Saturday, September 20, 2014
Christian Fantasy: Regaining Lost Ground
As I survey the landscape of both fantasy fiction and Christian readers, I am saddened by a trend happening across the nation. It is not a new trend, but a slide down a slippery slope that has been going on for nearly half a century. We have all heard the old adage about boiling a frog by putting it in cold water and slowing turning up the heat. A similar fate seems to have overtaken the legacy left by the founders of fantasy fiction. It is the secularization of the genre, and the alienation of Christian readers.
Epic fantasy has its deepest roots dating back hundreds or thousands of years, into ancient myths and legends. But around the time of World War II, two friends produced works that brought myths and legends to life in vivid works of fiction, blended with themes of faith and Christianity. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are widely recognized as the fathers of modern, epic fantasy. They were also Christians, with Tolkien actually leading Lewis from agnosticism to faith in Christ. Lewis went on to not only be an amazing fantasy writer, but his theological work, especially in the area of Christian apologetics, was profound.
So with such profoundly faith-based roots in the founding fathers of modern fantasy, and in those who followed closely on their heels, why do we find today the majority of Christian readers retreating from anything resembling fantasy? While there have been stalwart Christian fantasy authors who have fought the good fight, from Tolkien and Lewis, through Madeline L’Engle, Katherine Kurtz, Frank Peretti, Stephen Lawhea, Ted Dekker, and others, Christians seem to have largely lost their beachhead in fantasy fiction.
A look at the recent top-selling authors in the fantasy genre is all it might take to turn away most Christian readers. Best sellers filled with gratuitous gore and sex, soaked in foul language, and reveling in glorifying sin in all its manifestations are a large reason Christian readers are retreating in droves from a genre that seems to have lost any glimmer of light whatsoever.
But I would urge Christian readers to pause a moment to recognize, all is not lost. There are faithful fantasy and science fiction authors who have not checked their faith at the door in order to sell books to the masses. In addition to the breakout Christian authors mentioned above, there are a plethora of Christian Speculative Fiction authors grinding away in near obscurity, producing great fantasy and science fiction stories that are firmly grounded in their faith. There are faithful Christian Speculative Fiction review sites, like David Bergsland’s “Reality Calling” ( www.radiqx.com ) or Peter Younghusband’s “Christian Fiction Review” ( http://christianfictionreviewguru.blogspot.com ) who dedicate time and energy to informing Christian readers about wholesome, faith-based fantasy and science fiction stories. There are many Christian fantasy reader groups on Facebook and Goodreads, like “Why Christian Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books Totally Rule” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/18977857016/ ), “Christian Fiction Gathering” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/christianfictiongathering/ ), to help readers connect with faithful authors.
I say all this to make one point crystal clear. If you are a Christian that loves Tolkien and Lewis, don’t despair. There are many more adventures waiting that do not require you to check your faith at the door or steel yourself for a wade through filth just to get your fantasy fix. If you are willing to search for these authors, I can promise there are thousands of faithful authors desperately looking to connect with YOU! Remember the story from 1 Kings 19 where Elijah felt like he was the only one in the world that still believed and served God, but God answered and said He had reserved seven thousand to Himself who had not bowed a knee to Baal. Both Christian authors seeing to connect with readers, and Christian readers despairing of the state of modern fantasy are both crying out like Elijah that they are alone. Yet I can tell you, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, that if you seek, you will find.
Readers, there are authors out there who have not bowed their knee, and who are writing for you. Authors, there are Christians who love fantasy and science fiction, and are desperately seeking faithful reading options. With a little effort, we can find each other and send a message to the publishing industry that Christians have not abandoned this marketplace, but that there are millions of faithful readers out there willing to support faithful authors. When we do that, these publishers currently making their livelihoods off pedaling sin-riddled literature will have to get on board and be a part of turning this industry back to its Christian roots.