The summer I turned nine years old, my parents were separated. This happened semi-regularly (in my memory), and this time my brother and mother and I were staying with one of my mom's friends for a few weeks until my parents established a truce.
I don't remember much about that particular episode (not even who our host was), but one memory stands out clearly. My mom called me to the door, and there stood my dad. He had brought me a birthday gift--the first three volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Books were already my preferred form of escape, and one I made use of as frequently as possible. But I think this may have been my introduction to the fantasy genre. I had been raised in church, and very quickly noticed the spiritual themes of the books. I wondered if my dad, who was an agnostic at the time, knew about them.
I loved that these were books I could read, and enjoy, and also feel uplifted afterwards. I loved that there were spiritual themes I could relate to in the books. And I loved that they were on my parents' "approved reading" list.
As I got older and devoured more and more fantasy, I soon discovered that not all fantasy is created equal. Some of it is like the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Robert Jordan, exploring themes of good vs. evil, our place in the world, how regular people can make a difference (and become kind of extraordinary), and how our choices affect the bigger world around us. And some of it seems to be merely a playground for the author's mind to exercise its more base and carnal desires.
I definitely prefer to read the former, whether the themes are Christian or not.
I believe fantasy, like all literature, can be an amazingly effective tool for changing worldview. Don't agree with me? Have you heard the rumour that the Church of Scientology is the result of a bar bet between Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard to see who can write a book that will start a new religion? Whether it's true or not, try googling "Things I Learned from The Lord of the Rings". Or "Impact of 'Frozen'." Or attend your next local "Trekkie" convention. Then try to tell me that these people were not influenced (some to the depth of religious fervour) by the fantasies that they indulged in. (Or became addicted to.)
When I first decided to start learning how to write fiction a few years ago, it was because I had been struck with a brilliant idea. I have loved mermaids since I watched the 1975 animated The Little Mermaid movie at the age of 6. (And yes, I had mixed feelings about the way Disney changed Hans Christian Andersen's ending in their version. But I loved that one, too.) In 2012, I had recently watched the original H2O:Just Add Water show on Netflix about the Australian girls who get turned into mermaids through a magical accident. And also the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, with its dramatic, vampire-like mermaids.
And it got me thinking--what about the mermen? Why do legends and stories of merfolk revolve around beautiful women who feel the need to trick sailors and drag them to their deaths? Why on earth would they do that? What happened to all the males?
I started researching the worldwide myths and legends surrounding mermaids. Before long, an entire mermaid culture had begun developing in my brain. And a couple of pretty awesome story ideas, too. I just didn't think I had the tools to do them justice.
So I signed up for Holly Lisle's "How to Thinks Sideways" Novel-Writing course, working my way through it as I had time while continuing to do the research I would need to write my book(s)--and, of course, living my very busy life! I wrote The Friday Night Date Dress to get my "feet wet" with writing longer fiction while taking the course. (I intended for it to be a short story. It ended up as a short novella. I was actually pretty excited about that.)
Now that TFNDD is about to be published, I thought it might be good to try writing another story in the same "contemporary inspirational romance" genre, since I felt it would not require much research if I chose situations I was familiar with, and I still had too much research to do about the 19th Century in England and France to write my mermaid story. (Yes, it is a "Historical Fantasy".) But the story idea I was developing just seemed flat. I couldn't find something that would make it "sparkle" to me, like Melinda and her dresses did in TFNDD.
And at the same time, the story for the first of my mermaid novels, The Siren of Paris, kept intruding on my thoughts. I kept getting new ideas. And I knew that I really, really wanted to write it. Now. No more waiting.
I still have some ethical dilemmas I am trying to resolve, though. When crafting a fantasy world that is based in the real world, and utilizes real religions (one of which I adhere to), I have found there is a fine line between fantasy and blasphemy. And I'm not always sure where it is.
I haven't read a ton of "Christian fantasy" books, but I have read some. And I always wonder afterwards if the real God of the Universe would behave as the author imagined he would. And I wonder if I really have the right while "playing God" with my own characters to cast the real God as one of them.
These are questions for which I still do not have the answers. As a reader, I want to read fantasy novels that ascribe the miracles and wonders in the novel to the One I believe is truly capable of such things. I want to see a Creator that is involved and active in his creation--unlike the distant and cold "God/Creator" characters that operate in so many fantasy realms, where demonic forces are the ones that are tangible and real and powerful, and the forces of good must rely on something more ephemeral and seemingly more powerless.
But as a writer, I wonder if the power of my words will call me to a higher level of accountability when I stand before my Creator God? Will my words be used for good, or for evil? And am I prepared to take the responsibility either way?
What do you think? Do you enjoy reading fantasy with spiritual aspects (as almost all fantasy has)? If so, what kinds of spiritual themes do you prefer, if any? And if you adhere to a specific faith, do you feel that books that utilize that faith respectfully are actually a good idea, or would you prefer fantasy authors created their own religions and worlds exclusively? Which fantasy authors have used "real religions" well, and which have crossed sacred lines?
I'd love to hear your thoughts! Happy Monday, friends! See you in the comments!