Can Christians Write Fantasy? Part 2: Jedi Wizard Orcs
Last week I talked about the problem of religion when it comes to writing fantasy as a Christian. Today I’m going to discuss the other major obstacle Christian writers face when it comes to fantasy; magic.
The problem can be summed up pretty simply: practicing magic is a sin. A pretty big one too. “Those who practice magic arts” are specifically listed among other sinners who are locked out of the gates of heaven in the book of Revelation. Magic was punishable by death under Old Testament law, and the book of Acts records converted magicians burning their books of spells after baptism. All this may seem a bit silly or extreme by modern standards; after all, magic is just superstition. What’s the harm?
If magic was nothing more than old wives tales and charlatan’s tricks then it would hardly be worth worrying about. However the Bible is very clear that this is not the case: magic is real. It’s real and it’s dangerous. As a Christian I know that there is more to reality then the material world we can see around us. There’s also a spiritual dimension that coincides with our own and is as incomprehensible to our senses as a cube would be to a square’s. Magic falls under this spiritual domain, and God has made it clear to Christians that we are not to involve ourselves in it. The spiritual dimension is like a broad river, and we are little children who have been ordered by their father to stay away from the water. He did not give this order on a whim but out of love and concern; there are crocodiles in the river that won’t hesitate to eat us up if we get too close.
Simply put, magic must be avoided for two reasons. The first is that magic is dangerous. We don’t know what we’re doing, or what powers we’re toying with. We’re like a little boy who decides he’s going to join the circus. It’s funny…until the boy wanders down to the railroad tracks at midnight looking for a circus car to hop (because he saw Dumbo once and thinks that circuses all travel by train) and then runs into hobos, street people, and criminals. How do you think that boy’s going to fare out there? Do you think he’s going to have a wonderful adventure? Far more likely he’s going to end up in serious trouble: killed, abused, or exploited by people older, wiser, stronger, smarter, and far more evil than himself. Magic is exactly the same. We have no idea what we’re getting into, and it won’t be long before we run into beings who know exactly what they’re doing and do not have our best interests at heart.
The second reason is simply that God has commanded us to avoid magic. He knows what He is doing, and He does have our best interests at heart. God didn’t make us to do magic. Science, technology, art, music, engineering, cultivating, exploring, learning, living, and loving are all in our domain; magic is not. When it comes to spiritual things God wants us to rely on Him. The only magic we are to do is the magic that is given to us through the Holy Spirit; healing, prophesying, discerning, speaking in tongues, and rebuking and exorcising evil spirits. All of these are gifts from God and ways that He works through us. We cannot cast out a demon by our own power but by calling on God’s power and authority. Christians practicing magic is a rejection of God’s power in favor of our own power. It’s taking the reins from His hands and trying to influence the spiritual realm by our own authority instead of our authority as sons of God. That’s why prophecy is good and useful, while divination and fortunetelling is bad and misleading; the first comes from God and the second comes from ourselves or something worse working through us. If we’re to do magic at all it must be God or a demon doing it through us. The best we can do on our own is card tricks.
Because of all this it’s understandable why magic is an obstacle for Christians who want to write fantasy. Magic and fantasy go hand in hand. Wizards, mages, enchanted weapons, wards, spells, curses, fairy glades, etc. It’s part of the fantasy aesthetic. You can make fantasy without magic but it’s not the norm. On top of that in most fantasy settings magic is used by both good and evil individuals. If only evil beings used magic then there would be no moral objection to a Christian writing about it; but when the forces of good also include wizards and the like you run into trouble. Is it hypocrisy for Christians to say that practicing magic is a sin and then write stories about people using magic with no ramifications?
To answer that question I’d like to look at fantasy’s twin brother, science fiction. As I said in my previous post science fiction and fantasy are similar genres (and offer similar obstacles to Christian writers) because they both imagine worlds that do not exist. Whether its aliens or elves, enchanted forests or far off planets, both create realities that very different from our own. In science fiction we don’t have magic; at least not by that name. We do however have technologies that do the physically impossible, mutations that give people incredible abilities, and in the case of Star Wars “The Force”. Christians usually have no problems here. Nobody forbids their children from reading X-Men because Cyclops can shoot lasers out of his eyes and Storm can control the weather. You don’t hear about Christians boycotting Star Wars because Jedi use the Force. And yet these things are basically magic. What is a superpower except magic in a sci-fi guise? What are the Jedi but space wizards who can levitate objects, shoot lighting from their fingers, and manipulate people’s minds? So why is Star Wars okay but Harry Potter isn’t?
The answer is that the Force isn’t real, and magic is. Nobody believes that the Force actually exists; it’s just a story. But magic is very real and very dangerous. Christians are rightfully concerned that people could fall into real magic from reading about fictional magic. I think this is just and fair. So how can a Christian write fantasy with magic in it at all?
Let’s look again at the two biggest names when it comes to Christian fantasy; J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. How did they deal with magic? Tolkien approached it the same way that he approached religion; by not explaining it or using it much. Gandalf rarely does magic, and he’s almost the only character we see actually performing it in the books. It is mentioned that the Elves can do magic of a sort (they made the rings of power, Galadriel uses it to keep Lothlorian enchanted, Elrond uses it to wash away the Ringwraiths, etc.). Otherwise it’s mostly just mentioned or hinted at the edge of things. There are a lot of magic objects though; the rings of power, the palantir, Sting, the phial of light that Galadriel gives Frodo, etc. Despite all this The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are both accepted by the Christian community in general.
In The Chronicles of Narnia magic is more obvious. The White Witch does magic, turning people to stone, summoning Turkish Delights, etc. In Prince Caspian Caspian’s tutor is a good half dwarf who does magic, which includes divination. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we run into Coriakin who is a good magician who makes them a magic map and has a huge book of spells. In other words we see magic in many places being used by both good and evil individuals. Even when Aslan dies and the Stone Table breaks in two, symbolizing the resurrection of Christ, Aslan calls it “deep magic” from before Narnia began. That’s some pretty blatant magic! Yet I wouldn’t call C.S. Lewis a pagan, or even a careless writer. The Narnia books are beloved to Christians all over the globe. My father read them to me as a child, and you’ll never find a man more cautious and careful then him when it came to protecting his children from magic and the evil one. So why is this the case?
I think it’s for the same reason that we accept the Force, mutants, and superpowers. It’s obviously not real. Nobody is going to read The Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an authoritative text on performing magic. They’re stories, and the magic performed in them has as little do with real magic as the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive has to do with real physics. I think that’s also why there was a big scare in the Christian community about the Harry Potter books when they became popular. In those books the people performing magic are kids about the same age as the kids reading, and the live in a version of our own real world and in a real country, Britain. Magic makes sense in Narnia or Middle Earth, but in the modern day UK it cuts a little too close to home.
So I’ve basically used over 1,500 words to say a very simple thing; when Christians write fantasy with magic in it they should make it clear that it’s not real. Magic is bad in our own world because we were not made to do magic; but fantasy is a genre of “what ifs”. What if it was different? What if elves lived in the woods, and dwarves in the hills, and impossible things could happen? It’s alright for magic to be there because all of it, the whole process of imagining and creating worlds is itself a kind of God given magic. You just make sure there can be no mistake as to difference between Jedi Wizard “magic” and actual magic.