There is something I have noticed in Fantasy, and I’m sure many others have too. Certain races not only share universal characteristics, but individual members are indistinguishable from each other. Take a look at orcs, not just in Lord of the Rings, but in other forms of fiction they have appeared in. Their race is depicted as war-like, strong, and destructive. Depending on the story their might be some variations, but that is typically what happens. Elves are stuck up prudes and dwarves are rowdy Scotsmen essentially. Yes, I know, there are plenty of stories that give a more nuanced approach to these races. However, I feel the generalization of specific races may represent our humanness when it comes to people outside of our group who shares our ideology.
On social media I have become a silent observer of conversations. I have concluded that arguing on Twitter or Facebook about important issues is rather pointless. All it does is cause tension, after all has anyone changed their opinion about something due to an argument on Facebook? If the answer is yes, then I doubt the number is very high. I’ve seen Atheists attack religious people based purely on presuppositions and assumptions instead of what the person is trying to say. I’ve seen the opposite where someone assumes things about all irreligious people and create strawman attacks. This has been happening especially amongst Conservatives and Liberals since the last presidential election. I’ve seen Liberals attack Conservatives, especially white rural Conservatives, for being dumb and uninformed, while Conservatives attack Liberals for having a supposed mental disorder. When it comes to these discussions there only listening or reading to respond, not to hear what the other person has to say. Honestly, this is the sort of thing social media breeds since people can hide behind a computing device and not see the hurt they cause others.
In the Lord of the Rings there is very little attempt to understand orcs. They are orcs and serve the Dark Lord, and there is nothing more to it. This viewpoint may work in fiction depending on how it’s utilized, but reality is nuanced. I have my views on faith and politics, same as anyone else, but I need to listen and understand why someone may believe differently. If we do not spend the time doing that, how then will people ever understand one another? How will the chasm between political belief systems ever be bridged if we cannot even agree on the fundamentals of communication and human decency? Is being right of the utmost importance? These questions I must ask myself a lot, we all should.
In my last post I touched on my journey reconciling writing and reading fantasy while being a Christian. There is so much more that could be said on this topic. It is true that many Christians do not have a problem with Fantasy as a genre, and many enjoy it just as much as I do. Yet, there is a culture and expectation amongst certain circles that one should not engage in it. Certainly, this isn’t a topic worth being a martyr over, but it is worth exploring deeper.
The first thing we should get out of the way is that the Bible has been used to justify or condemn every sort of behavior imaginable. This leads to anything from judgmental Pharisee-like attitudes to downright destructive behaviors. The condemnation of Fantasy comes from the Bible speaking out against magic users and sorcerers, and the call for us believers to use good judgement and discernment when it comes to our entertainment. Not a bad intention. On top of that there are those who have more sensitive consciences, which makes it difficult for them to comprehend why someone would enjoy something that appears so “evil” to them.
Putting blanket rules around entertainment is difficult for these reasons. Often times people read into Scripture their presuppositions and try to impose them on others. I understand that, especially since believers are called to rebuke fellow Christians if they are not following God’s commands. However, it is easy to take it too far and become judgmental over things that ultimately do not matter such as enjoying a specific genre of books.
There is something important to note. Most of the time magic and sorcery in fantasy does not even closely resemble occult/pagan magic condemned in Scripture. Magic in ancient times often took the form of astrology and divination or summoning spirits. Fantasy magic such as in Harry Potter is invented as a plot device and for fun. Fiction authors don’t pretend their works are real either which is something that distinguishes itself from true occultism. We are told right away these stories are fake and meant to teach lessons of friendship, love, and what it means to be human among other things.
As believers it is our job to discern what entertainment we consume. Instead of cherry-picking Scripture to back up our biases, we need to look at the Bible in its entirety. Yes, sorcery is condemned in Scripture, but Paul also makes it clear that different people are sensitive to different things. Our only job as believers is to not create a stumbling block, not reign judgment upon other people.
When Harry Potter became popular, there was debate amongst Christian circles whether it was healthy for children to be exposed to or not. After all, Scripture condemns sorcery, and that in Harry Potter, children go to school to learn magic. As a Christian who enjoys fantasy of all kinds, this was a struggle for me growing up.
As a young man who attended an extremely conservative Christian college, my hobby of writing and reading fantasy became a point of contention in some conversations. Later, in my college career, something happened to me which caused an existential crisis of faith. For a few years I questioned everything, researched everything, learned varying perspectives on all matters in order to find out what I believe and why. Ultimately, I learned that obsessively researching online only leads to confusion and depression, but I digress.
In the end my faith remained intact, and I came to a few conclusions on important matters, one of which is that being a Christian doesn’t mean I have to be against it, but the opposite. Deciding to condemn fantasy and avoid it is a personal conviction, not a Biblical truth. For me, the genre is not mere fun, but a part of me, it reflects important timeless truths. If you are one who believes reading or watching fantasy is wrong, that is your choice and conviction. However, it is far from Scriptural to condemn stories simply because they have magic. The words of Jesus seem aptly appropriate for this, “Beware the yolk of the Pharisees.” I know, that doesn’t give us a pass to do whatever we want, but Paul makes it clear that some people have more sensitive consciences than other. That is okay, however do you like Football? The argument could be made that its evil if Scripture is twisted to say that due to scantily clad cheerleaders that football is evil. I know that sounds silly. So are most arguments against enjoying fantasy.
In the end a walk with Christ is more important than fiction choices, and those who enjoy stories different than what you like do not deserve condemnation. So much more could be said on this topic, which is why I will continue this in my next post.
Part of being a writer is reading. That is painfully obvious. Reading gives an author the tools necessary to equip him or her to do the job. That said, I find it difficult to find things to read regularly that I enjoy because I’m pretty picky.
I can spend quite a while reading reviews and scrolling through books in genres that interest me, but rarely am I wowed by something. I like originality, hope, and meaning in stories as I’ve indicated in past blogs. That doesn’t mean characters have to be perfect, on the contrary, I like them to have flaws, but not when those flaws are used to create senseless tension. For example, one series I read a few years ago had a character fight and pine for a female. When he finally wins her heart, and marries her he cheats, without a believable motive to do so. It appeared that the entire point of the secondary romance was to create a forced sense of suspense. As indicated, the character had no real motivation and that’s what bothered me. I know cheating happens, and characters can do it to add depth, but there must be a believable reason for it.
I know quality books are out there, but due to limited time I continue to be picky about my choices. I fully admit that it is partially a personality quirk of mine. However, my search for books that live up to the fiction classics continues. For it is the classics that I tend to enjoy the most, yet I know there are good stories out there, I only need to find more of them.