So, there truly is a spiritual realm. And the evil side is clearly visible in much of fantasy (hence the problems which you stated). But what about the good side? What about God, and angels? What about prayer? In our world, we fight spiritual battles through prayer (and what does that war look like in the Spiritual realm?!). But how are the righteous characters to fight the monsters and witchcraft in fantasy? What about the signs and wonders done by Jesus and His followers? What would those, and prayer, look like in fantasy?
Or is that ground which you think ought to be avoided?
Anyway, those are just some new thoughts which came to mind. What do you think?

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Emily, I tend to lean towards avoiding those things; they may perhaps be allegorized in an appropriate fashion, but the allegory must be one which is lawful. A good wizard, a noble necromancer, a white witch contradicts Scripture, and so is off-limits as to how we may represent the spiritual realm.

To use Doug Phillips' analogy, what if we had a hero who was a homosexual? Homosexuality, like witchcraft, is abominable to God. Neither should be traits of our heroes.

At least, that's where I'm at. :-)

Anonymous said...

I guess it really is only possible to term characters like Gandalf as a sub-human race, not as people who just do "good sorcery". Otherwise, it conflicts too badly with what we know of God's terms.

Jennifer