The True Fantasy

An Essay By Emilie // 6/27/2007

Throughout history, humans have been fascinated by the fantastic. Miracles, heroes, and tales of magic all draw crowds of people, clamoring for an escape from the mundane reality of their everyday existences. Prior to this current age of technology in which distracting entertainment is available at the flick of a switch or the click of a button, these unsatisfied hearts turned to books to take them outside of themselves, to catch them up in a world outside their own. Drawn to the epic, they gave immortality to the mythology of the Greeks, the heroic tale of Beowulf, and the legends of King Arthur. Even today, our innate desire for the mythical, the magical, and the epic can be seen in the popularity of such books and films as J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic work The Lord of the Rings. But what is it that draws us to these tales? What pulls us to that realm of literature and its ties to that which exists outside our reality? From a Christian worldview the issue becomes clearer with a look at the Scriptures of the Christian faith. Approaching the text with a different perspective reveals that much of what draws humans to fantasy and myth stems from the true Fantasy and Mystery found in the Holy Bible.

To many people, the Bible hardly represents the fantastic. Rather, its collections of all-too familiar tales, related in countless Sunday school lessons, form a quaint storybook interspersed with dull, legalistic lists of rules and regulations. Even most Christians would find a comparison between the Scriptures and fantasy literature rather surprising. For a text that claims to offer Living Water, most of its readers regard it as quite dry. Assuming the Bible is Truth, what are all these people missing? Certainly a lack of careful and thorough reading of the Word comprises some of the problem, but perhaps a skewed perception contributes even more. If readers approach the biblical books with the expectation of only reading religious history and laws, they will likely perceive little mystery or fantasy within its pages. Instead, they will find nothing to disturb their expectations. All wonder has seemed to vanish beneath a cloak of familiarity, and fantasy becomes incongruent when coupled with their understanding of the text.

True fantasy literature must contain several key components. Most obviously, it must contain an element of the fantastic—that is the mythical, or that which exists outside of reality. It must also fit into the monomyth of literature, a cycle of literary plot motifs that follows the same cycle of life: romance, tragedy, anti-romance, and comedy. Joy and happiness fall downward in catastrophe to total devastation before rising to rebirth—a pattern of the daylight, the seasons, and of life itself. Thirdly, fantasy literature must contain the epic, the operation of a story on a grand, larger-than-life scale. Fourthly, this literature should share some common themes with other fantasy works: sacrifice, the spilling of life-blood, the importance of names, heroism, the supernatural, love, the fulfillment of prophecies and demands, and the battle between good and evil, to name but a few. Many of the myths of Ancient Greek and Roman mythology fulfill these criteria, as do many of the legends of Europe in the first millennia A.D. Today much of fantasy literature has degenerated into erotic, thrilling adventures punctuated by magical powers most convenient to the characters, but a few works, such as the aforementioned The Lord of the Rings, often referred to as the foundation of modern fantasy writings, still reflect elements of this deeper literature.

In general, children and youth are most attracted to the fantasy genre, even in its perverted modern form. Adults, generally more preoccupied with dealing with reality, tend to be less swayed by the allure of the fantastic. But simply because children tend to be more drawn to that genre does not invalidate its worth. People often instinctively appreciate things in their childhood that the world trains out of them by the time they reach adulthood. Children ask the question “Who made the world?” while adults try to prove scientifically that no Creator exists to exact certain behavior from His creations. Intuition often stands them in better stead than the analytical reasoning of their elders. Little wonder then that Christ told his followers to become as children. Could He have been referring, not only to the trusting faith of a child, but also to their love of and wholehearted wonder at the fantastic?

At times it seems as though Man has wrapped the Scriptures in dull shrouds, concealing its Glory, shrouds of scientific, “realistic,” “rational” thought which relegate some portions to bedtime stories and label others archaic and irrelevant. Even well-meaning Christians who believe in the Bible’s relevancy and inerrancy all too often seem to miss the wonder of its message. Perhaps they have heard the Gospel as summed up in the oft-quoted verse John 3:16 too many times, and the words have lost their awesomeness and power, as if the repetition has left their ears deaf to the depth of its message. Or perhaps its story has been transplanted too effectively to our temporal reality—a reality that cannot contain the supernatural without stripping down its dimensions, much like a photograph when it renders a three-dimensional landscape in only two dimensions, flattening it and removing much of its reality. Compared to the mythology of the ancient cultures, Christianity might seem a little dull through these distorted lenses. No exciting tales of fantasy can be found in the pages of its Holy Writ—or can they? Could the Bible really contain the greatest fantasy of all?

Looking at it from a literary perspective, the Scriptures certainly contain the ingredients for a fantasy. Many of the themes of fantasy appear within its text. Prophecy, a frequent component of fantasy literature, fills many of its books of its Old Testament books. Seventeen prophets wrote books bearing their name, recording the words that their God spoke to them, while other books in both the Old and New Testaments also contain prophetic statements, some obvious and others subtle. Many of these prophecies, from the salvation of cities to the destruction of empires, were fulfilled shortly afterwards, while others did not come to pass until nearly a millennium later. These prophecies, unlike the prophecies of literature, met their fulfillment in reality, proving a divine hand in the story. Amid prophecies detailing the fates of kings and kingdoms, one thread runs throughout: prophecies of the Messiah, also referred to as the Servant and the Son. An entire nation—Israel, the chosen people—waited for centuries for their Savior to come and rescue them, another theme found again and again in myths, legends, and fantasy literature. They were the special people to whom the Creator had revealed His Name: Yahweh (translated as LORD in most English versions of the Bible), the Great I AM. They were the nation to whom He had declared His love and taught the Law, showing them good from evil. And they were the nation from whom He brought forth a perfect sacrifice to pay the blood-price for all mankind, fulfilling both the Law and the prophecies.

The Bible also meets the “epic” criteria of fantasy literature. It plays out across the span of human history, from the palaces of kings to the lowly homes of widows, from its descriptions of a time before the first rays of dawn lit the Earth on its very first day to the prophecies foretelling the end destruction of the world. But the Scriptures do not limit themselves to either humanity or the temporal reality. Instead, they offer glimpses of the true Reality, one beyond the fathom of mortals. In the end it tells the story of God, not the story of Man—His plan, and not ours. Its pages map out the fate of all human life, focusing not on the physical world, but the spiritual world. The wars of men and rise of kings provide the historical framework and tie to temporal reality, but they are not the reason for the writing. Instead, the authors of the unified historical accounts focus on the common thread that runs through the events: the hand of God. In this epic tale, the human hero has been replaced with Yahweh, Lord of the Universe.

In essence, the monomyth of literature describes the message of the Bible. At the dawn of the world, the Creator set one man and one woman in a Paradise, enjoying the fruits of an uninhibited relationship with their Maker without any evil to disturb their complete joy. In short, the world began in romance, the first stage of the monomyth. Tragedy fell, however, as evil entered the world and severed humanity from the Divine. Much of the Bible addresses the anti-romance stage, describing the present world—a world fallen into darkness and shadow. Already the stage is set for the rising comedy, as the promise of salvation through the sacrifice of the Divine Incarnation, God within human flesh, becomes fulfilled. One day the cycle of myth will be complete, as the blood of Christ restores Paradise to His Church, the Chosen of God. Within the Bible, individual, smaller stories also contain elements of the monomyth, but each one is encompassed within the scope of the entire story.

Finally, the Scriptures do contain the fantastic on a grand scale. What could be larger and more fantastic than the Master of the Universe stooping down to breathe life into His tiny creations, watching them spurn His love like ridiculous, rebellious children, and then emptying Himself of all glory to walk among them? The apostle John best worded it when he wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only” (John 1:14, NIV). Of all events in human history, this event above all others deserves our wonder and awe. As the Bible relates the plan of God for His creations, it moves outside the realm of our reality and enters His Reality, a reality of the spiritual and supernatural. Supernatural battles, burning divine Glory, the breathing of life and creation of souls, and the conquering of Death itself all light up the Word’s pages, if only we could see them with new eyes expecting the fantastic.

In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, celebrated Christian apologist C. S. Lewis defined the Bible in this way: “Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.” The wonder of the Scriptures is that they relate the truth: fantasy and all. Its story of fantasy in its totality forms the Christian faith, the mystery of our foundational beliefs. Paul uses the word “mystery,” μυστήριον in the Greek, to describe that which was formerly hidden from men, but was revealed to us by God. These mysteries still contain the mythical, or supernatural, despite their revelation to mortals. Even now these mysteries come to us but dimly, but the book of the Revelation states that in the last days, the mystery of God will be fulfilled at last (Revelation 10:7). Until that day, mankind will continue to yearn for the Great Mystery.

As we yearn, some of us will follow after He who shall fulfill the Mystery, drinking of His Living Water, but others shall attempt to satisfy their thirst at other wells. While the atheism that spreads steadily over much of the modern Western world threatens to obliterate the supernatural from the minds of the people, their inner longings remain unsatisfied. In their thirst for something more, some go in the opposite, although equally false, direction, entangling themselves in pagan religions and the occult. Modern Christianity’s apparent stuffiness and dullness only aggravates the problem. Believers need to reclaim more of the Mystery and Fantasy that forms the core of their belief, to reveal its true Life to the world. Of course, this does not mean that Christians should un-ground themselves and give themselves over to fantasy, the danger at the other end of the spectrum. Our temporal reality still exists for us to deal with. But we must also realize that a whole world exists beyond our reality, a world of Mystery far more real than our own. Baptist author Calvin Miller captured this concept beautifully in The Singer Trilogy, his mythic retelling of the story of the New Testament. By transferring the story into legendary language and changing the biblical names to remove the story from blinding familiarity, he demonstrated how clearly Myth and Fantasy shine through the Gospel. By re-evaluating our perception of the Bible and seeing the real fantasy played out in the reality of human lives, we can recapture the wonder of the Faith and seek the true Fantasy and its fulfillment.

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