Tag Archives: Christianity

A Christian’s Defense of Fantasy and Particularly Harry Potter

Standard

A quick look around my blog will tell you that I’m not the bookseller to ask about books that are “nothing like Harry Potter because I’ve heard too many negative reviews about it being satanic.”

Chances are that this customer is probably the bookstore equivalent of a “Christeaster”1, and I will never see her (at least till next year) to give her a history lesson in fantasy and a lesson on not judging a book by the outcry of a few—but that doesn’t prevent me from doing so here, does it?  Maybe she’ll even stumble upon this post while looking for articles to bolster her delusion.

Fantasy in general is not satanic.  In fact, it can be a great vehicle for Christian morality and theology.  The Chronicles of Narnia have brought nonbelievers and believers a greater understanding of the nature of God for nigh sixty years now.  This portal fantasy series (the same subset as Harry Potter) is written by one of the best-known names in Christian inspiration and especially Christian fiction—C. S. Lewis.  Lewis is especially well-remembered because he brought his Christian message to those outside the faith, something well-known modern Christian writers like Rick Warren and Joyce Meyer cannot claim to anywhere near the same extent.  His stories scaled the walls of ivory tower Christianity and wiggled into the hearts and bookshelves of many within and without those walls.

Yet, while Lewis’ books I would argue are Christian fiction, they are not so because of Lewis’ profession of Christian faith but rather by his decision to include Christian allegory in his texts.

Lewis’ friend and fellow Christian J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I would argue, is the founder of modern-day high and epic fantasy and a hero of many modern fantasy writers.  His books, despite Tolkien’s public profession of faith and J. K. Rowling’s silence on the subject, are as Christian as Harry Potter.  Neither Tolkien’s nor Rowling’s books preach Christian theology like Lewis’ Chronicles, but their books teach a good triumphs over evil worldview, that not only the mighty can have great influence, that friendship and loyalty are immensely important, the power of persistence in the fight against evil, forgiveness, the possibility of redemption from great sin and evil….  Harry Potter’s Christian morality is in fact stronger than that of its main fandom rival, Twilight, though Twilight is written by an openly religious Christian writer.

When Harry Potter’s morality began to waver, Rowling had made it so clear that Harry’s actions were illegal and punishable by life in prison that I can only assume that she meant to lead the fandom into the discussions that we had about Harry’s uses of the Unforgivables, as Les Misérables asks if Fantine’s prostitution is forgivable or Jean Valjean’s thievery and evasion of the law.

While some may have picketed Harry Potter (oddly, Meyer’s declared Christianity seems to have widely saved Twilight from the same condemnation), just as many Christians and Christian media outlets, including the magazine Christianity Toady, have positively reviewed the series.

So, don’t judge a book by a few negative reviews.  Don’t judge a book by its genre.  Don’t judge a book by how open the author is about his or her faith.  Do your research.

1A term for those who show up in church only on Christmas and Easter.

This rant is not endorsed by the authors or the estates of the authors here mentioned nor any of their publishers.  It is an independent, honest rant by a fan.

Advertisements

Book Review: Black is Colorful but Too Forceful

Standard

There are many spoilers in this article, and they are unmarked but very revealing.  Ye be warned.

Black, the first book in the Circle Trilogy by Ted Dekker tells two stories that I have yet to connect as thoroughly as the hero, Thomas Hunter, comes to believe them to be.  Thomas lives in two worlds: the present-day Earth, where he somehow becomes the center of a plot to release and a plot to stop a powerful biochemical weapon, and the utopia that Earth will become if that weapon is released, where God is very present, and evil is contained in the lower hemisphere.

Honestly, I kept hoping that Black would get better.  Like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and other apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic literature, the plot of Black is gripping.  With the world dependent on the governments’ belief in one man’s outlandish dreams, the threat of a biochemical weapon that will eradicate the human population in three weeks, and (in Thomas’ dreams) the threat of demonic, oversized bats, it’s difficult not to race towards a conclusion, to be dragged along by the intricate plots and schemes of madmen, assassins, unlikely rescues, death threats, and deaths.

I have a difficulty liking novels that rely so heavily on such fear and danger because I feel like I’m being tricked into hurrying through the novel; I feel like the author has me by a nose ring and is dragging me along with them forcefully.  I don’t read because I want to; I read because I have to, and I don’t like feeling forced and rewarded with nothing more than more danger, threat, and fear.  (I realized as I wrote this paragraph that a) I may need to reevaluate my own style of making journeys more interesting, and b) Rick Riordan frequently uses the apocalypse coming plot, but he rewards me with humor, mythology lessons, and generally victory and so his books seem to rely less heavily on threat, and I consequentially love their breakneck pace.)

Further force is employed by the ending, which is perhaps the most precarious cliffhanger I’ve ever read (if, at least, I consider The Lord of the Rings a single book).  If I want to discover which world is real, if the virus is stopped, who lives and who dies, I will have to complete the trilogy because the book ends with no conclusion and Thomas at gunpoint.

What Dekker does do really well in Black is bring reality to fantastical dreamscapes and less-fantastical fictional realities.  It’s easy to question with Thomas which reality—the Earth as we know it, or the Earth of a hypothetical post-apocalyptic future—is “real.”  With his description of setting and feeling—perceptions, emotions—Dekker creates the realities of these worlds.

As Christian literature—which it very plainly is, the future world’s plot being a retelling of Eden and the Fall—Dekker escapes some of my usual critique of being too “preachy” by placing God in a dreamscape where he manifests himself most as a small boy too wise for his years called Elyon.  Dekker has some very interesting ways of describing God’s love for the world and for Man, but I don’t think that for me, personally, his descriptions were very illuminating.  Perhaps that was his point: that it is impossible to fully explain or comprehend God, but that we can feel his love without fully understanding.

**1/2

Dekker, Ted.  The Circle, Book One: Black: The Birth of Evil.  Nashville: WestBow-Thomas Nelson, 2004.

This review is not endorsed by Ted Dekker, WestBow Press, or Thomas Nelson, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Save

Book Review: Percy Jackson, Christianity, and Neo-Paganism

Standard

A surprisingly few articles have been published on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  No articles that I found have delved into any Christian interpretation of the books—and unsurprisingly.  Riordan’s approach to theology is very hands-off.  Percy Jackson’s culture is more easily relatable to that of the Ancient Greeks than any modern-day religious culture.

But the mingling of gods and God is one that I struggle with myself whenever I’ve spent too long in a Riordan book and find myself seated in a pew on Sunday, and I am surprised that Percy has not raised more radical Christian eyebrows, walking in the footsteps of Harry Potter as I would argue it does—though to be fair, I don’t think Percy is anywhere near Harry’s heels in the popularity race (Harry must be using a racing broom…).

Rereading the first book of the series, The Lightning Thief, recently, one line assuaged my fears (at least temporarily) and ought to help ease others’ as well.

“ ‘Wait,’ I told Chiron.  ‘You’re telling me there’s such a thing as God.’

“ ‘Well, now,’ Chiron said, ‘God—capital G, God.  That’s a different matter altogether.  We shan’t deal with the metaphysical’ ”  (67).

Case closed by the wise centaur.  This book does not deal with the question of capital G, God’s existence; its concept is simply that the Greek gods continue to exist so long as Western Civilization does.

The only other very brief mention of Christianity in The Lightning Thief is when Percy, Grover, and Annabeth notice a corrupt televangelist being frisked by security ghouls before being led off to “eternal torment” (292).

“ ‘But if he’s a preacher,’ I said, ‘and he believes in a different hell….’

“Grover shrugged.  ‘Who says he’s seeing this place the way we see it?’ ” (293)

Project MUSE boasts an article that mentions Percy among a discussion of neo-pagan books for teens (lamenting that one researcher disregarded Classically based neo-paganism in his study).  Among the Percy books, however, there is no emphasis on the necessity of balance and no plea of oneness, ideas basic to most forms of religious neo-paganism as I understand it.  Percy’s is a culture that disintegrates or cuts apart its enemies and would prefer that no monster or Titan walked Earth freely.  There is no talk of the need for monsters to balance heroes that I can remember, though there easily could be; a hero can’t become a hero without a monster to fight.

I will not call the Percy Jackson books Christian; they are not.  But there are some ideas in the series that mimic Christian beliefs.

The Percy Jackson books certainly preach forgiveness; second chances; the possibility of redemption, even to the point of throwing me off balance once; and the power of love.  Certainly too the call to honor thy mother and father is there.

But these are books where gods are not all-powerful, in keeping with Greek mythology.  The gods are more often saved by mortal heroes than the heroes saved by the gods.  That is a concept completely foreign to Christianity.  Christ might use Christians to spread his Word on Earth, but it is ultimately by God’s will and grace that a Christian’s work will take root in a person’s heart or effect change.

*****

Riordan, Rick.  Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion, or Disney.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.