Filed under Tips & Tools on October 12, 2009
Tagged: Bible, christianity, fantasy fiction, Old Testament
I know I have readers who are neither christian nor religious. Most of what follows may not have relevance to you, but I do make some applications to fantasy fiction writing with regard to presenting deities and embedding messages in your story. I encourage you to read through the entire post and take from it what you can.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
…as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,… (2 Peter 1:3).
I believe wholeheartedly in the words of the apostles Paul and Peter. The Bible provides everything one needs to live the christian life through direct commands, examples, or logical inferences. These form patterns that can be followed: patterns for moral living, patterns for worship, and patterns for ministry.
You can even find patterns for storytelling in the Bible.
There are two types of stories in the Bible: historical and illustrative. Historical stories are found in the Old Testament, and they serve a special purpose even after the covenant of the Mosaic Law ended at the cross:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).
Therefore the law was our tutor to Christ… (Galatians 3:24).
Paul reveals in his letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia that the accounts of Israel still serve a purpose. They tell a story of how God dealt with those who obeyed Him, and those who chose their will over His. They paint a picture that prepares one for the revelation of Christ.
A fantasy fiction writer can make a some applications to their own writing when they read about the exodus from Egypt, or the conquest of the promised land, or the Babylonian captivity. The first is how the Bible depicts the interactions between man and deity. God is never seen. He appears as an elemental manifestation that is obviously supernatural. He sends visions, or unearthly messengers who are immediately identifiable as superior beings. The mere sound of God’s voice is enough to cause a nation to tremble in fear, and even glimpsing the glory that trails the passing of God is enough to make a man’s face shine so bright he must wear a veil.
In other words, a god’s presence in your story should not be a mundane event. I know classic tales are filled with scheming gods, but the greatest myths focused on the mortal pawns, or denuded deities seeking to regain their place in the heavens. I had one scene in Maiden of Pain where Loviatar appeared to Ythnel, but the editor told me to remove any direct appearance by the goddess. I don’t remember his exact words why, but it goes to show that even in the Forgotten Realms, where deities are a dime a dozen, their participation in a story is not a regular occurrence.
The stories of the Old Testament also give fantasy fiction writers a pattern for how to include the involvement of a god in a plot. In most cases, God appears to an individual agent, reveals what He wants that agent to do, and states how His power will manifest through that agent. If He does not act through a man (or woman), He sends an angel to do what must be done. When He does appear and directly interact, it’s as a cloud or pillar of flame that guides His people. God’s appearance or working of His power is never a deus ex machina. There’s been plenty of foreshadowing.
The last application I want to make pertains to fantasy fiction writers seeking to use their stories to evangelize or reveal a spiritual Truth. I applaud and encourage those who champion a christian worldview in their writing. I think you would be better served to write stories that followed the pattern seen in the histories of the Old Testament than to incorporate Christ-like characters and conversions. Remember, the law and the examples of those who lived under it are a tutor to bring people to Christ. They are effective tools for laying a foundation of Truth and establishing principles that will better prepare people to ultimately receive the message of the gospel.
I’ll cover parables, the illustrative stories Jesus told to reveal a spiritual truth, as a storytelling pattern in another post. Until then, I’d like to know what your thoughts are on the depiction of deity in fantasy fiction. Do you lean toward the biblical pattern revealed in the Old Testament, or do gods belong in roles more similar to those seen in classical myth? If you’re a christian writer, what do you see as the pros and cons of tales in the mold of OT histories versus Christian allegory or conversion stories?