Monday, March 28, 2022

Speculative Fiction: The Matter of Mythology

Confession: I have never been a big fan of mythology. I've just always thought it was kind of dumb. People really believed in those stories? How is that possible?

But I still read Greek myths, and I never batted an eye at the mythological creatures that inhabit Narnia. Furthermore, I very much enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, and was super excited when the official greenlight on the Disney+ adaptation was announced.

I do see why someone would be concerned about the inclusion of elements of mythology: mythology is inherently anti-biblical, presenting a view of the world that is based upon false gods and imaginary spirituality. Some have asserted that such use of mythology—particularly in Christian stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia—distorts the truth and causes readers to become dangerously comfortable with alternate worldviews and religions, that even Christ-figures such as Aslan are problematic and draw readers away from the truth (Kjos). 

Certainly stories that assert as their premise that mythology and false gods are real—the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, for example—could be challenging for young readers and readers with little discernment, though I would suggest that mature, discerning readers can enjoy these tales simply as entertaining fiction. Yet it is possible to include mythological creatures and even gods in a way that is not inconsistent with Christianity. 

In Narnia, for instance, fauns, centaurs, dryads, and even Bacchus and Silenus are created beings subject to Aslan just as much as the Talking Beasts are—simply a part of the worldbuilding. Indeed, leading children astray by familiarizing them with myths and setting up false pictures of Christ was not Lewis’s intention, nor is it the intention of any writers of Christian fantasy I have encountered. Rather, Lewis’s intention was to enhance rather than destroy children’s faith as is evident from the letter he wrote to the mother of Lawrence Krieg. 

Lawrence was concerned that he was “loving Aslan more than Jesus” but Lewis asserted that “the things he loves Aslan for doing and saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Lawrence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before” and then suggested a prayer for Lawrence to pray that further exemplifies this intention (C. S. Lewis Letters to Children, 52-53). Like magic, mythology and symbolism must be used wisely and with caveats, not elevating these mythological figures to a status that replaces God, but within a proper framework, it too can be a powerful storytelling and worldbuilding tool even in Christian speculative fiction.

Besides, even though mythology was created as an alternative explanation for the universe, the stories and creatures are often highly creative and perfectly useful to fantasy writers. Certainly, deep worldbuilders may look down on you for not inventing something entirely new, but there is nothing new under the sun and I see no less reason to incorporate fauns and centaurs into your worldbuilding than elves. Though one must naturally take care to put one's own twist on things. While straight-up copying out of copyright things may not technically be illegal, it's still lazy. And there's so much that can be done with mythological creatures and tales.

Speculative Fiction: Real or Not Real?


Kjos, Berit. “Narnia Part 1: Blending Truth and Myth.” Crossroad, Kjos Ministries, Dec. 2005, Accessed 1 Oct. 2021.

Kjos, Berit. “Narnia Part 2: A Four-legged Creator of Many Worlds.” Crossroad, Kjos Ministries, Dec. 2005, Accessed 1 Oct. 2021.

Kjos, Berit. “Narnia Part 3: Christian allegory + Mythical gods = Deception.” Crossroad, Kjos Ministries, Dec. 2005, Accessed 1 Oct. 2021.

Kjos, Berit. “Narnia Part 4: Awakening Narnia with Bacchanalian Feasts.” Crossroad, Kjos Ministries, Dec. 2005, Accessed 1 Oct. 2021.

Lewis, C. S. C.S. Lewis Letters to Children. Edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead, Macmillan, 1985.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Speculative Fiction: The Question of Magic

Magic. Ah, for the most controversial aspect of fantasy.

It's understandable why people are so concerned. Witchcraft is a very real and very dangerous thing. And it has often been asserted that fantasy magic inevitably promotes witchcraft and other aspects of occultism. Most notably, the Harry Potter series has come under fire for purportedly containing “actual beliefs and practices associated with witchcraft and paganism including: divination, astrology, numerology, familiars, pagan gods/goddesses, spellcasting, potions, necromancy (i.e. communication with the dead/ghosts), mediumship/channeling, crystal gazing, palmistry, charms, arithmancy and magick” (Abanes, 173). Even some of those Christians who find Rowling’s brand of magic to be imaginary are still concerned that the positive portrayal of witchcraft and wizardry in Harry Potter will lead children into the discovery of real witchcraft and other occult practices (Greisinger). I'm not a big fan of Harry Potter for reasons I'm not going to get into here (you can read my Goodreads review if you're curious), but I'm personally not in the Harry Potter is real witchcraft camp. 

Furthermore, even books such as The Chronicles of Narnia have been accused of containing potentially harmful positive depictions of divination, astrology, and magic (Kjos). Yes, Narnia, with it's suppositional portrayal of Christ's sacrifice, with its positive impact on Christians.

I do not believe this concern should be taken lightly, and indeed there are fantasies that truly do promote occultism and witchcraft. Yet including magic in a story does not inevitably cause the book to be harmful and evil. It must be handled carefully, for the biblical prohibition of witchcraft is a serious one, but it can be handled in a way that does not violate biblical principles. 

Considering the source of the power and making it clear that purportedly good magic does not come from evil sources is essential. Supernatural power may very well originate with demons, thus constituting evil magic, but supernatural power can also originate with God, as evidenced by the biblical story of Moses versus Pharaoh’s sorcerers, and in many fantasies and science fictions, abilities that seem supernatural to humans are simply inherent abilities of fictional species. 

There is so much room for creativity, even within boundaries. Certainly, a Christian writer should never condone a protagonist using actual occultish magic for evil purposes, or indeed, using it with good intentions, for such a thing would promote end justifies the means philosophy. I would even venture to say that it's unwise to go into the details of bad guys doing actual occultish magic. But not all magic falls into real-world practices. For example, Cinderella's fairy godmother waving a wand and singing "Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo" isn't going to conjure up demonic power. Neither is Elsa's ice magic.

What I have come to love in recent years is magical/supernatural abilities that are either gifts of God (e.g. bloodvoicing in Blood of Kings) or inherent abilities of species or characters (e.g. elven magic in Elven Alliance, Merlin's magic in BBC Merlin). There's so much you can do with that as a writer, and in those cases, it's evident the characters aren't calling on demons for their power. And the interesting thing is, even with things such as that, the characters aren't always going to use it for good purposes, which can make for some interesting and powerful themes. Human nature twists even things that are meant to be good. For instance, in Blood of Kings, bloodvoicing is an ability given by Arman to those of royal blood, and some use it to fight for good, some to enact evil. It's the same thing in Merlin. Merlin tries to use his magic for good (and when he uses it for selfish or stupid reasons, it always ends badly), but there are also lots of bad guys using magic to try to kill Arthur and/or Uther. Therefore, it is not even necessary to have bad guys calling on demonic power to create magic-related conflict. After all, evil is in the hearts of men, not necessarily the tools they are using. People have even twisted Scripture to justify and promote various forms of abuse.

Additionally, as Lewis and Tolkien did, confining good magic to entirely imaginary sorts used in other worlds by characters who are not the protagonists is a potential way to handle magic well. This article was foundational in my formation of my beliefs surrounding fantasy magic and, though long, is well worth the read. Used thoughtfully with caveats, magic and superpowers need not be harmful and can add great value and potentially allegorical meaning to a story.

Though perhaps less prominent than the attacks on fantasy, science fiction has also come under fire for promoting anti-Christian ideals. It has been said that common science fiction elements such as telekinesis and telepathy are occult, New Age, Eastern Mysticism concepts masquerading under supposedly “ ‘scientific’ terms”, the Force in Star Wars being a prime example of this occultism and Eastern Mysticism brought into a futuristic setting (Laughlin). Yet it is not impossible to see unintended faith metaphors in secular fiction, as Star Wars author Kathy Tyers stated in an interview with TheForce.Net. Certainly one must approach these scenarios with caution because they tend to mix in elements that are not strictly Christian, but if one views science fiction through the lens of a biblical worldview, it is just as possible to see limited elements of Christian spirituality in the Jedi, particularly as written by authors such as Tyers, as it is to see a picture of spiritual rebirth in the regeneration of Time Lords in Doctor Who. They may be imperfect pictures, but a proper perspective can see value in these purportedly occultish and New Age science fiction elements. 

Furthermore, these sorts of plot and worldbuilding elements can be used in purposely Christian science fiction stories. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time has often been accused of promoting occultism and “New Age spirituality,” though it is full of Scripture quotations and written as a way of exploring the author’s faith through science (Bailey). She had no intention of promoting evil by including telepathic abilities and other strange elements such as tessering and kything in her stories—rather, she was writing about defeating the darkness with the light of love, and science fiction and fantasy elements provided a perfect storyworld for this message. Besides the fact that kything is just plain cool, and so is tessering.

Speculative Fiction: The Matter of Mythology


Abanes, Richard. Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace behind the Magick. Horizon Books, 2001.

Bailey, Sarah P. “Publishers Rejected Her, Christians Attacked Her: The Deep Faith of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Author Madeleine L’Engle: Her Famous Book is Sprinkled with Scriptural References” WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, Washington, 2018. ProQuest, Accessed 21 September 2021.

Greydanus, Steven D. “Harry Potter vs. Gandalf.” Decent Films, 2001, Accessed 31 Oct. 2021

Griesinger, Emily. “Why Read Harry Potter? J. K. Rowling and the Christian Debate.” Christian Scholar's Review, vol. 32, no. 3, 2003, pp. 297-314,314-316. ProQuest, Accessed 21 September 2021.

Kjos, Berit. “Narnia Part 1: Blending Truth and Myth.” Crossroad, Kjos Ministries, Dec. 2005, Accessed 1 Oct. 2021.

Kjos, Berit. “Narnia Part 2: A Four-legged Creator of Many Worlds.” Crossroad, Kjos Ministries, Dec. 2005, Accessed 1 Oct. 2021.

Kjos, Berit. “Narnia Part 3: Christian allegory + Mythical gods = Deception.” Crossroad, Kjos Ministries, Dec. 2005, Accessed 1 Oct. 2021.

Kjos, Berit. “Narnia Part 4: Awakening Narnia with Bacchanalian Feasts.” Crossroad, Kjos Ministries, Dec. 2005, Accessed 1 Oct. 2021.

Potts, Michael, and Kathy Tyers. “Jedi Council - Interviews: Kathy Tyers.” TheForce.Net - Your Daily Dose of Star Wars, The Force.Net, Nov. 2000, Accessed 7 Nov. 2021

Taub, Deborah J, and Heather L Servaty. “Controversial Content in Children's Literature: Is Harry Potter Harmful to Children?” Harry Potter's World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives, edited by Elizabeth Heilman, RoutledgeFalmer, 2003, pp. 54–57.