What’s The Good of Christian Fantasy Books?

What’s The Good of Christian Fantasy Books?

As a writer of Christian Fantasy books I often wonder if there is any eternal value in my stories. Do my stories produce any kind of life-change, or do they merely exist to entertain and distract from the world?  When the cover closes, what remains?

Fantasy as Escapism

Tolkien defended his own stories by embracing the idea of escapism. However, he defined escapism very carefully.  There tends to be a snobbish tone in people’s voice when they talk about escapism.  People think of escapism as the soldier running from his duty, the mother hiding from her family, or the student procrastinating assignments.  Tolkien sees escapism as the prisoner of war breaking free from his chains and running headlong for home.  Ursula K. LeGuin summarizes Tolkien’s thoughts in a quote that is often misattributed to Tolkien himself. 

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!  -Ursula K. LeGuin

And while I embrace this vision of escape, it is limited.  It fixes our eyes on Heaven and asks us to ignore and even despise the world around us.  Fortunately, this isn’t the end goal of Christian Fantasy, it is only one step along the way, and it is dangerous to linger here too long.

Illuminating Reality through Christian Fantasy Books

Reality is undoubtedly a dark place.  With the constant news of war, disease, disasters, and the constant looming threat of imminent destruction, we can’t help but feel helpless.  Every day we face the darkness and we have no choice but to respond to it.  Anyone who looks at reality through modern, analytic, what-are-the-odds glasses sees themselves as too small to face the weight of this world, and they are.  Human beings alone will always fall to the darkness.  It’s Gollum and Frodo, bending under the weight of the ring, It’s Edmond, taking Turkish delight from the White Witch, and it’s us, every time we give in to the cravings of our sinful nature.

Fantasy doesn’t just offer us an escape, it shows us the world we live in, a world filled with shadows, evil, and despair.  But it also shows us what happens when the light steps into the shadow.

Hope for Our World

In fantasy we find people empowered by hope.  Sam, Frodo, and Aragorn are led by a constant hope, a will to push against the darkness with their very lives.  In Star Wars we see a handful of Rebels standing against an entire empire.  In The Chronicles of Narnia we find five children who decide to stand against a darkness that plagued their world for centuries.  Time after time fantasy stories present us with individuals empowered to change their world because of their hope.  When Christians read fantasy we see that hope isn’t just for some future world, but for the world we live in everyday.

My favorite scene in the Lord of the Rings was cut from the films.  After the ring is destroyed, Aragorn is crowned, and all the companions go their own way, the Hobbits return home.  But the home they returned to is not the home they left.  The shire itself became tainted by the shadow, governed by Saruman and Worm-tongue, and characterized by despair.

The heroes, changed by the adventure they’ve been on, are unable to fade into that system of despair.  They rebel against the darkness and work to change the world they live in.  At last their hope spreads and the entire shire, once divided over petty arguments and family feuds, is united in casting off the dominion of Saruman.  Their adventure prepared them to face the issues of their home!  And so the adventures we take through the pages of fantasy novels prepare us for the issues we face every day.

The Good of Christian Fantasy Books

It is no surprise to me that fantasy resonates so wonderfully with the story of Christianity.  The Bible is not fantasy, but it is fantastic.  It shows us the epic struggle of good against evil, not only on a cosmic level, but on a very human level.  It shows us a God Who is undeniably characterized by Hope, and Who passes that Hope to all who follow Him.  Time after time we read how He empowers His people to stand against the darkness, to live in hope, and to make a difference in their world.

So what is the good of Christian fantasy books?  Certainly the Bible is more than enough, but contemporary Christian fantasy has the ability to focus on the issues of our present age, as Tolkien and Lewis did, and show readers the difference Christ makes in our lives, and the difference He empowers us to make in the world around us.

This is why I write, not to provide an escape from this world, but to inspire its citizens to stand with Christ against the shadow which rules it.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in Heaven.  – Matthew 5:16

Thanks for reading!  If you like what you read here take a look at my books section, and feel free to leave any feedback in the comments.

-J. Christopher Earl

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