Hello again. Last time I gave a fairly brief introduction into this monster of a topic. In my blog, I explained my own writing experience and how I came to the conclusion that it is not possible for a Christian to leave God out of their writing. Is this why we see such a chasm in Christian science fiction and fantasy? Do we as Christians avoid the problem by avoiding the genres altogether? Or do we avoid it by writing those genres and avoiding God? Be honest with yourself—the answer is probably both. So let’s continue to explore this idea. As writers, we should be fearless and fiercely pursue our writing without reservation; let’s face this together so that we can.
To begin, let’s look at some of the great works of our predecessors. The work of those who came before paved roads which we can continue to follow or branch off from. Or, if you’d prefer, you can begin forging your own path. Regardless, one must know what’s out there—the roads, the detours, the destinations—before you can start a journey. So we’re going to begin with two of the most well known authors of fantasy: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Everyone assumes that The Chronicles of Narnia is an allegory. It seems to be that simple. Aslan represents Jesus, and the emperor-beyond-the-sea is God. The Magician’s Nephew parallels Genesis, even using breath to create life. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and The Last Battle is viewed as a version of the end times. But C.S. Lewis refused to acknowledge it as allegorical—in fact, he insisted that it wasn’t. Where does that leave us? The story’s Christian ties are so powerful and obvious, how could it be anything but an allegory?
If one examines how Lewis began writing the story, it is easier to understand. In an essay he wrote called “It all Began with a Picture” Lewis explains how, since the age of sixteen, he had an image in his head of a faun carrying an umbrella in a snowy forest. It wasn’t until years later that he decided to take that image and turn it into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He didn’t know what direction the story would take until Aslan “came bounding into it” and all of the pieces came together. Lewis didn’t start his story with an agenda; he simply had an idea that he pursued. I think that Lewis didn’t intend for his books to be allegorical, but I also think that Lewis wrote intentionally. As a Christian, he wanted to reflect God in his writing. He came up with another world and decided that it would not be Godless; in fact, it would have the same God as ours and that what happened in our world is similar to what happened in Narnia. I feel it is also important to point out that Lewis received inspiration not only from the Bible, but from Greek and Roman mythology as well as British and Irish lore. Everyone is quick to point out the Christian symbolism but is slow to notice other mythology. Call it an allegory if you wish, but I don’t see it that way.
Funnily enough, many people will not go so far as to say that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory, but they will say that it is highly symbolic. There have been books written explaining the Christian symbolism in his work, saying that the ring of power represents sin, and that Gandalf and Aragorn both represent Christ. The battle between the fellowship against Sauron is a reflection of the battle between good versus evil, God versus the devil. Many people also comment on how alike The Silmarillion is to the Old Testament. And Tom Bombadil is…well, Tom Bombadil is a highly discussed bomb of symbolism that I won’t touch or this blog may explode.
But Tolkien despised allegory. In fact, he heavily criticized the work of C.S. Lewis, his close friend, for being too heavy-handedly allegorical. If anyone in this world could be considered a perfectionist, I would point right away to Tolkien. The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings are his life’s work. Everything in his life contributed and built to his writing from his early school days as a part of a secret writing society (Dead Poet’s Society, anyone?), to his love of philology and mythology, to the twelve years it took him to write The Lord of the Rings (excluding the years of ideas, drawings, language creating, and historical crafting that really took place over his whole lifetime), to the posthumous publication of The Silmarillion. Can I truly be expected to believe that such a perfectionistic, detailed, and, to be honest, anal retentive writer would ultimately make his books into something that he despised?
In hindsight it is very easy for a Christian to look back at a text, analyze it to death, and identify Christian symbolism. But give me the basest, most secular story, and I could find messages of truth, of Christ in them. That’s how God works—he shows us his light in everything, even in the darkest spaces. Actually, it’s easier to see light in the dark; your eye catches it right away. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is an entirely different world apart from our own, and it is not meant to represent ours. Did you know that, unlike Lewis who never uses the word “God” for Aslan or the emperor-beyond-the-sea, Tolkien has a deity in his story? His name is Eru Ilúvatar. There can only be two conclusions then, right? Because Tolkien was religious, his God is symbolic/allegorical for ours or Tolkien has overstepped his bounds of sub-creator and is being some dramatic word, like blasphemous.
I hope that you come to your own decisions while reading this blog, but let me share with you mine. Neither of those two conclusions is right. Christians are comfortable with allegories because they are safe. Allegories mean you are only telling a story that has already been told in another form, so you can’t get it wrong, you can’t be questioned, you are, in many ways, untouchable. But God gave us the ability and the gift to create. Why tell the same story over and over? People looked at Lewis’ and Tolkien’s writing and, because it made them uncomfortable, decided to lump it into a box they understood: allegory, where it is safe. Don’t hide behind allegory. Additionally, don’t think that because you have written a new world with a deity means you are betraying God.
I have been told that God is like a diamond. You hold it up to the light and look at the way it shines, the way the light casts its reflections. You memorize every cut and sparkle until you understand it. Then you turn it, just a twitch, and it’s completely different. God is multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, multi-layered—he is the most engaging mystery there is. So don’t tell the same story. Learn about him, discover him, and, believe it or not, it will come out in your writing. Who knows, maybe you’ll be like Lewis and Tolkien and you will publish a work that people look at fifty years later, labeling all of your symbolism and allegories. And maybe you’ll grin proudly and toast them with your mug of coffee because they got it right. Or maybe you’ll scratch your head and think, “Oh, huh. I guess that is in there. That’s cool.” And then you’ll toast yourself for your own unintentional brilliance. Regardless, don’t be afraid to write what’s on your heart, what God has revealed to you about himself. Don’t be afraid to be a sub-creator. Don’t worry, we’re not done exploring this topic yet, and there is still much to discuss. As I said before, I would love any comments you may have. Contact us using Facebook, Twitter, or our website!
By Rachelle Clifford
Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Image credtis in order of appearance: Master isolated images, tiverylucky, Boykung, Stuart Miles.