Faith-Based Fantasy

This article is by Lynea Youmans.

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 the topic.

The first goal of this article is to present two fairly extreme opposites concerning faith-based fantasy. For instance, there are those who weave it with a religious purpose, in hopes to educate their audience about Christianity. The other extreme would be those who draw from biblical lore as a setting for their world without so much of a religious appeal. There is no right or wrong, though it does make for an interesting discussion.

The second goal of this article is to get a representative feel for marketing this sub-genre. Perhaps there are hills and pitfalls like in any other genre, or perhaps there is a more niche approach to it. Nonetheless, I felt the answers lied with two rather approachable authors who will graciously shed their light on the matter.

Discussion

Let us examine the mind of Christian author Courtney N. Myers, a friend and colleague of mine with a deep passion for spreading the word of God.

How long have you been writing Christian fantasy?

Myers: “Not very long. I only started about two years ago, around the time I came to really know Jesus.”

What are your top tastes in genres?

Myers: “Fantasy and sci-fi, natch. Also, supernatural and paranormal (to an extent; I’m not into New Age stuff or anything like that). I’ve always enjoyed magic, mystical lands, and mythological/supernatural powers and creatures, but technology, distant planets, stars, and galaxies, alien lifeforms, and the nature of the universe and humanity are also incredibly fascinating.”

What makes a ‘good’ Christian book?

Myers: “For me, one that tells a creative and engaging story first and foremost, especially without banging me over the head with Christian dogma. I want to identify with the characters, enjoy the plot, and be fascinated with the world rather than be preached at for hundreds of pages. However, Christian themes also have to be there (obviously) and be woven naturally but subtly into the book. For good reason, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are widely considered great examples of how ‘good’ Christian books, and Christian fantasy overall, are done. They have great storytelling elements and (gently and organically) show me rather than tell me how I should be more Christ-like without being so consumed with preaching that it overrides the narrative! Oh, and the book must have good SP&G. Can’t have any ‘good’ book without a handle on basic writing skills, after all.”

What challenges have come with writing Christian fantasy?

Myers: “As mentioned above, weaving in Christian themes without boring, irritating, and/or alienating your audience and upsetting other story elements can be difficult, at least for me. I sometimes get so excited with sharing the Gospel that my writing basically reads as dropping a Bible-shaped anvil on the heads of my readers. Trying not to preach my own interpretation(s) of the Message can be difficult, too; I’m pretty into myself and my own morals, standards, etc. sometimes (**cue self-deprecating sweatdrop**). Also, since I enjoy magical and supernatural elements, writing these things in line with biblical teachings without accidentally triggering cries of, ‘HERETIC!’ can be an obstacle. Of course, there are some people, not without understandable reason, who think Christians shouldn’t write in fantasy, sci-fi, or any kind of fictional genre at all, and that kind of response from them can be more or less inevitable, but I try not to let that keep me from writing what I’m passionate about. If the Son of God couldn’t please everyone, then I definitely stand no chance!”

What are your thoughts on angels and demons that show up in fiction?

Myers: “It literally depends on their portrayal in whatever it is I’m watching or reading. If angels and demons are portrayed in line with biblical teachings, are written well, and make creative and sensible contributions to the story, then I enjoy their inclusion. On the flip side, angels and demons that are obviously inaccurate or are included either to solely push an agenda or to add a ‘for the coolz’ element tend to lose my interest rather quickly.”

I understand you have a recent faith-based fantasy series of your own. What has The Peacemakers Saga taught you about being a Christian author?

Myers: “That Christian authorship, especially in fantasy and when dealing with the world we live in now, can be a lot harder than you’d think. However, if you get it right, just like with any book of any other genre, it can be extremely rewarding.

 

Now let us look to author Carl F. Brothers, who avidly uses biblical lore to bring his stories to life.

How long have you been writing?

Brothers: “Going on almost two decades now. I started about a year or two before I became a teenager. At the time, school wasn’t going all that great, so I figured I’d write my own endings. I wrote short stories and drew comics for my audience of one: my younger brother.”

What are your top three favorite genres?

Brothers: “Paranormal romance, Occult thrillers, Urban fantasy.”

What makes a ‘good’ fantasy novel?

Brothers: “I think the ability to push the boundaries of imagination. To be original yet grounded in enough realism to keep the reader connected to the story.”

Tell us about your stories. What genres and sub-genres do they contain? How were they inspired?

Brothers: “I released my debut novel, Keepers & Destinies, in September of 2020. It is a Paranormal Dark Fantasy about a Guardian Angel’s earthly quest to find the keys to Heaven’s victory in the looming Armageddon. This is my first and only publication to date. The origins of this book series, oddly enough, came to me in a dream, and grew from there into something special. Perhaps that’s why I have such a strong emotional connection to it. It feels like I lived it.”

Do you believe that your writing speaks to a religious audience?

Brothers: “No. On the contrary it speaks to those who aren’t hung up on religion. However, I do build on existing religious themes and beings, so my writing might in fact alienate a closed-minded religious audience.”

What are some of the challenges you have faced either in publishing or marketing?

Brothers: “Marketing has been my biggest challenge so far. Finding readers has been harder than expected. My family and all but a handful of my friends are against anything relating to the paranormal genre for deeply complicated religious reasons, and the handful I did tell about the book have not read it yet. That leaves me having to drum up interest and readers single handedly, without the benefit of social media or word of mouth from friends or family. I had to create whole new social media accounts and networks from scratch as I couldn’t use my existing social media presence for the reasons stated earlier.”

Do you ever feel like an ‘outsider’ in the book market?

Brothers: “In a way. I am a new indie author who has had to build every relationship related to my writing from scratch. However, after being embraced by a few members of the writing community on twitter, I don’t feel as isolated as I did at the time of my book release.”

Do you have experience with marketing your works? If so, do you feel like you are treated differently than other authors?

Myers: “Eh, heh… Well, I have very minor experience with marketing, and it’s proven that I’m not very good at it, at least at the moment. It doesn’t help that I don’t have a lot of energy (I’m dealing with some uncommon illnesses that cause a lot of fatigue) and don’t do well with people in general (for all it’s perks, Asperger’s is a double-edged sword at times), but my BFF (who’s basically my co-authorーand beta-reader, idea bouncer, cheerleader…) and I think we have a way around that. However, on social media, if I’m not discussing my work with other Christian authors, I do tend to be treated differently. Still, that’s par for the course, and like I’ve mentioned, I can get unpleasant reactions from other Christians based on what I write about.”

Do you feel there is a significant difference between mainstream and faith-based fantasy?

Myers: “Well, most mainstream fantasy doesn’t have a lot of faith-based elements in it, and those that do don’t tend to be particularly kind toward religion in general. Of course, to me, faith-based fantasy tends to be rather…well…bland (and, like I might’ve already implied, preachy) to put it frankly. I can count on one hand the amount of Christian fantasy books I’ve read and enjoyed as opposed to mainstream stuff. Of course, not a lot of Christians write fantasy or science-fiction, so the low number can be attributed to that factor as well.”

Do you plan to publish more stories? What would you like to do differently next time, if anything?

Brothers: “Book #2 and Book #3 of the Keepers & Destinies series are still in the works, set to be released in 2021. And I have other WIPs in mind after that. This time around, I’d drum up more interest in my upcoming release much earlier than I did previously. Book #1 promotions should help in this regard.”

Conclusion

In light of the responses that Myers and Brothers gave to me, I see that writing and marketing faith-based fantasy is perhaps as much a double-edged sword as any other sub-genre. Both authors have expressed how they are fairly alienated by their fantasy counterparts, though it does not deter them entirely from writing and selling. In my own experience, being a Christian in the public eye often feels like sticking my neck out; I have no doubt it feels the same for many authors. Even so, these interviews were enlightening to me. I’ve drawn the conclusion that a particularly niche sub-genre such as this is difficult to sell, not because of its nature or its authors, but because it is simply uncommon. Does that mean I believe it should not be marketed? Of course not.

What do you think? Is there a better market for niche sub-genres with today’s technology? Does the success of an author solely depend on their audience? And lastly, to what extent does biblical lore produce the setting to your magical world, if at all?

About the Author

Lynea Youmans is a music teacher by day and a novelist by night. In her free time she enjoys writing the occasional blog post and contributing to other writers’ material. She happened upon Mythic Scribes in search of a fun, wholesome community and has found joy in being a part of it. You can find her blog at coffeewithlkyoumans.wordpress.com.

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TheKillerBs
TheKillerBs
3 months ago
skip.knox

I think that was acknowledged early in the thread.

I had asked if anyone could speak to other fantasy stories specific to another religion, but haven't see anything yet. There is time; threads are immortal. I might take this opportunity to clarify a bit. I'm not talking about a fantasy story in which this or that fantasy religion is drawn from Islam or paganism or whatever. Rather, I'm talking about the faith-based themes and issues that arise within that religion. Many of these might have little resonance outside their own context, but they matter a great deal within that context. I simply don't know what are the central and abiding themes of doctrine and practice within Jainism or Buddhism or Shinto or even Judaism. It would be interesting to know if there is a fantasy literature that incorporates them, whatever they might be.

I found a podcast recently (bout a couple of months ago) called Speculate! While it wasn't to my liking, the first episode talks about three stories featured in issue #18 of Apex Magazine which are specifically fantasy that raise specifically Muslim questions: "The Green Book" by Amal El-Mohtar, "50 Fatwas for the Virtuous Vampire" by Pamela K. Taylor, and "The Faithful Soldier, Prompted", by Saladin Ahmed. The episode is a bit dated, as it's from 2011, and I don't know how easy it'd be to track down the stories, but you could always give the episode itself a listen.

Cady
Cady
4 months ago

I began writing in childhood, long before becoming a Christian. When I did become a Chrisitan, I found my writing full of things that made me cringe before the eyes of Jesus. I destroyed much of what I wrote because it was based in paganism (my pre-Christian beliefs).

Since then I have found myself in more than one crisis of conscience regarding my writing before God. As a Christian, my first desire is to honor Christ in all I do. But what does it mean to honor Christ in my writing? After meditating on this for a while, and seeking counsel, I have come to believe it means upholding the morality of Scripture (among other things).

This is not to say that I brain people over the head with preachy writing, or make all my characters goody-two-shoes, but that if the Bible clearly says something is morally wrong, my writing consistently sends the same message. Example: homosexuality. The Bible makes it clear that those who engage in this as a life-style have no part of Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I would be dishonoring Christ to contradict that in my own writing. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t write about sexual sin; the Bible is full of flawed human beings who committed grevious sins, many of them of a sexual nature. In each case in the Bible, those flawed individuals faced consequences for their actions (some of which we are still seeing to this day.) In cases where those flawed individuals in the BIble (yes, even homosexuals) repented of their sins before God, they received forgiveness, grace and mercy. My writing, as a Christian, should emphatically reflect this truth of God: That He is forgiving, gracious and merciful to those who repent and believe.

As for CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, I don’t believe either of them set out to write what we would refer to as ‘faith-based fiction;’ Christian or otherwise. Rather, their beliefs simply influenced their writing. Though Lewis did not set out to write an allegory, the Chronicles of Narnia are allegory. LOTR has allegorical elements, but is not an allegory per se. I believe this is due to the fact that Lewis and other Christians provided feedback to Tolkien as he wrote the trilogy.

As a Christian who is a writer, I am convinced that the task of writers who are Christians is to write the best story/novella/novel/screenplay/comic strip possible in a way that honors God, but also to understand that no one will ever be saved through a work of fiction. It doesn’t mean the fiction doesn’t have value. I’ve read some great Christian fiction that has encouraged me in my faith; rather I am speaking of being clear and purposeful with your intentions in each project. As a Christian, if you wish for your words to be salvivic in nature, please create a gospel tract to share with others. Don’t turn the gospel into entertainment as it was never meant to be presented as such.

For those on this board who are not Christians (and I’ve seen the comments, so I know there are more than a few of you :), I would say that you are correct, there are other belief systems besides Christianity. At the end of the day, as with Tolkien and Lewis, whatever any writer believes will work itself into the writing. I can find many tenants of Mormonism in Brandon Sanderson’s writing because he is a devout Mormon. Everyone believes in something, even athiests. And what you believe might surprise you when it does come out in your writing.

Consider this: the amount of faith it takes to simply write a story; if nothing else, it takes faith to believe it is worth the time of the writer; It takes faith to believe that someone else might want to read it; and it takes faith to attempt to publish it. This is faith in an idea, an action, but not the faith of Christianity. In this sense, though, every book ever written is ‘faith-based.’

Mad Swede
4 months ago
Ban

As explained before, there's a difference between "inspired by" and "faith-based".

The Lord of the Rings was inspired by Norse mythology. That does not mean it was written from the perspective of a practitioner of Norse paganism.

Which brings us back to what we mean by faith-based.

Yes, the Lord of the Rings is based indirectly on Norse mythology. And in that sense it certainly isn't faith-based Christian fantasy as claimed in the blog article. The same is true of the Narnia stories, they're inspired by several mythological sources and take their themes from several of these.

If by faith-based we mean something with a very clear message which is related to the faith concerned then we're looking at things like David Gemmell's books. They don't take their inspiration from any other mythological or religious sources.

And that brings us to another question. Do we think that only practitioners of what we here in the West might call the established faiths (read Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Shintoism, Buddism, Sikhism etc) with documented historical roots can write faith-based fantasy? Or do we also accept that those who follow modern pagan religions like Wicca and Asatru can write faith-based fantasy? Because if the answer to one or both of these question is yes, then certain religions (like proper Norse paganism) can't be the basis for any faith-based fantasy since there are no practitioners of it, so those religions can only ever be a source of inspiration. It limits what we mean by faith-based fantasy.

Rosemary Tea
4 months ago
Mad Swede

Well, if you want Norse myhtology inspired fantasy, how about Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword? Or maybe Neil Gaiman's American Gods series?

American Gods is eclectic mythology. I wouldn't say Norse inspired, exactly. Sure, the first god or two to show up is from the Norse pantheon, but we meet gods from multiple other pantheons, often in the same room. And we get concepts from multiple Pagan religions. Norse is one, but hardly the only.

In Pagan practice, calling on multiple pantheons in the same ritual is considered eclectic, through and through. Purists would never do that. It's not done in Wicca or Asatru–those are purist forms of Paganism. It is done in eclectic Paganism. And regarded as heresy by followers of the more purist forms of Paganism. So, if American Gods is Pagan fantasy, it's definitely eclectic.

Roel Karstenberg
4 months ago
Mad Swede

Well, if you want Norse myhtology inspired fantasy, how about Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword? Or maybe Neil Gaiman's American Gods series?

As explained before, there's a difference between "inspired by" and "faith-based".

The Lord of the Rings was inspired by Norse mythology. That does not mean it was written from the perspective of a practitioner of Norse paganism.

Mad Swede
4 months ago

Well, if you want Norse myhtology inspired fantasy, how about Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword? Or maybe Neil Gaiman's American Gods series?

A. E. Lowan
4 months ago

I haven't read it, yet (although I own it), but Throne of the Crescent Moon is said to be brilliant.

https://www.amazon.com/Throne-Crescent-Moon-Kingdoms-Book-ebook/dp/B0064VQDHI/

Miles Lacey
Miles Lacey
5 months ago

The most obvious example of non-Christan faith based fantasy is Journey To The West. Another example is Japanese anime and manga fantasy which are mostly rooted in both Japanese culture and Shintoism.

skip.knox
5 months ago

True Confessions: My PhD is in early modern. Still more on the Continent than Bloody, er, Merry Olde England, but King James is familiar territory. As an atheist, I find pre-modern Christianity fascinating. I start to lose interest somewhere around the middle of the 17thc. About the time everyone started wearing those silly wigs. <g> Never have had much patience with historical fiction set in 18th or 19thcs.

But it's worth reiterating that thinking there's just one "Christianity" is to miss out on much. Even in the Middle Ages (especially so?), there were flavors and variations and nuances, not to mention outright heresies, each of which regarded itself as genuinely Christian. And as far from modern Christianity as medieval economics or political theory is from their modern counterparts.

A. E. Lowan
5 months ago
skip.knox

I think that was acknowledged early in the thread.

I had asked if anyone could speak to other fantasy stories specific to another religion, but haven't see anything yet. There is time; threads are immortal. I might take this opportunity to clarify a bit. I'm not talking about a fantasy story in which this or that fantasy religion is drawn from Islam or paganism or whatever. Rather, I'm talking about the faith-based themes and issues that arise within that religion. Many of these might have little resonance outside their own context, but they matter a great deal within that context. I simply don't know what are the central and abiding themes of doctrine and practice within Jainism or Buddhism or Shinto or even Judaism. It would be interesting to know if there is a fantasy literature that incorporates them, whatever they might be.

I wish I could be more helpful, but I was raised aethiest, so even because I'm an American who's been drenched in Christian mythology – I think of it as contact faith – there are a great many cultural touchstones that I miss. I stopped reading the Chronicles of Narnia when I was about nine-years-old because I realized I was being preached at, and it made me uncomfortable. (I also think that every time a radio station plays 'Jesus Take the Wheel,' it should be immediately followed up with 'Shut Up and Drive'… but that's just me and my squirrely brain.) As a result, I actively avoid fiction that has religious underpinnings.

When you're a medievalist you become saturated with Christianity, but it's an older form of it. No King James Bible. And you learn a lot about affective piety. You learn about indulgences. And you learn that religion can pivot on a dime. It's very weird.

skip.knox
5 months ago
S.T. Ockenner

Why is everyone hearing the words 'Faith Based Fantasy', and assuming Christianity? There are [gasp] other religions, you know!

I think that was acknowledged early in the thread.

I had asked if anyone could speak to other fantasy stories specific to another religion, but haven't see anything yet. There is time; threads are immortal. I might take this opportunity to clarify a bit. I'm not talking about a fantasy story in which this or that fantasy religion is drawn from Islam or paganism or whatever. Rather, I'm talking about the faith-based themes and issues that arise within that religion. Many of these might have little resonance outside their own context, but they matter a great deal within that context. I simply don't know what are the central and abiding themes of doctrine and practice within Jainism or Buddhism or Shinto or even Judaism. It would be interesting to know if there is a fantasy literature that incorporates them, whatever they might be.

Mad Swede
5 months ago
S.T. Ockenner

Why is everyone hearing the words 'Faith Based Fantasy', and assuming Christianity? There are [gasp] other religions, you know!

Apart from the fact that the blog was about Christian based fantasy you mean?

Maybe its because most of us in this group are westerners and so are most familiar with and most exposed to Christianity. Yes, there are other faiths and other stories based on those faiths, but the real question is whether the key points in the discussion would be any different if we were talking about another faith?

As I pointed out earlier, most of the world's religions have common moral and ethical elements, for example as regards behaviour towards others. So why would the discussion differ?

Darkfantasy
Darkfantasy
5 months ago

I often see in old books that they were simply a form of what the times were. Which is why I don't think old works can be judged by our opinions today. People have become far too sensitive. I don't like hurting people's feelings and will avoid doing it at all costs, I don't agree in deliberately being hateful, but things are becoming too PC for me.

I don't really ever consider religion, I don't believe that God's exist. What does fascinate me in the belief behind it. Why do/can people believe so firmly, so to the point they are willing to die, for something they have no proof even exists. The capacity that human belief has is what fascinates me. And how one person can say 'I believe God is real and that there is evidence' and then can say but Santa is clearly a myth. I enjoy undertones of things in novels.

Insolent Lad
Insolent Lad
5 months ago

I think we could distinguish between a book being an allegory and having allegorical elements. The death and rebirth of Aslan is definitely an allegorical element but the novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is not an allegory for anything. It is as, as the author claimed, a fairy tale.

S.T. Ockenner
5 months ago

Why is everyone hearing the words 'Faith Based Fantasy', and assuming Christianity? There are [gasp] other religions, you know!

Mad Swede

Well, we can try to discuss the article, but we perhaps need to be clear what we mean by faith based fantasy.

Do we mean fantasy which readers feel is faith based? The Narnia books are a good example, where many readers think they are faith based. That leads to many negative reactions from more agnostic readers, who feel that the supposed message is too dominant, with the result that they don't read the books.

Or do we mean fantasy where the readers don't pick up on the underlying faith based nature of the story? David Gemmell's books are a particularly interesting example of this. His books are best sellers, and are often criticised for their macho characters and a perceived tendency to use violent incidents as plot drivers. Most readers miss the very deliberate inclusion of Christian themes, particularly the focus on redemption. David G admitted himself (I think he said it in an interview in Science Fiction and Fantasy News, which would make it some time in the mid-1990s) that his Christian faith influenced what he wrote and why his plots developed in the way they do.

Or do we mean fantasy where the underlying religious themes are very overt and the books are marketed at other Christians? The two people Lynea interviewed seem to belong to this category. Their experiences seem to suggest that their is a market for this sort of work, but that its a relatively small one. That might be because many mainstream readers dislike fantasy books with what they feel are overtly religious themes.

I don't think faith based fantasy is a difficulty sell because its uncommon, I think that its a difficult sell because most readers don't want to read it. Thats particularly true when the faith based element is overt, and Courtney Myers says as much in the interview when he talks about what makes a successful Christian fantasy tale: "For me, one that tells a creative and engaging story first and foremost, especially without banging me over the head with Christian dogma. I want to identify with the characters, enjoy the plot, and be fascinated with the world rather than be preached at for hundreds of pages." That is, I suggest, why David Gemmell got away with faith based elements and themes in his books and why Lewis doesn't seem to get away with it.

So, do I use religious lore as a basis for my fantasy setting? No, because I don't feel its needed. With that written, I do feel that there is a need for some sort of positive ethics and behaviours in my stories, that there needs to be some form of redemption and hope. I don't want to write amoral, nihilistic stories where doing the right thing is meaningless or impossible. In that sense you could argue that faith has influenced my writing, but I'd reply that my professional experiences have convinced me of the need for more escapist and positive stories as a way of balancing some of the more unpleasane aspects of real life.

skip.knox
5 months ago

I went back to see what the author herself had to say, as distinct from what the two interviewees had to say, and the central point I saw was the difference between Christian fantasy that was explicitly about faith and matters to do with Christianity, and those authors who use Biblical settings or themes without necessarily being about religion.

I realized there was nothing particuarly "fantasy" in this. One could just as will substitute "fiction" for "fantasy" and have the same sentence. That naturally led me to think of a wide range of literature. G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown. Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael. The memorably unnerving A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Upton. Many, many more. All wonderful examples of using Christianity as a theme in a story, often the very foundation of the story.

Which in turn led me back to fantasy. What, if anything, would be peculiar to our genre? That is, what would make it Christian *fantasy* rather than just Christian fiction?

You'll note I'm saying Christian and not "faith". I would take the same questions I've raised and ask it of other religions. What would be Muslim fantasy? No, not Arabian Nights, but the themes and values that appear in Muslim literature that would then be found in specifically Muslim fantasy. Same for Judaism, Hindu, or any other religion. I simply don't know enough about them even to speculate. But I do think there's no such thing as "faith-based" without reference to specific faiths. Or if there is, it's of interest mainly to anthropologists, not to novelists.

I'm very much on the outside looking in here. I'm interested to hear from others, either in response to the article, to my questions, or with questions of their own!

Mad Swede
5 months ago

Well, we can try to discuss the article, but we perhaps need to be clear what we mean by faith based fantasy.

Do we mean fantasy which readers feel is faith based? The Narnia books are a good example, where many readers think they are faith based. That leads to many negative reactions from more agnostic readers, who feel that the supposed message is too dominant, with the result that they don't read the books.

Or do we mean fantasy where the readers don't pick up on the underlying faith based nature of the story? David Gemmell's books are a particularly interesting example of this. His books are best sellers, and are often criticised for their macho characters and a perceived tendency to use violent incidents as plot drivers. Most readers miss the very deliberate inclusion of Christian themes, particularly the focus on redemption. David G admitted himself (I think he said it in an interview in Science Fiction and Fantasy News, which would make it some time in the mid-1990s) that his Christian faith influenced what he wrote and why his plots developed in the way they do.

Or do we mean fantasy where the underlying religious themes are very overt and the books are marketed at other Christians? The two people Lynea interviewed seem to belong to this category. Their experiences seem to suggest that their is a market for this sort of work, but that its a relatively small one. That might be because many mainstream readers dislike fantasy books with what they feel are overtly religious themes.

I don't think faith based fantasy is a difficulty sell because its uncommon, I think that its a difficult sell because most readers don't want to read it. Thats particularly true when the faith based element is overt, and Courtney Myers says as much in the interview when he talks about what makes a successful Christian fantasy tale: "For me, one that tells a creative and engaging story first and foremost, especially without banging me over the head with Christian dogma. I want to identify with the characters, enjoy the plot, and be fascinated with the world rather than be preached at for hundreds of pages." That is, I suggest, why David Gemmell got away with faith based elements and themes in his books and why Lewis doesn't seem to get away with it.

So, do I use religious lore as a basis for my fantasy setting? No, because I don't feel its needed. With that written, I do feel that there is a need for some sort of positive ethics and behaviours in my stories, that there needs to be some form of redemption and hope. I don't want to write amoral, nihilistic stories where doing the right thing is meaningless or impossible. In that sense you could argue that faith has influenced my writing, but I'd reply that my professional experiences have convinced me of the need for more escapist and positive stories as a way of balancing some of the more unpleasane aspects of real life.

A. E. Lowan
5 months ago

It looks like we're rehashing the same argument over and over, and we've exhausted the usefulness of this derailment. We should probably get back to the purpose of this thread, which is to discuss the salient points of this very good article.

Mad Swede
5 months ago
skip.knox

Lewis is explicit. Two parts–the Author and the Man. Yes the very first paragraph says a thing, but it is not the only thing he says. Later paragraphs add depth and nuance. To look only at the Form (his term), one can conclude Narnia is only Fairy Tale. But that's only half the story.

Given the long history of Form and Essence, of Body and Spirit, of which Lewis was not merely aware but deeply informed, I view his choice of terms as significant. So, too, his choice of Author and Man, and of duality that runs right through the piece. And of course one would still have to account for the Perelandra trilogy, which does much the same thing but for an older audience.

But again, this draws away from the blog post and a discussion of the points therein.

Not really. This is an important discussion, since it touches on how authors write (and why) and how we as readers interpret the books. One of the interviewers states that the Narnia books and The Lord of the Rings are explicitly Christian fantasy. I'm arguing that they are not.

Lewis' essay is very interesting, but if you don't understand philosophy (and Lewis was first and foremost a philosopher) then his arguments are easy to misinterpret. He is clear that he was writing a fairy tale, but in doing so he found himself using supposition (in its philosophical sense) to illustrate and discuss concepts and ideas from the Christian faith as a way of commenting on life. That makes his fairy story a novel. But that doesn't make it Christian fantasy, or allegory or apologetic or evangelical.

It goes a bit further than that though. Tolkien didn't really approve of the Narnia books since he (a devout Catholic) saw only the Christian message and didn't like the way Lewis brought in pagan elements. Lewis (by then a devout Anglican) saw no problem with mixing elements, since he was clear that he was writing a fairy tale which commented on some aspects of real life.

If you then take Tolkien's views on the Narnia books as an indication of his own views, then Tolkien's books cannot have been intended as Christian fantasy since there are so many pagan elements in them too.

I have a problem with those authors who explicitly set out to write Christian fantasy (or, in the case of Philip Pullman, a rebuttal of it) since I feel that all too often these elements take over. In fact, I'd go further than that and say that you don't need to write that sort of fantasy at all. Most of the world's religions have common moral and ethical elements, for example as regards behaviour towards others. That gives us as authors quite a broad base to stand on, and we can weave those common elements into our work and comment on the world around us without ever being explicit in our religious views.

skip.knox
5 months ago

Lewis is explicit. Two parts–the Author and the Man. Yes the very first paragraph says a thing, but it is not the only thing he says. Later paragraphs add depth and nuance. To look only at the Form (his term), one can conclude Narnia is only Fairy Tale. But that's only half the story.

Given the long history of Form and Essence, of Body and Spirit, of which Lewis was not merely aware but deeply informed, I view his choice of terms as significant. So, too, his choice of Author and Man, and of duality that runs right through the piece. And of course one would still have to account for the Perelandra trilogy, which does much the same thing but for an older audience.

But again, this draws away from the blog post and a discussion of the points therein.

Mad Swede
5 months ago
skip.knox

Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to be Said – The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

It's always best, when discussing an author, to listen first to the author. Devor gives a good interpretation.

Yes, it is best to listen to the author. And in the very first paragraph Lewis is quite clear on what he is writing – a fairy tale, first and foremost. Not allegory. Not an evangelical tale. Not Christian fantasy. Not something apologetic. There is an element of supposition, but it is not intended to be the main element.

Lynea's interviews are interesting and valuable, but they say much more about those she interviewed – and about those of us who regard the Narnia books as allegory or apologetics. I wonder if in fact it isn't our own sub-concious beliefs which inform our interpretation. Are some of us really as agnostic as we claim to be? Or have the supposed messages in those books had rather more of an impact on us than we care to admit?

skip.knox
5 months ago

It would be nice to return to the original post and do our Tolkien seminar <g> on another thread. In that spirit:

I was struck by a comment from Myers (second interview), to wit, in two parts:
>most mainstream fantasy doesn’t have a lot of faith-based elements in it,
Well, yes and no. A great deal of maintstream fantasy incorporates some sort of religion. It's often in the background, but it's there. And even more is incorporating religion (here in the West, mostly Christian) elements without even being aware. Conventions, morals, the mos maiorum. This isn't a criticism; most novels also incorporate some sort of capitalist economics, modern social structure (or modern understandings of pre-modern *grimace*), and so on. Few of us start with the blank slate. But it's worth noting that any of us could take pause and consider religion more explicitly and maybe turn up some good story ideas.

>and those that do don’t tend to be particularly kind toward religion in general
Alas, this tends to be the idea most commonly seized upon. I'm a lifelong atheist, but I'm also a medieval historian, and one doesn't get very far in that field by dismissing religion and faith as mere superstition or the wily machinations of an evil ruling class. Or even as an opiate of the people.

But if you think of religion–both doctrine and practice–as the vocabulary by which people express themselves regarding a whole range of topics, then religion becomes a lens through which we can view societies, families, individuals. As an author, that's endlessly interesting. Turning religion into the cartoon villain that it is in so much fantasy is no better than caricaturing armies or families or individuals. I don't call that bad or good. I do call it an artistic opportunity missed.

So I do appreciate Lynea Youmans posting the article and for conducting the interviews. Good grist for our many mills.

skip.knox
5 months ago

Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to be Said – The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

It's always best, when discussing an author, to listen first to the author. Devor gives a good interpretation.

Rosemary Tea
5 months ago
Mad Swede

Wait one. The writer of that essay doesn't know what supposition is. Its a term from medieval philosophy which Lewis would have been familiar with given that he had a First in the "Greats" (Philosophy and Ancient History). Supposition isn't a what-if, its more complex than that, and its really about attempting to define or at least delineate a term which you then use to discuss a human concept. In that sense the Narnia books can be seen to discuss some Christian concepts. That doesn't make them allegory, nor does it make them evangelical or overtly apologetic.

The supposed Christian, allegorical and apologetic aspects of the Narnia books were completely lost on me. I loved them as fantasy stories. That might be because I'm dyslexic, but its probably more down to my grandmother. She was fond of telling me stories and legends from folklore, and being a farmers wife she didn't spend much time in church. Her view of Christianity was that the two key aspects were belief in God and the way you treated others.

Apparently, the writer of that essay is defining supposition a little differently from the way medieval philosophy uses the term.

Either way, the Narnia books work as a supposition.

Rosemary Tea
5 months ago
S.T. Ockenner

What's a 'nodding acquaintance'? How is that different from other kinds of acquaintances?

I know her well enough to say hi to, but not much more than that.

Mad Swede
5 months ago
Rosemary Tea

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.

Wait one. The writer of that essay doesn't know what supposition is. Its a term from medieval philosophy which Lewis would have been familiar with given that he had a First in the "Greats" (Philosophy and Ancient History). Supposition isn't a what-if, its more complex than that, and its really about attempting to define or at least delineate a term which you then use to discuss a human concept. In that sense the Narnia books can be seen to discuss some Christian concepts. That doesn't make them allegory, nor does it make them evangelical or overtly apologetic.

The supposed Christian, allegorical and apologetic aspects of the Narnia books were completely lost on me. I loved them as fantasy stories. That might be because I'm dyslexic, but its probably more down to my grandmother. She was fond of telling me stories and legends from folklore, and being a farmers wife she didn't spend much time in church. Her view of Christianity was that the two key aspects were belief in God and the way you treated others.

Queshire
5 months ago

They're the type of acquaintance that you recognize enough to nod to each other if you pass in the hallway.

S.T. Ockenner
5 months ago
Rosemary Tea

We're nodding acquaintances.

What's a 'nodding acquaintance'? How is that different from other kinds of acquaintances?

Gracieyorin
5 months ago
Rosemary Tea

She mentions the upcoming movie, so presumably, it was written shortly before the latest movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out. That was in 2005.

I couldn't remember when that came out, but I knew it was awhile ago.

Thanks for answering my questions!

Rosemary Tea
5 months ago
Gracieyorin

That was a fascinating read! Thanks for the link.
Now I am curious about the author and when it was written, but could not find any info on the page. Do you happen to know?

Starhawk is pretty well known, for being a writer, activist, and public face of Paganism. And I know her personally… slightly. We're nodding acquaintances.

But I first read that article on Beliefnet sometime before I met her. Probably 12 years ago or so. Which means it's been there at least that long. She mentions the upcoming movie, so presumably, it was written shortly before the latest movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out. That was in 2005.

She's got her own website and blog: Regenerative Culture, Earth-based Spirituality, and Permaculture

Gracieyorin
5 months ago
Rosemary Tea

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

That was a fascinating read! Thanks for the link.
Now I am curious about the author and when it was written, but could not find any info on the page. Do you happen to know?

Rosemary Tea
5 months ago
Gracieyorin

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

Rosemary Tea
5 months ago
Mad Swede

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.

Devor
5 months ago

Here's a direct quote from the essay Mad Swede referenced:

C.S. Lewis

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.

The Dark One
5 months ago

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.

MikeC
MikeC
Reply to  The Dark One
5 months ago

I remember reading that once something is written and published the author’s intent, or lack of intent, is lost to the author. Once written the work is subject to the interpretation of any who read it. And no matter how carefully constructed, readers will always have differing opinions on the correct meaning of a work. Even if an opinion is disavowed by the author.
And likely no amount of discussion will change another’s opinion.

Gracieyorin
5 months ago
Mad Swede

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!

Mad Swede
5 months ago
A. E. Lowan

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
5 months ago

This article was very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

A. E. Lowan
5 months ago
Mad Swede

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
5 months ago
A. E. Lowan

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.

The Dark One
5 months ago

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.

A. E. Lowan
5 months ago
Mad Swede

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.

Chasejxyz
5 months ago
Mad Swede

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.

Mad Swede
5 months ago

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

skip.knox
5 months ago
A. E. Lowan

They're linked.

As in home above, so in forum below. <g>

A. E. Lowan
5 months ago
S.T. Ockenner

Why did my comment on the blog appear here too? Weird

They're linked.

S.T. Ockenner
5 months ago

Why did my comment on the blog appear here too? Weird

Dark Lord Thomas Pie
Dark Lord Thomas Pie
5 months ago

Whoa, Lynea wrote this?

E.L. Skip Knox
5 months ago

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.

E.L. Skip Knox
Reply to  E.L. Skip Knox
5 months ago

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*

Roel Karstenberg
Reply to  E.L. Skip Knox
5 months ago

I had this thought as well, as I didn’t expect faith to be treated as synonymous with christianity in this context. Perhaps we’ll receive insight from other religious communities as well in the future.

In any event, these short interviews make for a good format for this sort of discussion.

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