family, Fantasy fiction, spiritual growth

Guest Post: Kyle Robert Shultz on The Magic Elephant in the Room

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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!

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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:

  1. Real-world magic is wrong, according to the Bible (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Galatians 5:20, Revelation 21:8).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

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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.

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spiritual growth, writing

Some Writing Tips I Take Issue With

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This may seem a little like splitting hairs, but there is a big debate brewing among certain writing/reading communities about what sort of faith-based fiction is “the best” or the “most appropriate.” And considering that I subscribe to a particular beliefs system, and it does affect how and what I write and read, I do feel that this debate will affect me. And that deciding where I stand on some of the more concerning topics is probably a wise plan.

There have been a lot of thoughts regarding this subject floating around my head the last several weeks. One: I totally think that typical “Christian fiction” has become way too categorized, unappealing to non-churchgoers, and really just “preaching to the choir.”

Two: I definitely think that it’s time for more Christian authors (meaning religion and lifestyle, not profession) to be writing “outside the box.”

Three: It’s more than beyond time for churchgoers of all denominations to stop telling writers of non-traditional genres (in the faith-marketing area) that what they’re doing is “wrong.”

Could some members of the Christian speculative fiction community please back me up here? I’m reading a lot of similar musings on your blogs and social media pages. And it’s helped me to feel that I’m not alone, and that has made me feel good.

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Here are some other “guidelines” I think we should be bending:

The idea that faith-based fiction can’t have anything truly horrible or horrifying or even minorly dastardly in it. Think all the sappy Hallmark movies rolled into one. All the time. Absolutely no hint of bad language or sin. Not only is it intensely unrealistic, it is extremely off-putting to non-religious folks. If you’re a writer with a specific code of conduct for your characters — even the sinners — then please stick to it. But it doesn’t need to be so strict that the worst thing that ever happens in your novel is the protagonist breaks a nail.

Readers will relate so much better to a narrator whose spouse has just been caught having an affair (and, no, you don’t have to provide all the sensual details to get the point across), or a secondary character who spent a few days in jail after getting a DUI. This is real life. And if you want readers to find hope in a story of redemption and mercy and personal growth, this type of plotline is a great place to start.

The idea that faith-based fiction can have all the terrible and terrifying things it wants as long as it promises the glory of salvation. Too far the other side of the coin. Personally, I don’t think showing all the various sorts of depravity the world has experienced/is experiencing, and indicating that the only way we’ll find true peace and happiness is after we die and go to Heaven, is going to win people to a spiritual cause. Nor do I feel it’s ethically or morally responsible, quite frankly.

Why can’t we have a balance, of some bad things happening, but there being enough good while we’re still alive on this planet, to help keep the characters going, and the readers, too? (Cue the famous-and-best-ever Samwise/Two Towers speech.)

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The notion that “true Christians” don’t ruminate on the dark and less-than-holy things of the world. Sorry, folks, but we do live in a fallen world — and how the heck are we going to explain the difference between the dark and the light if we don’t ruminate at least a little bit?! Whatever happened to the novels about a kid who lived a “bad” life — sex, drugs, juvie — then regretted his/her mistakes, and wanted to find a better way of living? Then a minister or angel in disguise meets them on the road when their car breaks down, and a message of hope and forgiveness gets woven into the story without being too preachy?

We truly need to have morally good characters — they go to church, they don’t smoke, they always recycle — that have a crisis of faith due to unfortunate circumstances. Or heroes that we know will do the right thing, but maybe they’re sometimes tempted to lie, or act on their attraction to a pretty girl, or consider getting drunk — but then they have this important moment of weighing the pros and cons and making a decision not to behave a certain way. Fictional people who mess up and try to learn from it are very easy to empathize with.

The concept that “true Christians” don’t ruminate on things like aliens, mythical creatures, other dimensions… Blah, blah, blah. I really cannot even with how ridiculous this is. How much of the Bible itself is devoted to unseen realms, dreams, miracles, visitations from angels, on and on?

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien really broke the mold in their lifetime, and we need to be proud of following in their footsteps. There is so much benefit to seeking out things you can’t see in the natural world, don’t necessarily understand right away, and may even defy conventional explanation. Trust me on this.

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What do you think, my community? Anything to add to this slight diatribe?

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