Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Magic, Fantasy, and Allegory (Part Three)

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Welcome, welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to part three of our series on magic, fantasy, and allegory. (Notice that I haven't gotten to fantasy and allegory yet. Don't despair. :)

Today's discussion is on two points that are both important to the whole magic debate. Personally, I've learned much in thinking through this, and am much more comfortable now than I was at the beginning. I hope that you are finding some things to take away, too.

1. Be Concerned if Witchcraft is on the Side of Good
If witchcraft is on the side of evil, it's a biblical representation of sin. Now, to clarify this point, I'm not saying that all books containing witches on the side of evil should be read. Far from it, and we'll get to that issue later. But I am saying that evil should be clear-cut. Sin is sin. Black is black. White is white. Truth is not relative, it is absolute. Make sure that what God says is sin is portrayed as sin. As a Christian, that's what you should read. Sin has consequences, so make sure the witches don't get off scot-free.

But what does one do when witchcraft is on the side of good? Do we look the other way?

1. Remember our definition of witchcraft
Miraculous events do not necessarily equal witchcraft. After all, Moses threw down the rod, and it became a snake--all the other Egyptian magicians did that, too. Both the servants of God and the magicians of pagan deities turned water into blood and produced frogs. Obviously, Moses wasn't participating in witchcraft, or the secret arts of the Egyptian magicians. But they were both able to do the same thing, one with witchcraft, and the other without. What sets witchcraft apart from biblical miracles is that it's done in defiance of God. Witchcraft is supernatural events that are produced in defiance of God. But we all know that there are plenty of miracles that are done in the worship of God, and so again, not all miracles are witchcraft.

[Side Note: To clarify for some of my readers: God is sovereign. No witchcraft can produce an effect or a result that He is not in control of and allowing. The effect is in His hands--but the heart attitude is wrong. Witches think they are doing this against God, and that is the problem]

2. Is there a greater power?
So what was the real difference between Moses and the Egyptian magicians? Both have a greater power involved. Witchcraft cannot be perpetrated without demonic influence or God's power. If the character is producing unnatural effects by their own powers, and not with a power that has been given them by good or evil, then this also falls under the category of witchcraft. Because if there is no greater power, then there is no accountability to a greater power, and that is a very dangerous thing. Notice also that the good power must be greater than the evil power. In Exodus, the power of the Egyptian magicians was limited--they were not able to do some things that Moses was.

3. How do you know if the "good" side is committing witchcraft?
If the characters are saving themselves by producing unnatural effects, this should give rise for concern. Not saying it's a deal breaker--because if it's a power that God has given them, then that's fine. But if they are saving themselves by their own power, then that's not biblical. Also, if the good side is calling supernatural things good that are really evil--i.e. werewolves and vampires being viable marriage partners--then that's evil, and it's witchcraft. 

4. Realize that you can't read everything.
This is hard for one bibliophile to say to another. But there are some books that we just have to say no to. There are some books that we simply cannot read--even with all evaluation and Christian worldview glasses, and all the rest of our safety nets. Some books are off limits. And the sooner we accept that fact, and realize that we need to respect our frailty, the better it will be for us. You won't be able to read every fantasy book out there, because some have a worldview system in defiance of God--blasphemous to His authority--and such books we cannot participate in.

So three key points:
1. The characters must be receiving their power from a greater power (in the case of good, it would be God, and in the case of evil, it would be Satan.)
2. Evil must be evil, and good must be good. The two cannot be mixed.
3. Miracles are supernatural works done at the hand of God; witchcraft is supernatural works done in defiance of God.

2. Know the Difference Between Witchcraft and Symbolism

This can be tricky, especially in interpreting magic/fantasy books. Some events that the author portrays in the "physical" world of the characters is meant to be taken symbolically. Not all events are  to be taken literally, especially in a world that is totally fictional. But too often we try to, and that's where many people are disturbed by things that aren't meant to be used as wrong. When your reading a book, ask yourself what the author is trying to say in using the events and techniques he uses. To do that, you'll have to do a little digging between the lines, but it's well worth it. For instance, there are plenty of weird things in Biblical prophecy--spinning wheels in Ezekiel, creatures with four wings and faces of lions and eagles--some of that is symbolic, not to be taken literally. And fantasy authors have similar characteristics.

Well, that's all for today, friends and fellow bibliophiles--we have a little more to cover in future posts--white magic and black magic, a little more concerning witches, what about talking animals, goblins, elves, etc., and a post discussing allegory. But for now, I leave you to think over the above thoughts.

And on Friday, we'll be celebrating a very special birthday. ;)

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Lady B,
    Interesting post! These were very good points!!! :D :D :D :D
    Hhhmmm.... a very special birthday?
    Love, Sister

    1. You'll have to wait and see...

      Love and cuddles, :)

  2. Two further riffs on your theme:

    First, I couldn't be more over (or more hostile to) the whole idea of showing the romantic side of vampires and werewolves. Blech. What romantic side? Still, I'm reminded of an old French fairy-tale about a knight cursed to be a werewolf: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisclavret . In this story, the knight's predicament is clearly a bad thing. I can definitely see ground for using werewolfism as a metaphor for original sin.

    Second, magic can also emerge in stories as a "neutral" thing, akin to the laws of physics, which only people with the natural aptitude for can use. This is what Harry Potter is like. I was amazed, reading that book, by the inconsistencies in the author's worldview (there's life after death--there's no life after death--I don't know if there's life after death, but I sure hope so...). One of the biggest flaws was in her depiction of magic. The magic is portrayed as simply new scientific laws of physics which people with the aptitude for can use. So flying broomsticks are no more diabolical than the latest iPad, and about as hotly anticipated as the latest version of that product. For the purposes of the story, I could almost have allowed that: it would be no more problematic than a sufficiently 'soft' sci-fi story. The problem was that then, she had to go and confuse the rules of what you could or could not do with the magic. Thus, in Book 1, we learn that the fundamental difference between the Big Good (Dumbledore) and the Big Bad (Voldemort) is that Dumbledore is too 'noble' to use his powers for evil. BUT then in later books we find out that there is an inherently evil species of magic known as the Unforgiveable Curses; and finally in book 7 we find all the good characters using those Unforgiveable Curses.

    See how the issue is confused there? First the magic is neutral and the difference between the baddies and the goodies is in the hearts of each (which is problematic enough because some of the magic involves inherently bad stuff like Divination &c); then magic isn't neutral and the baddies use the bad magic; then the goodies use the bad magic too and where are we?

    So the magic in Harry Potter isn't really neutral, although you could argue that it's been severely trivialised.

    1. Exactly! Well put, and a point I forgot about completely. Magic cannot be "neutral". It must be either good or evil.

      I, too, thought it odd that vampires would be seen as good marriage material...if ever that showed a twisted moral ethics system in society, whats-his-name would be it.

      And then to top it off, J.K. Rowling was featured in the Olympics opening ceremony, which was about the poorest presentation of British literature I have ever had misfortunate to behold. Needless to say, we didn't stick around to watch it. :)

  3. Thanks for these posts, Lady B. I realize I am reading your posts 1 1/2 years later, but I to hear more about the symbolism part you writing about at the end of this, as I'm thinking of using magic symbolically in a book I want to write, but at the same time just trying to discern God's heart on this issue. Thanks Lady B!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Stephen! I'm glad to hear that these posts are still being a blessing, even some time after they are written. :)

      There is so much room for Christian dominion in magical/fantasy fiction. All success to you with your book! Writing is a lot of hard work (as I can speak from experience, being now in the editing stage of my novel) but perseverance and prayer wins through. :)

      I would love to revisit the magic/symbolism issue on the blog sometime, and perhaps I will this year. But in the meantime, the best tutor I can offer you on that matter is definitely J.R.R. Tolkien. He wrote using many magical and symbolic elements, but he also wrote from a strong Christian perspective. So you might find studying his works and his letters very helpful to learn what his thinking process was behind his books. Needless to say, seeking God's heart on the matter is the most important thing you can do, and He will give abundant wisdom as you evaluate magic and line it up so it's in accordance with Scripture!

      Thanks again for stopping by. It was a pleasure hearing from you. :)

      Schuyler (Lady B)


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