Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Faith in Fantasy

Fantasy stories are fascinating inventions. The writer creates whole worlds apart from our own, and populates them with a variety of peoples, from elves and humans to goblins and nymphs. Creatures inhabit these worlds too in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Anything can happen in stories set in these secondary worlds. The reader’s imagination is put to work when he or she reads fantasy. The battle of Helm’s Deep, or the secret meeting between Mr. Tumnus and Lucy Pevensie under the lamppost, or the flight to Neverland all require one’s imagination to turn the gears and give the words the muscle and skin the reader designs.

These stories are a good way to relax for a while, perhaps after a particularly hard final exam, or a stressful day at work. We can sit down and read (or write, it can be relaxing on both sides) and become lost in a good story for a little while. Readers and writers alike ought to remember, though, that it’s not healthy to obsess over these worlds and the heroes within them. These stories shouldn’t be used to avoid responsibilities, or as a shield against all of the problems in life, or become too obsessed. But when we know that these stories of fantasy that tickle the imagination are not real, we are better off, and even better when we learn from the struggles of the characters, identifying with their weaknesses or strengths.

Fantasy and imagination can be a form of entertainment (in moderation). But it can also direct our attention to our faith in God. The imagination is a tool, one which writers take advantage of to create these fantasy stories. And through their words, readers will go on wild adventures and turn pages to see if their favorite characters make it to the end. And sometimes fantasy can also direct readers to faith, using the fictional to illustrate fact, similar to Jesus’ parables. It’s not just fantasy that has this ability, other genres can do this too, but fantasy relies very heavily on imagination, so it’s the genre we’re looking at here. Imagination can be a tool used by writers to guide readers to the reality of their faith, and even the real world.

Imagination and fantasy, in the midst of new and exotic worlds and peoples, can draw from Biblical principles, weaving them into the story, however quietly or boldly as the writer deems appropriate. It can teach and edify readers and writers alike as the characters of the stories grow and learn. C.S. Lewis does this in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with the message of forgiveness by showing how Edmund is forgiven of betraying his siblings to the White Witch. The stories the imagination creates can also use the stories from the Bible, as a pattern or mold for the plot as allegories, and can become like a track for the themes and messages of the stories. Mr. Lewis utilizes allegory by using Aslan as a representative of Jesus Christ, and in his fantasy story, he illustrates the sacrifice Christ made for us through the sacrifice Aslan makes for Edmund. This use of the imagination, combined with the adventure and peril surrounding the characters, lends a fresh look at the real story, and reinforces the power and affect of the true story of Jesus’ death for us.

The characters, plot, and settings all work to convey the themes and messages of fantasy to readers, and this includes themes and messages pertaining to our faith. The imagination puts the words into pictures, so when these elements of a story are brought into the imagination, we have an image we can use, a sort of model, to see the message that is intended. It creates a sort of channel that delivers the message in illustrations our minds create, and when we see the characters we can relate to being affected by the events of the story and learning from their actions, we in turn can learn. The characters can help direct us toward God by the way they behave and grow throughout the story.

Reading these stories can be profitable, but they must be written first. And even writing the stories can produce moments where the writer learns from or is challenged by the messages in his or her own tale. Both the creation of the story and the reading of it can be edifying. As I was writing Here I Stand (a novella for a college course), my protagonist learned to stand for his beliefs, even when everyone else didn’t, and when he was persecuted for refusing to bow before false gods. At the same time, he learned to trust in God and His perfect plan, and that even in the midst torture, God planned for that to happen. My protagonist learned to trust in that plan even when he didn’t know where it would take him.

Later, I was worrying about the future. About my personal life, about my writing. It was getting frustrating and upsetting. But I realized: I just made this character struggle with this, and he learned to trust God. Why aren’t I doing what he did? I just dragged that character through misery and heartbreak in order to teach it to him. Why am I not taking to heart what I strove to illustrate?

So I learned to trust God with my struggles. Mine were nowhere near the conditions my protagonist suffered, but the idea was the same: I learned through my own character to trust God when things were getting hard. My imagination and the story I crafted with it taught me that lesson. I think because I had been invested in the protagonist’s life and outcome, the message hit a little closer to home and was able to leave a stronger impact. So writing and reading fantasy both have the potential to teach and challenge. They’re a great source of entertainment, but they’re also a great source of faith.

By pulling the real into fantasy, we can be directed to the reality of faith through the story. The imagination can craft stories and adventures that provide a fresh look at Biblical stories and the messages that accompany them, as well as the principles taught throughout the Bible. It’s a treasure trove of material to be woven into stories, so they can reach further to readers and teach and even challenge them to reach higher in their faith. When the stories involve complex characters and high-stakes plots, the message will come through all the stronger.

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