This week, I want to start a conversation about two of my favourite things: God and fantasy. I don’t mean the “whatever you want in the whole world” kind of fantasy, but the kind that involves magic and dragons and heroes. I have loved stories like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter since I was a little kid, but I can’t help but notice that there are several Christian groups that boycott such stories. In the spirit of fair conversation, I want to look at the issue over the course of a few posts, and see what we can learn about the connection between our faith and stories of magic.
As far as I can tell, the main argument that people have against fantasy is the inclusion of magic. The Bible clearly condemns the use of magic in Leviticus 19:26b, “Do not practice divination or sorcery.” The Book of Deuteronomy goes into further detail in chapter 18:9-12:
“When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults with the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.”
It is clear that the use of magic by God’s people is not part of His great plan.
The argument continues that even if reading about magic is not wrong, stories like Harry Potter can draw people into the realm of the occult as they long to know more of this magic. What may begin as simple curiosity can become an unhealthy interest, and perhaps lead to participation in magical rituals. As a devout Christian who has previously explored other forms of spirituality, I acknowledge the danger of an overly enthusiastic interest in the occult, but I’m not sure if avoiding magical stories altogether is the answer.
On the other hand, fantasy stories can be incredible tools to express universal truths. The fantasy I grew up with (such as the Disney stories, or the Chronicles of Narnia) are tales full of adventure, heroism, and good triumphing over evil. Fantasy allows for over-the-top characters that can be representations of ideas and forces.
We all need a safe place to explore the big ideas of our lives. Fantasy stories allow us to delve into the concepts of sacrifice, teamwork, family, and love without becoming overwhelmed by the reality of these things. The stories take place in a world that doesn’t exist, so we are free to learn about self-sacrificial heroism without having to lose someone close to us in real life. Our children can learn the dangers of evil without having to come face to face with a kidnapper. Just as play teaches children practical skills they will need when they are older, reading (or watching) fantasy can equip us with knowledge and wisdom that can really make a difference later in life.
Fantasy makes these concepts easier to learn by giving a world that is black and white. The villain is obviously evil and worthy of judgement (the black cape or red eyes always give it away). The hero is a shining example for us all, who is given his just reward in the end. The actions of both sides are clearly the ones we would make or avoid. The world may not be full of choices that are so easy, but having a base line from which to discern good and evil certainly helps.
We have not specifically addressed the issue of magic, however. Much of what I have said of fantasy could easily be made true in tales without magic. The problem, however, is that magic is an amazingly resonant analogy for power.
In our age of nuclear missiles and war machines, nothing we face is as mysterious and powerful as magic. The villains of our stories often wield magic far more potent than that of our heroes (if they are magical at all). Yet, magic is not always an evil thing in the world of fantasy. Like military or political power in the real world, magic can often be used for good, such as healing or fighting evil. We learn from fantasy that power CAN be corrupting and must be watched, something Christians should be aware of.
One big difference between the world of fantasy and the world of reality is the existence of God. Most fantasy stories do not have an omnipotent God that has declared magic to be against the rules. Magic is just a part of the world, to be accessed by whoever has the ability to do so. Not so in our world. God has spoken and told us that His children are not to dabble in the realm of magic. As long as we can understand that difference, I think we can keep a healthy distance from magical influence.
Finally, I want to end with a few questions: Is magic real? Has God told his people not to become involved with magic because it is real and dangerous? Or is it because it represents the idolatry of the neighbouring nations? Is magic, like the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a part of our world that God has put off limits, or is it the result of demonic activity in a fallen world?
As for me, it doesn’t really matter what the answer is to these questions, but I’m open to any of the above answers. I just know that there is to be no seances or witchcraft in my house. And I’m okay with that. But let me know what you think! And come back next week, as I will look over some of my favourite fantasy authors and their relationship with faith.