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.
The Tolkien era of Fantasy had brought us villains who were evil for the sake of evil. Their motives were pretty much they wanted to destroy the world because they were evil and nothing more was really known about these antagonists. That was the point, they represented the force of evil more than being individual characters with motives. In a few stories this works, but now there is a call for more depth to the villains of the stories. Generally, now there are antagonists with motives and backstories, and just like reality these people tend to not see themselves as evil but as saviors.
History is rife with horrible rulers of both nations and organizations. Some of these people were like Sauron who simply wanted to dominate others without sympathy or empathy for anyone else. Others though were more like Darth Vader, horrible people who saw themselves as protectors or necessary such as Valad The Impaler.
How often do we do things that are wrong and justify it in our minds? Taking that line of thought further, how often do we glorify our ideological positions while demonizing the “other” side? Sure we may not be killing anyone or desiring to, but isn’t that a similar train of thought that these evil people in history and fiction acted on? I’m not saying everyone who dug in their heels and stood up for their convictions is akin to a villain, but just that it is easy to continue down the rabbit trail and become so blinded by ideology empathy no longer remains. This is especially common in political spheres from 2015 to present in America.
Certainly, there are things we all disagree with. That is okay, in fact it is necessary for anyone who has a spec of critical thinking and morality. With the advent of the internet it is becoming easier to live in an echo chamber and grow angrier at those who are outside of your thought circle. Hope is only found in those who agree with you and me, while despair and the end of the world comes in the form of those that dare think differently. To me, it looks like there is less nuance in our culture than there was even ten years ago. People are ready to sever ties with friends and even family because of differing viewpoints because their beliefs are “dangerous.” With this mentality, called Tribalism, which I addressed in previous blogs, it is only opening the door for a real evil to rise to power. As freedoms erode the people will cheer that person on because “their” person was in power, not the “other” side. Of course, the opposite group will do everything they can to oppose the person in power, but perhaps it won’t be enough. This is hypothetical, and not a subtle dig at the current president or any before him. I know that some already view him in this light, but that isn’t what I am referencing. In an environment where people are looking to be offended or read into their own bias, I feel that is necessary to state.
Fiction is meant to teach us. To help us ponder our own actions as well as the happenings within our own culture. Let us actually implement the lessons from history and fiction, lest we create a monstrous world we cannot undo.
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.
Humor can be difficult. There is such a wide range of humor and what people find to be funny, it is difficult to pin down a concrete set of rules to go by. While that is true, it is also true that there are things that more people will find funny than others. I believe the root of successful humor is reality. Something we find funny is usually an exaggeration of reality.
I recently wanted an episode of “The Last Man on Earth” a show which I felt has gone downhill since last year. However, the last episode my wife and I saw came across as no where near the realm of funny but down right absurd. Now I’m not going to give away spoilers or details, but it came across to us as 4th-6th grade humor. I’m sure the comedy displayed on the show appealed to someone out there. After all it is still airing new episodes. For me it was so wildly sophomoric that I thought it was dumb and the furthest thing from funny.
This had me thinking about humor. As authors we need to convey a range of literary elements, and humor is one of them. When it comes to comedy, sometimes creativity doesn’t reign supreme. Instead, how funny something is has to do with reliability. We see the world through the lens of experience. Of course, not all experiences are relatable, and thus where the differences in tastes lies. That is okay, but when “comedy” crosses the line into implausibility and absurdity, that is when it becomes immature.
This is why over-reliance on fart jokes for a movie geared towards adults is typically frowned upon. Farting can be funny, but adults don’t relate to the idea that every fart is funny like a child would. For us writers, we must keep this in mind when we include comedic scenes. Not all my find our attempts at humor funny, but we should at least aim for the situation to be as relatable as possible.