Fantasy Magic and the Christian Author

Balrog-gandalf I just came across a fascinating post on Fantasy Magic and the Christian Author by Catholic blogger Boniface. Not sure I agree with his conclusions or not yet, but it's got me thinking. And I always like people who make me think. I wonder how this could potentially feed back into Christian and Pagan dialogues as well. At the very least I'll be reading fantasy books a little differently.

5 thoughts on “Fantasy Magic and the Christian Author

  1. Interesting article. I’d like to note that Boniface’s concerns about portrayals of magic in literature and how it reflects the Christian understanding of the real world gives me reason for concern. To be quite frank, the desire to make sure that everything about a story fits “real world Christian values” is one of the major contributing reasons why so much “Christian literature” is absolutely banal.
    I also find it curious that he spends so much time focusing on how all “supernatural forces” come from either God or the evil one. As one who (1) disagrees with that viewpoint and (2) doesn’t consider magic all that “supernatural” to begin with, I’m already skeptical. But I also find myself, again, wondering why limit a fantasy world where you’re already going to accept the existence of fantastical creatures to such an understanding of “the supernatural” anyway? I mean, if having “angelic” elves is okay, why not a magical force that simply permeates everything.
    But then, I have to admit that one of my great depictions of magic takes place in C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy, where settlers on a new planet discover these forces they come to refer to as fae that responds to and manifests the thoughts (including subconscious thoughts) of all people. The study of sorcery is one of the ways in which the original settlers and their descendants seek to tame and control the fae, which wreaks havoc on them by manifesting the most horrible fears in their subconscious. The other approach some of them take is to resurrect and establish a monolithic faith (one that bears a huge bearing to Catholicism and/or Orthodoxy on an institutional level at least) in attempt to render the fae powerless and ineffective against humanity. Of course, in that trilogy, I’ll note that the detailed exploration of magic meant the detailed exploration of various cosmologies and responses to the world. So I’d suggest that an exploration of a system of magic can be about far more than glorifying magic for its own sake.
    Anyway, those are just a few of my own off-the-cuff thoughts in response.


  2. Matt,
    Interesting article. You know of my interest in these issues…and I also find some things with which I don’t know if I agree.
    In the end, I believe that all followers of Jesus owe it to themselves and those in their sphere of influence to read with discernment and ask the questions about what is real and what is appropriate and what is not. That is the path I have chosen to take with my children, at least.
    We have had wonderful discussions about Middle Earth, Narnia, Alagaesia and Hogwarts…amongst others! ;^)


  3. Thanks for bringing this article to our attention, Matt. For my contribution I think Christians of various stripes must always keep in mind C. S. Lewis’s reminder that elements of a story, regardless of their source in the real world, take their meaning within the fictional framework of the author. So even if an author draws upon magic from esotericism it must be understood within the confines of the story. I wonder then if this removes much of the concern of magic as supernatural from either good or evil sources. What about magic as something outside of these two options as defined in the fantasy story itself? In my view our fears of supernatural evil, including magic, not only negatively color our interpretation of such specifics, but also taint our ability to appreciate fantasy (not to mention horror and sci-fi) as a whole.


  4. Great reminder, John! And Tolkien added that is was imperative that readers suspend disbelief so that they are able to enter the world being sub-created and experience that world as the author intended.
    Too many are afraid that God does not go with them into that world … but we know that he does — because the Spirit shows up in the strangest of places to reveal God’s presence — even in fantasy.
    The whole is, indeed, greater than the sum of the parts.


  5. I think sometimes our concerns about this sort of stuff is warranted, but sometimes unwarranted and a bit reflective of being a tad bit `precious’ about `pet doctrinal biases’ or even buying into unnecessary suspicious superstitiousness.
    The motives of the author and the underlying narrative of the story they are telling need to be also considered.
    CS Lewis depicted little and bizarre demons in the Screwtape letters. They were working curses, magic etc. but it was all fictional and imaginery, and making generally making a theological point to our faith benfit using metaphor, myth and fantasy. Did his doing so making it morally wrong and dangerous to the peril of our eternal souls? Certainly not. It was both fun and instruction for the reader’s enjoyment and hopefully to their spiritual benefit – great usage of imagination and fantasy to stimulate ideas and good questions etc.
    I’m far more worried about the increasing amount of the all too real blood and gore we are now encountering in supposed normal family entertainment such as autopsies in shows like NCIS, Bones, CSI, horrifying depictions of illness and operations in House etc. than I am of magic in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings etc. Reality TV has also become far too gorey by degrees of gradualism. Let alone way too violent and surealistic computer games which are increasingly emphatic of the darker side of life. These desensitise people to other’s suffering and minimise their hardships in life and offer no redemptive answers to their real problems. At least in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Witch & The Wardrobe their was a theme of eventual hope and underlying moral lesson to them.


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