The fantasy genre can be a controversial subject among Christians. Some will say that all fantasy is wrong, period, while others hold that only certain fantasy, usually a particular book or books, is wrong. Fantasy is like any other genre – there are bad specimens of everything.
The aspect of fantasy that raises the most fuss has to be the common association of fantasy with magic. Face it: fantasy and magic go together. Magic is part of what makes fantasy what it is. I have, pinned to my bulletin board at home, an article from Writer’s Digest on fantasy, and it states: “fantasy always involves some kind of magic”. That’s just the way it stands.
Which poses an interesting problem for Christian writers, since the Bible makes it clear that Christians should have no involvement with magic, witchcraft, or sorcery. Where does that leave those of us who want to write fantasy?
First, it depends on the kind of magic you’re talking about. There are two basic types of magic.
The first one is simply the manipulation of natural laws. For instance, having a character draw energy from a tree to give them enough strength to survive a wound, or allowing them to deflect light waves, making themselves invisible. I don’t have a problem with this kind of magic. In all honesty, we use it ourselves – it’s just a matter of perspective. For example, technology that we take for granted today (Wi-Fi, GPS, Genetic engineering) would appear spectacularly magical to someone from the sixteenth century.
“Mind-speaking” falls into this category. Real-life people can feel another person staring at them. A person paying close attention can feel the mere presence of another person in an otherwise empty room. When my brothers and I were little, our mom could tell whether or not we were telling the truth before we ever said anything. Close friends can often communicate with only their eyes. So really, “mind-speaking” in fantasy is just an enhancement, an exaggeration of a skill that we as humans already possess.
The second type of magic deals with wizardry, witchcraft, and sorcery. Webster’s dictionary defines a wizard as a man with “possession of supernatural power by compact with evil spirits”. A witch is basically the feminine counterpart of a wizard. Sorcery is defined as the use of “evil supernatural power over people and their affairs”. This is the kind of magic I have a problem with.
Magic consisting of superhuman power granted by an alliance with demons or other evil spirits is what Christians have to be careful with. I’m not going to say that your writing should contain absolutely none of this kind of magic, although if you feel that is should that is certainly up to you. In Reyem, the fantasy world where my novel is set, this kind of black sorcery is used very widely, but only by the pagan Moritarcs, the enemies and “bad guys” of the story. The Protected (Reyem’s equivalent of Christians) are forbidden to use magic or sorcery.
Now, they do from time to time accomplish some superhuman feats, but it is with power given to them by The Shield (Reyem’s name for God), not the power of sorcery or witchcraft, and not whenever they choose – they can use it only when The Shield allows them to. It’s no different than the apostles performing miracles in the New Testament, using power that God gave to them. Which brings us to the issue of “good wizards”.
I’m as much a fan of Gandalf and Fenworth as anybody, but considering the definition of the term “wizard”, can Christian writers really have “good wizards” in their stories? I say yes.
According to the dictionary a wizard’s power comes from his alliance with a spirit or spirits. In the case of an alliance with evil spirits, the wizard would be given power in exchange for something. But if the wizard is a follower and servant of the God of your fantasy world, why couldn’t that same God have given him superhuman power to use in His service?
Magic will always be a tough and tricky subject for Christian fantasy writers. There will always be questions of where to draw the line. But in essence, it’s not about the power. It’s about what the power is used for, and where it comes from.