Christian Fantasty Fiction? The same old argument...

When I was a little girl, my mother indulged my love of fantasy fiction. She knew that it provided a necessary escape from the daily inner city drama for her only child. By the age of nine, I had devoured The Chronicles of Narnia, losing myself in the beautifully constructed fantasy. The Lord of the Rings was next, admittedly taking more time and numerous reads before fully comprehending it.

When my son turned nine, I dutifully purchased the first novel in the Harry Potter series. To my disappointment, he was completely uninterested, having never developed the patience for believing in a different reality. But I was sucked in. It was as though I had entered a time warp, and was once again a nine-year-old reading under the covers with a night light.

When my aunt came to visit, she found a copy of The Goblet of Fire lying on my bed. Horrified, she confronted me with this "witchcraft" I had allowed in my home, devastated that her accomplished niece would expose her household to demonic elements. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what she was talking about. I did not know that a Christian backlash to the popular series had developed, that the fantasy world Rowlings created of witches and warlocks was troubling.

What is difference between the magical elements of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings? Isn't Tolkien's Gandalf the equivalent of Rowling's Dumbledore? (The storylines are even similar with Dumbledore "dying" in the latest novel.) For that matter, isn't Harry's similarity to the halfling Frodo uncanny? The Chronicles of Narnia, recently widely accepted as Christian fiction (at least for marketing purposes), also invokes magic and witches throughout the series.

How do we write fantasy fiction without reliance, on some level, on a "magical realm"? In my opinion, Harry Potter relies on basic principles of truth and justice, right and wrong, good and evil, friendship and loyalty and the need for love. That it is set in a subworld of witch and warlocks serves to enliven the setting, add spark to the story. But the principles remain the same and function as the undercurrent to all classic fantasy fiction.

Wouldn't it be hypocritical to pen fantasy fiction and avoid inexplicable occurrences and supernatural happenings for the sake of appropriate Christianity? If the underlying basis for Christianity is unquestioning belief and faith in the supernatural, then don't we have a duty to express that in fantasy fiction?

In my attempts to pen a decent Christian fantasy fiction novel, I have often encountered this dilemma. My main character, Ella, receives her supernatural powers and gifts from the Holy Spirit. But she encounters the enemy, demonic forces, that oppose her. Is this any less magical than any other series? In fact, couldn't it be more troubling for a child to read about demons and fallen angels, rather than the timehonored good versus bad wizard?

One fairly new series that I enjoy is Donita K. Paul's DragonQuest. With vague similarites to The Lord of the Rings, the characters have magical gifts and supernatural talents and embark on a quest to save the land. Ms. Paul attempts to explain wizardry (magic) as a heightened understanding of the basic elements of the world and how Wulder (God) intends for them to intertwine. In other words, a wizard is more like an advanced chemist. I thought it clever.

As I navigate the murky waters of Christian fantasy fiction, I have found no answers and very few logical explanations. At the end of the day, I know that my heart is focused and centered on God, who channels my gift. While he allows the gift to flow, it will bear positive, enlightened fruit in line with His principles and purposes, therein creating the ever illusive Christian fantasy fiction.


Frank Creed said...

I'd read somewhere that Tolkien's wizards were symbolic of angels.
Sorry, but the old master was too subtle for me. My own clumsy symbolism is shaped more like a ten-pound sledge than an eyeglass-hinge screwdriver. Aisha, it's best you brought this up early so we can work this out. I agree with you.
The charge leveled against the Potter books is that Rowling lures innocents into Wicca. I'm aware that Cinderella didn't enchant her own slippers, but I'm sorry, if Potter doesn't lure these kids, the back of a Lucky Charms cereal box will.
The whole issue is parents NOT raising their children Biblically. We do not live in a Theocracy.
As I said in Joseph's comment, only He changes minds.
I'm not even a Rowling fan, but the Church's knee-jerk response has chapped my lips for years. For every kid lured into real evil, fifty more get inspired.
Is Potter Biblical spec fic? no.
Is Potter doing more harm than Narnia?
That is the question.

vbtenery said...

I hear you.

My church preached against Harry Potter.

One Wednesday night, my daughter told our pastor she had just finished reading the first book of the series.He, of course, told her it was filled with witchcraft and it was bad for her. She responded, "Oh, it's okay, my Mom read it too."

And I did.When I heard all the fuss about the book, I decided to read it for myself, before letting my daughter read it. Like you, I found it to be nothing more than a great tale of good vs evil.

Dan Edelen said...

A couple thoughts:

Tolkien's and Lewis's mythopoetic creed very clearly stated that human beings were not to engage in magical arts, though any mythical creatures around them could.

While the argument that Gandalf was not really a human is a subtle one at best, still the two authors stuck to that idea. The magic that happened came from outside humans, not from within them. This is one way in which Rowling's books clearly deviate from the standard set by Tolkien and Lewis.

Andrea Graham said...

The problem with Harry Potter is simple, the bible doesn't leave any room for good witches. Now, I have no problem with presenting witchcraft for what it is. I do, however, have a serious problem with presenting it as a possibly good thing, and definitely with a yin/yang sort of good and bad side. The opposite of black magick isn't "white magick," there is no such thing, all witchcraft is by nature of the devil. Rather, the opposite of magick is the Holy Spirit at work within us.

Yes, Christians have power from on High, and bravo to anyone willing to show it in thier fiction, but we do not perform witchcraft. The bible is clear that witchcraft is an evil counterfit of the power we have in Christ. Under the old testament, witches were indeed to be stoned to death. Even under the gospel of grace, witchcraft is listed among other sins that must be repented of to enter the Kingdom of God.

Again, I have no problem with exposing the enemy for what he is, and I'll applaud anyone with the daring to show God impowering His people, but the minute you've got something like, "the good witch versus the bad witch," you're not in the realm of Christianity anymore. That's taoism, to be precise.

So the question comes down to this: where does the power come from? If the Holy Spirit, great, but if not, it's of the devil and it must be presented as such for a work to be Christian. Now, the world can do as they please, but we need to be careful what we put in our minds. As they say with computers, Garbage in, Garbage out.

Johne Cook said...

The problem with Harry Potter is simple, the bible doesn't leave any room for good witches.

I think the problem with Harry Potter is even simpler than that - people don't understand that the world of Harry Potter isn't our world, it's loosely based on our world, but in an alternate reality, next-dimension-over kind of way.

Yes, it is a question of power, but JKR never gives one the impression that her source of power is remotely spiritual (as we believe it is on our real world). As a fantasy, Harry Potter works. It only falls apart when you try to apply real-world criticism to its logical underpinning because it's like comparing real apples to wax apples; they look the same, but aren't remotely similar under the skin.

Chuck Colson had it right: "What the fascination with Harry Potter really illustrates is what C. S. Lewis meant by Sehnsucht -- the longing for the mysterious, the wonderful, the other-worldly that our daily experience does not satisfy."

If we're really concerned about kids, we should help them to discover the truth in fiction, refute the lies, and be strong enough in their growing faith not to be frightened by search for truth wherever we may find it.