Faith in Fantasy, Part 3

Christian Fantasy God Writing

As I’ve discussed in the last several posts, I believe that all story communicates something regarding worldview and the deeper things of life, and fantasy innately tends to reveal spiritual truth or error. Those considered fathers of fantasy–Tolkien and Lewis–had much of value to say on this topic, but how does it apply to us as writers today? That’s a far bigger subject than can be explored in a single post or even a series, but I’ll share a few thoughts.

Discussions about faith in fantasy frequently get confusing, because everyone has a different notion of how the spiritual element should be captured and conveyed in fiction. I tend to think it’s more than just depicting the struggle of good versus evil, which can be framed in ways decidedly less than Biblical. And it’s more than clean stories or ones that promote virtues like love, self-control, and patience, for any religion might value these things and might depict them from a perspective contrary to a scriptural worldview. It seems that fantasy naturally splits into five categories as it relates to faith elements (there may be some overlap):

  1. Stories that blatantly oppose a biblical worldview, often by defaming God or advocating alternative religions. His Dark Materials trilogy or the film Avatar serve as examples in this category. While these are stories of good and evil, they define good and evil in a way that departs from truth.
  2. Stories that subtly oppose a biblical worldview. These tend to portray more insidious untruths like “humanity is intrinsically good” or “we can do anything if we believe in ourselves.” Sometimes these are the main themes of a novel, other times they’re simply implied by character and circumstance.
  3. Stories that communicate commonly shared values and principles. These sorts of tales convey truths that unbelievers and believers alike can agree on–the beauty of sacrificial love, the importance of mercy, the need to stand against injustice, and similar themes.
  4. Stories that subtly reveal a biblical worldview. Tolkien did this in Lord of the Rings, and looking at modern day writers, I believe Jeffrey Overstreet accomplished something similar in The Auralia Thread. These tales have implicit biblical underpinnings, and when you look at the bigger picture, you usually see distinct scriptural themes.
  5. Stories that explicitly depict a biblical worldview. Narnia falls into this category, as do many of the other tales currently in the Christian market. The analogies to the Christian faith in these stories are generally clear and specific.

As Christian writers, we might fall anywhere from three to five on this scale–and I think stories told within these three categories all have value and can all honor God. So it comes down to what you as the writer want to communicate to your readers and what suits a particular story.

Yet I think our stories would take on a more enduring nature if we exercised more intentionality in this area of spiritual truth in fiction, taking the same attention we give to crafting character, plot, and setting and applying it to theme, meaning, and exploring the spiritual element, which I discussed more in depth here.

We will spend eternity delving into the nature and character of God and the way His kingdom works–that’s how vast the subject is, and so much of it we leave unexplored in our stories, when they could be enriched by it–especially fantasy which by nature deals with “the other world.” Far from confining or stifling creativity, exploring these matters as they pertain to our stories makes for more compelling fiction.

So whether the spiritual element takes the form of allegory, supposition, applicability, symbolism or something else entirely, whether the theme is something we stumble across once the story is written or the initial seed from which the story grows, whether we craft tales that reveal commonly shared values or distinct biblical truths, being intentional about this aspect of storytelling will help give our stories lasting impact.

Your thoughts? Is there something else on your mind regarding this subject that you would like to see explored further?

Comments

  • Mary
    August 18, 2011 - 12:04 pm · Reply

    Excellent post, Sarah. You have a wonderful way of organizing your thoughts and communicating them clearly.
    Most of my writing falls into category 5, and the rest is in category 4, I think.
    I wish more Christian writers would be deliberate about the spiritual content in their stories and about the worldview their writing reflects. I believe that, to some extent at least, if your faith is rooted deeply enough in you, and if it is a big enough and real enough part of you, it will come out in your writing automatically, perhaps even without you consciously realizing it. However, as Christians we should still be consciously focusing on the fact that everything we do, say, and write reflects directly on Christ, and we should model our lives accordingly.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      August 22, 2011 - 3:08 pm · Reply

      Thanks for the encouragement, Mary! Those are good thoughts about the value of being purposeful and how it relates to our walk with God. As writers, we don’t take a haphazard approach to the other areas of story craft, so how much more should we practice excellence when it comes to the faith element?

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
    August 20, 2011 - 2:41 pm · Reply

    I agree with Mary — what an organized, well though out approach, Sarah.

    I’d add number six, stories with intentional allegorical elements. I think a lot of fantasy in the early part of this century approached fantasy this way, the authors thinking they were doing what Lewis was doing, perhaps.

    I think there’s been a shift to more in the five and four category lately.

    I’d venture to say that Sally Apokedak’s story falls into the number three slot.

    I think my work is closer to a four. What about yours, Sarah? Where does yours fall?

    Becky

    • Sarah Sawyer
      August 22, 2011 - 3:11 pm · Reply

      Becky, I see what you mean about the sixth category. I can think of one series in particular (written in the mid 1900s, I believe) in which I barely made it through the first book because the allegorical elements were handled in such a heavy-handed manner…and they didn’t add any new insight or understanding in the process. As you said, the author may have intended a Lewis-like approach, but it didn’t come out that way!

      My work probably falls into categories four or five, depending on the book. My current WIP would fall into category five, but some of my other stories/ideas are definitely four. I wonder if readers expect the same approach to the spiritual element each time, because I find it differs for me from story to story.

Leave a Reply to Sarah Sawyer. Cancel Reply