We have seen throughout this series that stories of imagination and wonder need not be inherently harmful and that Christians who write in these genres have no intention of leading their readers astray. But are these stories simply neutral or can they have a greater purpose? Could they possibly further God’s kingdom, spread the Gospel, and enhance Christian faith?
Many believe that rather than obscuring truth, these stories actually illuminate truth, give us a better picture of reality (Ryken), and artistically represent truth: “Yes, these tales are intended to reflect and embody many important Christian ideas. But they do it thematically, symbolically, and imaginatively, somewhat in the style of the parables of Jesus” (Focus on the Family).
J.R.R. Tolkien expressed a similar sentiment: “Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker” (52). Furthermore, he explains that fantasy used properly evokes a joy that reflects the same joy and picture of reality of the Gospel story (64-66). Creativity and imagination reflect aspects of God’s nature and present metaphors that can aid in understanding of Scripture and show readers the wonder of God in a new way.
One method that has long been used in Christian fantasy is that of allegory. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was a very strict allegory and has come to define the method of writing for Christians. Every character, every place in Christian’s journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, was a strict metaphor for some element of the journey that is the Christian life.
Personally, I believe this method is too on the nose. Authors of allegories run the risk of focusing so hard on their allegorical message they neglect to develop their characters—such as occurred in Chuck Black’s Kingdom series—and thus end by diminishing the ability of the reader to simply enjoy a good book, reducing the overall impact of the allegory. That said, Pilgrim’s Progress style allegories have their place in the canon of Christian fantasy. For instance, when read in conjunction with his partial autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress is a fascinating allegorical exploration of his conversion. Still, there is a more effective and enthralling use of speculative fiction in regard to faith.
“Suppose there was a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the ‘Great Emperor oversea’) went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?” (C. S. Lewis Letters to Children, 92)
What, indeed, could spiritual truths look like in fantastical worlds far different from our own? This question of what if?—commonly referred to as a supposal, based upon Lewis’s explanation—forms the basis of the majority of Christian fantasy in the modern era. Where this differs from the allegory is that allegory originates from a message and builds a story around it, causing every element to directly represent something else. A supposal begins with a story and the biblical worldview of the author naturally informs the what ifs to create a story that is far more powerful, universal, and accessible to the masses than allegory.
Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight is a supposal in a similar vein to Narnia. Narnia “began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood” then grew to contain the supposal and Christian themes when “suddenly Aslan came bounding into it” (Lewis, On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, 53). Ilyon began with the concept of a half-blood in a world where half-bloods are unaccepted and grew into a series with parallels to Ancient Rome and Christian persecution, centered around substitutional atonement when Elon, the Son of God in Ilyon terms, sacrifices himself for the protagonist Jace, assuring him of his worth and the existence of his soul.
Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings trilogy may not contain substitutionary atonement, but it nonetheless contains strong themes of following God and using gifts for Him. Half of the country of Er’Rets is covered in darkness, and Achan must learn to use his bloodvoicing ability—which incidentally includes telepathy among other spiritual abilities—given to those of royal blood by the true God Arman, to fight against evil in dedication to Arman in order to banish darkness from Er’Rets, thus providing a parallel of spiritual warfare among other things.
Additionally, these kinds of biblical themes and parallels can be found even in secular works (Greisinger). For instance, the BBC series Merlin shows numerable instances of Arthur being willing to sacrifice his own life for those of his people, which is a beautiful picture of how Christ—our King—sacrificed His life for us on the cross. Also, my favorite episode, “A Servant of Two Masters,” illustrates Matthew 6:24 perfectly by showing that Merlin cannot serve two masters. Either he serves his king unreservedly or—under the enchantment of Morgana—he works actively against him, attempting to kill him. He cannot do both.
Seeing these pictures of biblical truths in these stories of wonder and magic and imagination, as well as in stories of space travel and technological advancement, casts them into a new light, causing them to resonate with us in entirely new and powerful ways.
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, https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/why-read-harry-potter-j-k-rowling-christian/docview/201277855/se-2?accountid=11824.
Accessed 21 September 2021.
Lewis, C. S. C.S. Lewis Letters to Children. Edited
by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead, Macmillan, 1985.
Lewis, C. S. On Stories and Other Essays on Literature,
edited by Walter Hooper, Harvest / HBJ, San Diego, CA, 1982.
Ryken, Leland. “In Defense of Fiction Christian Love For
Great Literature.” Desiring God, John Piper, 10 Aug. 2021, www.desiringgod.org/articles/in-defense-of-fiction.
Accessed 9 September 2021.
Tolkien, J. R. R. “On Fairy-Stories.” Tree and Leaf,
Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA, 1988, pp. 9–73.
Post a Comment
Share your thoughts! I love getting comments. Please keep them clean and relevant to the post. Thank you!