True Myth – there is no faith without fantasy

Artist Dan Meth recently posted a map of the ‘fantasy world’ that pulls together over 30 different fictional/fantasy worlds into one glorious landscape – Narnia, Middlearth, Earthsea, Wonderland, Never Never Land, Oz, Whoville, Florian, the Land of the Lost, you name it.  What I love about the map is how by glancing at it I am drawn back into the narratives, characters, plotlines and epic grandeur of these places that are so very remote from the so-called ‘world’ in which we live day-to-day yet so real in deep and abiding ways.

One of the things that fiction does is allow us to see the imagination as a necessary part of what it means to be human.  More than mere escapism, fantasy literature draws readers into a world that pushes us to wonder ‘what if’ rather than ‘what is’ and it is shift into the possible (albeit improbable) that allows to live into a life that pushes against and even challenges the all-too-readily accepted way of things.

As I have argued in many ways throughout my writing over the past decade and most recently in Freedom of the Self, one of the most important moves in the Christian narrative is when Jesus framed the way for the community to remember him was to be ‘poetic.’   In Luke 22: 19, Jesus caps off the directive to celebrate the Eucharist with the now famous injunction to ‘do this in remembrance of me.’   The directive of Jesus for this remembrance is a creative act as seen in verse 19 where the ‘do this’ (poieite) of remembrance recalls poiesis, the root of ‘poetics’ or what we term ‘poetry.’  To ‘be creative/make poetry’ in remembrance of Jesus is a threatening move for many people.  Much of Christianity is hemmed in by a commitment NOT to be imaginative – that somehow the drive and focus of the Christian story is to never change, to hold fast to well-worn narratives, to guard the past and not seek any voices or advice that could suggest that perhaps there is a new day dawning and new voices to add to the choir.  As congregations dwindle in numbers, as younger generations leave communities of faith in droves, I wonder if some of this is that Christianity lacks the imagination to see these young people as unique, unrepeatable miracles of God – voices that will certainly challenge, renew and yes, reimagine what it means to live into a world that seems to have gone mad.

When we journey to Middlearth, Narnia, Earthsea and many of these other so-called fantasy lands we celebrate the impossible made possible and feel a leap of purpose and conviction that was once the animating factor in faith for the early church.

To this end I continue to feel that we need more fantasy in our theological diet today.  People need to read the fantastical and strange in order to release our hearts and souls from the predictable and staid so that the faith and hope ‘for that which is not seen’ can be believed and faith can once again rise like the roar of a lion and the song of a mere Hobbit.

What fantasy books do you think create a space for faith to arise?

What have been those grand narratives for you?

3 Comments

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  1. TRUTH!
    Don’t worry about it.. I’ll make up for the church as a whole by reading far too much fantasy! Sound good?

    This post reminded me of a lovely Gandalf quote…
    “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it…. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

  2. Amen Jeff! And with a last name like mine, how could I not love to see “Whoville” at the center of the map? From a very early age I was brought into a world where “a person’s a person not matter how small” and where the hero “meant what he said and said what he meant; an elephant’s faithful 100%!”

    While I’ve never been much of a “fantasy books” fan per se (it took Peter Jackson to really draw me deeper into MiddleEarth and Mordor!) I think you are spot on. My porthole into fantasy/fiction has been theatre; particularly, live musical theatre. Nothing quite turns my crank like seeing Don Quixote come alive in Man of La Mancha. Or watching Jean Valjean and Javert wrestle with grace, justice and redemption in Les Miserables.

    BTW… tipping my hat re: my canonization bid for Dr. Seuss… the one world missing from the map? “Solla Sollew.” On my way there!

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