A Defense of Fantasy

By now you might be thinking, “Boy, this guy sure hates fantasy!” Not so. What I hate is lousy fantasy. And even more, I hate fantasy that serves an evil purpose, no matter how well it might be written.

If you read a few dozen current fantasy novels, you might come to the conclusion that the best you can hope for is fantasy that serves a merely idle purpose. Some Christians refuse to believe there’s any such thing as edifying fantasy. I can hardly blame them. However, the profusion of wicked or at best silly fantasies does not rule out the possibility of using fantasy in the service of God and good.

No, you’re not going to manage it with stuff like The Maze Runners or Game of Thrones.

But why use fantasy at all? Well, here are a few reasons.

1. Why not? We’ve seen it done before.

2. Young readers are crazy about fantasy, can’t get enough of it. So you’ve got a built-in audience–indeed, an audience that needs to be better-served than it is just now.

3. Like other forms of fiction, fantasy can readily be written as an extended parable. Just think of the story of the Prodigal Son turned into a novel. Warning: If you do this heavy-handedly, it won’t work. The reader will resent it when the writer tries to dominate him.

4. Fantasy is more like poetry, or even music, than most other kinds of fiction can ever be. It gets under your skin.

Look, it can’t possibly be as hard as, say, finding a constructive use for rap music.

Of course, if you’re going to write a sermon, write a sermon. Don’t write a sermon disguised as a fantasy. It won’t fool anyone. And even more of course, we’re not talking about creating a “Christian fantasy” by imitating everybody else’s fantasies and then just tacking on some scenes of characters praying or going to church or quoting Scripture at random places in the story.

Why concede to the pagans a whole realm of art, not to mention a very big chunk of the readership market? Are we not in a state of spiritual warfare?

I see John Bunyan, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien standing tall on this battlefield; and I will run, not walk, to join them.

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