Fantasy is not escapism. Rather, it helps us to gain insights, and shows us underlying reality and truths. Fantasy Fiction can be an effective vehicle for carrying even the Gospel truth, writes Malsawmi Jacob.
Fantasy Fiction is back with a bang with the Harry Potter series. ‘Potter mania’ has gripped a large section of the fiction reading world. The books have also drawn flak from some quarters who see reading Harry Potter as an act of succumbing to the devil’s wiles! What one reads does influence the mind. As fiction is a powerful medium, it needs to be handled with care.
It can exert a strong influence on the imagination and emotion. What then? Should we shun fiction and discourage its writing and reading? By no means! It should rather be claimed for a good cause. To surrender such a powerful medium to the devil would be a great wrong!
Truth in Fantasy Fiction
Once upon a time, a wicked demon made a looking glass that distorted everything it reflected. In it, all good and beautiful things looked small and insignificant, while bad and ugly things were magnified. The demon and his school carried the looking glass everywhere, looking at people’s ugliness in it and laughing. They even wanted to carry the glass up to heaven to look at the angels. But as they were flying up it slipped and fell, and broke into a million pieces. Now the looking glass did even more harm than before, as the tiny pieces got into people’s eyes and remained there. Then they saw everything with distorted eyes. Worse still, the glass pieces even got inside some people’s hearts. Then their hearts became cold as ice. This is the first part of Hans Andersen’s fairytale The Snow Queen. Anyone can see that it is not a factual report, and that such things do not happen in real life. But then, it presents a truth about human nature.
Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit was living peacefully in his hobbit hole until some dwarfs paid him an unexpected visit. He was challenged to go out on a journey where he met adventures and different kinds of creatures. This introduces the long, frightening, fantastical quest of Lord of the Rings. Different beings like trolls and giants, wizards, elves, ents, orcs and what not, are the actors in this wonderful tale. The universal theme of the struggle between good and evil is brought out in this great Fantasy Fiction.
What do we mean by ‘Fantasy’?
Let’s borrow the following definition from Wikepedia on the Internet. “Fantasy is a genre of art, literature, film, television and music that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, setting or of all three”. News report or factual account deals with what happened. Realistic fiction portrays what could happen. But Fantasy deals with actions and events that are normally impossible. They usually contain magic, supernatural forces and powers. The characters may be creatures we don’t come across in real life. Or the story may be located in a remote, fantastic world that is wholly different from our own, with different laws of physics that allow magic to be a natural part of it.
Fantasy Fiction belongs to a group called ‘Speculative Fiction’, along with Horror and Science Fiction. There is a great deal of overlapping among the three genres with no neat division in between.
History of Fantasy Literature
Fantasy is probably the oldest form of literature. Though the genre in its modern sense is less than two centuries old, it comes from an ancient and respectable parentage. Many of the earliest written documents known to humankind have ‘fantasy’ elements. These are part of the greatest literature in history. Works like The Odyssey of ancient Greece, Beowulf of Anglo Saxon Britain, The Divine Comedy of middle age Italy, the Arthurian legends of England and old romances all deal with fantastical adventures featuring heroes and heroines, deadly monsters and other imaginary beings. The well known Christian fiction The Pilgrim’s Progress can be included in this genre.
Fantasy fiction started becoming popular again during the mid nineteenth century. JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia are milestones in the line of Fantasy literature. George MacDonald, author of At the Back of North Wind had greatly influenced these two writers.
Watch a child at play. You may find him talking all by himself addressing imaginary people. Or he may be happily driving a vehicle that isn’t there. He may even be fighting an invisible monster with all his might. Since time immemorial, humans have been in the habit of fantasizing. Some writers have remarked that fantasy is one of the original qualities that distinguished humanity from the flora and fauna. It is a distinctive characteristic not shared by other creatures of the earth. One might say that fantasy is a part of what makes us human. Thus producing Fantasy literature is a natural outcome of this quality, a part of man’s creative nature stamped on him by the Creator in His likeness.
What Fantasy Fiction can do?
In common with other forms of fiction, Fantasy has the ability to take the reader (or viewer) out of the confines of daily living and transport him to a different realm. As Jane Yolen, author and scholar of Fantasy has stated, through Fantasy stories we learn to understand the differences of others, and compassion for those things we cannot fathom. The strange worlds that exist in fantastic literature teach us a tolerance of other people and other kinds of creatures. It opens our hearts and minds toward new experiences, thus helping us to grow. It expands the reader’s horizons.
Fantasy is a strong medium
Fantasy touches a deep chord that exists in everyone. When ideas and messages are conveyed through the medium of Fantasy, they can have a stronger impact as it touches the imaginative faculty with great immediacy. The idea conveyed is imbibed in a flash. In The Pilgrim’s Regress, C.S Lewis explains that the Landlord (representing God) had sent his message to humans in two ways. One was through rules (or law) and another through stories. Some liked the rules better, while others responded more easily to the stories. This is the case today too. Some hearts are more open to truth and the divine message when conveyed through Fantasy medium.
Fantasy, Reality and Truth
Fantasy is not escapism. Rather, it helps us to gain insights, and shows us underlying reality and truths. In C.S. Lewis’ story The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan the Lion, a picture of Christ, gave himself to be killed in order to save Edmund, who had willingly become a captive of the evil Witch. But the Lion came back to life and explained: “Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards”.
Isn’t this a clear presentation of the theology of redemption? Fantasy Fiction can be an effective vehicle f
or carrying even the Gospel truth.