Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Literary Things: A Christian's Response to Fantasy Novels

     There were certain rules we had growing up. As children, we didn't watch questionable movies. We didn't discuss certain subjects. And we didn't read any fantasy.

     Fast forward about two decades, and I'm now the mother of an avid bookworm who recently discovered the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. This series, if you're not familiar with it, is Disneyland for mythology lovers. My son Nate has read about a modern-day, turban-sporting Medusa; a son who rescues his mother from Hades; and a god of revelry who now only drinks Diet Coke as part of his twelve-step program.

     I've asked myself several times how I feel as a Christian about fantasy novels, and I usually end up answering myself with, "I have no stinking idea," or something equally as helpful.

     I recently read a novel by one of my cyber writing buddies. First of Her Kind by K. L. Schewengel is exactly the kind of book my father would have banned when I was growing up: the heroine's aunt is a devoted servant of The Goddess, the heroine herself possesses magical powers beyond her control, and the hero possesses many "out-there" talents like miraculous healing and mystical telepathy.

     I read First of Her Kind and enjoyed both the writing style and the plot line. Nothing in the book threatened my faith or shook my relationship with the Lord. But it was still a stretch for me -- both as a reader and as a Christian -- to read something so drastically different from my typical weekend book list (which lately has included Les Miserables, a Christian historical fiction novel by the Theones, and a mystery set in turn-of-the-century New York City).

     Positive arguments could be made for Christians to read fantasy. The characteristic good versus evil motif was strong and kicking in First of Her Kind, and I'm sure if I wanted to I could find parallels between how Christ helps deliver us from evil and how the hero defends the heroine in Schwengel's novel. (For the record, I was much more into enjoying a fun weekend fling with a good book than I was expecting to delve deep into theological matters.)

     I think an even more convincing argument for fantasy is exemplified by my son Nate, the fantasy fanatic of our household. Nate has a colorful, vivid, beautiful imagination, which has been nurtured by years of reading. Nate can dream up masterpieces of imaginative creativity because his mind has been stretched by all the books he's devoured in his short lifetime.

     As I've grown in my gifting as an intercessor (one who prays passionately for certain people or causes), I've discovered that the most powerful prayers require an awful lot of faith. And faith, in my opinion, can be bolstered, encouraged, and nurtured by an active imagination. My times of deepest intercession have involved vivid mental pictures of how God might answer my prayers. What else could you call that besides imagination?

     So if prayer is bolstered by imagination, and if imagination is inspired by works of fantasy like my friend's novel, could devouring fantasy like my son Nate does end up boosting someone's prayer life?

     Who knows? I have no idea if Nate is going to develop the same heart for prayer as I have, or if his love for fantasy will enhance his prayer life or not. But it's at least given me something to think about and chew on over the next few years as I watch how he grows as a Christian ... and how I grow as a reader.

     And by the way, I think First of Her Kind is definitely a book worth reading, regardless of your spiritual background (or lack thereof!). So I'm setting up a giveaway over the next week. Just check out below to see how you can enter to win K. L. Schwengel's novel. (Sorry, US shipping only.) And if you'd rather just grab the ebook, I highly recommend it!

Random Fact #15: The Red Violin was the first R-rated movie I ever saw. I was 17 and watched it with my mom.

Did you know? My Christian novel about a young girl in North Korea is free for the next few days on kindle in honor of North Korea Freedom Week. Get The Beloved Daughter free!

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  1. Funny, I was given free reign of my reading material. I guess my parents figured they couldn't censor it anyway, why try? But my dad WOULD talk about whatever I was reading and I wouldn't trade those conversations for the world! I'm hoping that, while I AM a little stricter than my parents were, that I can continue the tradition of discussion begun so long ago!

    1. I like what Paul says - whatever you do, do it for the glory of God - whether that's letting your kids read certain things or not!

  2. I guess having an active imagination helps me pray. I'd say it is more useful in helping me to be gracious or compassionate, though.

    To this day, I inwardly shudder when I hear Smurfs or Carebears. They were completely banned from our home after my parents talked with a friend who was a former Wiccan. There was plenty of other fantasy, though. We had mythology books from around the world, collections of not-so-edited fairy tales (some of which get pretty rough), fantasy novels, and fantasy movies. We were even allowed to watch He-Man and She-Ra until I started swinging from my curtains. I think the key factor is discernment. If something has an ideology that doesn't line up with the one we hope to pass on to our kids, we either don't allow it or we use it as an apologetics lesson. :-)

    1. On the surface, that's actually quite ironic. we couldn't watch Carebears, Smurfs, OR SHE-ra. I guess that's why I twitch more often than you do.

  3. My husband wasn't allowed to watch the Smurfs or listen the The Beatles. Our kids don't especially care for the Smurfs, but they're both Beatles fanatics. :)

    I try to be careful about what the boys are exposed to, and make sure they know they can ask me questions and expect honest answers when they see or hear something that confuses them. But I don't understand not wanting kids (especially older ones who are developing critical thinking skills) to be exposed to anything that might expand their worldviews or raise questions. I like how you look at this. There can be positive messages in books that aren't explicitly Christian, and I think it's beneficial to be exposed to ideas outside of what we already believe. I'd rather we read a well-written, thought provoking book that raises questions we can explore together than a poorly thought-out and badly written one that's only promoted because the message is approved and it tells us what to think.* I do love Fantasy, and I think imagination is important, but I don't like a book just because it's Fantasy, or Mystery, or Insprational. I like it because it's a good book, and has a message beyond an explicit, expected moral.

    *Not saying all Christian books are like that, or even most; I wish I had a Kindle so I could take advantage on the offer of yours. It sounds fascinating, and I like your style in your WIPpet Wednesday offerings.I just have a lot of thoughts on not allowing things into our lives that might challenge us. :)

    1. Kate - I love your comments. Thanks for your thoughtful remarks! I once read this horrible awful goody-goody chapter book to the boys where the solution to everything was "Let's pray about it" and in the next chapter the tension was resolved and I wanted to gag! I'm with you - I'd rather expose my kids to different worldviews that teach them that a simple prayer will make everything better in 5 pages or less!

  4. When I was young my parents were what I could best call "lapsed Christians moving towards Paganism" (which is now full Christian again) and I had an amazing amount of exposure to fantasy and science fiction (as well as mysteries, literary fiction, etc., and I think what Kate says above (and you as well in your reply, Alana) about a good book being a good book being the important part.

    It's hard to rework though patterns that have been with us since childhood; we know our parents made the choices they did because they wanted to give us the strongest tools for living in this world (and for some, in the world beyond) that they could. They limited us out of love as much as they gave to us out of love. But we're human, and so were they. Sometimes they just didn't know about other wonderful tools or how to use them right.

    We're all always learning and growing. I'm almost 1/2 to my grandfather's age, and I feel like the more I know the less I know because there's always new doors to open and explore. There are always new and wonderful people out there, etc., and ...

    Well, basically, I'm so glad I've met so many wonderful people and learned about so many ideas through views I don't always believe or agree with. If anything, learning about these things has reaffirmed the strength I have in my own bliefs and values.

    May this be so for you and your family, Alana.

    1. I love your thoughtful words, Eden, and I'm honored that you took the time to share your wisdom and experiences. "It's hard to rework though patterns that have been with us since childhood" ... so true! And, like you, I'm also thankful for people who have exposed me to a wide range or worldviews and philosophies. I feel much the richer for it.