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Orthodox Christians and fantasy literature

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  • Steve Hayes
    An interesting discussion seems to be developing in the Orthodox blogosphere about whether Orthodox Christians should write, or even read, fantasy literature.
    Message 1 of 7 , May 5, 2012
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      An interesting discussion seems to be developing in the Orthodox blogosphere
      about whether Orthodox Christians should write, or even read, fantasy
      literature. They are referring to the works of writers like C.S. Lewis and
      J.R.R. Tolkien — Christian (though not Orthodox) authors who wrote fantasy
      fiction.

      Read about it here:
      http://wp.me/p3gtp-PN


      --
      Steve Hayes
      E-mail: shayes@...
      Web: http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/litmain.htm
      http://www.goodreads.com/hayesstw
    • Steve Hayes
      ... I trried to comment on Lily Parascheva Rowe s blog, but it would not let me, so I m copying her comment here: Thursday, 03 May 2012 18:25 posted by Lily
      Message 2 of 7 , May 7, 2012
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        On 6 May 2012 at 8:00, Steve Hayes wrote:

        > An interesting discussion seems to be developing in the Orthodox blogosphere
        > about whether Orthodox Christians should write, or even read, fantasy
        > literature. They are referring to the works of writers like C.S. Lewis and
        > J.R.R. Tolkien — Christian (though not Orthodox) authors who wrote fantasy
        > fiction.
        >
        > Read about it here:
        > http://wp.me/p3gtp-PN

        I trried to comment on Lily Parascheva Rowe's blog, but it would not let me,
        so I'm copying her comment here:

        Thursday, 03 May 2012 18:25 posted by Lily Parascheva Rowe

        I'm sorry for any confussion here. I'm not in any way condemning the whole
        genre. I wrote this because I've noticed something peculiar. I've talked to
        people who think that because C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are considered founders
        of the genre of fantasy that any and all fantasy must be just awesome. My
        only point was that people should pay attention to the effect that certain
        readings may have on the soul as opposed to simply gobbling them down as
        though they were merely nuetral. In some cases there is nuetrality but there
        are also many times when what is being delivered could be spiritually
        harmful. Twilight may not be technically fantasy but several young people are
        carrying it around at church and telling me it's just like Lewis. Yeah...
        that's a stretch for me. To answer another question, I think parents decide
        what is appropriate for their children. But for sure I wouldn't publish
        something I personally had a problem with. I sure would not have published
        many of the things I find on the "fantasy" bookshelf at the bookstores that
        just looking at the covers and skimming through them you can file them in the
        trash bin. I know this makes me sound hyper critical or some kind of
        fundamentalist but I'm not. I liked Harry Potter for the most part. The Genre
        is blurred. Average people don't even know what belongs in it anymore. It's
        like watching the SciFi channel and seeing wrestling. I respect Fr. Andrew's
        opinion and I might even agree with it. He just thought I was saying
        something a whole lot deeper than what I was really saying. I was just posing
        the question.





        --
        Steve Hayes
        E-mail: shayes@...
        Web: http://hayesstw.tumblr.com/ (follow me on Tumblr)
        Blog: http://khanya.wordpress.com
        Phone: 083-342-3563 or 012-333-6727
        Fax: 086-548-2525
      • Steve Hayes
        ... [see her blog post at http://tinyurl.com/7yr98d5 ] I think that puts it in a different light, because her original post, to which Fr Andrew Stephen Damick
        Message 3 of 7 , May 7, 2012
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          On 8 May 2012 at 3:53, Steve Hayes wrote:

          > On 6 May 2012 at 8:00, Steve Hayes wrote:

          > > Read about it here:
          > > http://wp.me/p3gtp-PN
          >
          > I trried to comment on Lily Parascheva Rowe's blog, but it would not let me,
          > so I'm copying her comment here:
          >
          > Thursday, 03 May 2012 18:25 posted by Lily Parascheva Rowe
          >
          > I'm sorry for any confussion here. I'm not in any way condemning the whole
          > genre. I wrote this because I've noticed something peculiar. I've talked to
          > people who think that because C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are considered founders
          > of the genre of fantasy that any and all fantasy must be just awesome. My only
          > point was that people should pay attention to the effect that certain readings
          > may have on the soul as opposed to simply gobbling them down as though they
          > were merely nuetral. In some cases there is nuetrality but there are also many
          > times when what is being delivered could be spiritually harmful. Twilight may
          > not be technically fantasy but several young people are carrying it around at
          > church and telling me it's just like Lewis. Yeah... that's a stretch for me.
          > To answer another question, I think parents decide what is appropriate for
          > their children. But for sure I wouldn't publish something I personally had a
          > problem with. I sure would not have published many of the things I find on the
          > "fantasy" bookshelf at the bookstores that just looking at the covers and
          > skimming through them you can file them in the trash bin. I know this makes me
          > sound hyper critical or some kind of fundamentalist but I'm not. I liked Harry
          > Potter for the most part. The Genre is blurred. Average people don't even know
          > what belongs in it anymore. It's like watching the SciFi channel and seeing
          > wrestling. I respect Fr. Andrew's opinion and I might even agree with it. He
          > just thought I was saying something a whole lot deeper than what I was really
          > saying. I was just posing the question.

          [see her blog post at
          http://tinyurl.com/7yr98d5 ]

          I think that puts it in a different light, because her original post, to
          which Fr Andrew Stephen Damick responded, implied that fantasy fiction was
          off limits for Christians, because the church fathers identified fantasy with
          the passions.

          I think Fr Andrew has dealt adequately with that point in his response, and I
          tried to cover the point that she was misdescribing literary genres, giving
          the impression that allegory is good and fantasy is bad. .

          The way she described it in the original post would imply that all fiction
          was to be avoided by Christians, because novels, plays etc are works of the
          imagination, and the imagination is inextricably linked with the passions,
          and should therefore be suppressed.

          The comment quoted above goes some way to clarifying it -- she did not have
          in mind the works of Lewis and Tolkien, but rather works that portray
          creatures like vampires as good.

          This can broaden out the discussion quite a bit.

          I quite recently discovered that there are some people who identify
          themselves as vampires, and even more recently discovered that there are
          people who identify themselves as zombies. But that takes the discussion out
          of the realm of literature, but perhaps I need to make it clear that I am
          talking about literary vampires here, and not about people who identify
          themselves with a vampire subculture.

          It is interesting that most of the myths and legends about vampires originate
          in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, roughly along the line where Orthodoxy and
          Western Christianity meet.

          It is also interesting that the Greek word for vampire -- vrykolakas -- is
          also applied to living persons in that it is colloquially used to refer to
          sexual predators -- rapists and the like.

          I think the best known (and still the best) vampire novel was Bram Stoker's
          "Dracula". I've read it several times, and have found it as enjoyable a read
          the last time as the first, even though it wasn't as scary as it was the
          first time around.

          I tried to read Anne Rice's "Interview with the vampire", one of the more
          recent examples of vampire literature, and found it heavy going. I'd have
          given up halfway through if I hadn't thought that I should be able to say
          that I *had* read one of Anne Rice's books, and was not just condemning them
          without having read them. I found it excruciatingly boring.

          I also read Stephen King's "'salem's lot", where the vampires are portrayed
          as evil, but found it boring and predictable.

          A recent vampire story I did enjoy was "The historian" by Elizabeth Kostova -
          my review here:

          http://khanya.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/at-last-a-good-vampire-story/

          I discovered C.S. Lewis's science fiction in 1959, and Charles Williams the
          following year. I discovered the Narnia stories in 1965, and Tolkien in 1966
          (when I also learned that Tolkien, Williams and Lewis knew each other, and
          that they had a kind of club called the Inklings).

          I read other fantasy stories as well, and loved the early Alan Garner. But it
          seems to me that some of the best fantasy stories were written before the
          genre itself became popular. The Inklings, and Garner, especially, wrote in
          the 1960s and earlier. Most fantasy literature written in the 1970s and later
          seemed inferior. I suspect that a lot of authors of little talent tried to
          cash in on its popularity. I read the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula le Guin, and
          enjoyed it, but not so much on a second reading, and when a fourth, really
          dull book was appended to the trilogy I wondered what I had seen in it the
          first time round.

          I read Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, which in the publishers'
          hype was billed as the new Tolkien, but it didn't even come close.

          At one point I wondered if only Christians could write good fantasy
          literature, since Williams, Lewis and Tolkien were Christians.

          That theory was shaken when I disovered that some Christians could write
          really bad fantasy literature, such as Stephen Lawhead's "In the hall of the
          dragon king", which was full of cliches, and anomalies that the author did
          not seem to be aware of, such as rivers flowing uphill. In a fantasy world it
          is conveivable that a river might flow uphill by magic, if a wizard cast a
          spell on it or something, but not if they do so in a fit of absence of mind.

          One Stephen King novel that I did enjoy, and which also featured revenants,
          was "Pet Sematery". It also featured the Wendigo, which I knew from the short
          story of that title, by Algernon Blackwood, which I think is one of the best
          short horror stories ever written. You can read it here:

          http://tinyurl.com/ycsvr79

          In the end I suppose I must conclude, as I did in my blog post, that the
          difference between the fantasy literature of the Inklings, and that of most
          other authors, is not that the Inklings were Christians (though they were),
          but rather that they were interested in writing, and had a feel for, true
          myth.

          And that is what is missing in the writings of derivative authors.




          --
          Steve Hayes
          E-mail: shayes@...
          Web: http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/litmain.htm
          http://www.goodreads.com/hayesstw
        • Fr Methodios
          It seems to me that Christian literature can include fantasy, but not all fantasy is Christian. Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling all wrote Christian fiction in the
          Message 4 of 7 , May 8, 2012
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            It seems to me that Christian literature can include fantasy, but not all fantasy is Christian. Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling all wrote Christian fiction in the genre. Twilight is not Christian fiction - no noble task, no sacrifice for others - just I want my "perfect" boyfriend and my perfect "life". The Inklings showed the world that Christian lit can be exciting and not lame, which usually happens when a writer sets out to write a "Christian" story and degenerates into a thinly disguised sermon.

            Sent from my iPhone
          • Richard Lyman
            Entirely agree with Stephen. The latest blog makes much better sense than the first! Agreed, lots of fantasy fiction is trash; but the same applies to any
            Message 5 of 7 , May 8, 2012
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              Entirely agree with Stephen. The latest blog makes much better sense than the first! Agreed, lots of fantasy fiction is trash; but the same applies to any genre whatever! There was of course good fantasy written before the Inklings, and not necessarily Christian; Dunsany is name that leaps to mind. William Morris, too (though his books seldom live up to their glorious titles).
              Richard Sturch.
            • Ahnemann
              Not sure the series qualifies as fantasy or Sci-fi, but what does anyone have to say about Hunger Games? I m about 50 pages into the first book and find it
              Message 6 of 7 , May 8, 2012
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                Not sure the series qualifies as fantasy or Sci-fi, but what does anyone have to say about Hunger Games? I'm about 50 pages into the first book and find it incredibly gruesome. There are some redeeming moments. 
                AJA

                Sent from my iPad

                On May 8, 2012, at 9:05 AM, Fr Methodios <methodios102@...> wrote:

                 

                It seems to me that Christian literature can include fantasy, but not all fantasy is Christian. Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling all wrote Christian fiction in the genre. Twilight is not Christian fiction - no noble task, no sacrifice for others - just I want my "perfect" boyfriend and my perfect "life". The Inklings showed the world that Christian lit can be exciting and not lame, which usually happens when a writer sets out to write a "Christian" story and degenerates into a thinly disguised sermon.

                Sent from my iPhone

              • Steve Hayes
                ... Agreed - I think that the Inklings not only wrote Christian fantasy, but they wrote *good* Christian fantasy. Some other authors have tried to do that, but
                Message 7 of 7 , May 13, 2012
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                  On 8 May 2012 at 8:05, Fr Methodios wrote:

                  > It seems to me that Christian literature can include fantasy, but not all
                  > fantasy is Christian. Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling all wrote Christian fiction in
                  > the genre. Twilight is not Christian fiction - no noble task, no sacrifice for
                  > others - just I want my "perfect" boyfriend and my perfect "life". The
                  > Inklings showed the world that Christian lit can be exciting and not lame,
                  > which usually happens when a writer sets out to write a "Christian" story and
                  > degenerates into a thinly disguised sermon.

                  Agreed - I think that the Inklings not only wrote Christian fantasy, but they
                  wrote *good* Christian fantasy. Some other authors have tried to do that, but
                  failed.

                  --
                  Steve Hayes
                  E-mail: shayes@...
                  Web: http://hayesstw.tumblr.com/ (follow me on Tumblr)
                  Blog: http://khanya.wordpress.com
                  Phone: 083-342-3563 or 012-333-6727
                  Fax: 086-548-2525
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