Fantasy is a somewhat misunderstood and underrepresented genre, especially in evangelical Christian circles. A lot of people don’t like the magic aspect of it. Others frown on the whole concept of creating another world. There are a variety of reasons, many of them with some degree of validity behind them, that people would dislike fantasy and consider Christian fantasy an oxymoron.
Let’s look at two of the common objections to fantasy, and I’ll explain my reasoning behind disagreeing with them.
1. It’s not real.
Well, that’s rather the point of the genre… Any good fantasy will create a world that is obviously separate from our own world but will still feel as realistic as the one in which we live. And if you get down to the technicality of it all, that’s what any fiction does. Even contemporary stories create a world that is in some way different from the one we know, even if that’s just because it creates characters who don’t actually exist. The art of storytelling depends on the author’s ability to create something that is not real. Fantasy just takes this to another level by creating an entirely new world.
2. Magic is unbiblical.
Well, that depends.
No, wait, hear me out. If we’re talking about talking to the dead and witchcraft and other things that tap into demonic forces, then yes, it is absolutely unbiblical and something that we should not take part in. The Bible is clear that we as God’s holy people are not to associate ourselves with evil, and these things definitely fall under that category.
But when it comes to fantasy, there’s much more to magic than that. In fact, I don’t really like the term “magic” for describing what happens in many fantasy works. It’s misleading and confusing, calling to mind all sorts of connotations that are actually just not true.
In the kind of fantasy I read and write, “magic” goes far beyond muttering spells and placing curses on people. For example, let’s look at The Lord of the Rings. In this world, the Elves have a kind of magic that allows them to essentially change the world around them. They are extremely creative people, and their “magic” allows them to pour out that quality to create things of the utmost beauty. Their gems shine brighter than any found in the natural world, their gardens are more fruitful than anything mortals can achieve, their very food carries greater sustaining power than that of ordinary people. This isn’t something they learned by study or by some occult practice. It is their special gift from God, and when they use their “magic,” they do so in worship of God.
This is what I mean when I say some magic isn’t unbiblical. In the example of the Elves, magic is essentially an illustration of how we in the real world can use our talents to glorify God. In my favorite fantasy works, magic is just one way the inhabitants of the world are special. It’s a part of who they are, a gift given them by their Creator. There’s nothing demonic or evil about it at all.
So, that’s why I don’t agree with these two common objections. But what about the positive side? Why do I not just enjoy reading fantasy but have also made it my genre of choice to write in?
I’m glad you asked! Let’s now look at three main reasons why I believe fantasy is such a powerful genre.
1. It’s not real.
This may be an objection to fantasy, but it is also one of its most powerful aspects. The real world is hard; that’s something we all can agree on. Storytelling is a special gift God has given us that allows us to escape from the harshness of the world, if only for a moment. Fantasy in particular lends itself well to this “escapist” attribute of fiction, as it transports the reader into a completely different universe.
And then, there’s the whole theory of subcreation that comes into play. According to J. R. R. Tolkien, humans have an urge to create because we ourselves were created. We long to imitate our Creator, and for some of us, that means copying His initiative to create an entire world. This compulsion to imagine complex histories and geographies and societies–and yes, even magic systems–is one of the ways we express our love for our brilliant Designer. When I create my fictional realms, I can’t help but worship the Creator of this true realm. When I’m overwhelmed by the sheer amount of thought that has to go into every aspect of worldbuilding, I am once again in awe of the Master Worldbuilder, Who spoke all things into existence with a word and holds it all together by His immeasurable power. This is something no other genre allows.
2. It makes the spiritual world seem more present.
Too often, we natural-minded humans tend to lose ourselves in the physical world. We look at what’s around us and quickly come to the conclusion that this is all there is. In a world filled with atheism and post-modernism, it’s hard for people to grasp the truth that is another level of reality, one that is just as real even if it’s not visible.
This reality is the spiritual realm. When God created the world, He didn’t stop at the natural elements that we can see and experience with our five senses. He also created spiritual beings and heavenly realms. One day, this earth will pass away, but God’s kingdom will endure forever because it is not of this world. He exists outside of time and space. The spiritual forces, both light and dark, are invisible to us but are no less real.
And what does this have to do with fantasy? Well, by writing about worlds that are not real, we train our minds to accept that there is more to reality than what we can see. We understand that the fantasy worlds in books and movies are just fiction, but it becomes easier to grasp the truth that another world does in fact exist. Reading about this fictional worlds also whets the appetite for that other world. I love Lord of the Rings and Narnia because these worlds give me a little glimpse into what the new earth might be like. They stir in me a hunger for the perfect world God is getting ready to install. When this cursed, broken world gets to be too much, I read fantasy to remind myself that this isn’t home. There’s another world out there, one even better than the ones depicted in these beautiful works of fiction. And that gives me hope.
3. It allows for the communication of deep spiritual truth.
This is where the magic element of fantasy comes in. In today’s world, we have become so caught up in the physical world that we tend to neglect the spiritual. But God operates on both levels. In fact, many of the prophets in the Old Testament saw visions that rival the imaginations of the most intrepid fantasy authors. Just read Ezekiel 1 to see what I mean. In fantasy worlds, where magic is commonplace, spiritual matters are necessarily at the forefront of people’s minds. They understand that there is more to the world than what they can experience with the senses.
And that opens the door for all kinds of deep discussions. Let’s look at The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an example. In this book, Aslan represents Jesus, and his death at the Stone Table in place of the traitorous Edmund points back to Christ’s death on the cross. It can be difficult for us to understand how Jesus’ death saves us, and even harder for us to comprehend how He rose from the dead and what that means for us. But in the world of Narnia, C. S. Lewis uses magic to beautifully illustrate this spiritual reality. When Aslan returns from the dead, he tells of the Deep Magic running through the very core of Narnia, a magic that can overturn death itself when an innocent willingly gives his life in exchange for a traitor’s.
In our world, where supernatural things are extraordinary, the spiritual ramifications of Jesus’ death and resurrection are difficult to grasp. But in the land of Narnia, where the supernatural happens every day, there is no difficulty accepting the idea that a Deep Magic, governed by the Emperor-over-the-Sea, can save a sinner and restore life to the innocent who died in his stead. This is exactly what Christ did for us, but the incredible concept is made clearer by the use of an allegorical fantasy.
To sum up, realistic fiction focuses on what can be seen. It is the practical application of the spiritual truths. Fantasy, on the other hand, has the opportunity to dive into the theory of those truths. It can explore the whys and wherefores in a way no other genre can quite attain, and thus it is an extremely powerful tool for Christians to use as we strive to spread the truth of Christ across the world.