On the Reading of Fantasy

Or

A Defense of Fairyland with Apologies to C.S. Lewis

Let’s round up the usual suspects: Dorothy Gale, Tik-Tok, Ozma, The Shaggy Man, the Cowardly Lion, The Hungry Tiger, the Pevensies, Tumnus, Aslan, Curdie, Princess Irene, Taran, Coll, Dalben, Gwydion, Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Flam, Gurgi, Commander Sam Vimes (He’s a Duke now but I knew him first as a Commander of the watch), Carrot Ironfoundersson, and last but certainly not least Nobby Nobbs. And there I am right in the middle of the bunch.

Having fallen in with a gaggle of Grundys masquerading as baptists I was condemned by virtue, or lack thereof, of my friends character on the basis of 1 Corinthians 15:33. But since I don’t want to be found contra bonos mores I would like to offer a defense of my reading habits

As a youth I was subjected to the usual grammar school education and then I was let loose into the public library. Now I freely admit that I was abnormal child preferring the company of bound paper to horsehide or pigskin and frequently shocked my parents with the amount of books I lugged home.

As a frequent visitor to the public library I was directed to the “children’s” section and it was there I found the genre of fantasy. Now in my ignorance I didn’t know it was fantasy all I knew was that it took me to places I had never been before and I met such boon companions as listed above.

Now the main critique that I’ve been subjected to is that fantasy doesn’t live up to the dictate of what is true, good or beautiful (Philippians 4:8) especially true. Because after all the very definition of fantasy is that which doesn’t correspond to reality. And reality is true, ipso facto the case has been made anything that is fiction is obviously false and therefore in violation of scripture. Hold on though fiction has been used in scripture to prove a point. Nathan the prophet’s story of the lamb, obviously fiction, was used to point out the sin of David. (2 Sam. 12:1-7) Jotham used the story of the bramble and the trees to show the treachery of the men of Shecham. (Judges 9: 1-21) This isn’t the end of the examples but it is obvious that fiction is used in scripture to change the viewpoint of a person or persons to that of another person. So to dismiss fiction because it isn’t true is to ignore scripture’s use of it.

What about the concept of good? There is no doubt both from a literary and and a moral view that there is bad fantasy. Bad fantasy from a purely literary viewpoint is easily dealt with by the lack of sales or the shelving of it into the dustbins. However, there is well written fantasy that is morally corrupt I can think of more that a few that I threw across the room as it pushed an obvious anti-God viewpoint, Philip Pullman’s His Dark MOraterials series is an example of one such morally bad fantasy.

However, does bad fantasy preclude good fantasy? Does false gospels preclude true gospels? Because the Gospel of Peter exists does that mean I throw out Matthew? Of course not. The key here is discernment we need to know the good from the bad. What is the authorial intent? How does the characters or the world that the author has created reflect the world that God created? Are good and evil clearly distinguished? What do the characters teach about duty, honor, loyalty, love, and sin? For instance the Chronicles of Prydain is based upon Welsh mythology but in it there are definite good and evil characters. But that isn’t all, the books also teach about courage, honor, friendship, duty, and sacrifice. These truths set into a fantasy world were still true or true truth as the late Francis Schaeffer said.

Lastly beautiful, can fantasy worlds be beautiful? I would challenge anyone not to see the beauty in certain fantasy worlds. Not only Narnia, or Middle Earth, but Oz, Discworld, Prydain, even the London of P.L. Travers has a beauty that the reader can’t help but appreciate.

Ultimately fantasy as a genre can stimulate the imagination, teach us about other people, take us places we have never been and show us such things as duty, honor, sacrifice, love, and goodness. Christians using discernment can enjoy fantasy genre and benefit from it.

Further resources

Tim Challies on reading fiction

A defense of reading fiction

C.S. Lewis: Why Christians should read fiction

Dangerous Truths and True Dangers: Can – and Should – Christians Read Novels?

Russell Moore: Why Christians Should Read Fiction

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One thought on “On the Reading of Fantasy

  1. Pingback: A Rant | keachfan

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