I know this is a touchy subject, and I hope to handle it carefully.
As a Christian, the topic will sometimes arise on how I can justify writing stories that include or involve magic, specifically if I am portraying it as something being used by a hero or heroine character. It is a worthy question, one deserving of a thoughtful answer. This discussion has been percolating in the back of my mind for over two years now, but it’s such a huge topic that I’ve always felt rather overwhelmed by it. However, Fantasy February seemed the right time to pull it out.
There are numerous passages in the Bible that refer to magic, sorcery, enchantments, the use of magical remedies, soothsayers, and the like. If you look up the words used for “magic” or “enchantments” or “witchcraft” in the original Hebrew and Greek, you will find a list of words such as “chartom,” “cheber,” “keceth,” and “pharmekeia” and “pharmakos,” all of which tend to go hand-in-hand with idolatry, human sacrifice, deceptions, demonic forces, poisoning, and the ilk. In every instance, these things are shown in a negative light and warned against… as well they should be.
Supernatural powers do exist in the real world. And those powers come from one of two places. God or Satan. When people in the Bible were practicing divination or sorcery or using magical remedies or fortune-telling — and the Bible says that they were actually doing these things, not just performing sleight-of-hand or tricking the masses in some way — they were always doing so through the help of a demonic power. It was not a power inherent within themselves, it came directly through the aid of demonic forces.
All of this to say, I truly believe that supernatural forces are at work in our world, and that if the power doesn’t come from God, then it hails from a much darker place and should not be messed around with.
So, as a Christian, how can I even contemplate portraying magic in my stories in a good light?
Part of the answer is really quite simple. Fantasy magic simply does not exist in the real world. It’s fictional.
Can I repeat that for a moment and let it sink in? Fantasy magic is. not. real.
But more than that, the magic depicted in most fantasy stories is not a power that one receives by calling on demons, but rather is generally portrayed as something that is inherited as either a racial or genetic trait… a talent one is born with for whatever reason, because it’s useful or interesting for that character and the progression of the story.
A dear friend of mine put it this way:
“The fantasy genre was founded on the idea of relating and comparing the abstract to the mundane in order to unpack difficult themes. C.S. Lewis created an allegorical world to help readers grasp the concept of salvation. J.R.R. Tolkien longed to remind his Oxford students of the mystery and wonder of the ancient Celtic and Nordic cultures. John Bunyan wanted to demonstrate the life of the Christian with all of its ups and downs.”
~ Kaycee Browning
Author of Ember Flame and Esprit de la Rose
I could go on with examples from these and other books, but let me speak to the question at hand and share examples from my own writing.
In The Minstrel’s Call, for example, there is a Creator, and he has created certain races to have and wield a magical power. Wizards and wizardesses, for example, are not human – though they can intermingle with humans, and this can cause some humans to have inherited certain powers and abilities, but again, it is a genetic trait, given to that race of people by the Creator. Some use it for healing, some use it for other purposes. But magic in my world is neither good nor is it bad. It is the user who defines the power’s morality. Just like a person born with an amazing amount of strength can use that power for good or evil, or a person with a rapier-sharp wit and a command of language can use their talent to build up or eviscerate, magic in the stories I write is the same.
One of the first times I really spent a lot of time thinking about this subject was right before I started writing Stone Curse for the Five Enchanted Roses Contest a little less than two years ago – since the magical “curse” was kind of central to the entire story. When I received the galley proofs back, I discovered that one of my lines had been tweaked slightly to read that when Karyna walked into the Throne Room she was hit by the smell of dark magic. I asked them to please change that back to “decaying roses” or something musty instead – partially because I don’t think magic would have a smell – but mostly because “evil magic” or “dark magic” is not something I include in my writing. They graciously accommodated my request.
Also in Stone Curse, one of the characters wields magic with harmful intent and toward evil purpose. The character herself is not an evil person, but she allows her emotions to get the better of her and uses her magic to wreak destruction… which I used to highlight the cautionary theme of how our emotions can affect others and that we should be careful with what we say and do when we are in the midst of feeling hurt, angry, bitter, or betrayed. It also lends depth to the ultimate theme of forgiveness in the tale. But again, it is not the magic that is evil there, in that realm that is not to be found anywhere on Earth. It is the user who again determines the morality of the power.
Lest we grow concerned that there is no Biblical evidence for God giving certain humans amazing abilities, let me point out a brief line-up for you: Samson had amazing strength, Daniel and Joseph could interpret dreams, Elijah was given power to call down fire from heaven, control the weather, and run ahead of a horse-drawn chariot for 17 miles, then later was caught up in a chariot of fire and taken to Heaven, Elisha called down a curse on a group of disrespectful boys and two bears appeared out of the woods and killed 42 of them, trees and forests fought on the side of David’s army, Moses parted the Red Sea with his staff (and many more incredible things,) Elijah and many of the apostles brought the dead back to life…. I could go on for pages. All of these are examples of mighty acts of God’s power which God allowed to be acted out by mere men.
I understand that some people have a very knee-jerk reaction to the word “magic” in general, and I’d like to respectfully point out a problem with that reaction. You see, “magic” shows up in a lot of fiction, not just fantasy. It also exists in a lot of sci-fi… but it isn’t called “magic” there – it’s disguised as technology, or science, but if it doesn’t exist and can’t exist in the real world, it’s really just magic by another name. The teleporter in Star Trek? Magic. The Force in Star Wars? Magic. (Also the ability to travel through hyperspace and lightsabers themselves…) A blue police box that travels through time and space and sort of has a mind of its own? Magic. A screwdriver that somehow uses sonic technology to open locks (but doesn’t work on wood)? Magic. The very difficult to understand Battle Station that has gravity in some places and not in others in the Ender’s Game series (also the faster than light communication technology)? Magic. Any time you encounter a talking animal in fiction? Magic! Superman’s abilities fueled by the sun? Magic. The Flash’s superhuman speed? Magic! (okay, we’ll just go with all superheroes with the exception of Batman = some element of magic and leave it there, or this already ridiculously lengthy post just might never end). But my point in all of that is just this: it seems that sometimes the negative reaction people have to “magic” in fantasy stories has far more to do with the label being used than the actual idea behind the story device.
Keep in mind, none of these examples I just shared are real or possible in the real world. They are fictional. Nobody is going to learn how to wield the Force or create a TARDIS or tame a dragon or fly on a broomstick or heal a gaping wound, or gain superpowers (please don’t go jumping into vats of toxic waste!) by reading these stories or watching these movies. They are fiction. They are not based in OUR world or constrained by the scientific laws of our world. They are plot devices meant to entertain, often meant to underscore a deeper theme or question about humanity or relationships or faith.
If this is a deeply personal conviction for you, I understand. I really do. And this blog post is not even remotely intended to argue with you or change your
mind. If this is a stumbling block for you, I know of lots of non-fantasy stories that are quite excellent and I will happily recommend them to you. But please realize that what is a deep personal conviction for some may not be a law everyone else has to abide by. I read a blog post a while back by an individual who said she had to stop reading stories with magic in them because she was convicted by God that magic was wrong, especially stories with dragons in them… and that it was very difficult because she really wanted to like dragons, in fact, she was completely obsessed with them, but reluctantly relinquished reading stories about them. She then went on to lambast all books that contain dragons or magic and say they were evil… but she never once admitted that perhaps the reason God called her to give up those kinds of stories was because she had become obsessed with them and they were turning into a kind of idol for her. I laud her for listening to God in her specific situation, but I fear that she learned the wrong lesson.
As a Christian, I pray over my stories and my writing and what I post on my blog. Even (especially!) this particular blog post. I ask the Lord to bring glory to Himself through the writing talent He has given me. I ask Him to show me if there is anything in my writing or stories that I should remove or change that would be the opposite of glorifying to Him. I have never felt convicted to remove magic from my fantasy stories.
I think we’ve gone a bit long on this one. I’d love to spend some time on why I enjoy reading fantasy novels that do contain “fantasy magic,” but alas, I shall have to leave it to another post.
So, dear Reader, what say you? I welcome discussion, but please keep your comments respectful and kind, we can certainly disagree, as long as we can do it without name-calling or unkindness.