Fiction is a beautiful thing. When you first crack open a book (especially an old hardcover with worn, yellowed pages….those are the best kinds), run your fingers along the neatly typed words of the first page and breath deeply of the smell that only the most avid readers would be able to describe, (you know who I’m talking about. The ones who don’t just read books. They live in them.) it feels as though you’ve found the door to Narnia.
Or is it? What if instead, you find yourself standing outside of a castle with delicate white spires, and snow-dusted stone carvings? It’s crystalline, intricately carved doorway pulls you in. A flash of color and a glimpse of movement have you walking down the hall. A myriad of colors shine through the translucent walls of frozen waves.Your fingers burn as you trace them along pure smooth ice. You look up and your eyes widen in awe. Bursts of rainbows reflecting off of hundreds of ice crystals seem to reach out to you, pulling your feet closer. Almost reluctantly you look down again. Joyful laughter erupts from your chest, for the perfect blend of marble, ice and fire surrounding you is too beautiful to behold in silence. Out of the corner of your eye you see it again. A flash of color, or perhaps, a conspicuous lack of color. Your heart slams into your throat and your hands begin to tremble, suddenly aware of the cold. Slowly, you turn. A throne of ice is illuminated by a single beam of light. It is the source of the rainbows above you. Upon this throne sits a woman. Hair of pure black flows beneath an icy crown. Her skin is so fair that it blends with the throne. The train of a white gown trails down the steps and stops only inches from your feet. She smiles and stands. Her graceful stride brings her closer, she towers over you. She bends down with her hand outstretched, waiting. You swallow nervously. You know her name. You know that she is feared in all of the kingdom. But something pulls your hand up. A desire to know more, see more.
How could you possibly close the book? I don’t know about you, but I’ve had moments in a book where I’ve wondered if I’ve gone too deep. Usually about two chapters after I should’ve stopped reading. When I was thirteen my parents told me that I was finally allowed to read the Lord of the Rings. I was ecstatic. Our rule is that before we can read LOTR we have to know the definition of witchcraft, both biblical and the dictionary definition. Well, at times not all of our books were so closely monitored. When I was twelve years old my Mom decided that I could read books on my own without her having to proofread them first. My parents trusted me to put the book down if it broke any of the guidelines we had set for what was allowed in a fiction novel. I was honored that I had earned my parents trust in this, but there were times when it was really hard to obey the rules given this new freedom.
Almost every time I went too far, it was because of a fantasy novel. Fantasy is my favorite genre. If it has swords, knights, dragons, fire, special powers, or any mix of the above and other fantasy stuff I’m all over it. Unfortunately almost all fantasy novels have dealings in something that wasn’t exactly kosher according to our guidelines. Witchcraft. In one series, I read an entire book more than I should have before stopping and realizing I was breaking the rules. I got so caught up in the dragons and fight scenes that I hadn’t even been paying attention to the fact that the main character was being taught how to defeat his enemies using magic.
Ok, so what if they are using magic? Even if it is technically witchcraft, he/she is fighting for a good cause! They wouldn’t ever hurt anyone or use magic for evil. If such a power can be used for so much evil, surely if we re-purpose it for a good cause it will become the greatest weapon to accomplish our goal. At what cost? There has to be a line. So many stories involve this crazy ultimatum where in order to save his girlfriend the hero must risk allowing the villain to kill twenty other innocent lives. Clearly that’s not an option, so he pulls off this impossible stunt and manages to save everybody. It seems that our action/adventure pals understand that you cannot do bad things for a good cause. Allowing someone to die in order to save someone else is still wrong, no matter how badly you want whoever it is to live.
The thing is, not all magic is magic by definition. In many instances within the fantasy world, magic is the word that is used to explain powers, abilities and occurrences that are beyond the realm of this world’s reality. As a writer I know from experience that it is much easier to just say “magic” than try to figure out this complicated, convoluted way to explain how this thing works that you just wanted to do because it’s really cool. Like I said in my previous blog post, it all boils down to the definition of witchcraft. In a story, I always ask “Why are they using magic? How did they gain these abilities? Are they allowed to do this? What authority do they answer to?”
In LOTR all wizards are created. As was proven by Saruman and Gandalf, they have limits, rules and answer to a higher authority. If they try to gain power beyond what they have been given they are reduced to hobbit hole stealing wretches who get kicked outta town. (Well, not always, but you get it.) These wizards cannot do whatever they want whenever they feel like it. They even have clear rankings to determine how much authority they hold. In the end, they all answer to the Creator for their actions.
In most of the books I have read there aren’t very clear definitions of where they are getting magic. Neither is there a clear sense of what the rules are, or who to answer to if those rules are broken.The hero always has good intentions with a noble cause, but basically, they don’t have the power to defeat the villain. Magic is the easiest way to take care of that. Surely there is no right way to defeat a warlock without magic, is there? So our young hero skips off to learn from some “good” warlock who knows all about how to defeat the evil warlock (using some of the same spells, and conterspells) because they were once blood brothers before the evil warlock turned to the dark side.
Now matter how noble your cause, it is wrong to take power that is not yours. In wielding the enemies greatest weapons, studying his ways, and learning the source of his power, you will become the enemy.
We like to justify our actions. We convince ourselves that what we are doing is necessary. In the midst of our trials we only see two options. The easy way out, or failure. We fail to see the third option. Trust the One whose authority is final. Without God, there is no victory. I will be honest with you, my beliefs about magic are useless if you do not believe in God. If there is no higher authority, there is no limit to what you can do. Go ahead. Use magic, weapons, murder. No one is going to stop you. In the end, if everyone believed that mankind is the final authority, who can say what is right and what is wrong? But here’s the thing. As a Christian, I cannot condone something in a story that is so subtle, so powerful, and so very beautiful, when it is wrong in real life. I absolutely believe in a higher authority. If someone, fictional or real, did not gain their power from Him, where did they get it?
It’s not a sin to write about magical beings or unexplainable abilities. There is nothing wrong with reading fantasy. When it comes down to it, I can’t even say that it’s wrong to read a book in which you know that witchcraft is portrayed as a good thing. But the thing is, what we read has a much greater influence on us than we would like to believe.
So now you know. I wrote this little two part series in response to a number of arguments and questions I have had over the years, so if you have more questions or a new approach to refute my argument, please tell me. My last word for you, even if you don’t agree with a single word I just said, is to please read with caution. I have witnessed first hand the consequences of taking magic (or any topic for that matter) lightly. Don’t just take the hand of any witch who offers. She may walk in the form of stories, characters and astounding plot-lines. After all, it’s a writer’s job to pull their readers in, never again to see the light of day as they wander deeper and deeper into an intricate world full of adventure. Readers are explorers. Beware, for it is much easier to lose oneself in a book than on a woodland path.