Good morning, all. Today we will be joined by Kyle Robert Shultz, the #ShultzWithoutaC author of the Beaumont and Beasley fantasy series. Given that Mr. Shultz is spiritually and morally a churchgoing Christian, some may be surprised that he writes fantasy fiction, chock full of storybook magic, witches and wizards, and mythological creatures. All of this was part of what drew me to this author’s writing in the first place. As someone who believes in Jesus of Nazareth as a divine Savior, and tries to follow his teachings in everyday life, I got very fed up with being told that one cannot attend church on Sunday and read fantasy Monday through Saturday. With popular authors such as Ted Dekker and Carrie Anne Noble breaking this mold (and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien never being off the bestseller lists in the past decade), I was very interested in connecting with like-minded writers in the indie publishing camp. So I asked Kyle to write about this subject for today’s post, and I’m actually going to use it to lead into a 2-part discussion on the topic later in March. So enjoy, and have a great day, everyone!
The Magical Elephant in the Room by Kyle R. Shultz
In my experience, Christian writers of fantasy don’t like to discuss the thorny subject of magic. We either use it in our stories or steer clear of it, but we’re not inclined to get into a big debate about the ethics of *Anthony Head voice* SOSSERY. The conflict over the subject has been going on ever since Harry Potter first become popular in the 1990s. Much of the furor and book-burning has died down since then, but even today, if you write a novel that heavily features magic, you’re likely to get a review from a Christian reader which at least mentions it as a potential problem.
So, since this is still a relevant issue in 2018, I say we stop tiptoeing around it and and tackle it head on. Ready? Here we go. The basic argument from Christians against fictional magic is as follows:
- Real-world magic is wrong, according to the Bible (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Galatians 5:20, Revelation 21:8).
- The Bible also tells us to do nothing that would cause another to stumble and commit sin, even if what we are doing seems innocent (Romans 14:21).
- Therefore, reading and writing stories involving magic is wrong because it might encourage someone to engage in real-life sorcery.
If we don’t accept the idea that real-world witchcraft is real or dangerous, than this argument is invalid. However, I don’t ascribe to the doctrine of cessationism. I believe that the supernatural forces described in the Bible–both good and evil–are just as real today as they were in ancient times. The Bible passages regarding witchcraft specifically refer to the practice of communing with pagan gods, similar to both the medieval notion of consorting with demons and the modern concept of neo-paganism (i.e. Wicca). These practices are not only idolatrous; they’re potentially harmful to the soul.
That being said, however, we need to get some definitions straight. Magic as defined by the Bible refers to both witchcraft (invoking pagan/demonic entities) and divination (foretelling the future through means other than consulting God, such as astrology). The definition of fictional magic is a lot broader. It’s a force that the characters harness to achieve their goals and to do things impossible in the natural world. Fictional magic may or may not bear similarities to the sorcerous practices that the Bible describes. The magic systems in the works of J.K. Rowling or Brandon Sanderson, for example, are generally no more demonic in nature than the metric system. They’re mechanical rather than spiritual. On the other hand, there are fictional works which veer too close to promoting actual paganism–Buffy the Vampire Slayer being one of the strongest examples.
Where, then, does this leave the Christian author? Presumably, due to our beliefs, we won’t be writing something that reads like a recruitment pamphlet for Wicca. But all the same, is it wrong for us to be writing about characters who cast spells, especially if we present such characters in a positive light?
The core of the problem lies in the reader’s awareness of the divide between fiction and reality. If an adult reader attempts to summon a demon into his or her living room after reading Harry Potter, Mistborn, or even the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the fault lies more with the reader than the author. It shouldn’t be the writer’s job to repeatedly remind adult readers that fiction is fiction. Child readers are another issue altogether, since young children don’t necessarily have the same grasp on what should and should not be mimicked. I have, in the past, been surprised by the level of occult content in books directed at younger readers, such as the Gatekeepers series by Anthony Horowitz or the Demonata books by Darren Shan. (That’s not an actual critique of the books, as I haven’t read more than a few pages of them–I’m just naming them as examples.) But while there are sometimes murky philosophical waters to be navigated in the Harry Potter novels, as well as occasional content that might be too frightening for some children, I still maintain that it’s highly unlikely the series will lure children into actual occult practices–especially if their parents have clearly explained the differences between real and fictional sorcery.
Assuming that actual paganism is not being endorsed, I don’t believe there’s a conflict between Christian faith and writing magic-heavy fantasy. Integral to the fantasy genre is the concept of other worlds, very different from our own. In this world, magic is dangerous and should be avoided. But in fiction, we journey through a vast multiverse of worlds where magic is not inherently evil. The stars in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia are sentient beings whose patterns inform centaurs of future events; our stars are not. The Potterverse contains people biologically capable of casting spells using wands and faux-Latin incantations, our universe does not. There is no reason for such distinctions to become muddled.
Furthermore, I don’t think Christians should act on a blinkered understanding of Biblical teachings about paganism to single out those who read or write books involving magic. Getting on that soapbox can damage the cause of Christianity by turning away non-believers who have an innocent love for the fantasy genre. What magic represents for many people is a power beyond the physical world; beauty and glory bursting in upon dull and colorless reality. To condemn this is to deny the very thing that we, as Christians, are meant to be offering those outside the faith. Let us not, in the effort to save people from some nebulous occult threat, steer them away from all the wonder of fantasy–a signpost on the way to embracing a very non-fictional God.