The Gentleman Adventurer and Creative Fiction

Posted on August 18, 2010 by

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A Thinking Christian’s Look at Science Fiction and Fantasy

There’s been a lot of discussion going around regarding the evaluation and criticism of various forms of what I term “creative fiction” – i.e., the genres typically labeled “science fiction” and “fantasy.” I realize that those are both very broad categories and that they intermingle with a lot of other genres of literature. However, the meanings these terms carry are commonly understood and they will do for our purposes. One note: the majority of the items in this article do not necessarily apply to cultural mythologies, and these will be treated separately later on.

Everything else I am about to say is predicated on the idea that creative fiction of any kind creates its own fictional reality, separate from real life but also subject (within the context of itself) to the laws of the One True God. Based on this, a Christian can evaluate any fictional setting in the light of Scripture, and determine whether or not it is one of “these things” upon which the Apostle Paul commanded us to dwell (Philippians 4:8). These are concepts that are covered at length in other articles, and they will not be reiterated here.

To be clear, the principles just stated (and outlined elsewhere) are, I believe, founded in Scripture, and ought to apply to all Christians. However the rules below are my own and are tools that I have developed to help myself think critically about this subject. I do not insist that anyone else uses or adheres to them.

First, all fiction written by uninspired humans possesses, by its very nature, some level of error. This is important to grasp. As humans are fallible, so must be the fictional “universes” they create. So going through any work of creative fiction with the intent of nitpicking and looking for every error, theological or otherwise, is really a very immature method of criticism. Obviously, though, the line has to be drawn somewhere. My personal rule then is that the fictional universe not be one that excludes or detracts from the glory of Christ as the Creator and the Ruler of all things.

Second, fictional universes need to be examined within the context of their own realities. It’s impossible for humans to write anything that is really wholly original. We are all going to borrow from things that have influenced our thinking; from important cultural or literary concepts to which we have been exposed, and even people, names, and places from other stories. However, since as the reader I have my own cultural and literary prejudices that shape the way I will perceive a story, the only truly objective way to evaluate it is within the context of its own reality.

For instance, it is common for a writer of fiction to borrow from their own ethnic background or culture for characters and concepts within their own stories. A good example of this is the universe surrounding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien borrows heavily from Germanic mythology (and when I say “borrows heavily”, I mean “deliberately plagiarizes”) for many of his concepts, names, places, and characters.

To examine Tolkien’s world in the light of Germanic mythology, and to thereby pronounce it pagan to its core, would be incorrect. Though it draws heavily on Germanic myths for some of its material, it is not Germanic mythology and cannot be examined as such. So we have to examine it based on the Word of God (because God demands to be glorified in our fantasies as well as our realities), but we must apply the principles of the Word of God to the universe itself as though it were its own, real, closed system. This is a difficult concept for some people, but it is important if we are to examine things objectively.

The third and last point is that a fictional reality need not be a one-for-one allegory of events told out in Scripture to be a worthwhile story. In fact, a truly worthwhile story will probably not be. What will make it a good story is if it points to a positive and an essentially Christian worldview. We shouldn’t be reading fantasy to get our theology, nor should we expect to find 100% correct theology in any fantasy setting. Scripture and Scripture alone is the final rule for faith and practice. Everything else, even at best, is a tool to help us along the way.

A final note regarding cultural mythologies

I use the phrase “cultural mythologies” to refer to the pagan mythologies that are present in every culture and ethnicity in the world at some point. If a Christian reads and delves into these mythologies, it needs to be from a correct mindset. That is, these stories are false, pagan, and do not embrace the One True God.

They are, however, useful, in that they tell us the story of people who struggled to explain the world around them and a dimly-perceived spiritual realm by means of things they could grasp and understand. Without understanding the mythologies that have shaped modern civilization, we are unable to properly understand the influence that they have had.

So if you plan to be any kind of a student of any culture or civilization, you need to understand and examine – in the light of Scripture – the myths and the mindsets that have shaped and influenced.

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Posted in: food for thought