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10:47 am: Superversive Literary Blog — Deeper Magic From Before The Dawn Of Time

Subversive Literary Movement

Welcome back to our weekly post on the Superversive Literary Movement.

On sale now

 

 This post is on one of my favorite things of all things: Christian Magic.

Travis Perry at Travis’s Big Ideas has an excellent article on ways that Christians handle magic to make it more or less in keeping with the Bible. You can see it here:

Seven Ways To Deal With The Problems Magic Poses Christian Fantasy Writers

http://travissbigidea.blogspot.com/2014/08/7-ways-to-deal-with-problem-magic-poses.html

This post is not on that.

For decades, there has been a large gap between traditional fantasy stories and Christian stories—fantastic or otherwise. This gap is growing smaller, especially with the existence of such things as Enclave Publishing, which specializes in Christian fantasy and science fiction. However, if the gap has been crossed successfully, more than possibly a few times, I have not yet heard about it.

What is this gap?

It is the gap between the wondrous and the pious.

The traditional fantasy stories include very little reference to Christianity. Many are overtly anti-Christian. The Christian stories, on the other hand, tend to be overtly pious, with no ambiguity or deviation from the particular strict doctrine.

I don’t know about you, but my life is not like that.

My life is more like being behind enemies lines. All around me is the secular world, filled with its terrors, its sorrows, its terrible doubts. I find myself challenged from all directions—both by the difficulties of life and by the skepticism of mankind. Those who are not Christian question my reliance on God, and many who are want to argue with me about the particulars of how to worship.

Yet, in the midst of all this comes glimpses of brilliant light, as if the Hand of God itself reached down from Heaven and touched some aspect of my life.

Miracles occur.

Many of them would not convince a skeptic. They are too subtle to point at: a sudden release from dark thoughts, an unexpected change in a seemingly hopeless situation. But some are more obvious: poison ivy on a baby instantly healed, a baby with a high fever instantly healed, back pain instantly relieved, Lime’s disease, which had progressed to such a degree as to cause semi-paralysis, instantly healed. The list could go on and on.

To continue, however, would be to miss the point, which is that it was not the physical changes that made the events so amazing, but the spiritual uplift that came with them. The moment when there was no hope—and suddenly, hope was present after all.

Unexpected touches of grace.

That is what I find missing from most overtly Christian stories, that moment when something totally unexpected but totally real happens. How could they be there, if the religion is so obvious that no one could miss it?

Where are the stories about people who discover the wonder and majesty of God, the way cleaning maids come upon unicorns or farm boys discover that they are Jedi?

Where are the stories that are as amazing as what happens to Gideon in the Bible? Or to Elisha? Or to Jacob?

(And if you have forgotten how utterly amazing and unexpected it is when three hundred men route an army, or when chariots of fire appear on the mountain, or when an angry, betrayed man who is coming to kill his brother suddenly embraces him instead, you might enjoy rereading a few of these stories.)

They that be with us are more than they that be with them. (2 Kings 6:16)

At this point, I must digress and discuss the purpose and meaning of magic in stories. In real life, I am not a fan of magic, if by magic, you mean the occult: casting spells, reading tarot, praying to gods, and other things that try to usurp the power of the Creator into our own hands (or the hands of some lesser power). I don’t personally find these things offensive. I have friends who enjoy them regularly. However, my personal experience suggests that those who engage in such pursuits may ultimately regret having done so.

But is magic in stories the same as magic in life?

I believe that it is not.

Or rather, I believe that magic in stories can have two different interpretations or purposes.

The first is the same as real life—the occult. People who worry that reading fantasy will lead to interest in the occult are worried about this interpretation. And they may have some grounds for concern. I fear good Professor Tolkien would be rolling in his grave if he knew how many modern Wicca had found their way to their current beliefs by first stepping upon the path trod by Bilbo. (Spinning fast enough to run a generator…but I digress. This is not an essay on Tolkien Power.) I personally have a family member who pulled out his tarot cards and crystal ball every time a new Harry Potter book came out. But, then, my family member is mentally ill and may not be a good indicator of the reading population in general.

The second is as analogy, when magic in a tale represents the sense of wonder that would come from greater things in real life. In this sense, the magic in a story represents the existence of wonder, of things greater than our eyes ordinarily show us, of hope.

Because, when praying, faith is required—and by faith here, I mean, specifically, a willingness for the prayer to actually be answered. One of the things that kills faith the quickest is doubt, lack of hope, a sense of certainty that the bad situation will never yield. This tends to interfere with the sense of acceptance of good often necessary for miracles.

So to the degree that magic in a story reminds us that there is more to life than what we see—that we should be open to the new and unexpected, to hope—I see it as a very positive thing.

Perhaps, there are those who read fantasies and turn to the occult, but then I also know people who, even as adults, credit their coming to Christianity to having read the Narnia books as a child.

Let me use an example: In the movie, Polar Express, the young man doubts the existence of Santa Claus. He wants to believe, but he doesn’t want to be fooled, bamboozled. There are two ways a Christian can take this.

1) This movie encourages belief in an idol, Santa Claus. It does not talk about God or Jesus, and thus takes away from the true meaning of Christmas. It is blasphemous.

2) The boy’s struggle concerning his faith in Santa Claus is an analogy for our struggle with our faith in God—where we want to believe, but we don’t want to discover t hat we’ve been fooled, bamboozled. This analogy reminds us of our own struggles and leads us to examine our faith more closely and thus is a signpost on the path to God.

This second option is how I, personally, view this movie, which is why I love it so very much. I always walk away feeling inspired to renew my efforts toward a more perfect faith.

And this is how I view magic in stories—not as a symbol of the occult, but as an analogy to help wake us out of the dreariness of our false concept of real life. It reminds us of that the real world is much vaster and more wondrous than we tend to give it credit for.

So, having come this far, what is it that I mean by Christian Magic?

I mean when something happens in a story that feels like magic-all marvelous and wondrous—but its source is Judeo-Christian, rather than occult or pagan.

In Narnia, we are told that the White Witch knows Deep Magic from the dawn of time. This allowed her to claim the right to slay Edmond the traitor. But Aslan knew a deeper magic still:

"It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards." (Aslan, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.)

If you can read the last line and not have your heart lift, even slightly, this post—and the whole Superversive movement—is not for you.

And it may not be. No literature is for everyone.

But if you read this, and the notion that Death itself would start working backwards touches something deep inside you—like a finger from on-high brushing the harpstring of your soul—and your whole being thinks: Yes! Then, this whole effort is for you, just for you, and for those who—to paraphrase John Adams from 1776see what you see.

End of Part One. (Next time, in two weeks, actual examples of Christian Magic in stories.)

 

Comments

Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

Comments

[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:October 22nd, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC)
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I don't know of people who got into occultism by way of Tolkien. It seems to me that anyone who does is a sloppy reader, since the magic in Tolkien is rare, the technique is not described (even vaguely), and generally not done by humans.

However, Katherine Kurtz said that she doesn't describe spells used by the bad guys in her books because she's found that someone will try anything she describes.

Edited at 2014-10-22 04:23 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 22nd, 2014 04:31 pm (UTC)
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I know Wicca folk who got there though a love for Tolkien...but I really don't think that was Tolkien's fault.

Very interesting about Kurtz.
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:October 22nd, 2014 06:56 pm (UTC)
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Depending on where someone is coming from, before you can get into X you have to get out of Y. (After which perhaps the whole alphabet lies before you.) When Y is the Giant's dungeon in THE PILGRIM'S REGRESS, many things can get you out, and many versions of Tolkien do that.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 22nd, 2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
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I don't think Tolkien can lead a person astray if the person is not unmoored to begin with. I think that is what you mean by you have to get out of Y first...right?
[User Picture]
From:houseboatonstyx
Date:October 22nd, 2014 09:55 pm (UTC)
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No, Y is a grimdark materialist worldview that the person is locked into. Tolkien's long, long Middle Earth gives a long experience of being out of the materialist worldview, to "help wake us out of the dreariness of our false concept of real life. It reminds us of that the real world is much vaster and more wondrous than we tend to give it credit for."

Once out of that dungeon, the person is free to explore many things.
[User Picture]
From:Josh Young
Date:October 22nd, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
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"Where are the stories about people who discover the wonder and majesty of God, the way cleaning maids come upon unicorns or farm boys discover that they are Jedi?"

I can really think of only one: The Book of the Long Sun.

There is one moment in particular that has always stuck with me. I think it's in the second book? Silk has ventured into the bowels of the Whorl, having never seen a real sun or night sky, and finds an observation deck in time to witness the dawning of the short sun over the edge of the Whorl-- and believes it is a theophany.

And in some ways, isn't it? St. Paul and the Psalmist both tell us that the universe reveals God to us. That moment in BotLS has stuck with me as a more intensely spiritual passage than any work of overtly Christian fiction, except for Lewis.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 22nd, 2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
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I haven't read those books, Josh, but John has reread them several times.

I don't supposed there's a chance that you'd like to do a review of BotLS for this post on the Superversive aspects of the series? (To be run in either late Nov or in Jan, your choice. And don't hesitate to say no, if you don't want to ;- )
[User Picture]
From:Josh Young
Date:October 22nd, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)
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It would certainly give me an excuse to reread them as I have been meaning to do! But let's aim for January. I'm hoping to finish Buddha's Dream in November.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 22nd, 2014 07:34 pm (UTC)
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Great. January, or even later. Just let me know when you are ready and I'll fit you in. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:Sarah Pierzchala
Date:October 23rd, 2014 12:18 am (UTC)

Helpful!

(Link)

This is a great help in the on-going "can Christians enjoy fantasy?" debate! I'm going to print all the parts and keep them in a folder at my fingertips.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 23rd, 2014 12:22 am (UTC)

Re: Helpful!

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Glad to be of help!

If you haven't seen the article I liked to, the Travis's Big Idea article. That one's pretty interesting, too.
From:Jeff Hendricks
Date:October 23rd, 2014 12:14 pm (UTC)

Looking forward to the next part!

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One book that dealt with magic that impacted me greatly as a teen was the 1980 Roger Zelazney book "The Changeling." It uses the #4 scenario, where "magic" is actually invisible floating strings of energy that only a wizard could see and "weave" into patterns to make spells. It was beautifully written (from what I can remember through 25 years of filter) and that description of it always fascinated me, and was unique. I personally wouldn't use that scenario, though I can see why Zelazney did (the main story is magic vs. technology as two opposing natural forces).

I'm also a fan of the Harry Potter series, and the "world-within-a-world" story is pretty fun, though I'd be afraid to use it simply for appearing to be a "Potter-alike." The best reason I could see using this approach is to try to convince the reader that the magical world could really still exist all around us... otherwise, you could just create an entire parallel universe that only resembles current reality, and bend whatever rules you wanted. It's a noble undertaking, but for me, it's too much work to make the realistic part believable. :) I'd rather just make everything up as I go.

I am currently working on a story that involves magic, and I've decided to use Scenario #2, using Biblical miracles, prophets, and artifacts as "magic". It includes a Nazarite, who has long hair and superhuman strength like Samson. There is a character who can influence weather and temperatures (who lives in the Andes mountains), and the main character is a prophet who will at some point be given a heroic miraculous task to complete. I've also decided to include angels and demons in the story, though not in the form you'd expect... ;) And of course, I'm a fan of Vox Day's stories, he does

Thanks again for bringing these ideas up for discussion. These are the kind of things we as writers and Christians need to think about and really understand.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 23rd, 2014 12:35 pm (UTC)

Re: Looking forward to the next part!

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Thank you. I think it's a very interesting subject and one worthy of much thought.

There have not been many stories using Biblical magic. I think it is a great unmined area for fantasy. Good luck with your story!

[User Picture]
From:Ben Zwycky
Date:October 23rd, 2014 08:58 pm (UTC)

Inspired by Elijah

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It's funny that you mention Elijah and the chariots of fire, aspects of that inspired not one but two major game-changing events in my first novel, Nobility Among Us (other parts are inspired by Esther, others by the story of Gideon...). It doesn't feature magic as such, it's hard to put the book into a single genre, it was just the kind of story I wanted to read, so I wrote it :-)

Edited at 2014-10-23 08:59 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 24th, 2014 12:21 am (UTC)

Re: Inspired by Elijah

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That is cool!

(Esther figures into my story, too...but not until book nine or something.)
[User Picture]
From:Ben Zwycky
Date:October 24th, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Inspired by Elijah

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In mine it's right at the beginnning. The beautiful lowborn girl outshines every other entrant in the beauty contest, wins over the good-hearted noble (literally, he has his own castle and other nobles under him) man of her dreams and marries him right in the Prologue (and they remain lovingly devoted to each other for the rest of their lives, more than half a century). I deliberately chose to start my story where most would end.

Edited at 2014-10-24 07:29 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 24th, 2014 09:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Inspired by Elijah

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Stories with married characters with a good relationship are so delightful! Good for you!
[User Picture]
From:Ben Zwycky
Date:October 25th, 2014 11:22 am (UTC)

Re: Inspired by Elijah

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Anyone interested in a review copy?
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 26th, 2014 04:05 pm (UTC)

Re: Inspired by Elijah

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Alas, I have very, very little reading time. I read about eight books all year. (Someday, my kids will be grown and I will read again! The thought keeps me going.)

But if I come across any friends who are reviewing, I'll pass your name along!
[User Picture]
From:Ben Zwycky
Date:October 30th, 2014 07:06 am (UTC)

Re: Inspired by Elijah

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Thank you, that is all I can ask. I know exactly what you mean, we have had our first girl since the above profile picture was taken, free time is a very precious commodity.
[User Picture]
From:marycatelli
Date:October 24th, 2014 04:15 am (UTC)
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Hmmm. . . this makes me think philosophically about another, related issue: how do you handle religion?

There's the possibility of putting Christianity (or other real religion) into the secondary world, straight; there's doing so allegorically; there's developing a natural religion that suits the story and teaches no falsehoods but has not the benefit of revelation. . . .
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 24th, 2014 11:24 am (UTC)
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Interesting question!
[User Picture]
From:David Bergsland
Date:November 12th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)

Well said!

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This is an excellent posting. It ties in with my latest, "Writing In Holiness". Where's the reality? The good news is that, as a reviewer, I am seeing more and more excellently done Christian fantasy, science fiction, and/or action/adventure books. It's like the dawning of a new opportunity. Now all we need is a good Christian alternative to Amazon.

On another note: how do I subscribe to email delivery of your blog?
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 12th, 2014 06:24 pm (UTC)

Re: Well said!

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Thanks!

Alas, I don't know how to subscribe. ;-( However, we are working on a website for the Superversive Literary Movement. We might be able to include such a feature. I also post these same posts at Glipho.com. Don't know if it might be easier to subscribe there.

I'll see if I can find out the answer, though.
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