Christianity and Fantasy Literature

In certain circles fantasy literature has been viewed as incompatible with Christianity.  The valid question is asked, what do wizards, elves, magic, and talking animals have in common with Christ?  Another reason is the effect of the Enlightenment thinking on literature.  Non-fiction and realistic fiction are viewed as serious literature while fantasy is seen as mere entertainment.  Christians wanting to assert the historical reality and seriousness of Christianity have unconsciously accepted that division without processing it.  I think this is unfortunate because fantasy is actually a uniquely Christian genre of literature.  It is, so to speak, our home court and here’s why.

As its name implies, fantasy literature deals with the fantastic.  The best fantasy literature focuses on the interaction between the ordinary and the other.  Daily life in your home town could not provide the material for a fantasy story.  A journey from your city to the City at the World’s End could.  The Lord of the Rings does this in another common way.  To the reader the Shire is the fantastic other; to the hobbits it is home. Their journey into the wider world is their journey from the ordinary into the fantastic other.

For a materialist, who only believes in what his own five senses can tell him, fantasy is either a vestigial cultural artifact or escapism.  It’s only worth is as a tool for teaching ideas, especially to children.  At worst it perpetuates superstition.  An atheist like Philip Pullman, author of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Material’s Trilogy, i.e. Golden Compass uses fanciful creatures like dæmons and witches as tools to attack religion.  I have not read his series so I will refrain from criticizing it, but I wonder how rationalizes using supernatural creatures which have their origins in religion to attack religion.

What about belief systems like Hinduism, Buddhism, and pantheism, which consider the fantastic and supernatural to be real?  Certainly they have given rise to many fantastic stories.  Being monistic they consider everything in the universe to be one.  If all is one then there is no ordinary and no other in the strict sense.   Aslan and the White Witch are merely different sides of the same coin, which brings up another aspect of fantasy stories.  Frequently fantasy stories focus on the fight between good and evil but the difference between good and evil for monist is an illusion.  I think a story in which they were one would not be able to resonate with most people.  A good monist story would have to maintain the illusion, in essence to tell a lie.

Christianity is the only religion which gives full expression to the idea of fantasy.  In the Christian universe there is a supernatural world which is distinct from the natural one.  When fantasy stories describe the interaction between the ordinary and the other they are reflecting a reality that takes place inside of us.  As C.S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters, “Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.”  It should be little wonder then that it is only humans of all creatures God created who desire to tell fantasy stories.

Taking it a step farther, in God we find the ultimate Other, one whose thoughts are not our thoughts and ways are not our ways.  Therefore, when we read stories of children traveling through a wardrobe into a snowy land filled with talking animals, it resonates within us.  It resonates within us because we are reading something which reflects ultimate reality.  While Christians may not always write good fantasy, we should have the edge because we actually believe what we are writing.

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