What In the World is “Christian” Fantasy?

aslanlucy

Truthfully? I don’t know.

All right, I know how I myself define Christian fantasy, let’s put it that way. But a clear-cut definition that pleases everyone? Not sure that will ever happen.

So, here’s what I think: I think a Christian fantasy story can be one of a few things. For now I’m going to assume that you are as familiar with “fantasy” books as I am, and we will skip the “fantasy” definition and move right along to what makes a book a “Christian” fantasy. Shall we?

1. A fantasy story that has parallels to Christianity.

There are many stories we could look at in this way – even stories that the author herself may not have intended to write from a Christian worldview at all. Perhaps the author wasn’t even a Christian! I think of books like Harry Potter (which, let’s face it, has a lot of Christian parallels if you look at it at the right angle), or even the Lord of the Rings trilogy (although Tolkien himself specifically said this book was not based on Christianity). Did the authors intend these books to symbolize Christ or Christianity? No. Can we as readers see and enjoy the parallels in these beloved stories that compare to our own Christian walk? Yes!

2. A fantasy story that has intentional Christian symbolism in its characters or theme.bright sword

Think of Lewis’ Narnia, think of Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Heartless. There are characters who represent me and you, human and faulted. And there is the One over them all who makes everything right in the end, who reveals to us the characteristics that we as Christians know our God Himself possesses. For some (mostly non-Christian readers), this type of symbolism is too much – too obvious or “preachy.” Me, I like it. Hey – I write it! It gives me a premise I know already, the foundation of a spiritual world I cannot see but which is around me every day, and then inserts characters and situations that are adventuresome and intriguing. Yeah, there’s symbolism – no one’s arguing that. But it’s meant to be obvious, it’s meant to take something you’ve thought of a thousand times and make you see it in a new light.

3. A fantasy story where God is simply represented as Himself, with no parallels or symbolism.

Ok, I’ll admit, I have yet to read a story like his, although I have seriously considered writing one myself. I have heard of one or two books like this, which are fantasy stories that include God as we know Him. Have you read anything similar? Let me know – I’d love to read it, too!

4. A fantasy story where, even if a God-like character does not exist, true biblical values are made obvious in the book’s theme because of the author’s worldview.

This one is much more subtle. What we as Christians call “biblical” values and truths are sometimes claimed by the world as well. Truth, honor, integrity, patience, love … these were created by God, my friend, and without Him they have little value. But some books that include these virtues would require quite a stretch of imagination to label as “Christian.” These virtues, therefore, aren’t the sole criteria for a book to be “Christian” fantasy. So, the final judgment would have to be based on the individual book, and on the author’s worldview and intention in writing it.

I think it’s important to note that there are a multitude of books out there, fantasy and otherwise, that have religious symbolism, even books that have a God-figure in them. This most definitely does not make them Christian. If a book has a world with parallels to Christianity, it needs to be based on what the Bible defines as Christianity. If a book has a character that represents God, he needs to show God’s real attributes as revealed in the Bible itself. The Golden Compass is a good example of the opposite of this – religious symbolism gone wrong.

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10 thoughts on “What In the World is “Christian” Fantasy?

  1. Great post Ashlee! I love what you said about loving fantasy with strong symbolism in it, symbolism that can’t be missed. My purpose is the teach God’s truth in a fun, compelling way. I don’t want my kids or other young people to guess at what I MIGHT HAVE MEANT! So I write this kind of fantasy too! We are kindred spirits in that way.

    It is interesting to me that even Phillip Pulman’s trilogy, though he meant it as an attack on God, told the truth about Him. An interesting read on this is Shedding Light on His Dark Materials by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware. The reality of Christianity is reflected in EVERY fictional story. Ultimately, the metaphors of fantasy cannot not lie about God.

    Yet I’m with you. For me, it’s much better to set out to write the truth intentionally, as God reveals it to me.

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    1. I love finding kindred spirits! 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful comments, Brent – as always! And what a great statement: “Ultimately, the metaphors of fantasy cannot lie about God.” Love that.

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  2. Good post. Although there are fantasy novels written by Christians and labeled as such, they pale in comparison to what is in the main stream. I certainly wish there were more. As far as how the Christian fantasy is written, I don’t mind if it’s hidden or blatant, just as long as the glory is pointed to God somehow.

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    1. Thank you! Sadly, I tend to agree with you. My husband and I were just discussing this the other day. I was observing how Christian fantasy seems to be like what I have always complained about with Christian music … they both always seem to be a few steps behind the secular world. That’s not to say that I am wanting fantasy and/or music that emulates the secular – just fantasy and music that live up to a certain quality of writing, and maybe push the envelope a bit, give me a bit of a shock 🙂 (In a good way, of course!) That being said, there are a few very good Christian fantasy authors out there now, and I am hoping that many more emerge in this great genre!

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  3. God pictured as Himself in a fantasy novel? Hmm, I think Chronicles of Narnia counts. There, Earth was part of many worlds, and Aslan told the children they must come know him by a different name in their world. And at the end the series, he stopped looking like a lion, but something more wonderful…

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    1. That’s a very good point. I was originally thinking more literally – God himself, Jesus in human flesh – as opposed to the fictional figure of a lion like Aslan. But as far as God’s characteristics and purpose, Aslan is IT! And like you say, he even points out the fact that he is in the children’s other world, but known by a different name. Aslan, Aslan … I don’t think any God-figure in fantasy fiction will ever compare with him!

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  4. I think Lewis’ space trilogy has more of a subtler, yet definite Christian theme. The main character, throughout the trilogy, isw the character named, oddly enough, Ransom. He has an injury that bleeds persistently. The first book,”Out of the Silent Planet” has Ransom kidnapped and taken to Mars. Here there are very different creatures and one group talks about our “bent,” which is on the bad side, if you consider Ranson’s two kidnappers. Interestingly, we talk about a person’s bent to doing evil. Also, Earth was called the “Silent Planet” because of the planet’s spirit broke off from the other planets’ spirit. Possibly this is a reference to satan. The third book, “That Hideous Strength”, could be talking about our own times, with modernism taking control of everything. Also, the lmore evil characters are trying to get in contact with Merlin. Rather interesting, considering they are very scientific and think that science has all of the answers, yet here they are trying to control one of the greatest magicians (in literature) to have his power on there side. Today, with our great advances in science and technology and the “Gospel of Evolution” being crammed down our throats, yet there is CERN. The idea is that the great collider is to try to detect the “God” particle and they are eager to open a stargate or so, so they can contact some type of aliens. Their opening ceremony was based on the Hindu religion, with so many weird dances and acts. They have a large statue of Shiva at the site. This false goddess is supposed to be the deity of destruction and rebirth . Rather strange for such devout secular humanist scientist to go through this kind of ritual, don’t you think? The thing is, they may open a stargate or two, but what’s waiting on the other side certainly is not E.T., but rather the dark part of the supernatural realm. These guys are in for a really nasty surprise, as did those in “That Hideous Strength.” Merlin was brought forward, but he was definitely not someone that was going to be used by the bad guys and they ended up getting destroyed. The only difference is that what may be brought through CERN will certainly not be good and we all will end up paying for it.

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    1. Mark, I haven’t had a chance to read the entire trilogy, only the first book in it. But I hadn’t realized there could/was anything symbolic in it. Knowing Lewis, guess I should have known there would be subtle levels of depth even in stories like those. Very intriguing stuff, thanks so much for commenting!

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      1. Ashley, it might be that I read more into it then CSL may have meant to. The second book, “Perelandra” didn`t seem as possibly an allegory. I probably put that below the other two. If you get a chance to, I would suggest reading “That Hideous Strength.” It may start out a little slow, but if you hang in there, you should find it an interesting read. I never read read the Narnia Chronicles until I had been an adult for quite awhile. Even though they`re written for kids and each book easily read in a few hours, I still get a kick out of them. For those who never have read them, they should start with “The Magician`s Nephew,” since this lays out how Narnia came to be and introduces the reader to Asian. I wish they would make more of the movies, especially TMN and “The Final Battle.” I’ve also read some of Charles William’s books (I think that’s his name). He was sort of an earlier contemporary of CSL. The thing is he is harder to follow, than Lewis is.

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      2. Lewis did have many subtleties, so you never know what he might have meant to put into those stories. I read the Chronicles of Narnia as a child and have been re-reading them (now many times to my own son!) for years. They are our absolute favorites. We definitely wish they’d make more movies of those as well!

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