Saturday, June 04, 2016

Fantasy and Religion

James sends along this piece, especially about Ursula LeGuin and JRR Tolkien, Draining the Gods from the World.  I am seeing a few places I might enter and disagree, but I may just give it a pass and keep it as part of the furniture.  Those who have inhabited the Lewis/Tolkien/Chesterton world have been over this ground a bit already.


Earl Wajenberg said...

The article is interesting but seems to stop abruptly.

The treatment of Tolkien struck me as particularly incomplete. I thought he was on record (or is it merely a wide-spread supposal?) that he didn't put any depictions of religious practice into Lord of the Rings because he felt anything of that nature would be taken as Catholic polemic. He may have been right.

Texan99 said...

Le Guin's politics can be irksome, but I have to admit I've rarely failed to enjoy one of her books (I've probably read 3/4 of them at least), and "The Dispossessed" and "The Left Hand of Darkness" are among my favorite novels of any genre. Tolkein, whom I also revere, always seemed to me to strike a relentlessly Deist note as an author, regardless of his personal beliefs: his POV characters believe in an absolute right and wrong reinforced by a supernatural order, but the order is largely distant and impersonal. It's always seemed odd to me that no one can create a convincing fantasy world that includes the practice of organized religion. Even C.S. Lewis brings God directly into the picture as a present, living character rather than ever mention anything remotely resembling a church or commonly practiced faith.

Grim said...

It's strange that this is hard to do in fantasy, too, because its source material does it lovingly. The whole of Malory's Le Morte Darthur is built around various feast days and the masses heard before the tournaments. Wounded knights stop off with 'a good man' who is a hermit but used to be a knight. So too with the French romances he drew from.

Given how strongly Medieval most fantasy writing is, and how directly drawn from these books, you'd think that having a Church and faith would be utterly natural and organic.

Texan99 said...

I wonder if the difference is that stories of that kind are not exactly supposed to be taking place in an alternative universe. If the story is about fairies in Faerie, for instance, instead of about recognizably human knights who simply happen to be encountering a lot of supernatural events that were taken more or less for granted in the real world at that time, you don't see a lot of churchgoing in the story. I've always thought it was interesting that C.S. Lewis was so unusual in assuming that a Christian fantasy writer would of course include God and even Christ in his fantasy world. Many ostensibly Christian writers appear to assume that the Christian religion as currently practiced is an entirely anthropological accident, and that you'd no more include it--or Christ--in your fantasy world than you would include a WalMart. Lewis's attitude was that when we got to other worlds we'd mostly likely find people who had a clearer view of God's existence than we have now on fallen Earth, and even that the people we found there would be aware that God had done something extraordinary by incarnating Himself on Earth in order to address the special problems of Earth--thereby making Earth a very special place, the location of a glorious cure and a fundamental change in the relationship between God and creature.

james said...

If the others are unfallen, their worship of God is something we can't readily conceive of, and I think most of us would give up the effort to describe it.

If they are fallen and redeemed, how God would do that with them is again something I'd find difficult to imagine such a thing in a way that wouldn't come across as sacrilegious.

If they are fallen and not redeemed, the background takes a very strong missionary focus which is hard to blend in with most stories.

It seems easier to let it worship happen offscreen.

Also... if the depiction of worship is appropriately involving, the reader may well turn his/her interest away from the story and to God. That's a good thing, but probably not the good the storyteller intends.