What we read is very important, especially for children in their formative years. As Christians, we should be seeking the Lord and following Scriptural principles in our choice of literature. It has been on my heart for some time to write this article, but I kept putting it off until two weeks ago, when I listened to a Christian home-school podcast which was discussing fantasy, and speaking of its importance in a child's learning. I believe that the reading (and watching) of fantasy has had a very negative impact on our society, and that it is not a fitting genre for any Christian to read. I know this statement may seem a bit shocking, since fantasy has been widely accepted in Christian circles for quite a few years now. Because of this, I realize that many sincere Christians read and watch fantasy books and movies without ever realizing how damaging they can be. But for those of us who want to follow the Lord wherever He leads, we should be willing to sacrifice anything that hinders our relationship with Him, or is contrary to His Word, the Bible. Please take a few minutes now to read and consider these points about the fantasy genre, which you may never have considered before.
"Fantasy- bad to read? Are you crazy?! Of course it's fine! I mean, isn't it a good way to convey spiritual truths in a way that we can understand?" This is the cry of Christendom when fantasy is challenged. I am not trying to be discouraging, or judgmental, but I would like to explain why I think that fantasy is an entirely unacceptable genre for the children of Christian parents, or for the parents themselves, to read. Firstly though, I would like to say that I am addressing Christians in this article; the points I will be bringing forward for consideration will hold weight principally with Christians, and not unbelievers, because they are rooted in a sincere desire to do that which is pleasing to the Lord, and to base all of our actions and beliefs on the principles given in the Bible. I would like to explain about my background, so whoever reads this will understand where I am coming from on this issue.
I have been home-schooled my whole life, and my mother has largely used the Charlotte Mason method; i.e. give a child good books, and have them narrate what they learned back to you. (I highly recommend this, but it may not work for all children.) In some ways I was self educated, as I read about everything I could get my hands on, and this is how I learned most of what I know. I don't know exactly how old I was when Mama first read me The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I think I was about five. By the time I was nine, I had not only read all the Chronicles of Narnia several times, but also read an unabridged version of The Hobbit, plus, of course, many of the old fairy tales that most people know. Like many other children, once I was introduced to the amazing world of fantasy, I did not want to read anything else. By the time I was 11, I had also read Lloyd Alexander's Pyrdain Chronicles, and Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring, and wanted to read the other two Lord of the Rings books, but was not allowed until I was about 13. I re-read The Fellowship of the Ring when I was 18, and after each chapter, I wrote a synopsis, and my thoughts regarding what I had just read, comparing elements of the story to various principles in Scripture, and showing how the good (or bad) example can apply to our lives.
I had quite the imagination, and made up fantasy stories without end, which seemed very real to me (and my sister, who was occasionally treated to a peak at my inner world, has told me that they were real to her as well). In fact, my fantasies became more real to me than the world in which I lived. My family became less important to me than figuring out how one of my highly colored characters would escape from the toils that ensnared him, or how the beautiful heroine (based on my own wonderful self) would rescue the hero of the story. In the meantime, I snapped at my siblings because they disturbed my life, and wished I could be some place where my enemies would at least have the decency to take horrid shapes so I would know how to deal with them. I would console myself at night for the trials of the day by living out my stories in my bed until I fell asleep.
Thankfully, my parents did not allow me free rein on which books I would read or not read. There were certain ones which I always knew were 100% off limits, such as Harry Potter, and now I am so thankful that they were. However, they did not see anything particularly concerning about the "clean fantasy" they were allowing me to read. They did not realize that many of my attitude problems had their root in the selfish "secret world" in which I lived and moved and had my being. Mama did know that it was terribly hard to get me to read anything that was not fantasy until I was 11, after which I finally discovered that some other, more instructive, books were actually somewhat interesting after all, and began learning more history, and other useful knowledge. As I grew older, my parents became more and more reluctant to let me read fantasy, but, as I triumphantly thought, nobody could take the stories out of my mind, or keep me from making up my own. In fact, though I had only read it once, I had the first several pages of The Two Towers memorized, and had made up volumes of other stories.
But while I was enjoying my fantasy world, my parents were slowly becoming more and more uncomfortable with this genre of literature. And then they read an article which opened their eyes to the not-so-secret pagan elements intermixed in The Chronicles of Narnia- the one fantasy series that most Christians accept without question as being a perfectly acceptable allegory. (Basically, there are two major problems with this series: the inclusion of pagan Greek gods and mythological creatures, being portrayed in a good light; and the teaching that all roads lead to Heaven. (This article explains the problems with the Narnia books.)
After consideration, research and prayer, they approached me and told me that they were no longer comfortable with these books, and wanted me to read the article, make some judgements, and get rid of the books. This was when I was about 16. Initially, I was very upset and disagreed with my parents when they explained their views, but in spite of what I wanted to believe, some rather odd things I had noticed about the books began falling into place. After some time and research, much to my dismay, I realized that I was beginning to agree with them; at least, as regarded The Chronicles of Narnia. Please note: I did not want to agree with them. I used every argument, both to myself and with them, trying to prove that the Chronicles were a Christian allegory; that it was perfectly acceptable to read them, as even Jesus taught in parables; there were strange creatures in the Bible; important principles were taught through these books, etc. But in spite of my own arguments, I began to feel convicted about reading these books. It was not my parents or that article that convinced me; it was the Holy Spirit making me more and more uncomfortable with C. S. Lewis’ books.
But I thought, “Well, at least I can read some books that are fantasy, but don’t claim to be Scriptural allegories.” But, by this time, my parents did not want me or any of my siblings reading fantasy books. For years the struggle went on in my own heart. I was not rebelling against my parents regarding this, nor was I sneaking in opportunities of reading of these books; I simply did not agree with their position, and was asking God to show me what was the right view. I had come to my own conclusions already, but slowly, the Lord began to show me And, despite my long resistance, I have now come to the conclusion that fantasy books, as a whole, are not good for children, especially children of Christian parents, to read. This decision is not because my parents forced me to conform with their views; it is because the Lord would not let me read these books with a clear conscience, and has shown me many problems with this whole genre. Although I still view Tolkien as a genius, and Lewis as influential, I cannot in good conscience recommend their books to anyone.
So now, here are the basic reasons I think children should not read fantasy:
- Fantasy books fill a child’s head with unrealistic ideas, and create a world which is not real, yet can quickly become more important to them than the real world in which they live. One sign of this is that many children, after reading fantasy, want to read nothing else, and read the books over and over, living again in the lives of the characters. Also, reading this kind of book has caused problems for many children, giving them nightmares, and creating a fear and undue sense of supernatural evil. I was not one of these children. Fantasy never scared me, except in the way that is kind of fun. But I have met adults who were frightened as children, and my own sister used to have serious issues with nightmares and sleepless, terrifying nights; due to an undue sense of supernatural evil which had been kindled and fostered by fantasy books.
- After beginning to read fantasy, “living books” and other realistic books become boring and flat. They want to read nothing but fantasy, because only fantasy gives them that amazing “high” time, when they forget all the world, and remember only the story. (Remember, I speak both from observation and personal experience.)
- One common argument in favor of fantasy is that they teach principles that a child would otherwise have difficulty grasping. However, we need to remember that children do not usually pick up on the MORAL nearly as much as the STORY. They may learn the moral, but if they read or listen to a questionable story to learn it, the story will usually stay firmly embedded in their minds, and will often overwhelm the moral. For example, I recently heard it said that the episode of Eustace becoming a dragon (from Lewis' Voyage of the Dawn Treader) was an excellent example of our own inability to remove our sins, by showing how he could not pull off the dragon's skin. But far better example of sin is the Biblical example of leprosy. Leprosy represents sin as perhaps nothing else can. It is far more loathsome than the worst dragon, and it is a REAL disease. It is incurable; the leper has no more power to cleanse himself from leprosy than Eustace had to remove his dragon scales; less in fact. When using this as an example, the moral will not be lost in the intriguing story of an exciting quest to the farthest boundaries of a fictional world. In the Old Testament we find the description of leprosy, the laws regarding lepers, and several stories involving lepers (Naaman, the lepers who found the deserted Assyrian camp). In the New Testament, we find that lepers flocked to Jesus, and that He was the only One who could heal them. We find that He was even gracious and powerful enough to touch a leper, without fear of catching the horrible disease, and that at His mighty word, the rotted flesh became whole, the living death departed, and the healed man could return to his home, family, and the fellowship of other men. (BTW, if you want a colored-in, powerfully presented example in literature of leprosy and all that it meant, read the chapters of Ben Hur which cover Ben Hur's mother and sister.) Is not this a better example than the impossible scenario of a boy being transformed into a dragon by stealing a bracelet, and sleeping in the dragon’s lair? As for these books teaching about evil- the Bible says to be “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil" (Romans 16:19). We do not need to teach children more about evil than what is taught in the Bible. They will have to grow up in a sinful, evil-saturated world; why would we teach them about it- especially in forms in which it will never confront them? It is far more important to teach them the Bible, and as we expound it to them, they will be fully equipped to combat evil when they encounter it.
- Trying to teach important Biblical truths through a fantastical story tends to cheapen, or lessen the apparent value of the truth. There is a difference between a real allegory, and a fantastic story with some elements borrowed from Christianity. A real allegory takes its interest from the truth it is presenting; in most, if not all fantasy, on the other hand, the interest is found in the story, with some elements of truth added simply to balance the story. Just as a ship with an oversized sail will be unstable, so a story with no elements of truth or reality will not be a well written story, and will not be as interesting as a story that borrows some common principles of right and wrong. It is in our makeup to appreciate, to a certain extent, sacrificial love, devotion, and courage. If these elements are lacking, a story will seem incomplete; therefore people will not read it, and it will not sell. On the other hand, simply because a story has these elements does not mean that it is a good story. It can have these elements, but if it is foundationally unsound then it is of no real value, and can do damage rather than good.
- This point maybe should have been first: We have a limited amount of time on this earth, and there are SO MANY books we can read, people we can bless, businesses we can build, discoveries we can make, meals we need to cook, chores we need to do- do we really have time to spend learning about a fictitious world peopled by anthropomorphic animals, fictional creatures, or people placed in scenarios which will never occur?
- From an educational point of view, this genre is not very helpful. Now, I know this may seem to be rather a shocking statement, but I think if you do some serious thinking, and some research, you will understand why I said this. Think about it this way: Fantasy books do not teach about real HISTORY, real GEOGRAPHY, real PEOPLE GROUPS, real SCIENCE (laws of nature), or real LANGUAGES. So, practically speaking, they have little or no value as regards history, geography, social studies, science, or language (except in the case of very well written books, (such as Tolkien’s books), when they provide examples of highly skilled English literature. (More about that a little further down.) We, and especially when we are children, do not naturally want what is best for us. (For example, how many children do you know who would rather eat green beans, or salad, or eggs, than lollipops or cake or ice cream?) Our natural tendency is to want fast paced, highly exciting books that completely absorb us, and create an amazing world that we can enter into whenever we pick up that book. This tends to make us want to push aside other, more beneficial books because they are not as interesting when compared with the more exciting fantasy stories. An interesting point to note, is that fantasy/ science fiction is currently (and has been for some time) the most popular genre of literature in America. Our education rate and moral tone are also at the lowest ebb ever. Could there be a connection? If these books are as good as many people consider them, and as I used to consider them, would they not rather tend to improve the moral and educational tone of the country that loves them so much?
- Even if these books were highly educational, this would not be a good enough reason to give them to our children. The dangers outweigh the benefits. Stories are powerful tools, as the reader, especially a young reader, enters into the story, and feels that they are living through the characters. This genre is especially powerful, and for that reason, is especially dangerous. A child may forget facts, dates, and things you have tried to teach them, but rarely will they forget a powerful story. The more powerful the story, the more careful you have to be that it is a pure one.
- Fantasy books include magic, which is condemned in the Bible, and is incompatible with Christianity. The only times magic is mentioned in the Bible is in a very negative light. The Israelites were commanded to put wizards and witches to death; Baalam was judged of God, and killed; and converted magicians brought their books of magic and burned them when they became Christians (Acts 19:19), to name a few examples. This last reference in Acts is especially interesting, as it shows that practicing magic was immediately considered incompatible with Christianity, and the former sorcerers knew that they had to make a radical change in their lives, even going to the extent of burning their books, which were hand copied, and probably rare and extremely expensive.
Now, regarding the literary value of fantasy: I firmly believe that some, or even many of the science fiction/ fantasy writers were geniuses, but just because a person is a genius does not mean we should expose our children to their teachings, fed in the form of a highly appealing story that will remain firmly embedded in their memories for the rest of their lives. Remember too, the Devil himself is a genius at presenting his lies, with a strong admixture of truth, in a highly palatable form. I am not trying to imply that these authors were demon possessed, but just reminding us that simply because the author is “a genius” is not necessarily a good reason to read his books.
I would also like to point out that there is a difference between pure fantasy, and folk tales, such as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. These stories can be important for a child to have a well rounded education, but they should not read them until they are older (mid to late teens, in my opinion) and well grounded in their understanding of life, the Bible, and a Christian worldview.
Jesus taught truths in parables, but these were real-life scenarios- not wild quests to the ends of a fictitious and mystical world, or tales of defeating hosts of evil to gain the throne of a kingdom; nor do ANY of the parables or visions in the Bible include magic in any form.
This is the summary of the points against fantasy. I hope to explore some or all of these in more depth in the near future. My goal in writing and sharing all this is that someone who reads it may be provoked to study the Scriptures, and seek the Lord regarding the choice of books for their children. Please parents, I would encourage you to seek the Lord on this matter, and not simply accept a book because it is interesting, and you can use it as a springboard to teach spiritual truths. There are SO MANY other books that teach these truths more clearly, and convey much more useful information at the same time, without stocking a child’s mind with fantastic creatures, impossible adventures, and frightening episodes. Some examples of books that are interesting, and stretch a child’s horizons while teaching useful knowledge in a good way, are books by G. A. Henty, R. M. Ballantyne, Charlotte M. Yonge, Johanna Spyri, and biographies/ autobiographies focusing on men and women who made discoveries, lived excellent lives, or were important in history.
Philippians 4:8 is a good guide for us in making choices in what we will be feeding our minds, and our children's minds: "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." It is possible to force this verse to fit certain fantasy books (I know because I did it), but it has to be forced. Fantasy is essentially a genre that does not fit these qualifications.
In writing all this, I am not trying to force my opinion down the throats of my brothers and sisters in Christ, but to encourage us to all be willing to give our whole lives to the Lord, and serve Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. May we examine our choices of literature (and movies), and be willing to make the changes we should.