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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

God in Fantasy

Warning: Another long post!
This is a concept I've struggled with for several years. In the beginning of my fantasy writing, my writing of God (or Enderel) was clunky and, to be frank, quite juvenile. I can't say I've grown much in my depiction of God in a fantasy world, but I wanted to share a few thoughts I have had.
One of our main concerns as Christian fantasy authors is that our message be presented clearly so that any unbelievers (we're hoping our books will become New York Times bestsellers) who read our stories will be converted, or at the least convicted. On the other hand, we don't want to be preachy. Two good examples of preachy Christian fantasy are The Binding of the Blade series, and the Blood of Kings trilogy. Both of those series are very unwieldy in their depiction of God (and, in Blood of Kings, of Jesus), and are literally quite painful to get through the preachy parts.
So that's why I've always been afraid to include an actual representation of God in my stories (though I have done it, in Amira for example), because when I myself read over it, it seems badly written and very forced, as though I'm saying, "Well, this is supposed to be Christian fantasy, and I'm a Christian, so I've got to include God, no matter how unconvincing it may sound."
Of course, I'm not thinking that. I truly want to have God, the true one and only God, in my stories. My fears also go beyond that, to making all the good guys 'believers in Enderel', and all the bad guys unbelievers. This is going to sound really corny, because in real life, there are good men who don't believe in God, and bad men who do. Not only that, but there are those who say they believe in the one God, but really believe in a false god. How are we going to explain all this tricky stuff in our books, while trying to remain focused on the actual story we're telling?
Another thing is that many people believe that in a story with God in it, He will give his followers the power to do just about anything, and God becomes little more than a 'god from the machine' or 'Deus ex Machina', in other words, a convenient way of escape for the good guys, which kind of negates the whole purpose for there even being a story.
And how do we convey Jesus death and resurrection, and His atonement? It would have to be different from what happened in our world, but similar, as in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
I conclude that Christian fantasy is a lot more complicated than most of us thought it was when we first began writing it. I know I never thought it could be this complex. The theological questions it raises are many and varied. Perhaps we should just throw down our pens and not write it anymore. No one will read it anyways. (Be quiet, Puddleglum! I've got more to say!)
Perhaps there's a way to write it without God being present in a stated way, but still there (the book of Esther comes to mind). But then we put ourselves under suspicion by other Christians for not including God in our books.
One thing that's helped me a lot in my debate over how present God should be (in an experiential way, where the characters know He is there) is a simple argument that I thought of not too long ago.
So many non-Christian fantasy writers are willing to either not include God at all, or include a distortion of Him (His Dark Materials, for one). People will just go right along with this. They can be vocal in their diatribes against God. Why can't we be vocal in our conviction that there is a God, that He is all powerful, just, holy, and yet loving and merciful, and that He can be a central part of our writing?
In 'His Dark Materials', God is simply an angel who claimed that he had created the world (in other words, lied), and in the end he basically begs to be annihilated.
Not many unsaved people are going to be reading our books, most likely (no, I'm not being pessimistic here, it's just a fact), but there will be some. I really, really want to write fantasy where there is a God, but it's not preachy. He drives the story, yes, but He doesn't have to speak with a voice from the sky (even in the Bible, it happened rarely enough). Dreams are a better way to go, but even that can be overused. In the Bible, prophets were basically the only ones to whom God communicated directly.
We need to be creative (and theologically sound) in the way we portray God. How do people know about Him if He doesn't speak audibly most of the time (or at all in the particular story)?  What is the redemptive analogy (click here for an article on this subject) of your world? There may be one true story of the redemption, and then in other cultures there are shadows of that story, which itself is a shadow of the true redemption made by Christ.
It's tricky, I know, and I'm still navigating this myself. How could one aspect of our fantasy have so much depth and so many implications? I think, however, that it's just as important an aspect as character development or world building. And, as Christians, we must strive not only for soundness in theology (even in fantasy!), but also for excellence in the way it's presented. We cannot, we must not, write as though God were merely a sticker on top of a fine painting, a painting which would look much better without the sticker. God must be integral to the story, yet presented without the preachiness which so often makes parts of an otherwise good story cringe-worthy.
Anyone have any thoughts?

NOTE: I don't agree with everything in the article I linked to. I mostly linked it so that ya'll could get an idea of what a redemptive analogy is. Maybe I'll write in-depth about it some time, because I think it's a really good concept, and could be helpful to us as C-F writers.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Laura. I agree, this can be a tricky and difficult topic for writers. My problem is not so much with the concept of God in general as it is with Jesus the Messiah. That is where I really struggle with how to handle it. Personally, I don't feel up to the task of crafting a fictional/allegorical representation of Christ. It's simply not something I want to try to tackle and answer for. So I kind of cheated in the series I'm currently working on--I skipped it. When the first book starts, that event has already happened. It's alluded to and the fact that it's already happened affects under-the-surface elements of the story, but it's never discussed in detail.
    You're right. It's tough, and I'm sure we'll continue to struggle with it for a long while yet. That's why it's important that we keep encouraging each other and learning together.