This is not actually another book review – but a reflection provoked by Beckwood Brae, the first of a series by new Australia author, David H. Webb (High Way, 2008). David and I had contact through mutual interests on LibraryThing (you can see my and others’ reviews there) and I learned that his passion is to assist young people’s development toward emotional and spiritual maturity through the inspiriation and guidance of the Christian fantasy genre. With Tolkien, Lewis and the counselling philosophy of Larry Crabb in the background, but not dominating, David does a credible job of using this, his first book , to capture the imagination and weave connecting pathways between his powerful narrative style and the growing story of the young reader.
Some in my various circles have questioned the value of fiction used in this way, particularly as it has been translated in some instances to the big screen. Is it not some sort of escape from reality? And what value imagination when the cinema now does so much imagining for us? Well, we are discussing a book, not a film, and in my experience, whether by book or film, it is good narrative and story-telling that leads to deeper connections, insight and ultimate growth. Eugene Peterson speaks of one of the most important tasks of the church in its pastoral and missionary endeavour – practicing the art of story-making. This goes beyond mere story-telling. It is connecting the unique story of any individual to a story that has collective meaning. In these post modern times such collective stories or meta-narratives have to work hard to even suggest they have credibility – particularly the Christian story. Ironically, in many places, the warfare is being waged on propositional battle-fronts, where it is alleged that the very idea of God needs to be proved. But the pastoral art of story-making cuts deeper. There are personal and collective captivities and an Exodus and a promised land somewhere – even an exile, and the language of metaphor, fable, and fantasy are legitimate vehicles for releasing any and all of these stages of pilgrimage for further exploration.
I hope that David Webb and others like him continue to develop this genre.
6 thoughts on “Christian fantasy – legitimate endeavour?”
I think good fiction is just good fiction no matter what way you put it. Despite being an atheist I love reading some christian fiction (or at least fiction with a christian message). An obvious one that springs to mind is CS Lewis’ narnia books.
I see fiction and other works of art created by different religious and non-religious communities as a sort of common ground. Everyone can appreciate them, and perhaps they can help the different communities understand one another’s viewpoints.
Well said, number 327! Art in all its forms offers a variety of meeting places that, like the Christmas truce in WW1, gives a chance to come out of the trenches into “no-man’s land” and kick a footy around and maybe even share a picnic!
As a fantasy writer, I’m always interested in what others have to say about Christian fantasy. In my view, it is far from escape from reality. Fantasy gives a more truthful view of the world than “reality fiction” because it depicts the unseen and focuses on the good vs. evil struggle.
As to Eugene Peterson’s view of the church … I don’t think I agree, but that might be because I’m not clear about what he’s saying. According to scripture, the pastor should preach the gospel which is the way of salvation. And we believers should love our neighbor and love each other, which shows Christ to the world.
I hasten to add, of course that my scant allusion to Peterson does not do justice to his exposition of “story-making” which is focused on bringing the great story of Christ into dialogue with the unique story of individuals and communities. According to his book, Five Smooth Stones, story-making is seen in companionship with the accompanying pastoral arts of prayer-directing, nay-saying, community building, and pain-sharing – all of which (in my humble opinion) find some expression in worthy Christian fantasy writing. I believe it does in David Webb’s work.
Well, I’m certainly not well-versed on Peterson’s views. I do think anything that sidetracks those in the pulpit from the preaching of the gospel might be suspect. The rest of us … well, I love stories and want more than anything for my stories to help create a thirst in readers for Living Water. My writing is, or should be, in companionship with my living as Christ’s hands here on earth. I see it as one way for me to go into all the earth.
Rebecca, I appreciate your comments and your focus.
In defense of Peterson, my experience is that he has brought sharper definition to my role as a pastor, not just in the pulpit, but in the world at large (which is where I spend more time). What is the gospel but the transforming power of the crucified and risen Christ at large in the universe? It’s the greatest story ever told and it has a bearing on every other story that has ever unfolded – including the unique stories that we are making of our individual and collective pilgrimages from cradle to grave and beyond. Having read some of your work at your blog, I have reason to believe you’d like how Peterson writes 🙂