Young Readers and the Allure of Fantasy – Part II
- 2006 10 Apr
Your daughter immerses herself in a fantasy novel. Her dinner conversations revolve around an imaginary world that focuses on the fantastical, including dragons and wizards. Your son buys the latest fantasy movie, watching it again and again, acting out its plot with imaginary swords.
Literary greats like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are known for creating a fantasy world that epitomizes biblical truth, but you feel uneasy with all this talk of special powers. And part of what your children choose isn’t Tolkien – in fact, the "Lord of the Rings" and "Narnia" fuel a hunger in them for more fantasy. You’re not sure how you feel about that.
You research the issue and find that Christians and non-Christians alike disagree on the merits of fantasy. Specific books and movies, like any of the "Harry Potter" titles, seem to cause especially heated debates, with one respected Christian leader expressing concern and another saying they’re okay. What’s a parent to do?
According to Bryan Davis, Christian author and homeschooling dad of seven, who writes the fantasy series, "Dragons In Our Midst," there is reason for concern. “Good fantasy,” says Davis, “begins with an unlikely hero who sees himself as good and decent, yet is lacking in complete submission to the higher power. Part of his journey lies in discovering that truth, and giving himself over to God after realizing his need.
“But, there is fantasy that promotes evil thinking and practices,” adds Davis. “Still, it is far too valuable of a genre to reject and toss away simply because some use it for the forces of darkness. That would be like giving up singing because so many people sing evil songs.”
Davis suggests studying the attributes of the specific work to distinguish good fantasy from bad. He says that in good fantasy the heroes and heroines are good or learn to be good. Right decisions are rewarded, and deception, disobedience and dishonesty have consequences. God is good and powerful, not evil, weak or capricious, and adults are balanced. Violence has a definable and justifiable end and is not gratuitous.
“Once parents learn how to distinguish good from bad fantasy, their concerns can be eliminated,” says Davis. “They can feel equipped to hand their kids a great fantasy book without any qualms or say ‘no’ to inappropriate books and give solid reasons for rejecting them.”
In regards to the concern of fantasy’s use of supernatural powers, Davis points to Christ. “Through His miracles Jesus brought fantasy to life, using His supernatural power to bring us fantastic, unforgettable illustrations that would never have happened had He not intervened against the natural forces of this world. And what is fantasy but a story that cannot be true if not for supernatural power?”
Davis believes that in good fantasy special powers have their origin from a higher power of goodness, and can be used as a symbol of spiritual power that we receive from above. “In my books,” explains Davis, “my hero obtains Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur, but he is unable to use its power until he submits himself to God. Then, the sword flashes with light, and the light cuts anything in its path. This is a superhuman power that no one really has, but it is a symbol of the power that God can give, the power of the sharp, two-edged sword, God’s Word.”
Still, Davis has a code of ethics when dealing with the supernatural in his writing. “In my 'Dragons in Our Midst' series, I had real kids in real time with a real Christ, so blending reality with fantasy and staying within a biblically allowable framework was very difficult.” Davis chose to follow stringent guidelines as he developed the supernatural elements of the plot, a decision he felt was especially important because he mixed a “real” world with a fantasy world.*
Davis asserts that writers who create a completely imaginary world have more freedom with fantasy content. He uses Donita Paul, author of the "DragonKeeper" series as an example. “Donita wrote in a completely different world with a different set of rules, so she didn’t have to wrestle with the issues I did. She maintained a biblical morality and worldview, but she could be freer with a number of fantasy elements. She could have a good wizard and magic within the guidelines. I could not.
“A simple test of good fantasy is whether or not it reflects established truth,” adds Davis. “The fantasy story is a conduit. It doesn’t pretend to be true or the source of truth; it only wants to paint a picture of truth in a symbolic format.”
Sharing symbolic truth is a goal for Randall Mortenson, author of the "Landon Snow" series written for children ages 9 to 12. “I wanted to combine my two greatest loves: the literature of the Bible and the literature of fantasy.” The "Snow" books, which tackle such theological issues as sovereignty, grace, good, and evil, portray the young protagonist, Landon, as he is called into adventure after reading Scripture.
“The adventure for the Christian begins when we heed Jesus' call to ‘follow me,’” says Mortenson. “My books illustrate that there is One who is above our adventures who knows the bigger purpose.” In Mortenson’s series, the protagonist, Landon, also confronts evil and learns that part of the journey is seeking to follow God's path even amid shadows. “To follow God’s path, we need His light to show us the way,” adds Mortenson, who seeks to point kids back to the Bible when he writes.
Paul’s book, "DragonSpell," follows its main character, Kale, as she discovers the love of her creator, and the acceptance of her savior – but it’s all in symbolic language. “I don’t spell out the Gospel or preach through my stories. I want to stir up an interest and send the reader on his own quest to find God through Jesus Christ,” says Paul.
Of course, not all fantasy is written with Christian symbolism. That doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t redemptive themes within the story. Davis encourages parents to test the literature against the principles he’s mentioned and talk about its themes with their children. “A parent who is well-versed in how to explain fantasy concepts can help children discern between fantasy magic and magic that is condemned in Scripture.”
According to Davis, the parent’s role in all of life includes giving their children vivid illustrations that relate to the bedrock of spiritual truth, the Bible. “It is up to the reader and his or her parental guides to relate the images of fantasy to reality. The fantasy story is powerful because it paints indelible pictures that might not readily appear in other writings. As the reader remembers the pictures of good fantasy, he remembers the spiritual connections and the reality behind it. Since Jesus used this kind of teaching, it would be a tragedy to abandon the genre simply because it has been taken into dark places. I believe it’s time to redeem fantasy from the darkness and bring it back to the light where it belongs.”
Click here to read Part I.
A homeschooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace. Published over 300 times, she’s recently released two novels: Titanic: Legacy of Betrayal and Postmark: Christmas. Her website offers homeschooling and parenting articles, devotionals, and information about her books. www.paulamoldenhauer.com Contact Paula: Paula@soulscents.us
For kids’ book reviews of the books mentioned and interviews with the authors, please visit:
*The boundaries Davis follows for writing fantasy can be viewed at: http://www.dragonsinourmidst.com/magic.html. For an in depth article which compares The Lord of the Rings with Harry Potter visit: http://www.decentfilms.com/sections/articles/2567. For further study of Bryan Davis’ thoughts on fantasy, see, “Fantasy and the Heart of the Child” at: http://www.dragonsinourmidst.com/fantasy.pdf