Faith and Fantasy

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.

My Ironic Truth

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.

Hope in Fiction

Note: This is a companion article to Cynical Fiction.

Why do people read or watch fiction?  Entertainment is the short and easy answer, but there is undoubtedly more.  After all, we can be entertained by non-fiction as well.  Fiction, particularly speculative fiction is a window into the possible.

Fiction shows us what happens if we allow evil to take control, it also offers shows the potential of the human spirit and hope.  Hope for what we can be, what our would and culture can become is the importance of fiction.  Ideally, fiction and stories will show us what we need to learn so that we do not fall into tragedy and oppression ourselves.  However, that is not always how it works.  For it is no secret that humanity has a great capacity for evil.  That doesn’t mean that some people do not pay attention.  After all, how many fictional stories written in the past are becoming increasingly plausible every day?

Through stories we teach and learn, ponder what it means to be good, evil, and human.  This is the point of fiction.  Therefore, hope is necessary in stories, even those that lack a particularly “good” ending, there must be meaning.  Otherwise, what is the point? Anything can accomplish the simple task of “entertaining” an audience, but meaning, hope, and truth is where true art is found in stories.  That is my goal as an author.  That is the sort of fiction that becomes timeless, yet these are the stories that are becoming less common and less popular.  We shouldn’t let cynicism and hopeless fiction become the new normal.

Cynical Fiction

I have written before that dark and gritty is the way of things in the modern world of fiction.  Whether there is a heavy call for more grit or it is simply author’s and film makers trying to push their vision onto audiences I’m not certain.  I think it is possible creators of fiction are trying to capitalize on the popularity of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, both of which are prime examples of dark and gritty fiction.

Grit however, doesn’t belong in everything.  The purpose of fiction is to address at larger, important issues, some of which are not addressed often by reality.  Time and again I read about stories which will take a “darker tone” along the lines of GOT. I am much more familiar with The Walking Dead than I am Game of Thrones, so I cannot speak much for the latter or its source material, but at the heart of the show isn’t just trying to be realistic, it’s cynicism.  So many movies and books lately have taken stories and turned them incredibly dark for the sake of realism.  Realism is the ultimate justification for characters dropping like flies and good being forced out to the brink of utter destruction until a small miracle happens at the end.  When good finally gets Its day, the main characters typically have become jaded and become stripped of what made them heroes.

In fiction and reality, heroes are not perfect, nor should they be.  However, there is a difference between being flawed and being hardly recognizable as a hero, or worse not distinguishable from the villain.  This appears to be a growing trend, especially in film and television.  Is that really realistic though? Yes, for some people, but not everyone.  There are many heroes who endured unimaginable tragedy and still maintain their integrity.  It is growing less common to show heroes like this.  Dark, anti-hero types are fine and work well in certain stories, but the storyteller must beware of cynicism.  The truth is that fiction is escapism for many, if they want a healthy dose of reality and realism, they don’t need fiction.  That isn’t to say I don’t expect realism in fiction or to have all characters have happy endings, but their lives should have meaning if they are main characters because fictional characters represent something.

Characters, if done correctly are people that readers relate to and root for.  Even if their story ends in tragedy, or become evil, their stories should serve a purpose other than shock value for the audience.  This sort of flippant disregard for characters has begun to happen to those with decades of lore and generations of fans.  Why is this?  Do people really crave so much dark cynicism?  Cynicism that is growing in entertainment is teetering on the verge of nihilism.  Do we as a species really crave dark, depressing stories for the sake of realism?  Some do obviously, but I have a hunch the number of people who do want that are fewer than expected.

Tribalism Pt. 2

“If you aren’t with me, you’re against me.”  Hopefully most people would find that to be an absurd line of reasoning.  Yet, we see it put into practice by so many people.  Particularly lately when tensions are high between political ideologies.  At this moment everything is affected, and it quite possibly will only get worse.

I’ve said many times before on this blog that it isn’t the writer’s job to pander.  An author is a conduit which the characters use to tell their story.  In my previous blog, I focused on how media is often seen through the lens of politics.  I did address that sometimes authors use their medium in order to push an ideological agenda, but for the most part I feel a lot of times people are simply reading into stories and getting offended over nothing.

It is time to address the fact that there is legitimate political pandering in not just books but television, music, and movies.  This contributes to the paranoia that everything is pushing an agenda, whether that is the intent or not.  When this happens, there isn’t just a bias, but too often the message is, “If you don’t believe or think like me you are evil.”

To avoid the misconception that I am adhering to political conspiracy theories, I will simply say that often only one side of the spectrum is what’s represented most.  When this viewpoint is represented, it also more likely takes the more extreme point of view of this ideology which is “if you don’t believe like me you are a terrible person.”  Yes, I know there are people who think like that in EVERY belief system.  This is merely a general observation I’ve witnessed.  This isn’t productive, nor what fiction is about.  Obviously, the beliefs of the creator come through into the product, but it shouldn’t be overbearing or pandering.  Subtlety is almost always the best approach in fiction when trying to get a point across, that is what all of us writers must remember.