Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Between Heaven and Mordor

Thanks for the Memory to A Youth Pastor.

I have been for all my life a fan of fantasy literature, particularly that of C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Part of this preference for those two authors in particular has to do with the sentimetal memories tied to when I first encountered them.

As a child, my mother would read the Chronicles of Narnia to myself and my sister. This wass usually on the frequent trips we took as a family, when there were long periods of time in the car with nothing to do. She was an expert at reading right up to a moment of crisis in the story, and then putting the book aside to be continued later. I suspect that this was in part a way of making us behave. But what she may not know is that it was also a hallmark of the master storyteller, or that it fired my lifelong passion for reading.

I "met" Tolkien much later in life. I began reading the Lord of the Rings during the Christmas holiday after I dropped out of college, before I'd found a job, and I devoured the entire trilogy in less than a week. For someone whose life was in complete chaos, with no sense of purpose and no plans for the future, who had just lost a fiance and any sense of accomplishment, the theme of perserverence beyond the end of hope embodied in Frodo's quest was a comfort and a challenge.

The other factor weighing in on why I love those two is, of course, the Christian faith in which I share with them. Even as a child, I could plainly see Christ reflected in Aslan. And in the corrupting power of the Ring I saw a clear warning against compromise (which I have sadly failed to heed at times). Good only triumphed by remaining good. "Do not repay evil for evil," as the Bible says.

And yet these two devout authors set me up for a conundrum, guided me on a path that led to moral dilemma. In one fell swoop they both strengthened my faith, and yet instilled in me a love of fantasy literature that eventually presented me with a crisis of faith: What should my attitude be towards magic in Fantasy literature? As a Christian, I believe formly in the Biblical prohibition against practising magic or witchcraft. But for some reason, I just couldn't work up as much of an aversion to it when I read about it in a fantasy story set in an imaginary world. At times I felt guilty about it. I took flak from other Christians because of it. But I never felt convicted.

Today The Youth Pastor's Blog pointed me to an article about this very topic that references the take Tolkien himself had on the issue. It's well written, and confirms much of what I've always thought about the issue, but could never articulate. Thank you, Mike Perschon, and amen.

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