A Christian perspective on fantasy literature
For anyone who has been living in a cave the last few years, Harry Potter is the hero of a series of books by British author J.K. (Joanne) Rowling. Five have been published so far with at least two more planned. Harry is an orphan who discovers he has magical powers and goes to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to develop those powers. The books have been hugely successful (30 million copies sold worldwide of just the first three) and highly promoted in the media. They have been hailed by educators, librarians and parents because they have kids excited about reading. The books have also been highly controversial in the Christian community with some condemning the books for advocating witchcraft and the occult, while others defend them as moral fantasy in the line of C.S. Lewis. The first Harry Potter book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was turned into a movie released in November of 2001 that quickly became the #5 box office success of all time in the U.S. and #2 worldwide with almost $1 billion worth of tickets sold.
Frodo Baggins is the hero of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, a massive fantasy novel (usually printed in 3 volumes) published between 1954 and 1956. Estimates of copies sold hover around 50 million. When combined with its prequel The Hobbit, the total reaches 100 million. Some have called it the most influential book of the 20th Century and suggest it has been outsold only by the Bible. It tells the story of the child-like Hobbits who live in a land called Middle-earth. Frodo Baggins comes into possession of the ring of power and must risk his life to destroy that ring before it is used to enslave the world.
The Lord of the Rings, too, has been controversial with some Christians praising the work for its Christian symbolism while others criticize it for including many New Age and occult images such as wizards and magic talismans while making no specific mention of God. There have been several attempts to turn the books into a movie, the most successful, The Fellowship of the Ring directed by Peter Jackson, being released in December of 2001. Its box office totals were only slightly behind those racked up by Harry Potter. Two more films will be released in 2002 and 2003.
The response to these books and movies typifies the attitude of Christians toward fantasy literature in general. Many Christians quickly condemn all fantasy stories as "of the devil," while others say it is "only a story." The purpose of these notes is to help the Christian think his or her way through the quagmire.
It should be emphasized at the outset that this discussion is a matter of literary interpretation, not basic theology. There is plenty of room to agree to disagree. The purpose here is to give Christians the tools they need to navigate through these increasingly dark and confusing times.
Copyright © 2002 by Stephen Mark Spence