Monday, June 22, 2009

Including God in Fantasy

Doug wrote this about his WIP: They have the same God that we do, not our God mapped into some other form.

I attended a one-day workshop with SCBWI last fall and got the opportunity to talk with an editor from Scholastic. We talked about including God in fantasy novels. Her advice to me about having God in the story is to make sure it’s a natural part of the culture, whether fantasy, sci-fi or futuristic. Don’t put God in your story simply for the sake of making it “inspirational” or Christian. The reader will know if you’re hitting them over the head with a message.

She also advised me to give Him another name – I was calling Him “The Most High God” in my story. That was too much like the Bible, and fantasy writers need to keep in mind that there are not fairies, elves, wizards or dwarves in the Bible. That made sense to me. So, I renamed Him, Celtar. I think it works.

I also included a book of “Holy Writings” which my characters quote from time to time, so I’ve paraphrased enough to keep it from being a direct quote from Scripture.

Should Christians include God in their story? I’d love to hear your opinion on this. Let the discussion begin!


  1. I've done a similar thing. The God in my story is called the Lord of Heaven, which is pretty generic (I hope) and symbolized by the sun, and the book they quote from is called the Book of Wisdom. One of the sayings from this book, which frustrates one of the heroines to no end, is "All things are predetermined and in the end are right." She gets to the point that if someone says that to her one more time, she's going to choke them.

  2. I don't write fantasy, but I think that, yes, Christians can choose to have God in their stories. I also agree with that Scholastic editor about not using the same name, or exact quotes from the Bible.

    Deb Piccurelli

  3. I still can't find that quote I wanted from C.S. Lewis... darn it! Here's another one about Aslan:

    "In reality, however, he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?' This is not allegory at all."
    This is from a London Times article:

    Strikingly, most children read Narnia as a simple fantasy story and do not recognise the Christian allegorical nature of the plot. Today this might be explained by the fact that many have little awareness of the Bible and the beliefs of Christianity. But even during the 1950s, when Christianity had a stronger social presence, most children only became conscious of the inner meanings when they were pointed out to them.

    This is probably one of the cleverest aspects of Lewis’s creation. He succeeded in writing great stories beloved of generations of children but also placed his intended messages into the Narnia books subtly and without losing clarity of meaning or drama.

  4. That is a great quote, Ginger. Thanks for sharing!

    I think including God in fantasy should be a natural part of the landscape. As in any story, we should never, ever hit people over the head with the Bible. I included God because He's so much a part of my life, I'm not sure I could write without including Him.

    Still, I have to remember I'm writing an adventure, not a Bible study. Even the Book of Esther fails to mention God by name, but He's there. If the story NEEDS God, then, by all means, include Him. If the story doesn't require having Him mentioned, don't.

  5. Hi Pam, that was me. My alter ego over at "Come in Character" is my character Ginger Buckman. I was still logged in as her.

  6. P.S. If Pam doesn't mind, I'd like to invite everyone over to "Come in Character" today. We are talking about the origin of our characters races/species. This website is an awesome and unique tool for exploring characters.

  7. Thanks for the invite to Come In Character! It's an amazing blog, which I have been reading, but haven't had the nerve to post yet. Quite an original concept. Yes, I encourage everyone to check it out!

  8. My friend, Joe, directed us to an article about fantasy and Santa Claus written by Tony Woodlief for The Amy Foundation. Here is a small piece:

    "Magic-talk gets under the skin of many, like renowned scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins. This is doubly so when it is what the Christ-figure Aslan, in C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," calls "the deeper magic," an allusion to divinity. Mr. Dawkins is reportedly writing a book examining the pernicious tendency of fantasy tales to promote "anti-scientific" thinking among children. He suspects that such stories lay the groundwork for religious faith, the inculcation of which, he claims, is a worse form of child abuse than sexual molestation."

    Isn't it funny that an atheist strongly objects to fantasy because it points people to God? And even more funny are the people who believe fantasy pushes them away.

  9. Well, Dawkins was objecting as much to magical thinking as he was to theistic thinking (which he would certainly lump together) but yes, it is very ironic. Of course, I've argued that Dawkins is a religious fanatic; he's just got a different religion.

    I believe that God should at least be implied in any work calling itself Christian. Jeffrey Overstreet's Auralia Thread comes to mind as an example. It all depends on what our goal is. If we want to give people the plan of salvation so they could get saved as a direct result of reading our book, then things had better be really, really explicit. In that case the danger is that unsaved people will refuse to read it because they can't stand having the gospel shoved down their throats. And are we really any further ahead if one person gets saved and ten others get hardened further?

    On the other hand, if our goal is not to provide all the answers but perhaps to provide the questions that will get people thinking in the right direction, we had better be a lot more subtle about it.

    And if our goal is to earn an honourable living telling stories in such a way as not to compromise our faith, but without specifically trying to push a message, that is also good. People don't demand that Christian landscapers make only cross-shaped flowerbeds, after all.

    I think there's room for all of these approaches, quite honestly. That Christian landscaper might get some wonderful opportunities to witness, particularly if he's respected as a landscaper. The same could be very true of a writer. God being the lover of variety that He is, I think He can use all of those approaches and we just have to find out which one He's called us to do.

  10. From my experience fantasy writers handle the idea of God in one of three ways.

    1) There is a world with lots of gods, none of them all powerful. This way they can have their gods do what ever they want and no one is going to compare them to what the reader might believe God is. This is the easy way out.

    2) There is no god at all, there is just magic, or nature. They don't have to worry about people not liking the way they portray god, because they don't. This is the way of denial.

    3) There is one God. Everyone who reads the story will then try to figure out. The writer has to be very carful how he or she portrays God because people in some group will be offended. This is the way of blasphemy.

    Some writers combined #2 and #3 and just hint at God a little, without saying much.

    In my own WIP I'm struggling with how to be true to who I understand God to be, while knowing that my understanding is limited. One way that I am taking a step back from saying, "This is how God is." in the story, to to instead show how the characters view God and respond to him.

    One of the characters is wrestling with God because he doesn't understand God's plan for his life, in fact he questions if there is a plan.

    Another character only responds to God tangentially, offering up a prayer only when things are really bad. But she does see God's hand working at least a little.

    And as Pam said, I'm trying to tell a story about another world, but in our same universe, not some alternate one. So I am waling that line of blasphemy very carefully.

    I also thought it was interesting that both Pan and Christine have holy scriptures. I have started writing my own as well. More on that later.

  11. Douglas, I don't think that only having one god in a story is blasphemy. Blasphemy would be turning a Christ-figure into a demon or a liar. The Da Vinci Code is blasphemy, from what I know of it. I haven't read it.

    Having one god could be allegory. Or symbolism.

    Janet, I love your post, especially the landscaper comment! I love what John Grisham said, that he isn't a Christian writer, but a writer who happens to be a Christian.

  12. Pam, I think that anyone who protests loudly against expressions of faith is bitter because they haven't found it yet, or had it and were disappointed. If it were truly so ridiculous, it wouldn't warrant such strident criticism. It could simply be ignored.

  13. Great discussion!

    I'm not sure NOT including God is denial. The Book of Esther doesn't include God, yet He's there. TLOTR doesn't include God, yet Tolkien's Christian worldview comes through. Narnia doesn't include God, yet Christian themes and characteristics abound.

    I think it all comes down to how we handle God. Is religion a natural part of the people? Or is the author shoving a message at the reader?

    As a Christian person, my faith comes out in my writing. God is such a part of my life, it's natural to include Him in my stories, too. Of course, this limits where I can send my manuscripts, but I'm okay with that.

  14. Christine,

    You misunderstood me, or I wasn't clear. I did mean to say that have a story that has only one God is blasphemy. What I meant was that if you do only have one god represented in the story, people will look at how you are portraying him and might say that your writing is blasphemy. And chance are someone will disagree with you.

    I think the right thing to do is portray God as honestly as you can, just be aware that some people might judge you.

    Can you imagine if Aslan had dies twice and come back twice. What kind of up roar would that have caused.

    Or if my God is too Old Testament, or too inclusive.

    There are a lot of people who are upset with how God is portrayed in The Shack. The author says on his website that traditional christian publishers wouldn't touch his book so he had to self publish.

    I also agree with the other comments, you should only talk about God or God related things to the extent that it is important to the story and the characters in the story. Just because your characters go to church on Sunday, doesn't mean you have to include a church service in the story, or even say that they do go to church. On the other hand, if a character is about to make a big moral decision, it's probably okay to bring up that memory about being a good Samaritan.

    I also apologies to anyone who might be offended because I tried to lump everyone's writing into three buckets. There are as many ways to reveal God and there are writers to do it.

    But hey, it did get some discussion going :)

  15. Oh, okay. That makes more sense. And yes, you're right, no matter what you do with it someone will disagree. I know there are some people who, if you have any god figure at all that is not called Jesus Christ, would say it's blasphemy.

    I've tried writing for a Christian publisher and their rules are so strict that I can't write in them. No one can be divorced or Catholic, and everyone has to go to a nondenominational evangelical church. My hero had adopted a child and was a single father, and I was told that was a no-no, too.

  16. There is one "christian" review site and they say you can't have any alcohol, sex, or dancing in your story or they will not even review it.

    Seems a bit harsh.

  17. Alcohol is taboo is some denominations. So is dancing. Premarital sex or adulterous sex is always wrong. Each publishing house or reviewer must be true to what they believe. If they compromise their standards, what's the point of having them?

    We need to handle such things with discernment and grace, keeping within Biblical standards, of course. Glorify the good and show consequences for evil. And we should not judge or condem those who feel differently than we do. God calls everyone to different ways in the grey areas.

    Hope this makes sense.