Fantasy: A Moral Conflict
It is nearly indisputable that the most popular genre of literature today is fantasy. It has evolved past its origin to take on new sub-genres and modern aspects. Based on the bestsellers of the 20th and 21st century, fantasy has proven to be the most valuable thing you can write. Whenever a book that revolves around magic, a mystical race of creatures, or an incognito group of spell casters appears on the market, there is little doubt that it will sell exponentially. Many writers are inspired by both the numbers and the stories, and attempt to write the next fantastical phenomenon. This is why the market is so flooded with vampires, street-savvy teen wizards, and paranormal werewolf romance thrillers. Not to mention the cathedral-like fantasy aisle in bookstores that house novels displaying rolling magical landscapes and bleeding unicorns on the cover.
Personally, as an author and a reader, fantasy is my favorite genre to both read and write. I love the fathomless possibilities fantasy offers. In magical worlds, every day rules are bent and broken each minute, or disregarded entirely, and for someone who has never been too keen about reality, this can be very enticing. But, it goes beyond that. Imagination isn’t utilized as heavily anywhere else as it is in fantasy. The colors are allowed to be brighter, sounds can be stranger, humans aren’t alone in their quest for supremacy, impossible acts occur such as eating a cloud or a tree walking and talking; fantasy, to me, is one huge, vibrant, joyous whirlwind of total freedom. Whenever I write anything even remotely connected to the real world, there is always that burden of ensuring that it comes off as “realistic”, and while that is a rule and completely understandable, not to mention essential in certain stories, I often find it such a drag.
Writing fantasy offers limitless opportunities to unleash the deepest confines of your imagination. Making it all work and blend together is required, but the restrains are basically eradicated. It’s blissful; it’s euphoric; it’s stupendous.
However, despite my passionate adoration for fantasy, there have been many a time where I’ve struggled internally with the concept of writing and even reading it. This might come off as a surprise, since it’s just a genre of literature, right? It’s harmless. Why be worried about something that is harmless? It can even be beneficial; stretching the mind and opening up the heart to possibilities that it previously had been closed off to. Fantasy can liven the spirit, and instill within children the idea that though there are dragons, they can be defeated. For me, whenever I look at any whimsical or fantastical imagery, I can feel life and excitement rushing through my limbs and into my heart. There is a reason I named my brand Fueled By Whimsy, because whimsy a big part of what fuels the creativity of my soul, heart, and mind.
Again, if I am so closely linked with fantasy and all it encompasses, then why do I experience moments of doubt? And not just mere doubt that can tickle at you, but ultimately can be brushed aside and forgotten. No, more like doubt that cripples and mires you, making you afraid and depressed.
It’s funny, because as an author, I’ve never really dabbled in any controversial subject matter. The closest I’ve come is writing about two teens marrying in my book The Island of Lote, which was hardly delivered in a realistic setting. However, if you attend any kind of youth group or prayer meeting and bring up the subject of reading books that contain magic or monsters, you will absolutely find yourself deep in conflicting thoughts and feelings, strongly thought and felt.
Along with being an author, I am also a Christian and am deeply in love with Jesus. My church, the Seventh-Day Adventist church is far from perfect, seeing as how it is on earth and nothing is perfect on earth, but we try to follow the Bible as closely as possible. As long as you are studying, obeying, and preaching the Bible, you are studying, obeying, and preaching the word of God. As in, this isn’t something man said, it is what the Creator of the universe said. The Great I Am, the Almighty King, Ultimate merciful Judge, Giver of eternal life, and Source of all good that has ever existed. He spoke, man scribed, and now we try to listen.
And the Bible has some very specific things to say about magic.
Biblically, magic is clearly stated to come from the Devil. There are many passages mentioning witches, wizards, necromancers, and sorcerers. It says in Revelation, among other places, and with no frills or sidestepping, that sorcerers, adulterers, and the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Notice, that they are all stated in one sentence, because to God sin is sin and there are no levels or exceptions.
These verses will strike fear into anyone wishing to write or read fantasy. Often times, they are presented in sermons, but never fully explained. To truly understand why witches and wizards are mentioned in the Bible at all, when we consciously just regard them as fictionalized beings, it must be made clear that the supernatural exists. The Bible is not trying to dictate and regulate what we entertain ourselves with (although it can definitely help us make those decisions). Most of the time, it was addressing events that were going on in real life. If you believe in God, you must believe in the supernatural. If angels exist, then so do demons. You cannot pick and choose what supernatural things to accept based on what makes you feel the most cozy and comfortable.
Okay, so we have the supernatural, but in addition to that we also have good and evil. If you look closely enough, you’ll discover that whenever a supernatural act occurs in God’s name, such as Peter and Paul healing the crippled man at the gate, it is called a Miracle. But when something supernatural happens because of Satan, it is mostly referred to as magic. Over time, we have abandoned this line of categorizing, but in Biblical times it was really important.
It actually is still really important today, because the same activity is possible. You pray hard enough and a man destined for death can be healed, just like people can call upon spirits to a glass dome over an Ouija board. Because there is only good or evil in the world, the supernatural can come from either one of two sources: God or the Devil. Wizards are reviled in the Bible because in Biblical times they performed feats by asking Satan to give them powers. Even when they didn’t realize it, they were seeking abilities and receiving them from the scourge of the universe. Being a wizard or a witch basically meant you were aligning yourself with the Devil by funneling his powers, without knowing he was merely using you, as he makes a pawn out of everyone he can. Humans themselves are not supernatural. In real life, that only comes from one of two places. Can you begin to understand why it says they won’t inherit Heaven?
Heaven is a place for the repentant who love Jesus. And Jesus states that He will provide for us and to trust and have faith in Him. If you are casting spells of protection that won’t work because the Devil doesn’t want you protected, or carving talismans for fertility because you want children when the Devil couldn’t care less about you being happy, that doesn’t exactly show that you are letting go and trusting God. It says that you are trying to take over and ensure it all your own way. Even if you think you can divide it into either “white” or “black” magic, it is still something that separates you from Jesus by giving you a way to be self-reliant. And, of course, it won’t work. Jesus said irrevocably that He is, “the Way, the Truth, and the Light.” Anything else claiming to be is nothing short of an affront to His glory, and a straight-up lie.
So, if magic, and all that is associated with it, is so explicitly forbidden in the Bible, then why do we tolerate it in literature? That has been an ongoing debate ever since books started appearing on shelves. Even today, in our modern, carefree, anything goes culture there is a prevalent and vicious argument about reading stories containing magic, witches, wizards, and so on. Christian groups famously picketed the Harry Potter novels when they first started gaining immense popularity. Harry Potter was the Devil. Children were sent to school with strict instructions not to join in reading circles if it was a Harry Potter book.
Eventually it all died down, especially when many of them actually read a few of the books. But when the protesting was at its peak, most people thought and expressed that they were overreacting. “It’s only a book,” was their rebuttal. “If you go out and actually try to preform magic you’re an idiot.”
If you’re influenced by fiction, you’re an idiot? Is it okay to talk about witches and wizards as long as they’re in a book? Is there actually an existing line between what is okay and what is dangerous?
These have been questions that have plagued me throughout my writing career. I am in a close relationship with God, but I also love fairytales. Am I in the wrong?
When I was little, I used to play pretend that I was a witch, and would make up spells and whittle my own wands. Being young, I wasn’t exactly taking the book of Revelation into account. I just wanted to have fun. As I got older and strengthened my relationship with God, I started paying acute attention to sermons at my church. And a consistent theme was taking down shows with superheroes, movies with witches, and books about kids who use magic. I remember feeling like something was chewing on my colon. By liking and writing fantasy, was I sinning?
This bothered me horribly. Several times, I entered periods of paranoia, anxiety, and depression, because I felt like my passion in life was making me an enemy of God. I would be scared, nervous, wanting to be in denial, but knowing it was too important not to be. Jesus wants to transform your whole heart and mind, and the fact was that fantasy resided in my heart and mind. It didn’t take up all the space, but it was still there.
These periods were extremely difficult for me; I felt strained and scrutinized, and had a sense of impending doom. I felt like the rebellious daughter who wants love so badly from the One she loves, but couldn’t receive it because she also loves something else.
In the Bible, it says that you can’t serve two masters, and this couldn’t be truer. One is either going to eventually take precedence over the other, or you will get completely burned out from trying to compensate for both. And, if the masters are enemies, what does that make you? Somewhere in there, by some way or other, you will become a hypocrite.
This was a gigantic fear of min when I would go through those times of misery and doubt. Was I being a hypocrite? Was I not serving my King by wanting to write fantasy novels? Was I trying to take an active part in leading people astray? Did my career desires add to the sin currently polluting the world?
As you can imagine, I was racked with worry, yet despite my fears, I still wanted to write those books. They were good stories, had great characters, and enlivened my imagination, which, correspondingly, rejuvenated my heart. I was so upset by this dilemma, that at one point I called up one of my high school teachers to ask for advice. I attended a Christian school my whole life, and so I knew that whatever she told me would be from the perspective of a loving believer. She was also a fan of Lord of the Rings.
The conversation I had with her was extremely valuable. It helped me start to think and formulate my own thoughts on the subject. It nearly calls into question all forms of fiction, and the intentions behind what is written. Both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were heavily involved in their churches, wrote spiritually represented characters, and they both wrote fantasy; hugely popular and timeless fantasy to boot. There aren’t many people who haven’t heard of The Chronicles of Narnia, and yet C. S. Lewis wrote other books like The Screwtape Letters, detailing a fictionalized viewing of humanity by a demon, and Mere Christianity, making an apologetic stand for Christianity. (Apologetic as in the debater.)
Obviously, Lewis loved his God, but had no qualms with writing fantasy. Did this mean there was a formula that allowed you to enjoy fairytales while also praising Jesus in church?
The more and more I mulled this problem over, the more I started to mold my own stance on the matter. Others will certainly have their opinions. However, seeing as I must life with my own body and mind, I have to decide my own.
Without delving too deeply into the specifics, fiction is meant to be just that: Fiction. It starts and ends with imagination. And imagination was given to us to help our minds and spirits grow. By giving a child, or anyone, a book, you are handing them transportation; a whole other world clasped in their fingers. That, in itself, could be considered magical, yet hardly supernatural.
I have discovered that I don’t mind writing about magic and magical people as long as it is in a story. Stories are here to make us think and feel, not to convert us to the occult. If a story ever does do that, than either it was written wrongly, with the intent of subliminally doing just that, and can’t truly be considered fiction, or the reader conjured his own thoughts from reading it and pursued them on his own. Nothing can be done about the resulting actions of the reader. That is their own responsibility, just as the writer’s intent behind the story is their responsibility. Fairytales shows that dragons can be defeated; fantasy shows that with enough heart and courage and help from an ethereal-like wizard, an evil ring can be destroyed.
Fantasy can be just like anything else in the world: If I let it come between me and my Savior, it has ruined me, just like anything else that comes between us. If I cease to keep it fiction, and drag it over into real life, then it is dangerous. It gets sticky when too much emphasis on magic is put into stories, such as it being a driving, connecting, and enabling Force. (Yes, I am aware I will get bombarded for that.)
But, what is fake can be left behind. It can be useful; inspiring, motivating, enlightening, bringing insight and new perspective, as well as revitalization, which are all wonderful things. However, when it is used for other things, or distinct import is employed where it shouldn’t be, that is where is can go bad.
I suppose the moral conflict of fantasy will always be with me as a writer, but that is fine. It will help me stay focused on what I want to convey and what I don’t. There are definitely views out there that negate my own, but the fact remains that one, God knows my heart, and two, His power triumphs over all. I don’t fear my own fiction anymore.