Tag Archives: narnia

Fantasy Q&A

Q: So what is fantasy, anyway?

A: There are many definitions of fantasy, but I’ll narrow it down. 1) It has to do with boring teachers, the beginning of summer break, and baseball. 2) Something to discuss with your therapist. 3) A literary genre that I happen to like. Too much.

Q: Maybe you should see the therapist after all….

A: Me, and a lot of other people.

Q: You mean computer geeks?

A: It’s true that a lot of technology-lovers also like fantasy. But many of those who have written classic fantasies have hated technology. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, for example, most of the evil characters are also adept at using technology for evil purposes. Mordor is, in essence, an industrial wasteland.

Q: So who started this whole fantasy thing, anyway? Tolkien?

A: Good question. We don’t know. But it’s thousands of years old—just read The Odyssey.

Q: You mean the ancient myths? But people believed those. See why fantasy is dangerous?

A: Once people began believing the myths, they became a part of religion, not fantasy. As long as you know that your stories are stories, you are safe.

Q: With so many serious problems in the world today, how can you justify reading fantasy instead of realistic fiction? Isn’t that escapism?

A: J.R.R. Tolkien addressed that very question on a number of occasions. His question: What group of people is most worried about escape? The answer: Jailers. In any case, if you are unjustly imprisoned, getting out is the sensible and realistic thing to do.

Q: I expected a serious answer to that question.

A: I was being serious. And good fantasy is always applicable to real life. At the very least it will deal with ethical questions, which we all have to face. And many fantasies go beyond that. C.S. Lewis and N.D. Wilson both snub progressivism. J.R.R. Tolkien criticizes pragmatism. Madeleine L’Engel attacks central planning.

Q: But isn’t fantasy unrealistic?

A: There are two answers to that.

No. If C.S. Lewis had had Aslan stand up on the Stone Table and dance a jig, we would say his books were unrealistic. But Lewis didn’t do that. Narnia had many fantastical elements—talking animals, shape-shifting serpents, enchanted weather. But put together, they all made sense. You say, “If Narnia were real, this is how things would be.”

Yes. Of course. So is every other story. So-called “realistic” stories about someone becoming a multi-millionaire, overcoming all obstacles to find the man of her dreams, and so forth, are often untrue to life. In fact, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, they are more likely to deceive some people into thinking that such things could really happen. No sane child will make killing a dragon his life’s goal for very long. But to overcome all obstacles to become the hero of the soccer team—that seems realistic. And for some people it could very well become an obsession.

Q: Who is this C.S. Lewis you keep bringing up?

A: C. S. Lewis was an Oxford literature professor who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, a seven-book fantasy series. The major character in the series is Aslan, a regal lion who loosely corresponds with Jesus Christ. Some people may feel inclined to blame Lewis for later Christian allegorical fantasies that combined biblical truth with terrible writing. Lewis, however, explicitly denied that the Narnia books were intended to be allegorical. Poorly constructed copies are to be blamed, not on their authors having read too much Lewis, but on having read far too little.

Q: I’ve heard Narnia has a witch in it. Isn’t that bad?

A: Yes. The White Witch is very bad, which is why she is killed at the end of Lewis’s first Narnia book. You’re right that you should be cautious about stories that include magic, since some fantasies can become occultic. But most of the pioneers of modern fantasy have been at least nominally Christian, and their careful treatment of magic shows that.

Q: What do you mean by “careful”?

A: Tolkien said that “magic,” in our language, is a problem word, because there is no distinction between evil magic—the sort that no one has a right to practice—and what I will call natural magic. “Natural magic” is the sort of “magic” that the good characters can safely practice, because it is simply a part of being what they are. Thus, Tolkien’s Elves can use their “art” to reclaim an important jewel from the Dark Lord, N.D. Wilson’s characters have the strength of dandelions or aspen trees in their blood, and Lewis’s lion Aslan can create the world. That’s a short explanation, but it’s a start.

Q: Okay, okay. I understand. But you have to admit that Lord of the Rings fans are really annoying.

A: No, I don’t.

Q: But all those coffee table edition books…and Elf languages…and fake Gollum voices…and people yelling “You cannot pass!” at the top of their lungs….

A: Well…maybe they—that is, we—can be a little annoying. My only comfort for you is this: they are few and far between. Avoid certain online forums, go underground when each new Hobbit movie comes out, carefully screen your friends, and you probably will survive. If the Nazgul don’t catch you first.


Posted by on March 21, 2013 in Fantasy, Humor


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Leadership–Narnian Style

While I’m not thrilled with the results of yesterday’s election–and wouldn’t have been, no matter how it turned out–I’m glad it’s over. All the lawn posters get on my nerves; and also, I’m not overly fond of suspense. That’s one reason why I enjoy books more the second time through—after I already know everything that will happen. (Yes, I’ve been told that doesn’t make sense.)

That pattern definitely holds true for C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series. I tend to read it once a year, and I enjoy it far more now than I did as a child (much as I enjoyed several of the books then). Since most of us are tired of all the campaigning, I thought that I would write this week’s post on something a little lighter—tips for leadership, Narnia-style.

  1. Carry a sword. It looks good, and anyway, you never know when you may need to kill a rampaging wolf. For maximum satisfaction, name your sword and hire a dwarvish smith to inscribe prophecies on the blade.
  2. Hunting without weapons is a wonderful leaderly pastime. It also entails the risk of being shipped back to World War II.
  3. Be suspicious of your family members. If your brother stares at hills in the distance—if your uncle seems grumpy—if your sister puts on too much make-up—be very, very careful.
  4. Leave your game pieces lying around. It could help you save your country in a few hundred years.
  5.  If you want to have a good political philosophy—base it on fairy tales.
  6.  It is all right to leave your country for months at a time. Just as long as you are fulfilling an oath to find men you’ve never seen in your life.
  7.  But it is not all right to sail off the edge of the earth. Your countrymen might miss you (eventually).
  8. Do not let your children go snake hunting. They might spend the next ten years of their lives clanking around in black armor, plotting to overthrow you.
  9. Driving a hansom cab around London is a good preparation for your political career. Particularly if you learn farming first.
  10.  Avoid being turned into a donkey—it’s bad for public relations.
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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Humor


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How to Ruin a Christian Fantasy Novel

Disclaimer: In rare cases, the following suggestions may not ruin your work. Generally they spell literary doom, but I cannot guarantee that they will succeed for every author. If your novel has not been sufficiently ruined by following these guidelines, contact me, and I’ll offer you a few more.

  1. Pattern your Christian fantasy novel directly on Narnia. Avoid using your own imagination whenever possible.
  2. Include very obvious symbolic names. Call your villain “The Evil One” or something similar, and name your heroes Victor and Faith.  The Christ-figure they serve should be called “The Prince,” “The King’s Son,” or something with Messianic overtones. Your readers will probably think that you are being overly obvious, but you can afford to ignore them.
  3. Interject moral comments throughout the story narrative. These comments should appear whenever characters do something wrong to explain what they really should have been doing. You do not want to mislead your readers. Simply showing bad consequences to bad actions is not enough—they deserve to be clearly told. If you prefer not to insert comments into the narrative, then include a wise character who offers moral comment on everything that happens.
  4. Include as many allegorical elements as you can. Preferably, include a very obvious Christ-figure. This will help parents understand your wholesome intent. J.R.R. Tolkien’s hatred of allegory was a phobia from his childhood. The Lord of the Rings would have been better if Aragorn had ascended to heaven at the end and taken all the Gondorians with him.
  5. Avoid drawing on mythology. Mythologies are pagan, and anything pagan is entirely corrupt, including their cuisine, which is why so many of them died from food poisoning after Samhain. Yes, Narnia does include some mythological elements, but that is forgivable because C.S. Lewis is C.S. Lewis, and therefore infallible.
  6. Make your novel a tool for evangelization. Allegorical elements will help with this. Also, insert mini-sermons wherever applicable. That way you can mix three different genres together—fantasy, allegory, and devotional non-fiction. Literary critics might frown on such a combination, but when you think about it, it actually shows more creativity.
  7. Avoid reading anything that classic Christian authors of fantasy have written about their work. Most of them did not understand the importance of mixing genres, or of obvious symbolic naming, and some of them spoke of such things in a derogatory fashion. In any case, they really are not good authorities on how to write Christian fantasy.

A closing note: Allegory and fantasy are two different things. (And devotional non-fiction is a third.) If you want to write allegory, great. But keep it pure allegory. Please try not to turn it into a fantasy. They are two different genres and generally result in failure when mixed. The reason Narnia, with its Christ-figure of Aslan, works is because Lewis wasn’t trying to write an allegory. Aslan, Lewis later said, bounded in on His own. If it had been Lewis’s idea, Narnia would have suffered the fate of many later Christian fantasies—a few short years of publication before being consigned to the dust bin of history.


Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Fantasy


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