Fantasy, often of the YA variety, appears to comprise the largest segment of the Christian Speculative Fiction category. Bryan Davis, Jill Williamson, Donita K. Paul, Wayne Thomas Batson, Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Christopher Hopper, Jeffrey Overstreet, D. Barkley Briggs, C.S. Lakin, Vox Day, Karen Hancock, G.P. Taylor, Stephen Lawhead, are just a few of the Christian authors with entries in this field. By way of example, the last three Christy Award winners in the “Visionary” category have been Fantasy novels.
Having bemoaned the disparity of Spec titles in the Christian Fiction market, it’s rather fascinating (to me, at least) how so many of the titles that DO make it into the market are in the Fantasy genre. Why is this?
I’m sure there’s lots of possible reasons. On the surface, you could say we’re simply following the footsteps of two of the greatest Christian novelists ever in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Narnia and Middle Earth sagas have shaped the genre. But I have another theory. It goes like this:
Fantasy Fiction is a buffer against theological scrutiny.
This is the “Christian” part of “Christian Fiction.” Our tales must jibe with revealed biblical truths. Stories that take place in make-believe worlds are LESS subject to theological analysis than stories in “real-world” settings. In realms where magic is tolerable, ethics may also have wiggle room. If I am free to create Elvish races, then binding those races to the Ten Commandments (or some equivalent) is my prerogative. Which is why one reason for a Christian novelist to write Fantasy is to evade the Theology Police.
Let me give you an example from my own experience.
My first novel, The Resurrection, takes place in a “real-world” setting. Stonetree is a small coastal community with a dark history. Apparently, a man who’d been used by God to raise someone from the dead was sacrificed to a pagan deity. His soul was effectively imprisoned and the Land was cursed. That curse was maintained by each successive generation. One of my protagonist’s goals becomes to “free” this healer and return his soul to God.
Several reviewers pointed out that, in the real world, this was impossible.
And I pretty much agree.
At Speculative Faith, novelist and editor Rachel Starr Thompson addressed this subject in an entry entitled When Speculation is… Confusing. She compared two recent books she’d read, one of them being The Resurrection. Rachel wrote:
I’m somewhat ambivalent about speculative fiction that takes place in this world… I mean, when we’re making up an entire world from scratch, then I think we’ve got fair license to make it work however we want. But if we set a story in this world, don’t we have some responsibility to play by the rules of this world? If we don’t– if we blur the lines between reality and fantasy– do we risk causing confusion to our readers, especially as pertains to spiritual realities? (emphasis mine)
Let me be clear: Rachel’s review is fair and generous. I don’t consider her part of the Theology Police (a term I’m wielding with lotsa snark). However, I think Rachel’s approach is indicative of how many Christian readers approach fiction.
It’s also why writing Fantasy provides a theological buffer.
In writing fantasy worlds, the author has a “fair license” to create her own laws. On the other hand, stories rooted in the here-and-now are somewhat bound by “the rules of this world.” In other words, I am free to sacrifice characters to pagan gods. I am not, however, free to allow those gods to be stronger than the Christian God.
Unless, I write Fantasy.
In writing Fantasy Fiction, not only can the Christian author be ambiguous about God or gods, she is free to create a world where that God / those gods interact with their creation and its denizens in whatever ways appropriate. So in Middle Earth, souls can be bound under lock and curse without a problem (see: The Dead Men of Dunharrow). In Stonetree, however, the “dead” must stay that way.
Which is one reason I’m suggesting that Fantasy Fiction is so prominent among Christian novelists. Christian Fantasy novels provide a buffer against theological scrutiny. So the author can write what they want without fear of being nabbed by the Theology Police. After all, you don’t need to watch your theological P’s and Q’s if the world you create uses a different alphabet.