FRODO BAGGINS VS. HARRY POTTER:
A Christian perspective on fantasy literature
III. "All Fantasy Is Evil"
If then we accept that stories are powerful, how
shall we respond? The word Imagination means Image making, and some
Christians have condemned storytelling as idolatry and fantasy literature
in particular as the work of the devil. Shall we, then, condemn ALL
fantasy literature and insist that only "realistic" or Bible stories are
fit for our children? This seems a gross oversimplification and an
overreaction. What does the Bible have to say about storytelling? What
does our Christian heritage tell us about fantasy literature in particular?
A. A Biblical Defense of Storytelling
- Jesus was a storyteller. "Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd
parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable." (Matt. 13:34)
- We are made in the image of God and we first know God as creator: "In
the beginning God created..." (Gen. 1:1)
He made us like Him: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him." One of the ways we are like God is that like him, we create. Christians have no problem with creativity in music or dance, inventions, technology, or architecture. But with stories, many Christians draw back.
- Throughout the Bible God speaks to his people through dreams, visions
and other symbolic imagary. For example:
B. Our Christian Heritage
- Joseph's dreams about the cattle and the sheaves of wheat.
- Jeremiah's visions such as the boiling pot pouring out of the north or
the two baskets of figs.
- Nebuchadnezzar's dream - interpreted by Daniel - of a huge statue with
a golden head and feet of clay.
Some of the greatest works of the imagination in western culture have been written by Christians and some of the greatest Christian literature has been fantasy.
Since it is so potent, how shall we respond to it?
- The Divine Comedy (1300-1321) by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).
of the great works of western literature. An imaginative journey through hell, purgatory and paradise.
- Medieval romances. For example The Faerie Queene (1590-1611)
Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). Tales of chivalry were filled with Christian
symbolism and powerful theology.
- Paradise Lost (1667) by John Milton (1608-1674). An epic poem
that tells the story of Creation, Lucifer and the fall of Adam and Eve.
- Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan (1628-1688). The
allegory about a man named Christian who travels from the City of Destruction to the Heavenly City. Along the way he meets Faith, Lust, Prudence and others. This book, written by
a rustic preacher while in jail, influenced generations of Christians.
For centuries it was the most widely read book after the Bible and was translated into 100 languages. It was used to teach children to read in the 1700s. (Today our schools use Harry Potter.)
- Gulliver's Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) This is
not a children's book. It is a savage satire on 18th Century Rationalism. What we would today call Secular Humanism.
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Lewis was (and still
one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the 20th Century.
"(R)eason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination
is the organ of meaning." 1
- G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) the Catholic Scholar, Social Critic, and
Apologist (defender of the Christian faith) was a major influence on
"My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken
certainty, I learnt in the nursery. . . . The things I believed most in
then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales."
- Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. One of the most popular
books of the 20th Century. In his famous essay "On Fairy-Stories",
"Fantasy . . . is, I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed
the most nearly pure form, and so . . . the most
Copyright © 2002 by Stephen Mark Spence
1Lewis, C.S., "Bluspels and Flalansferes" in Selected Literary Essays, Walter Hooper (ed.)(1969) Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
2Chesterton, G.K., (1959) "The Ethics of Elfland" in
Romance of Faith, Image Books, p. 49
3Tolkien, J.R.R., The Tolkien
Reader, 1966, Ballantine, p. 69