I think everybody has figured out from my snarks of Dragonspell and my page about possible future snarks that I am not fond of Christian fantasy. Hell, I’m not fond of Christian FICTION in general. Or any kind of religious fiction… or anti-religious fiction.
Honestly, I think it sucks.
Now that isn’t to say that there aren’t exceptions to this. I’m very fond of the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis; it has its flaws, but it’s a fun series anyway. A friend of mine also introduced me to the Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet, which is a really beautifully written series that has Christian undertones, but doesn’t bang you in the face with crappy Jesus expys.
But most Christian books are absolute crap. Why is that? Well, this is admittedly just my viewpoint, but I don’t think that OBVIOUS RELIGIOUS STUFF should be inserted into a story wholesale, nor that it should be the entire plot. If you just take Jesus, plant him in Generic Medieval Land and give him a magic wand, that is not fantasy. That is Jesus cosplaying, and it doesn’t make a good story.
Aaaaaaan now I want to see a cosplaying Jesus go to Comic-Con.
Most Christian fantasy does this sort of thing. Instead of developing a good fantasy world with realistic politics, history and theology, they usually just slap fantasy names on God, Jesus and Christianity. There’s really nothing OUTSIDE the Christian content. When you take it away, what do you have? Usually not that much.
And really, I just don’t think that the obvious stuff is any good. A fantasy story should be able to stand on its own feet, and be appreciated for the FANTASY. We don’t come to read fantasy so we can be preached at… or at least, I don’t.
Now, I’m not saying that religious stuff has no place in fantasy, or that it can’t be integrated well into an otherwise fantastical story. Here are some stories that do it well:
- JRR Tolkien has an entire cosmology based on his Roman Catholic beliefs, and the morals of his characters tend to reflect his own. It’s a very Christian WORLD, but it’s not obvious just by a non-analytical reading.
- The Dresden Files also have a lot of Catholic content, like the Knights of the Sword, an archangel patron, the Nickleheads, etc. But there is a LOT more to the Dresdenverse than just the religiously based content, and it’s never there just to tell you “You should follow Jesus and be a good li’l churchgoing Christian.” It’s a real part of the story, and Butcher doesn’t make judgements about people who aren’t Christians. I mean, one of the Knights is a friggin’ agnostic, but he’s recruited by the angels just because he’s a good person.
- Stephen Lawhead has a lot of Christian content in his King Arthur and Robin Hood series, but it doesn’t feel forced because it takes place in a medieval setting. And, you know, there’s a story outside of that!
- The aforementioned Auralia’s Thread series.
- Tad Williams’ Memory Sorrow and Thorn series, which has a Ye Olde Fantasye version of Christianity that is basically a cosplayed-up version of that religion. It’s notable, but it’s not intrusive.
Another problem is that Christian fantasy is often very preachy. There tend to be two kinds of people in these stories: Good Guys and Bad Guys. The Good Guys are all Fantasy Christians, and the Bad Guys are… anything that doesn’t belong to the author’s own brand of religion.