The Lord of the Rings, The Song of Albion, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, The Wheel of Time, The Farseer Trilogy, Watership Down, The Prydain Chronicles, The Sword of Shannara, The Belgariad, The Chronicles of Narnia… All are well-known, well-loved fantasy series, many of them my personal favorites. Why do I love to read Fantasy? Because, of all the genres, I think fantasy, by its very nature, most leans toward illustrating important spiritual truths. Even secular fantasies do so—in rather great numbers—despite the fact it is sometimes obvious their writers had little intention of doing so
The typical fantasy is epic, involving great battles for freedom, even for the survival of the world–concerns that overreach the mundane and petty details of day to day life. These battles almost always involve the supernatural forces of evil at war with the supernatural forces of good, usually in a visibly manifest conflict which parallels the invisible supernatural war believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are involved in on earth. Knowing about this battle and our place in it gives our lives meaning and purpose. Even if we must engage in mundane activities, we can know that they have great significance in the unseen war. Of all the genres, fantasy is the only one that acknowledges the existence of this battle, and for that reason I would claim it is in some ways more representative of reality than more “realistic” stories which, if anything, tend to convey the message that it doesn’t exist.
As there are always certain characters who possess the ability to discern the presence/approach of evil forces in a fantasy story–and defend against them–so Christians, through the filling of the Holy Spirit and the serious, daily study of the Word of God, acquire the ability to discern and defend against the supernatural forces of evil in our own world. Evil which is far more pervasive and subtle than people generally think. The devil, after all, “has deceived the whole world,” is the Prince of the powers of the air, and walks about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. He is a master counterfeiter, appearing as an angel of light, sending out counterfeit ministers who teach people how to be righteous (!) and in so doing keeps most people completely ignorant of his schemes. (See my page, The Angelic Conflict, above) And he delights in using the most mundane details of a believer’s life to bring him down. And just as in many fantasy stories, he will succeed if the believer doesn’t recognize what’s going on and work to fight against it.
The common presence of kings and other royalty in fantasy stories is another aspect of fantasy that I enjoy. This set-up provides an obvious metaphor for our relationship with the Lord, and illustrates not only the humility and devotion required of those who serve the king, but also the responsibilities and self-sacrifice required of the king himself. Contrasting characters show the pitfalls of refusing to submit to the rightful authority, and the destructive power of having authority and abusing it. The use of characters who have royal blood also reminds us of our own status as kings and lords in the royal family of God.
Fantasy themes typically include loyalty, courage, self-sacrifice, and the need to be ever vigilant in fighting against the forces of evil. Because fantasy worlds tend to be modeled on our own historical past and their storylines focused on issues higher than any one person’s self-absorbed goals, the characters and societies, at least the good ones, tend to have more respect for virtue and honor, and so cultivate a higher standard of morality.
Best of all, fantasy novels are almost always about great heroes which I see as illustrative of our Lord, the greatest hero of all. Courage, confidence, humility, self-sacrifice, virtue, perseverance, love—the qualities of a hero reflect our Lord’s character. They are also the qualities to which we ourselves should all aspire since we have been designed by God to be heroes just like Him in the unseen battle in which we fight. Especially significant to me is the fact that being a hero always exacts a price.
Frequently the hero is presented in the context of a journey which echoes that of our Savior’s. He typically begins the story as a menial of unknown parentage (often turning out to be a king’s son) who suddenly comes to realize not only that there is a great battle raging—or about to break out—in his world, but that he has a calling upon his life to fight in it. He also discovers in himself unusual abilities that will be required to win it. After enduring many trials and difficulties (the cross before the crown) the hero and his followers succeed in defeating the evil and delivering the realm. Justice prevails and the rule of good triumphs, as will eventually occur in our own world.
All of those principles I see as having important bearing on my own life, and I love to see them play out in the different ways authors choose to develop them. I love heroes, love following them through their journeys. They always make me think of my Lord, and often give me new ways to relate to Him. Finally, I love using the imagination God has given me to create in my own mind the fabulous and fascinating realms that others have devised for their stories. Not only is it just plain fun, it also provides ways of looking at spiritual truths from angles I might not have considered before.
With echoes of the Savior’s life and character, stories that remind me of who I am and why I am here, and themes that provoke thoughts of God’s sovereignty, justice and love—why would I not love to read Fantasy? Add in the elements of suspense, mystery, action and romance that characterize many fantasies, and how could I not recommend the genre to one and all?
Copyright 2005 Karen Hancock
For further reading on this subject:
Strangers on the Border between Two Lands by Donna Farley
“Christian fans of SF and fantasy are a peculiar minority group, frequently hit with a double whammy of prejudice and misunderstanding. In fandom, they are often looked upon as uncool, narrow-minded, anti-science devotees of an outmoded belief that a truly enlightened civilization… In their own faith communities, Christians who like that sci-fi stuff are likely to be regarded with puzzlement or even downright suspicion…” (click on the link for more)
“Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” by Ursula LeGuin (From her collection, The Language of the Night, available from Amazon.com) An essay in which she addresses the issue that as adults we shy away from fantasy. The tendency is to regard it as juvenile, escapist fluff, not serious literature from which great insights can be gained. Especially great spiritual insights. This essay used to be available online, but is no longer. Here is a link to blogger Stacy Whitman who has posted excerpts from the essay plus a link to another blog recording a Q&A with LeGuin concerning her thoughts on the matter today.
Good Fantasy & Bad Fantasy by Gene Edward Veith (Christian research institute) (click on link for article) This article first appeared in the Volume 23 / Number 1 issue of the Christian Research Journal.
Reading Between the Lines (A Christian Guide to Literature) by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. (also available through Amazon)