I suppose it should come as no surprise that after becoming a Christian at age twenty-one (another story), and having been immersed in theatre and literature since early high school, that the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Walter Wangerin Jr., George MacDonald and many other Christian authors would become the staple of my literary diet. And rather than having my kindled imagination extinguished at my baptism, the glorious gift of my youth burst into unquenchable flames.
But writing Fantasy is not so much a phoenix of the imagination, though it is very much that, as it is a distillation, an art of entanglement similar to what poetry is to prose. It casts the tangible world, the spectrum of our emotions, the elusive subconscious, and more significantly, the homely and resplendent aspects of the spiritual, as actors in a corporeal pageant. The following is a line from a submission letter describing my latest children’s fantasy novel, inspired by George MacDonald’s classics for adults, Lilith and Phantastes: “[The protagonist’s] longing for his father ignites a dramatic and fateful quest into [Secret Book Title], a country turned inside out; a land in which the invisible spiritual world has transformed into creatures of elemental power.”
Merely repeating ‘creatures of elemental power’ sets the calm surface of my imagination churning. Disillusionment, for example, is no longer “a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be;” it is the worm “That flies in the night/ In the howling storm:” which has “found out thy bed/ Of Crimson joy:/ And his dark secret love/ Does thy life destroy.” The Sick Rose by William Blake. For the author of fantasy the ‘worm’, an organism corrupting the heart of love, has been cast as the new antagonist in an epic plot. In fact, Wyrm, has long been a literary type in the genre.
Speaking of history, as an initiate in the genre, a writer pulls up an old leather wingback chair at the sage-worn hearth of literary tradition. Recall John Bunyan’s allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, whose timeless message still packs a punch, or George MacDonald’s fantasies for children, such as The Princess and the Goblin, or his tender examination of gender and human frailty in The Day Boy and the Night Girl, or his adult fantasy Lilith, a haunting tale of obsession and betrayal, a mythic odyssey of death and rebirth. The author of The Time Trilogy said that [her] fantasies are her theology. “Part of fantasy,” says Madeleine L’Engle, “is moving beyond that which is limited to that which is unlimited and helps us to grow and develop and be.” And merely whispering the names of Edith Nesbit, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who set the bar for the genre, elicits a profound appreciation for their peerless contribution to the Fantasy Literary genre, moreover, their holistic encouragement to the spiritual well-being of Christians. I am happy to be serving tables among such company.
“He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods; the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”
– C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature