Saturday, August 22, 2009

Yet Another Hot Button

I realize this is a little departure from my professed focus of Christian Fantasy Writing, but it's still a topic that bears discussion.

If you think that being a reader or writer of Christian fantasy fiction invited suspicious stares from the non-fantasy-reading world, try admitting to being both a Christian and a role playing game enthusiast. Role playing games (which shall be abbreviated RPGs from here) certainly have what the general populace regards as a "weird" following. I'll be the first to admit, gamers aren't ordinary. They spend Saturday afternoons huddled around a big table with a grid map, miniatures, stacks of rulebooks and resources, polygon dice and wild imaginations at work, rather than heading to the ballpark,mowing the lawn, or whatever other "normal" task their non-gaming counterparts may undertake on that same day. Or perhaps they take up residence in front of their computers for a few hours for a journey into another world.

Now, why is it that this past-time invites ridicule, or sometimes even venomous attacks from the non-role-playing community? Sadly, some of the vitriol is earned. People have made the news for neglecting their responsibilities in favor of escaping to their fictitious world of choice. Some gaming systems, and hence their players, glorify evil in any number of ways. Some people have forsaken real-world relationships for the construction of alter egos that exist only in a game. But are these poster children for "Why RPGs are evil" the majority? I would argue that those who choose to let a game take over their lives are few and far between.

But these are the gamers the outside world hears about in the media, reported on largely by people who have never seen the actual events of an RPG. The truth of the matter is, if you live a troubled "real" life, then you will abuse, exploit, over indulge in something, chances are. An obsession with sports, cars, wealth, or whatever else a mainstream person may latch onto simply doesn't garner as much attention, as these obsessions seem less "bizarre" to the general populace.

Now, to get even more focused on the problem, RPG's face another level of conflict in circles of "churched" people. There are people in every congregation who are quick to site "those kids who got so into RPG's that they committed suicide when their characters died" or "those sourcebooks with real occult spells in them." The first falls under the argument I made in the previous paragraph, the second falls to the discernment of the player.

I completely agree that if you want to call yourself both a Christian and a Gamer, you need to watch your step with which gaming system you use, and where you put your support and money. Systems that promote evil behavior among players, skirt too close to making flippant use of occult elements, or riddle their pages with art that profanes a Christian's sense of modesty should be avoided, in my opinion. But is the practice of essentially writing a collaborative story where multiple people have a hand in what the characters of that story will do, in and of itself, questionable?

I say no. If the character are working together toward an admirable goal, if the delineation between good an evil is discernible, if evil behavior has consequences, then I believe the RPG has a job to do. It can grow imaginations. It can offer fun social interaction between a group of good friends.

Like any pastime, when kept in perspective and enjoyed in moderation, the RPG needn't draw the ire of the Christian Community. Most people will never resonate with the past-time, and that's fine. We Christian RPGers just need to make sure that we live our lives beyond reproach, and always make sure we do not grieve God with anything we do in the name of fun. The RPG, like every other form of entertainment in this country, needs the Lord's people to hold their ground, and keep the tide of evil from washing over the entire activity.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fantasy Fiction and the Ultimate Victory

While attending the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference this weekend, one of my teachers, Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press, ( ) said something that really struck me as a topic that begs for deeper reflection. Well, to be honest, he said about 453,000 things that beg for deeper reflection, but I'll just take a stab at one for now.

This one statement that struck me went something like this: Fantasy, as a genre, may have the greatest potential to convey a Christian message of any fiction that is being published today. Why is that? Mostly, it has to do with the fact that fantasy tends to deal with very black-and-white delineation between ultimate good and absolute evil. Where else can a writer paint a story with those "brushes", so to speak? In an age where society wants to homogonize all thoughts and theories into a cask of gray neither-here-nor-there philosophy, we, the fantasy writers and readers, still hold the ground of calling good "good" and evil "evil". Sure, our good characters will make mistakes, have flaws, and sometimes even choose to do what's wrong, for what story would be interesting if no one ever wrestled in this contest for the soul?

The fact still remains, however, that at the core of most fantasy plot threads, there is a sense of right and wrong that exists outside of what the characters tell themselves is true. In a time when relativism is the supposed wisdom of the enlightened world, I believe it is of dire importance that we fantasy enthusiasts continue to dig our trenches and state that we will not allow the tide of ambivalence overtake us. Fantasy has the power to capture the imagination, and into the hearts and minds of the reader, plant the seed that we do not ultimately decide what is good. That label has existed from the foundation of the world, and we did not ascribe it.

May we continue to offer glimpses of the divine reality that Good will ultimately overcome evil. Whatever struggles come along that way, we have that promise to lean on. And may what we read and write also depict that struggle and echo the hope of that final destiny.

I invite your comments and reflection on this as well! Post your thoughts and invite your friends to do the same.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Highs and Lows

Fantasy, as a genre, splinters into a gaggle of subgenres, the definitions of which vary from source to source. The two subgenres I'd like to deal with today, through the goggles of this Christian worldview I keep mentioning, are High Fantasy and Low Fantasy.

First, let's start off with a couple of simple definitions, for the sake of beginning the discussion on common ground. Low Fantasy, simply put, is fantasy that takes place in what we all know as the "real world", in real places you can find on a map here on planet earth, or at least put in a general geographic region between real places. High Fantasy, on the other hand, takes place in a wholly invented place, like J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth.

I, personally, prefer High Fantasy, not only for the experience of being transported to something vastly different than what I find around me in suburban Pennsylvania, but also, because spiritually, I find dealing with a fictional universe less problematic.

There are many popular fantasy series' being written today that take place in discernable "real world" locations, and the reason I struggle with this kind of writing is the fact that people in fantasy typically derive their power from a system of "magic". To choose empowerment from some sort of otherworldly source in a universe where Jesus should be an option for the characters strikes me as too stark a depiction of choosing something ungodly over the Truth of our Universe. When you deal with our world, fictional magic smacks a little of at least ignoring, and at the worst, rejecting Christ and his transfroming power in our lives.

Now, some folks will go so far as to say Low Fantasy novels invite exploration of the occult, but I find that very much of what is written as Low Fantasy (at least what I've read, and I don't spend much time on it, to be honest) uses what I'll refer to as "hokus pokus", which doesn't even faintly resemble true occult. But this topic could easily spin into a whole 'nuther post, so I'll decide at some future daye if I want to tackle that. It will suffice to say that the "magic" employed in most Low Fantasy doesn't bother me so much as the setting it occurs in.

So, why do I find High Fantasy preferable? Again, on the simplest terms, in a fictional setting where there is no Christ for the characters to reject, I can immerse myself in the workings of that universe with fewer nagging, disquieting questions. Now, if that fictional universe incorporates allegorical elements that either directly or indirectly speak of scriptural truth, then mores the better, at least for me.

Having laid out these two contrasting approaches, it occurs to me that there is a third option, which is Low Fantasy that incorporates faith in Christ in its inner workings. I want to make a goal of finding some books that attempt this, simply to see how an author has handled such an idea. I, myself, can't get my head around a book set in otherwise historic anywhere, with the truth of scripture underpinning it, that also throws in Sword and Sorcery elements or mythical creatures. It's certainly something worth exploring.

My preferences aside, the lables "High" and "Low" fantasy, while we might be tempted to label one as Elevated and one Not-So-Inspired, I believe we'd make a grave error in doing so. To me, the greater goal is to take whatever setting you as an author choose and to spin a compelling tale that captivates your readers, leaving them a little different in their hearts than they were when they began the journey through your tale.