Monday, January 7, 2013

The Bible and Fantasy: Part 2

So, magic.

Of all the complaints I've heard against fantasy, magic is the one brought up the most.

Magic is difficult to define.  Every author defines it differently in his or her book.  In "Ember Flame," I treat magic as a gift from Elethor (God) to a select group of people.  Tolkien did not like to use the word "magic" when talking about his Elves, but Elvish "magic" in Lord of the Rings is more like a DNA thing.  Elves just naturally have it.  "The Princess and the Goblin" by George MacDonald treats it as a natural part of the world, never explaining it.

All that to say, magic is difficult to nail down.  But most people, most Christians, who have trouble with magic mostly attribute it to what the Bible says about witchcraft and spells.  Here are some verses:

Revelation 21: 8  "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars-they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death."

2 Chronicles 33: 6 (talking about Manassah, a wicked king of Judah) "He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists.  He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger."

Galatians 5: 19-21 "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God."

(more verses include Deuteronomy 18:10, Micah 5:12, Isaiah 47: 11-13, Ezekiel 13:20)

Obviously, God is less than pleased with "magic arts" and "sorcery."  So why am I about to defend certain magic in fantasy?  Well, take a look at those verses.  Look up the ones I listed.  Feel free to go on BibleGateway and search "magic" "sorcery" "witchcraft" etc.  See what almost all of those verses have in common?  They are almost always listed with other really bad sins, like murder, child sacrifice, lying, and cowardice.

But want to see what I did not list up there?  The fact that the Jews thought that Jesus was demon possessed.  They were trying to explain how he could possibly do miracles.  This is a very interesting passage, and you really should read it all even though it is long.  It drives home a point I made in my last post, but this is my favorite part.

John 8: 48-58

" The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”
“I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.  Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”
At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death.  Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”
 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.  Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”"

May I first say that I just love Jesus?
I mean seriously.  Seriously.

"If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you..."  XD

Don't you just love his response to the Jews' snark?  The comment about the fifty years?  I can just see their faces when he pulled an "I am!" on them.  

My Savior rocks, y'all.

*sigh* okay, awesomeness aside, you see what He did there?  "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing."  This was the main point of my post about God in fantasy.  Fantasies, and all writing done by Christians, should be written with the sole purpose of glorifying God.  Now, I'm not saying you turn your novel into a Bible-spouting weapon to beat people over the head with.  I'm simply saying our entire purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  We should enjoy the talents God gives us, and we should use them to the best of our abilities.  That includes our imagination and writing.  And we should use them not for our own glory, but for God's.  

Personally, I'm with Tolkien on the word "magic."  Tolkien did not like using the word because he thought it gave bad connotations.  And he is absolutely right.  "Magic" is a very loose word, and as such, it scares a lot of people.  It could be as innocent as the fairy godmother waving a wand saying "bibbity bobbity boo!" or it could be as dark as a seance and Wicca.  Here is how I personally choose to define "magic" and its different versions in fantasy.

"Magic" is the supernatural/natural/mystical/whatever that characters and worlds in fantasy often have.  It's simply the broad term that includes my next two definitions.  

"Miracles" are "magic" given to certain characters/creatures in a fantasy novel by a deity or higher power.

"Dark Arts" is what is referred to in the verses above.  It's people who turn away from the good side and instead search for power in the dark side.  I like to lump creepiness like channeling dead peeps, talking to demons, and other bad stuff in this category.  

So, you see my differences?  Tolkien's Elves have a natural ability to live forever (unless killed or die of grief), make powerful rings, be more "in tune" with nature, etc.  It was a natural grace given to them by Eru, God in the novel.  This is in the "miracle" category.  

I have not read any books with "good" characters who do Dark Arts, but I know that it has unfortunately become a theme in books now.  That's really sad.  So many people have turned away from the true, loving, and darn awesome God who created them.  But I can give you a "sorta" example.  Regina, the Evil Queen, in ABC's Once Upon a Time learned magic from Rumpelstiltskin, the Dark One.  His dark powers are a curse, which he got by murdering someone.  The Evil Queen is most certainly an evil character, and she uses her powers for evil.  Even though she does not say creepy incantations or anything like that, I still categorize this under "Dark Arts."  

Meanwhile, Emma Swan from the same show, has a natural magic she inherited from her parents.  She uses this power for good, and only good.  This is a "miracle."  

I completely understand why so many people have qualms against fantasy.  Like every genre, it does have some murky waters, and it has become increasingly so in the past few years.  Paganism, the worship of many gods and goddesses, has become quite a trend in fantasy.  Judging by what I have seen on NaNoWriMo forums, people have become obsessed with making witches and wizards the protagonists of their novels.  Dark spells, curses, and demons are beginning to abound.  Horror and fantasy have begun to be intermixed more often than not.  

It's just another sad example that we live in a de-evolving world.  Everything is going downhill, crying to God to hurry and come.  But you know what would be worse than accepting this new ideal that I fear is more than a trend in fantasy?  It would be worse to run from it.  To refuse to have anything to do with the whole genre.  Jesus commissioned Christians to go and make disciples.  To do that, we will have to be in the world, and we will have to be armed with the Spirit and the Word.  I'm not saying to go and read all those dark books.  Jesus also said to guard your hearts.  I'm saying not to run from this dark world and cower in our own little corner of safety, but to fight the darkness with the light of God's Word.  Fantasy, and all genres, desperately need more good, Christian writers.  Writers who aren't there to beat people over the head with a Bible, but to show them the love and sacrifice of Christ.  

Magic is simply one of the things that come with fantasy.  Jesus and his disciples performed miracles, your characters can too.  Nobody has issues with villains murdering other people, so I think it is okay for villains to practice dark arts. Just be sure to make it absolutely clear that what they are doing is bad, and it has consequences.  I would shy away from going into detail though.  Imagination is a gift from God, but like everything else in this world, it can be corrupted.  You don't need to imagine incredibly evil and dark images.  And you certainly don't need to put them in a novel meant to glorify God.  You don't want to become a stumbling block, so cover your novel in prayer and God will show you what to keep and what to remove.  

If you still feel qualms about magic, then perhaps God is calling you to a different genre.  Or perhaps he wants you to bring an entirely new angle to fantasy.  But, this is completely my opinion, fantasy without magic is kind of like a world without air.  And besides, isn't our own planet a miracle?  How is it possible that billions and billions of chemicals, temperatures, cycles, and gravity combine in just the right way to make life a reality?  How is it possible outside of God?  The purpose of the Christian life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and I still believe that the purpose of fantasy is to bring the small details into focus.  We are all living miracles!  It's just so easy to get bogged down in the everyday, seemingly mundane, reality we trudge through day after day.  I think magic is simply another tool that can be used to show the miracles, truths, darkness, and light of our own world.

Wow, what a long post!  I've changed my mind, mystical creatures is in two more days.  XD  Plus, I'll probably have a little bit more on magic in specific books.  See ya then!