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Faith-Based Fantasy
This article is by Lynea Youmans.

Aslans-Return.jpg


Faith-based fantasy. A sub-genre of its greater counterpart. There are many books that align with this genre, but do we ever hear of them or clear out the figurative shelves when they go on sale? Perhaps this is the first you’ve ever heard of it, how a fantasy tale can be based on a Christian gospel, or perhaps you are already quite familiar with it. Perhaps you have seen Aslan come back from the dead and realized that it is a tribute to a story found in the gospel of Luke. Perhaps you have seen Gandalf re-emerge from the brink of oblivion to fulfill his purpose within Middle Earth and thought “that sounds like something I know.” Or perhaps the premise is more subtle than that, such as a prophesied hero who has to save the world from a great evil. However much or little, I find that fantasy authors often draw from biblical lore to enhance the setting of their world and to deliver a heroic tale. It is not always intentional, in fact, I believe there are several authors who have no idea just how much they are drawing from the bible or from Christian belief to write their stories.

Recently, I grew curious over the market for faith-based fantasy and began digging up a little research. Although my research was enlightening, I felt that it would be better to present the experiences and opinions of other authors and put together an informative article on...
Continue reading the Original Blog Post.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
I wonder how the conversation changes when the faith isn't Christian. Islam-based fantasy. Hindu-based fantasy. I'm sure it changes because the very understanding of faith varies from one religion to another. But it would interesting to hear from those other quarters.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
I wonder how the conversation changes when the faith isn't Christian. Islam-based fantasy. Hindu-based fantasy. I'm sure it changes because the very understanding of faith varies from one religion to another. But it would interesting to hear from those other quarters.
Should have led with:
Good article and thank you!

I'm guilty of doing this regularly. I get caught up with my own comment and neglect to say thanks. *blush*
 

Mad Swede

Inkling
Interesting. But I wonder how CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien would take to being accused of writing Christian fantasy. Because neither claimed to do so, or to have intended to do so; Tolkien was trying to write a story similar to Beowulf and Lewis specifically said he wasn't writing any form of allegory when he wrote the Narnia books
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
Interesting. But I wonder how CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien would take to being accused of writing Christian fantasy. Because neither claimed to do so, or to have intended to do so; Tolkien was trying to write a story similar to Beowulf and Lewis specifically said he wasn't writing any form of allegory when he wrote the Narnia books

I was raised aggressively atheist and knew pretty much nothing about Christian theology or the bible and even I could tell that Aslan was an allegory for Jesus. It doesn't matter if Lewis didn't intend for Narnia to be Christian, but the impact that it has left has it as Christian fiction. Our world views and personal beliefs influence what we write, which is how things that are subtly xenophobic or ableist make its way into fiction when we try our best not to do so. Fahrenheit 451 isn't supposed to be about censorship, it's about constantly being plugged into media, but almost no one reads it that way, so did Bradbury fail as an author communicating his themes so poorly? Or does the work exist outside of his original vision?

I would love to see more Buddhist precepts in fiction, and with how popular mindfulness has become, the author doesn't even need to be Buddhist to discuss those topics. It's more than just reincarnation and racking up karma. But most English-speaking markets are culturally Christian, so stories based on other faiths would have to work with audiences who don't know all that much about the subject matter, which can be challenging depending on what they're trying to do.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Interesting. But I wonder how CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien would take to being accused of writing Christian fantasy. Because neither claimed to do so, or to have intended to do so; Tolkien was trying to write a story similar to Beowulf and Lewis specifically said he wasn't writing any form of allegory when he wrote the Narnia books
I would imagine that Lewis would be pleased, as he actually did set out to write a Christian allegory. He was a Christian Apologist and often sparred with in a friendly way Tolkien about religion and writing. Tolkien was writing to both put the horrors of industrialism and war into a different light (he lost a great many friends in WWI) and to create an English epic to match the Song of Roland or Beowulf, being French and Norse epics, respectively. Both were probably procrastinating about doing their academic work.
 
At this point I make my usual comment regarding Tolkien's famous disavowal of any subtext to TLOTR.

All literature is a product of the milieu in which it was generated. He may not have intended any subtext but literary historians will always find it.
 

Mad Swede

Inkling
I would imagine that Lewis would be pleased, as he actually did set out to write a Christian allegory. He was a Christian Apologist and often sparred with in a friendly way Tolkien about religion and writing. Tolkien was writing to both put the horrors of industrialism and war into a different light (he lost a great many friends in WWI) and to create an English epic to match the Song of Roland or Beowulf, being French and Norse epics, respectively. Both were probably procrastinating about doing their academic work.
I think you misunderstood what I wrote. Lewis specifically denied that the Narnia books were any form of Chrsitian allegory. Some of his other books, however, were intended as allegory.

You, The Dark One and Chasejxyz, are all arguing in favour of Roland Barthes view, which (very simplified) is that the views and intentions of an author don't matter and should not have any bearing on interpretation of their work. I don't fully agree with Barthes view, particularly not when an author has made a specific statement on something in the way Lewis did.

As for war experiences, both Tolkien and Lewis were veterans, and Lewis was wounded in action. That does show in their writing - neither make any attempt to glorify battles.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
I think you misunderstood what I wrote. Lewis specifically denied that the Narnia books were any form of Chrsitian allegory. Some of his other books, however, were intended as allegory.

You, The Dark One and Chasejxyz, are all arguing in favour of Roland Barthes view, which (very simplified) is that the views and intentions of an author don't matter and should not have any bearing on interpretation of their work. I don't fully agree with Barthes view, particularly not when an author has made a specific statement on something in the way Lewis did.

As for war experiences, both Tolkien and Lewis were veterans, and Lewis was wounded in action. That does show in their writing - neither make any attempt to glorify battles.
No, I understood you just fine. I'm well-acquainted with Tom Shippey, one of the world's foremost Tolkien scholars and an advisor on the Lord of the Rings series of films. He specifically told me in 2001 that Tolkien and Lewis had many discussions about faith in fantasy and allegorical writing, and they were not on the same page. I was a medieval studies scholar at the time in Tolkien's research area, namely the rise of English nationalism as told through language and literature, had already presented a paper on the subject at an international conference, and Dr. Shippey gave me several out-of-print articles and books to help me with my reseach goals.

I also don't agree with reading too much into authorial intent, but in this case it's not only obvious that Lewis, a "reformed" atheist and religious scholar, wrote a Christian allegory aimed at children, but given that he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia after his conversion, it's fair to say that he had religion on his mind at the time. There's no believer like a convert.

Not to mention that the Chronicles are featured in pretty much every Christian bookstore in America.

If you have a reputable source stating that Lewis himself says that he did not write an allegory, then I'd like to see it.
 

Mad Swede

Inkling
No, I understood you just fine. I'm well-acquainted with Tom Shippey, one of the world's foremost Tolkien scholars and an advisor on the Lord of the Rings series of films. He specifically told me in 2001 that Tolkien and Lewis had many discussions about faith in fantasy and allegorical writing, and they were not on the same page. I was a medieval studies scholar at the time in Tolkien's research area, namely the rise of English nationalism as told through language and literature, had already presented a paper on the subject at an international conference, and Dr. Shippey gave me several out-of-print articles and books to help me with my reseach goals.

I also don't agree with reading too much into authorial intent, but in this case it's not only obvious that Lewis, a "reformed" atheist and religious scholar, wrote a Christian allegory aimed at children, but given that he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia after his conversion, it's fair to say that he had religion on his mind at the time. There's no believer like a convert.

Not to mention that the Chronicles are featured in pretty much every Christian bookstore in America.

If you have a reputable source stating that Lewis himself says that he did not write an allegory, then I'd like to see it.
Lewis wrote that the Narnia books weren't intended as allegory in an essay titled (I think) "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What is to be Said" which was, if I remember my father correctly, published in the New York Times. I don't have date to hand, but I'd guess it was mid-1950s. Lewis apparently also said something similar in a private letter to someone, but I don't have a reference for that.

The fact that many Christian bookstores in the US have the books doesn't make them allegory - the nasty cynical part of me would say that a country which produced the Westboro Baptist Church can hardly be said to understand Christianity. In fact there is quite a lot of criticism from parts of the Christian community about the Narnia books, mostly because they include so many pagan elements.
 

Gracieyorin

Acolyte
Lewis wrote that the Narnia books weren't intended as allegory in an essay titled (I think) "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What is to be Said" which was, if I remember my father correctly, published in the New York Times. I don't have date to hand, but I'd guess it was mid-1950s. Lewis apparently also said something similar in a private letter to someone, but I don't have a reference for that.

The fact that many Christian bookstores in the US have the books doesn't make them allegory - the nasty cynical part of me would say that a country which produced the Westboro Baptist Church can hardly be said to understand Christianity. In fact there is quite a lot of criticism from parts of the Christian community about the Narnia books, mostly because they include so many pagan elements.

Re: your last sentence. Yes, I am in the US and my Christian mom banned me from reading C.S. Lewis when I was a child. It makes me sad because I would have loved his Narnia books. I don't know how much she knew about the books or if she knew Lewis was a Christian but she definitely did not approve of the fact he had characters like witches and centaurs, and pretty much any books/movies with magic and/or mythical characters were banned in our home. The first time I saw an animated movie based on the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, shown at a Vacation Bible School at our church (my mom was not thrilled, lol) I assumed that Aslan represented Jesus. Until this thread, I don't know if I had heard that Lewis's "allegory" may not have been intentional. Interesting!
 
Just because an author specifically disavows something doesn't mean it's not a subliminal presence in their writing. I discover stuff in my own writing all the time that I hadn't realised was there.

As I said, all literature is a product of the milieu in which it was generated.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
Here's a direct quote from the essay Mad Swede referenced:

C.S. Lewis said:
Let me now apply this to my own fairy tales. Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.

To me, he's saying that the Christian elements in his writing aren't as calculated, so to speak, as people make them out to be. He's not saying they aren't there.

In fact....

On that side (as Author) I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say. Then of course the Man in me began to have his turn. I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could. That was the Man’s motive. But of course he could have done nothing if the Author had not been on the boil first.

That's a pretty direct statement. He wanted to write a story, and then saw an opportunity to include his apologetics, because that's what he was good at.

“Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said” by C.S. Lewis.

Also, his work as a defender of the faith speaks volumes for itself. His book, Mere Christianity, is commonly cited as one of the best starting points for understanding Christian theology.
 
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Lewis wrote that the Narnia books weren't intended as allegory in an essay titled (I think) "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What is to be Said" which was, if I remember my father correctly, published in the New York Times. I don't have date to hand, but I'd guess it was mid-1950s. Lewis apparently also said something similar in a private letter to someone, but I don't have a reference for that.
I haven't found the essay, but I did google and find another one that quotes it: Why C.S. Lewis Said Narnia is "Not Allegory at All"

What Lewis actually said was more subtle. He didn't say Narnia wasn't intended as a Christian story. Quite the opposite: he made it very clear that it was. His quibble was with using the word "allegory" to describe it.
 
Re: your last sentence. Yes, I am in the US and my Christian mom banned me from reading C.S. Lewis when I was a child. It makes me sad because I would have loved his Narnia books. I don't know how much she knew about the books or if she knew Lewis was a Christian but she definitely did not approve of the fact he had characters like witches and centaurs, and pretty much any books/movies with magic and/or mythical characters were banned in our home. The first time I saw an animated movie based on the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, shown at a Vacation Bible School at our church (my mom was not thrilled, lol) I assumed that Aslan represented Jesus. Until this thread, I don't know if I had heard that Lewis's "allegory" may not have been intentional. Interesting!
Lewis intended Aslan to be a variation of Jesus, but not everyone has read it that way. Who knows, reading Narnia could have made you a witch.... How Narnia Made Me a Witch
 
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