I have a confession to make. I’m a fantasy writer who did not grow up reading the stuff. In fact, as a child raised in a Christian home, I was taught to shun anything to do with magic. This was in the 80s, when we were also taught that rock music praised Satan if you played the records backwards. Yeah…if you’re young, ask your mom or dad about “backwards masking”. They probably went to a few of those conferences too.
Now, I’m not implying that all of the things I was taught—about magic or rock music—were entirely false. But, having lived a few more decades, I’ve learned that Christians tend to overreact on numerous subjects, from alcohol to homeschooling, choosing to err on the side of legalism “just to be safe.”
In my dictionary an “err” is still an error and the wrong stance to take. We are doing a disservice to our children when we hand them a list of dos and don’ts. Legalism is a killjoy and a killfaith, if I might coin the term. And in an increasingly blurred-boundary world, healthy discussions about matters of the heart and motivation are desperately needed to have clear-thinking, faith-infused young adults.
When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I recall checking out A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle from my school library. It only took a few chapters to be petrified and (almost) certain I would miss the rapture if I continued the story, which had a witch as one of the characters. I promptly returned it to the library. Only as an adult would I learn that L’Engle claimed to be a Christian* with a moral message to share in her classic book.
The following year, our class was assigned to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Uh oh. What to do? Well, as a diligent student I read the story but with cold indifference, completely missing the biblical allegory and the breathless mystery and beauty. I cringe to revisit this incident because The Chronicles of Narnia changed my life as an adult and catapulted me into a career as a writer—and a fantasy writer, none the less! But in the manner of most Christian witch hunts (pun unintended), I threw the baby out with the bathwater, assured that a story with a witch could not have anything good to say and may, indeed, called into question my salvation.
In the interest of time, I won’t get into an entire treatise on why Christians need to find balance in their hobbies, habits, and hasty opinions of anything new. As a homeschooling mother of four I have been guilty of all of those things and completely understand the tendency we have to “err on the safe side” having chosen that logic countless times (and, no doubt, still do). Often, to really explore a new book or music group or movie, we must take the time to read, or listen, or watch…and time is not something many parents have in excess. It’s easier to say no—or to say no because your friend said no to their kids—than to stay up later than normal to pre-read a book! I totally get that and have done the same.
And I do not wish to bash anyone’s heartfelt convictions on a variety of hot-button topics in Christian circles. We certainly must dialogue about the issues in love, and I don’t want to imply that taking a hard line on grey areas is always wrong. I am merely hoping to make others aware of the blind spot—one I’m just beginning to recognize in myself—and the over-reactive nature that the collective church tends to have. So often we don’t question why people do what they do. When friends we trust are bashing The Hunger Games, it’s easy to jump in and do it too, letting others do our thinking for our tired selves. (At least that’s what I did when the book came out!).
So how does fantasy fit into this discussion? After all, the Bible is very clear on darkness and light having no fellowship together. There are no grey areas when it comes to a familiarity with magic and witchcraft. Exposing our children to such ideas may even lead to their experimenting with them. If those are your first thoughts when I say “fantasy”, then my guess is you’ve never read any yourself.
Fantasy has an amazing capacity to convey big concepts and important truths precisely because it is other-worldly. A good fantasy story is like an epic parable allowing readers to objectively see parallels to their own life, their own battles, their own evil tendencies. The idea of Good vs Evil is usually displayed in a much starker contrast than in our daily lives, yet it can help us notice that such a battle is clearly happening all around us, as well.
When a story transports me into the point of view of the hero, and shows his or her flaws and fortitude, it makes me want to emulate their strength of character and do battle with my own dragons disguised as problems. Most fantasy stories have a central goal…the princess must be saved, the kingdom is doomed without the heir to the throne, a powerful treasure must be protected from the forces of evil…and our hero has an integral part to play in helping to bring this about. When we as readers get caught up in the main character’s quest, it’s easier to believe that our Creator has a very specific and grand purpose for our lives as well. When we follow the character’s choices and see the impact they have on the overarching story, we are more likely to understand how our own choices have an impact, and that our ideas have consequences.
Those are great points, Heather, but what about the magic? The witches? The wizards?
Good questions! In answer, I’d like for you to consider a lightning bug. You know…a firefly. Somehow that tiny, little insect is given the ability to ignite a fiery glow in its rear end and flash it on and off at twilight. Did these little guys read a book on the subject to learn how to make their magical little lights? No. They were born with that ability. It’s just a part of how God made them.
In the same way, magic in fantasy books is a part of the creature or people groups. Like a firefly, the faery has the ability to disappear, the sage old hermit can see the future in the water, the powerful queen can paralyze her enemies with a certain gesture and word. These are not humans that have gained their power by practicing the dark arts. They are a completely unique creation that have the innate ability with birth. Now whether they use that ability for right or wrong is another issue. They may, indeed, indulge in secret ceremonies to strengthen their power for evil, but that only makes us cheer on our hero all the more. Such a villain is shown to be just that: a wicked miscreant bent on opposing what’s right and we, the reader, want to see them destroyed. And most often when humans are part of the story, they are amazed by the magic they see as well. Unless they, too, were born “special”, they are limited to their five senses like you or me.
In my yard I can watch the dance of the lightning bugs and feel a thrill of awe. Although I know there’s a good scientific explanation for their ability, it’s magical to me. I can’t do what they do, no matter how hard I try, it’s not how our Creator set things up in this world. A story like The Lord of the Rings is filled with unique creatures (or treasures) that also have abilities that I don’t possess. It’s how their world was constructed, how their creator—Tolkien—set it up. But getting to observe his world, like I can observe a firefly, teaches me new things and takes me on amazing adventures. And although Tolkien’s elves have abilities I cannot emulate in my own life, their wisdom and foresight are qualities I can hope to cultivate.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the generalizations I’ve given you. There will be some fantasy books that blur the line between good and evil, that encourage a human character to practice witchcraft, or glorify evil. But there are stories set in our own world that do the same and worse. As parents we cannot blindly hand a book, a movie, or a phone to our kids without doing our homework. Influences for evil are everywhere. Relentless.
In fact, one of the safest places for your child to play might be in their imagination. In Narnia. In Middle Earth. In Wonderland. In the Tethered World 🙂 If you’ve considered Christian Fantasy an oxymoron, I hope I’ve given you a reason or two to reconsider! What kind of misconceptions have you had about some of the topics touched on here? Have there been issues that you’ve had to reconsider over the years?
* Having heard from a couple friends who have concerns about my labeling L’Engle as a Christian due to her very mystical beliefs I felt I should comment here for clarity. I was merely calling Ms. L’Engle what she called herself (a Christian) without a caveat that I may personally disagree with much of her theology. Lest my statement lead anyone to believe I am in full agreement with her ideas, I decided to add a comment here to set the record straight 🙂
Heather L.L. FitzGerald writes from her home in Texas, while dreaming of being back in the Pacific Northwest, where she grew up. When her four kids were young, she enjoyed reading aloud until her voice gave out. (Her son, who is autistic, would just move on to his favorite audiobook). Certain stories became good friends—the kind you want to revisit. The kind you wish never needed to say goodbye. Those are the types of stories Heather aspires to write. Stories worthy of delicious coffee. Stories difficult to leave. She hopes you will find her YA Fantasy trilogy The Tethered World Chronicles to be one of those kind of tales. All three books, The Tethered World, and The Flaming Sword, and The Genesis Tree are available on Amazon or can be ordered at any book retailer.
Heather is a member of the North Texas Christian Writer’s group, ACFW, CAN, and helps with the Manent Writer’s group in Fort Worth, Texas. You can connect with Heather on her website/blog, Facebook, Pinterest, Character blog: (Sadie’s mother has a blog pertaining to legendary creatures), Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.