Religion is often a defining characteristic of a culture. Fantasy fiction authors can use theology as a point of conflict between characters, as motivation for the protagonist or antagonist, or to add to the richness and depth of the world they have built. Limiting the inclusion of theology to passing references is a squandered opportunity.
Robin Hobbs is guilty of both in her epic fantasy Farseer and Liveship Traders trilogies. Religion appears to be an afterthought in the former, while it serves as an integral part of one of the characters in the latter. Read more
The first fantasy fiction I ever read that included a pantheon of gods integral to the story was David Eddings’ The Belgariad. Eddings follows classic polytheism in many ways, with the gods being related (a father and seven brothers). The gods were involved in the creation of the world. They scheme against each other, use their followers as pawns when necessary, and are able to appear in a physical form to interact with the world.
The theology of The Belgariad differs from classic polytheism in that the people have no say in what god is their patron. In polytheistic cultures like ancient Egypt or Greece, faithful worshiped at multiple altars depending on their need. In the Belgariad, each of the gods chose a race to adopt, and while members of every race recognize the existence of all the gods, they worship only their patron (or none at all).
What made the gods of The Belgariad interesting to me was the fact that they were tools themselves of two different, sentient prophecies. Mortals are regular pawns of the gods, but it’s not often that you see gods portrayed as pawns themselves. Read more
Polytheism is common in fantasy fiction, likely due to its roots in the mythology of cultures that worshiped a pantheon of gods. Not all fantasy worlds include deities (or spirituality, for that matter), and those that do have their own unique twists. This series will look at the use of gods and religion in fantasy fiction I’ve read and written.
I recently finished Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series. One of the defining traits of the setting is its religion. Most of the inhabitants of the world worship the Five Gods (one culture considers the fifth god, the Bastard, to be the king of demons and not a true deity). The other four deities–Father, Mother, Son and Daughter–represent the four seasons: winter, summer, fall and spring, respectively. They are also associated with certain virtues and professions. Typical fare for pagan-influenced dogma.
Bujold’s Five Gods distinguish themselves from generic polytheism through the religious rituals performed by their faithful, in the organization of their followers, in the way the gods interact with the world, and the fate of souls after death. Read more