The Magical Imagination

As a genre, fantasy has made great strides in recent years, especially within Christian fiction. Yet some are still inclined to ask, “How can this be okay?”

For me, the main point of fantasy is about feeding the imagination. A healthy, daring imagination is a holy thing, and vital to raising strong, well-balanced children. While clear, anti-Biblical ideas (as opposed to merely extra-Biblical concepts such as time travel) should be viewed by parents and readers with caution, I believe too much of what is labeled “caution” or “discernment” is really legalistic and shortsighted. Good speculative fiction can serve to both captivate and redeem the imaginations of young people in a manner consistent with the larger task of cultivating faith in their hearts. Dare I say it, the results are quite magical! After all, believers should expect big, wild things from God. We should teach our kids the same. (That’s not too controversial to say, is it?)

The question: how?

We live in an extremely visual age. Our kids have movies, XBox and special effects galore. They love it, but also suffer from it. Our society is producing a generation with stunted imaginative capacities precisely because their entertainment choices are so constant and dazzling that literally no inward creative muscles are required. Kids need a creative inner life, which must be taught, instilled, modeled and yes, required. They need big, daring tales stuffed full of heroes and villainy, good and evil, courage and sacrifice. The Bible wonderfully supplies many, but it is not the only source. Tolkien and Lewis told big tales. I am telling a big tale in The Legends of Karac Tor. Others are telling big tales. Yet the fantasy nature of these tales has caused some to question the legitimacy of magic elements among people of faith.

In general, I don’t share these concerns. If the framework of an otherworldly story emerges from a Christian worldview, I believe elements like magic should be viewed as abstract plot points, wings for the mind—not as fodder for theological arguments. Certainly not as an enticement to sacrilege. The question could be phrased thus: “Is this concept true to the story of that world?” Even the hot topic of “magic” must be reconsidered in this light.

Consider it from an outsider’s view. What would someone with no knowledge of God’s ways or truths (for example, someone from another planet) say about some of the stories told in the Old and New Testament? Stories like making an axe-head float in water, being healed by the shadow of another man, or calling down fire from heaven. These events happened in our very “real” world—yet they are utterly fantastic. Now reverse it. How might God choose to reveal His laws and powers in another dimension, another world? Before you answer, remember that He is infinitely creative. Would an earth-like narrative, Israel’s priesthood, and Newton’s Laws all simply be duplicated, or might we, as travelers to that other world, be surprised by the twists and turns of His creative genius. Is God a one note storyteller? No doubt, there would be a consistent moral core, but how might those divine values be expressed in new ways?

So what do you think? How do you decide what your kids read, or don’t? Where do you draw the line on “speculative fiction.” I’m constantly feeding my kids a variety of Christian and secular fantasy titles. On the other hand, I didn’t trust Harry Potter. Hypocritical? Not at all. I’m striving to be wise to the dangers, while aggressively maximizing fantasy’s potential to immerse my kids’ minds in wonder, fostering true imaginative powers. Why? Because my deeper mission is that they lives of dangerous faith in a resurrected God-Man. Wrap your brain around that one! We all need a brain stretch, because my Bible says we are all supposed to believe in “Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20). One day, I will stand before the King of Glory and give account, not only for my own life, but for how I prepared my children. On that day, I don’t want Jesus to ask why my kids grew up anemic in faith, imagining little, leaving Heaven completely unchallenged with their timid prayers. So while I have the chance, I’m stretching those muscles in every way I can. My tools: the Word, prayer, nature, the language of the Spirit, mission trips, travels, new experiences. And…books!

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