Christian Fantasy As Art Form and Educational Tool
- A Biblical and Rational Defense
"When literature like The Lord of the Rings is criticized, it is often attacked for being `escapist.' This means we should ask a question. What is being escaped from? As Tolkien once put it, the people who are so concerned about escapism do have a name—we call them jailers." -- Douglas WilsonAs a Christian, as a writer of fantasy, and as a Christian who sees his writing as an extension of his ministry, I was puzzled and eventually appalled by the attacks against the Christian use of fantasy as an art form as well as a method of evangelism and an educational tool. Directed to an essay by Biblical Discernment Ministries attacking Christian fantasy as an unbiblical and godless oxymoron, I will here attempt to answer the points of the attack from a Biblical standpoint. It is assumed the author of the essay is BDM's editor, Rick Miesel. It is recommended you read the essay in its entirety here before you read my analysis.
It is my hypothesis that the writer of the essay:
- Misrepresents the literary genre known as Christian fantasy by misdefining it as well as unfairly lumping it with secular fantasy.
- Misrepresents what Christian authors communicate without reading their works.
- Misrepresents what Christian readers are able to discern.
- Sets up straw man arguments using definitions and Biblical verses out of context.
- Makes statements that have, most importantly, no Biblical foundations and secondly, no rational foundation.
- The dictionary defines fable as:
"fantasy/fiction/falsehood dependent for effect on strangeness of setting (as other worlds or times) and of characters (as supernatural or unnatural beings); the setting is usually in a non-existent or unreal world, the characters are fanciful or unreal, or the conflict focuses on physical or scientific principles not yet discovered or contrary to present experience."And already we find ourselves with a problem. What dictionary did the writer find this definition in? I own several dictionaries with access to online dictionaries and failed to find one that used this definition.
We need a better and unbiased definition. In Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary we read:
Fable applied in the New Testament to the traditions and speculations, "cunningly devised fables", of the Jews on religious questions (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:16). In such passages the word means anything false and unreal. But the word is used as almost equivalent to parable. Thus we have (1) the fable of Jotham, in which the trees are spoken of as choosing a king (Judg. 9:8-15); and (2) that of the cedars of Lebanon and the thistle as Jehoash's answer to Amaziah (2 Kings 14:9).I'll grant a point to Miesel in that fable is a synonym with the word "falsehood," but points to me that "the word is used as almost equivalent to parable." A lie is "a false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression." A literary fable is meant to make "an edifying or cautionary point." Therefore, a lie is a fable, but not all fables are lies.
Case in point, in the reference to Jotham's fable, the prophet did not attempt to communicate that trees actually talk. Rational men know that they do not and communicating such as truth would be a lie. The prophet was using this "Jewish fantasy" of talking trees to communicate the destruction that was to come upon their hearers for embracing an evil man as their king.
- Fantasy is especially dangerous for children. While most children in the 1970s knew enough truth to place divination in the forbidden realm of the occult, today's children -- who often feel more comfortable with occult games than Biblical truth -- see nothing wrong with pagan practices. Fantasy movies, like Disney's The Lion King, are good matches for the new earth-centered paradigm or world view that is transforming childrens' views of reality. While God told us to continually communicate truth to our children (Deut. 6:5-7), today's culture trains children to see reality through a global, earth-centered filter. This "new" mental framework distorts truth, stretches the meaning of familiar words, and promotes mystical "insights" that are incompatible with Christianity. Packaged with entertainment, this message usually bypasses rational resistance, desensitizes opened minds, and fuels general acceptance of pagan spirituality (Berit Kjos, "The Spirit Behind The Lion King," 1/95, The Christian Conscience, pp. 32-34).
This paragraph is a good example of how the author of this essay puts up straw men to knock them down. Defining "fable," he immediately jumps to the word "fantasy" makes a statement that it is "especially dangerous for children" without any supporting evidence and then lumps Disney's The Lion King into the hopper with all Christian fantasy.
So with that in mind, let's first do what the writer refused to do and define the word "fantasy:"
n. pl. fan·ta·sies
- The creative imagination; unrestrained fancy.
- Something, such as an invention, that is a creation of the fancy.
- A capricious or fantastic idea; a conceit.
- Fiction characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements. An example of such fiction.
- An imagined event or sequence of mental images, such as a daydream, usually fulfilling a wish or psychological need.
- An unrealistic or improbable supposition.
- Most true Christians would recognize fantasy, such as the movie Star Wars, as being extremely wicked (in this case, sorcery -- "The Force" being equivalent to black magic and white witchcraft). Yet, apparently, when we call it "Christian," this somehow sanctifies what we do with our minds (imaginations), or what we allow our minds to entertain. For example, one can look in any issue of the Christian Book Distributors Fiction Catalog and find the most outrageous fantasy literature, yet it is all dubbed "Christian." The following is taken from the CBD Fiction Catalog, 9/94 premier edition:
(Note here the charge that all Christian fiction is based on the same premise of Star Wars and other secular fiction.)
" ... now there's no more compromising for those who love Christian fiction, because you are holding the key to your next escape-from-it-all right in the palm of your hand ... CBD's brand new Fiction Catalog? It's filled with the latest and the best refreshing, thrilling, inspiring, wholesome fiction for you and your family" (p. 2).Christian Book Distributors does not define Christian fantasy. They are in the business of selling books. What then follows is an unintentionally hilarious description of Christian fantasy by judging each work from its promotion blurb. The author has not read these works. He knows them only by their advertising! Is this rational, Biblical scholarship?
Wholesome? The following is a sample of that which CBD considers "wholesome." [Much of this type of writing comes from medieval mysticism, which God hates (cf. Deut. 18: 10-12).]:
(a) Millennium's Dawn, by Ed Stewart (p. 25):
"June 2001. The future never seemed brighter for Dr. Evan Rider and his new bride, Shelby, as they prepare to embark on the honeymoon of their dreams. But the dream quickly becomes a nightmare as a long-buried secret shared by three college friends erupts, engulfing the couple in a sinister plot of blackmail, terror, and betrayal."
(Millennium's Dawn is neither a Christian fantasy nor medieval mysticism. It is an example of another type of fictional genre, but the writer doesn't care. He tars everything within reach with a broad black brush in gleeful abandon.)
(b) Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis (p. 34):
"The unlovely Orual, eldest daughter of the King of Glome, becomes so consumed by her mingled love and jealousy of her beautiful half-sister that she makes a complaint to the gods -- and receives an answer she did not expect. This novel, possibly Lewis' best work and the one he considered his own favorite, is his compelling rework of the myth of Cupid and Psyche." [Sound like something you could want your children to read -- about "the gods"?]
(Yes, it does. If Miesel had actually taken time to read Till We Have Faces he would have learned that C. S. Lewis was using an ingenious literary device called allegory to make several important points about man's relationship with God and the subtlety of sin, especially pride. I do not know of any instance where somebody was lead into occultism by reading the works of C. S. Lewis unless they were already immersed in it or were mentally ill.)
(c) The Song of Albion, by Stephen Lawhead (p. 33):
"Wolves prowl the streets of Oxford. A Green Man haunts the Highlands. A breach has been opened between our world and the Celtic Otherworld and anything, anyone, may now enter [sounds similar to Poltergeist, one of the most wicked movies ever produced]. But it's Lewis Gillies, an American graduate student at Oxford, who reluctantly stumbles through. In the savagely beautiful Otherworld, Lewis finds himself caught in an epic struggle between light and darkness -- a struggle that will determine the fate of his own world. Memorably penned with vivid and poetic imagery, Lawhead's breathtaking reworking of Celtic myth will keep you reading long into the night" [no doubt, and right into the DARKNESS! -- the Celtic civilization is the culture from which we have received much of our modern day Halloween practices.]
(Like Miesel, I have not actually read this work, so unlike Miesel, I cannot comment on it with integrity.)Isaiah 32:6 describes error against the Lord. All lies are against God (1 John 1:21; John 8:44). Satan is the father of lies. Since fantasy is not true, then it is a lie! We have been duped into thinking there is some spiritual gray realm out there in which something can be neither true nor a lie. It's just called fantasy! But fantasy is made up of lies, deceit, and unreality, all wrapped up in a pretty (or sometimes, not so pretty) package.
We've covered this. I know of no example of Christian fantasy that is communicated as a description of reality. C. S. Lewis would have been shocked with the idea that he was communicating that Narnia was a real place (The Chronicles of Narnia). Walter Wangerin, Jr. would have called the men in the white coats if somebody had accused him of telling people that roosters and dogs actually talk (The Book of the Dun Cow).
Miesel then tackles The Lion King condemning Focus on the Family's endorsement of the movie and then makes the outlandish statement: "Besides the spiritism in the film, ask yourself a question -- "Do animals talk?" Just on this fantasy alone (animals talking) it is a lie."
Miesel has now moved from the role of essay writer to a mindset that almost smacks of paranoia. Does he actually believe that Disney was trying to convince people that animals could talk? And if Disney was actually insane enough to make such a statement, does Miesel actually believe that people are gullible enough to strike up a conversation with Fido?
At this point Miesel slips gears and again judges Christian books by their CBD advertising blurb. I cannot comment on The Guardian, by Jane Hamilton or Darien: The Guardian Angel of Jesus, by Roger Elwood as I have not read them and I will not judge a person's works unless I have read or seen them directly, but I can make one comment:
(a) A Skeleton in God's Closet, by Paul L. Maier (p. 25):I have read this book. If Miesel had read the book instead of the blurb, he would he learned that 1) the book was not presented as a fantasy and 2) its purpose was to teach the reader how archeology functions as a science and supports the truths of Scripture, affirming the fact of Christ's physical resurrection from the grave.
"Move over, Indiana Jones! In this novel, Harvard archaeologist Dr. John Weber has just discovered a shocking secret -- Jesus' bones. The evidence [an obvious denial of the resurrection] seems incontestable. When word of the discovery leaks out, pandemonium ensues and millions abandon their Christian faith. But which is the hoax -- the archaeological find or the Resurrection itself?" [How can this be edifying?]
Remember when Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out? People believed it! Fantasy gets people to fantasize about reality. It is a slippery slide into lies unknowingly.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind was marketed as science fiction and like Poltergeist, another movie Miesel mentions, presents a worldview against Christian teaching. Therefore, they have no bearing on the discussion as they are not Christian fantasy.
How can a lie be used for evangelism, worship, or anything else godly? By its very nature, fantasy removes the person from the Truth (reality) and moves them into a realm away from God. This ungodliness is well depicted in the CBD Fiction Catalog, where it says on page 2:
"It's been said that reading fiction is one of the best ways to 'escape' from the cares of everyday life. Since the beginning of time, great thinkers and writers (even Jesus himself) have been inspired to create allegories, parables and epics, as well as the good, old-fashioned novel itself. What a tragedy to think we have to settle for fiction that merely grabs our attention, but lacks the values and spiritual insight we could carry with us when we return to the 'real world.'" [Again, the move from fantasy to reality.]Personally, I wish Miesel had quoted a better expert than the CBD catalog. He could have attacked the essays of C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, Franky Schaeffer, T. S. Elliott or H. R Rookmaker. I will let the reader deduce as to why he did not.
Again, beating a very dead horse, if fantasy is presented in all its conception as truth, it is therefore a lie, but if used as an art form using allegory, hyperbole and symbolism, it is another form of a sermon and must be judged on the message it conveys. This is why Philip Pullman's atheistic His Dark Materials trilogy is evil and C. S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces is spiritually edifying. It is called, judging a work by its fruit.
And what about the claim that Jesus' parables and the allegories in Scripture, or figurative speech, are parallel to the use of fantasy? No! The Bible's parables, allegories, and figurative speech are not about fantasy at all. They are all about Truth!
Just like well-written Christian fantasy. Its parables, allegories and figurative speech always point to the truth of God's Word. No Christian writer would say that his or her story is an end in itself, but like any good sermon, point the way toward the Word of God, both written (the Bible) and living (Jesus Christ).
If a Christian is loving the Lord with all his MIND (imagination), he will be dwelling on truth, reality, His Word, and Him, NOT FAIRY TALES AND FANTASY!
Agreed. I would be concerned about a Christian who does nothing but read Christian fantasy just like I worry about a Christian who spends all his time watching baseball or washing his car or writing diatribes disguised as essays without doing the necessary research.
After a few more paragraphs on how people are too stupid to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and attacking John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress as a work of godless fantasy and myth (if that has not destroyed his credibility for the reader than Dear Reader is hopeless) he then attempts to make the following points.
Wait a minute here. There's another term here tossed out for the first time that he has failed to define. Let's go back to the dictionary.
- Parables are not fables.
- Allegory is symbolic, not mythical -- Gal. 4:22-31 (real/real)
- Figurative is not mythical -- John 6:53-63 -- Jesus does not fly out of the realm of reality. In fact, He uses such explicitly (real) language that people are having a hard time understanding Him. Yet, He explains that He is speaking in a figurative way (John 6:63).
- Dreams and Visions are not untrue stories -- Daniel 7:1ff; 8:17 refers to truth; 8:26 ("is true"); 9:21 (writing of Truth). These are not untrue stories (fables). Ezekiel 1 &10 -- these are real creatures!
n : a traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people.
Again, a myth is the same as a lie. It is a story that is presented as truth, a historical event that happened in time and space. Pilgrim's Progress is not a myth. It is an allegory that symbolizes the need for every person to embrace the salvation of Jesus Christ and his righteousness. Bunyan may not have dotted his theological i's and crossed his creedal t's the way Miesel would have liked, but Miesel cannot deny the important role Bunyan's allegorical sermon has played in the Christian conversions of countless people. Long after this blog and Miesel's misanthropic essay have long faded into time, Bunyan's testimony of the saving grace of Christ's work on the Cross of Calvary will still be used of God to win souls, imperfect as it it may be.
In closing, it requires an abstract mind to understand allegory and symbolism. I could suppose that Miesel has a concrete mindset and is therefore unable to appreciate what Christian fantasy represents and how it is communicated. If so, then Miesel has done Christendom a great disservice, masquerading an emotional preference as spiritual truth.
My advice to the writer of Christian fantasy is to remember that it will not be Rick Miesel sitting on the bema seat of Christ. If God has given you a gift of storytelling to be used for His glory, then remember the words of the author of Psalm 45:1: