My worldview has mostly been shaped by fantasy.
Read that again; it’s very strange. Not only is it strange, it’s also infuriating to the realists in my life. Yet, as strange and potentially infuriating as it may be, it’s absolutely true.
As a very young child I was introduced to such classics as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Wind in the Willows”. As I aged, “The Magic Bicycle” and “The Book of Three” held my interest. Sadly, it wasn’t until my teen years that the marvelous worlds of “Redwall”, “Middle Earth”, and “Star Wars” came into my life. With growing maturity came the fantastic creations of authors like Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole. To this day, Robert Jordan can hold my attention for hours at a time. I say all of this to help you understand that fantasy has always been a large and important part of my life. Also, this will hopefully give you an idea of what I mean when I say “fantasy”.
Recently, I’ve dealt with a number of Christians who stand rather strongly against fantasy as a genre appropriate for consumption. This stance confounds me.
Before I really dig into this, let me get one thing clear. I’m not going to defend fantasy. I don’t feel like it needs defending and the accusations against it are rarely consistent anyways. If you want to discuss what is and is not witchcraft, let me know and we’ll go at it, but that’s not what I’m writing about now. This post is me explaining the value of fantasy as I see it.
First, in fantasy we see a very common theme of good vs. evil. Now, to be fair, this is a two edged sword. I think we have a fondness for over simplifying problems in our modern culture and this plays into that, but it’s not all bad. In the shaping of a young child’s worldview, it doesn’t hurt to give some very clear-cut distinctions. This is especially true when a story goes out of its way to emphasize things like honor, truth, etc. Again, this is a very strong theme in most fantasy, especially the type aimed at children.
Second, fantasy gives us an appreciation for the mystical all around us. This is the point that makes people wonder about my sanity and my orthodoxy most often, but it may be the thing about fantasy that has effected my faith the most. In fantasy worlds we see the plausible impossible all the time. We see the work of higher powers, the manipulation of forces beyond science and reason, the acceptance of things that can’t be understood or even sometimes seen, and so much more that points to the mystic. As a child (and I’m not ashamed to say as an adult) these ideas went incredibly far in helping me define and be comfortable with my belief in the divine.
Let’s face it, we serve a mystical being. Whether you’re comfortable with that word or not, it’s true. Even if you do mental gymnastics to avoid that thought, I promise you that most of the people in your life don’t. That’s exactly how they see your faith; as mysticism. The more comfortable with that you are, the more honest you will be with yourself and others about your relationship with God. We can’t understand God. We can’t even define Him. How can He not be mystical to us?
I don’t think this was an intended effect of the authors I read, but it has been profound in my life none the less. We live in a world clamoring for empirical evidence of everything we believe and serve a God that says simply, ‘Trust”. In the pages of fantasy novels I found attitudes, worldviews, and thought processes that reasonably deal with this discrepancy. Perfect and reliable? Not a chance. Encouraging and thought provoking? Absolutely.
My last point can be said better by Chesterton, so I’ll let him.
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
– G.K. Chesterton
This is by far my favorite thing about fantasy. Some would call it an escape, some a reprieve from life, but those who truly understand this life we live know better. Fantasy gives us a framework to think about our own lives in. Life sucks sometimes, and sometimes it rocks. We need tools to deal with both and we need encouragement that this life will work out. We’re not the only ones who have ever dealt with hard times. We’re not the only ones who have striven to conquer our fears or our adversity. Sometimes real life just isn’t enough to show us that.
Of course we escape into fantasy, but we take our reality with us. We already know that our lives are filled with dragons. Hurtful relationships, fear, anger, illness, injustice and a myriad of other winged tyrants fill our lives daily. When those with temperament and taste like mine “escape” into the fantasy worlds of our favorite authors, our dragons follow us because they are always present. Yet between the pages, between the lines, and outside the words of that book we find metaphor, allegory, and truth. We discover that courage trumps fear, determination will finish any journey, and honor does make you a better person even if it’s hard.
I know fantasy isn’t for everyone. I know that taste is like personality. I even understand that fantasy can be a temptation for some to delve where they know they shouldn’t. Yet when I look back on my life, on my formative years and my recent ruminations, I find the threads woven by fantasy authors pervasive in my consciousness. So much of what is valuable in my thinking can find its roots or at least its close cousin in ideas I learned from fantasy.
Besides, we serve a God who works miracles. Isn’t that fantastic?