Orthodoxy, Allegory and Fantasy

The Last Homely House, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker. —J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”

There is a new post today on MyOCN‘s “Orthodox Writers, Readers, and Artists series,” whose title caught my eye: Is it Orthodox to Read and Write Allegory/Fantasy Children’s Books?

Friends and long-time readers will imagine that my hackles immediately went up when I read this. Of course, I’ve encountered the attitude in this piece before. I once spoke, for instance, with an Orthodox Christian who was putting together a homeschooling curriculum. He insisted that imaginative fiction of every kind was essentially sinful, that it was phantasia—a word used in monastic literature (and sometimes spelled phantasy or fantasy) to refer to sinful imaginations. This is essentially the same attitude that, when intensified, will condemn Tolkien and Lewis as pagan sympathizers (not to mention those bewitching Harry Potter novels!).

To be quite frank, I think this attitude is puritanical nonsense. I don’t blame those who hold it, though I do believe that they have mistaken the phantasia that the monastic fathers warned against for the fantasy that is imaginative fiction. (I will from here on use those two spellings to make that distinction.) That is, they have turned a specific piece of monastic technical language regarding meditative prayer into a general principle—a literary theory, even—to exclude something that those monastic writers weren’t remotely talking about.

Phantasia is a danger in ascetical writings not because it uses the imagination. Rather, it is a use of the imagination that fixates the heart on created things. More specifically, it is a fixation that is an obstacle to the pure prayer of the heart. In pursuing meditative prayer, the ascetic (who is not just the monastic, but all of us) is called upon not to try to imagine God, to picture Him, or to become obsessed with any created image in order to reach Him, because doing so is essentially idolatry. It is also simply prejudicial, just like relating to any human person by means of imagination rather than through encounter.

But fantasy (even the specific literary genre that goes by that name) isn’t about prejudicial obsessions with created things that block us off from God. If imagination qua imagination were only phantasia in the sense that the monastic fathers warn us of, then many of the great Fathers of the Church would be in rather deep trouble, for a good many of them had rather thorough educations in fiction—even in explicitly pagan literature. No less a luminary than St. Basil the Great admonished the young on how exactly they ought to make use of pagan literature! No puritan he, Basil taught his readers how to sift what they read, how to find the face of Christ even in works specifically designed to promote religion that the Church was in the process of conquering.

Now, the writer of the piece linked above does not quite seem to have it in for all fiction (being a writer of children’s books), but I am unclear on what basis the argument against fantasy is being made if it is not simply that it is to be identified with phantasia. After all, if the problem with fantasy is that it is “whatever the mind imagines end[ing] up on paper,” then that would apply to all fiction. (But what writer actually just writes “whatever” his mind imagines? Any writer worth his salt—or, you know, magic fairy dust—sifts, revises, etc.) But the exit from this charge for the writer seems to be through allegory, because allegory is the specific use of fictional imagery to attempt to teach something.

Because of this, the writer lets Tolkien and Lewis off, because they are supposedly allegorists and because they still lived in a time when “little ‘o’ orthodoxy was still pretty free from relativism, so what they are teaching is, at least for the most part, not contrary to Orthodoxy.” Aside from the fact that “little ‘o’ orthodoxy” by definition is free from relativism (no relativist would claim to be orthodox, even with the little “O”), this again misses the basic point.

But first, let us tackle the writer’s accusation against fantasy, that it is “a pure expression of the passions,” that it contains “werewolves and vampires and a celebration of evil,” that it consists of “a lustful voyeurism so that people constantly want more and more perverse and graphic fantasies.” Yes, one can certainly find such things out there, and I think I may know what the writer has in mind with the tip of the cards offered later: “modern fantasy generally has some sort of romantic involvement of the characters,” one that is properly “described as downright pornographic.”

No doubt it is Twilight (which happens to be written by a devout Mormon) and its ilk that is in mind here. But really, aren’t such things really just “romance” novels that have only the most superficial resemblance to the fantasy genre, which is populated with writers the likes of Tolkien, Lewis, Eddings, Brooks, Jordan, Salvatore, McCaffrey, Kurtz, etc.? I don’t know whether the writer has read much of the works of the big names in “modern fantasy,” but I’m really starting to suspect not. I think what the writer really doesn’t like is romance novels with werewolves and vampires. If that is really the case, why condemn a whole (barely related) genre?

But let us return to allegory.

It is true that Lewis was fairly self-consciously allegorical, but only with a certain minority of elements in his works. True allegory would have every rock, tree, beast and boy as a stand-in for some other person or lesson. Lewis doesn’t quite do that.

However, the far more masterful storyteller of the two, Tolkien, was vehemently explicit about his rejection of allegory, something made plain in his foreword to The Lord of the Rings:

I should like to say something here with reference to the many opinions or guesses that I have received or have read concerning the motives and meaning of the tale. The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them…. As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical…. I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

It seems to me that the columnist would indeed prefer the “purposed domination of the author,” that the only good fiction is allegorical fiction, but it had better be trying to teach some sort of Christian lesson, “trying to get a person who has been spiritually deadened by this world, and everything in it, to see clearly spiritual principles using imagery that is not familiar to the person,” to get them to see “new worlds with new creatures that have not been co-opted by evil.”

But I am not interested in reading a book where everyone is perfectly happy and good, not “co-opted by evil.” Why? Because such a book would not speak to the reality in which I actually find myself, in which nearly everything around me—including me!—has been co-opted by evil. (To be honest, though, since when have vampires and werewolves ever not been “co-opted by evil”? Twilight‘s mistake is probably that it is attempting to co-opt such evil images as good.) Even the Scriptures themselves are rife with people and things co-opted by evil. And their point is redemption, just as it also is with good writers of fiction, whether they are being explicitly allegorical or not.

This rejection of fantasy as phantasia (accompanied by all of phantasia‘s ills as apparently exemplified by the romance novels with blood and fur and such) is really a denial of the Orthodox anthropology of man as being made according to God’s image. He is our Creator, and as such, we may (to use Tolkien’s language) become sub-creators. We are not merely imitators or allegorists. Such a veiled didacticism will hardly reach anyone these days, anyway. The moment a reader suspects he is being taught a lesson, that the author is “trying to get a person who has been spiritually deadened by this world, and everything in it, to see clearly spiritual principles,” he will reject the story.

I think we can do no better than some of these meditations from Tolkien’s brilliant reflection on such things, On Fairy Stories:

When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes. It does not follow that we shall use that power well upon any plane. We may put a deadly green upon a man’s face and produce a horror; we may make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may cause woods to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, and put hot fire into the belly of the cold worm. But in such “fantasy,” as it is called, new form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.

An essential power of Faerie is thus the power of making immediately effective by the will the visions of “fantasy.” Not all are beautiful or even wholesome, not at any rate the fantasies of fallen Man. And he has stained the elves who have this power (in verity or fable) with his own stain. This aspect of “mythology” —sub-creation, rather than either representation or symbolic interpretation of the beauties and terrors of the world—is, I think, too little considered. Is that because it is seen rather in Faerie than upon Olympus? Because it is thought to belong to the “lower mythology” rather than to the “higher”?…

Children are capable, of course, of literary belief, when the story-maker’s art is good enough to produce it. That state of mind has been called “willing suspension of disbelief.” But this does not seem to me a good description of what happens. What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful “sub-creator.” He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is “true”: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed….

But the error or malice, engendered by disquiet and consequent dislike, is not the only cause of this confusion. Fantasy has also an essential drawback: it is difficult to achieve. Fantasy may be, as I think, not less but more sub-creative; but at any rate it is found in practice that “the inner consistency of reality” is more difficult to produce, the more unlike are the images and the rearrangements of primary material to the actual arrangements of the Primary World. It is easier to produce this kind of “reality” with more “sober” material. Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped; it is and has been used frivolously, or only half-seriously, or merely for decoration: it remains merely “fanciful.” Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough—though it may already be a more potent thing than many a “thumbnail sketch” or “transcript of life” that receives literary praise.

To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode….

Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.

For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors’ own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

In the end, I have to confess that what I think I read in the column linked above was really a distaste for romance novels in the guise of fantasy, with the objection framed in language from the Fathers that was never intended to refer simply to imaginative fiction, whether it happens to have werewolves or not. But the objections to such things were on all the wrong grounds. Those grounds were made to serve other arguments and contexts. The problem with the “fantasy” disliked by the writer is not that it is not Christian allegory, or simply that it is fantasy, but rather that it glorifies that which is base. True fantasy instead redeems that which is base and thereupon reveals its glory.

Addendum: Something that occurs to me to add here is that, unless a publication is explicitly about theology, Church history, saints’ lives, etc., I think it does something of a disservice to the work to put an “ORTHODOX™” label on it. The last thing we Orthodox need is to create our own brand. Orthodoxy is not a brand. It is the Body of Christ. There is no need for us to put out a line of ORTHODOX™-approved books, toys, clothing, etc. (And we’d look dumb doing it.)

Comments

  1. says

    Well, it seems to me that if Imagination and using it was as bad as some of those old-time monks claimed it was, then God wouldn’t have given us the capacity for it. Maybe I shouldn’t say this but some of those monks strike me as extremist and wacko. I figure as long as people don’t read the fiction/fantasy exclusively and/or in place of the Scriptures and non-fiction holy writings, then it’s ok. Everything in moderation, right?

    • says

      One of the points in my post is precisely that that is not what “those old-time monks” were in fact saying. Rather, they were talking very precisely about techniques used in meditative prayer. The error in the attitude I’m critiquing is in thinking that those monks weren’t speaking only specifically in technical terms but were issuing a general condemnation of the imagination. They weren’t.

  2. says

    THANK you. I can’t believe we’re still dealing with this kind of attitude…and the inconsistent attempt to make exceptions for ‘allegory’. No humanly-made story– whatever its literary genre– is as perfect and unsullied as the one Lucy read in the Magician’s book about the cup, the sword, the tree and the green hill; but there are many stories which for a moment will let us catch a sudden scent of some divinely beautiful garden, or hear a single heart-wrenching measure of a transcendently glorious symphony. All good things come from God, and to the pure all things are pure. But I am now descending into cliches….time for me to go read some more fantasy.

  3. says

    PS. I couldn’t link my blog because I am with Blogger and not WordPress, but here is the URL in case anyone is interested– the subject matter is relevant to this post.
    Storyspell.blogspot.com– Mat. Donna

  4. Stan Shinn says

    A great article! Thanks for this information and your point of view.

    Question: can you help direct me to where I can read about St. Basil’s admonition about literature which you reference?:

    “No less a luminary than St. Basil the Great admonished the young on how exactly they ought to make use of pagan literature!”

    This is a powerful bit of information if only I can reference the source :-)

  5. says

    Even writers of non-fiction use vivid imagery at times to deliver their message. Confusing ascetical ‘phantasia’ with fantasy is puritanical nonsense indeed. I write historical fantasy i.e. stories from my imagination to represent events that took place in history. My aim? To get young people to think about heroism, chivalry, loyalty, being brave when you’re not!

  6. says

    Thank you, Father for your insights on this subject. My wife and I have both encountered this attitude in the homeschooling (though not Orthodox) community. I have always found this suspicion, and sometimes fear, of fiction in general and fantasy in particular to be puzzling and illogical. Even Lewis and Tolkien don’t always get a pass, usually because their stories have ‘magic’ in them. I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction stories since I was young, and lately have been trying my hand at writing stories, so the question of the appropriateness of imaginative fiction is much on my mind. I want first and foremost to write good stories, but shouldn’t that rather naturally lead to presenting truth and virtue?

  7. Karen says

    Thank you, Father. “Puritanical nonsense” is right! I would love to know how those same monks would diagnose the type of paranoid thinking about imaginative fiction described here. Seems to me to be rooted in an ungodly fear. I tell a lot of folks that Narnia is what primed me to become Orthodox (big O). It probably taught me more about what God in Christ was really like in its own way when I was a child than those Sunday school lessons did. I confess that when I hear that some people consider C. S. Lewis’ a “pagan sympathizer,” I see red! Then I consider that this attitude is strong evidence that it is the purity of the accuser’s own Christian faith that is really in question (and that calms me down again). :-)

  8. says

    Thank-you for this post. The Scriptures themselves would not get a pass with some purists if they weren’t the Scriptures! Fantasy is part of our storytelling tradition. Christ Himself used it — rather, He made what was formerly only fantastic into reality.

  9. Benjamin says

    “True fantasy instead redeems that which is base and thereupon reveals its glory.”
    –Really loved that last sentence. Great article, as usual.

  10. janvbear says

    You alluded to this, but I’d like to hit the point again. All fiction (and narrative nonfiction) is fantasy: It builds a world for the reader to reveal what is through the lens of what is not.

    This isn’t a useful definition as far as genre is concerned, but if someone condemns fantasy, why stop at the flawed imagination of “fantasy” or “romance”? What about heist plots?

    We get back to the messy, inconvenient gift of freedom and our ongoing responsibility to sift through our experience for the gold.

    But anyone looking for a genre-based rule if thumb to avoid evil in literature would probably be wise to avoid literature entirely.

    Maybe stick to self-help books. They say on the cover exactly what they’re going to teach you.

  11. says

    Dear Fr Andrew,
    First I want to say thank you for engaging in this discussion in a meaningful way.
    As the writer of the post you are responding to I thought I should just clarify some things. First and foremost I completely agree with you, not because I changed my mind but simply because I don’t think I did a good job of framing the discussion I was trying to start if you were able to take away what you did. I didn’t know anything about the attitude you are talking about prior to reading your post. I also have no idea about the monastic principles you are talking about. I’m not in some particular philosophical camp on the subject. I was just posing what I thought was a fairly legitimate question based on a prayer in the prayer book and a lay interpretation of it. I thought it fairly obvious that if the prayer is asking for protection against “wicked fantasies” then there must be such a thing as “wicked fantasies”. Maybe I should have started with “What’s a wicked fantasy?”
    I don’t personally have any problem at all with imaginative fiction. What I have a problem with is the idea that I’ve encountered recently which seems to state that since there is nothing wrong with imaginative fiction per se, that all imaginative fiction must be suitable for consumption. Believe it or not there are youth who want to read trash who if they found your post would use it as a justification to read trash because the people who are writing this stuff are being placed in book stores on the same shelves with Lewis & Tolkien. The argument that it’s the same genre so it’s the same quality and moral character is insanely faulty.

    I think imagination is essential to faith. How else do you “see” something you can’t physically see and “hear” something you can’t physically hear? I think imagination is the eyes and ears of the soul. That’s why God gave us imagination. I don’t think what a child reads has to be strictly educational. There is a lot of latitude, but it shouldn’t be patently deceptive against Christianity. The Golden Compass by Pullman is a great example of something that is imaginative but should be approached with caution. There are a lot of distinctly anti Christian ideas in his book. I’m not saying don’t read it, but I would not spoon feed it to my child as completely acceptable right along side Lewis either. The age and mental development of a child matters. If the child is capable of great critical reasoning and has a firm grasp of the Orthodox faith then maybe they could handle pulling apart a book like that and explaining what’s wrong with some of the ideas in it, however if they are not ready it could just as easily educate them right out of the faith by presenting heresy in a very attractive and disarming form. Are there books for which the risk of harm is too great to give the book to children? Shouldn’t parents be discretionary about their children’s reading material?

    Another problem occurs when a particular child wants to read all sorts of material for which his own parents are not educated enough to evaluate. Not all adults have perfect reasoning skills. I think a lot of people fall into that camp. I might be one of those parents to a certain extent and there is little guidance out there to tell me what I should do to protect my child from a culture that wants my child to be anything but Christian. What are they better off not reading, if I’m not in a position to help them understand it? What if I don’t understand it? What if there are only so many hours in a day and I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, but I’m Orthodox and I have children and they want to read even if I have no interest in books? Are there things children shouldn’t read unguided? What if the parent doesn’t even know a particular book needs guidance? Shouldn’t we have that discussion without reframing it in a way the discussion never happens? I know more parents who fall into that category than not. So with all that in mind I think my original question is a valid one for discussion, however I wasn’t trying to say that imagination and the fruits thereof are patently bad or worthless. That might be someone’s argument but I didn’t say it.

    I know all sorts of people who claim to be “orthodox” with a small “o” but have relativist thinking on every other count. Our culture defines and redefines language according to the individual to such a degree as to make all words meaningless. That’s why I offered the definitions, not because I thought they where scholastically correct, but because I just wanted to frame the discussion and what I was talking about. Clearly I could have done this better. The average person in this country has no understanding of the scholastic definitions of the things intellectuals are fully aware of. People just don’t use language that way in common society. Relativism means something different to every person who is asked about it and so does small “o” orthodoxy. In common popular language you can be both. I know that doesn’t seem to make sense but there are people proclaiming to be both, because they use the same words but mean very different things by them.

    I wasn’t aware of the essay you presented until I read it here. I think having read it, what I’m really trying to say is that much of the “fantasy” that is ending up on the store shelves today would be more accurately categorized as “morbid delusion”. We’ve reached that point. Had I ever read that essay before, I think I would have written my blog post differently. Perhaps the title should have been “Has the genre fantasy been broaden to include books that are really morbid delusion?” And then gone from there about it’s suitability for children. I’d welcome a post from you about these questions since that the discussion I was really trying to have? Your post doesn’t really substantially help with that.

    The final point I want to clarify is that when I said I wanted creatures that are not co-opted for evil I was anything but clear unfortunately. I didn’t mean that everyone should be good with no representation of evil. I think evil needs to be represented. It would be absurd not to. What I meant is that some creatures that were created to represent evil such as vampires have transitioned over time as different authors write about them and build on each other to be somehow not really evil. The whole point of a vampire is that it’s a supremely evil being that is incapable of redemption. So when we have vampires who are still consuming death and yet are presented as good that is a creature of the imagination which has been co-opted for evil in order to confuse the original inventers’ concepts of the creature essentially ruining the original author’s writings. Vampires today don’t resemble Stokers. I want new creatures in new books that have not been defined already so that the reader’s mind isn’t coming at those creatures with preconceived ideas about them. In other words werewolves and vampires have been over done and diluted.

    You are right that I do have a thing against Twilight however as someone pointed out there is a subgenre called paranormal romance. However to the average person all these books are being presented as fantasy and everything fantasy seems to want to proclaim “if you liked Tolkien you’ll love _______” This makes most of your genre distinctions while technically correct for people who are aware essentially meaningless to the average person walking into a book store to buy an imaginative book.

    I agree with your point about when a book should be called “Orthodox” and when/why it should not. We definitely don’t need an “Orthodox” brand separated from books distinctly about Orthodox Tradition.

    Father Bless.

    • says

      God bless you! Christ is risen!

      Thank you very much for your response. As you may have noted, I did not critique your post by your name because I was not trying to be adversarial to you personally but rather to address what appeared to me to be some problematic ideas. So please do not take my comments as intending any disrespect. (And, what’s more, we share the same bishop!)

      In any event, I certainly agree with you that for children in particular, there must be a sifting done by parents to make sure that spiritual and intellectual sensibilities are rightly formed before they are given more difficult works. There is of course a lot of bad writing out there, both bad in the sense of basic literary quality, but also morally bad. That phenomenon does not seem terribly dependent on genre, however.

      I don’t think that I would classify my definitional comments as “scholastic,” though. (Indeed, most university scholarship actually ignores these genres almost entirely.) “Fantasy” is a fairly popularly agreed upon genre that has certain elements—wizards, elves, dwarves, medieval life, etc.

      In any event, anyone who says “If you liked Tolkien, you’ll love _________” is fooling themselves or someone else. Nothing really compares to his work, though of course many worthy things have also been done in the genre since then. And though other writers may include halflings, only Tolkien truly has hobbits. (And I would argue that while Tolkien may have inspired the genre, his work stands somewhat apart from it.)

      I’m glad you read his essay, though. It’s a powerful piece and probably one of the last bits of literary theory actually worth reading.

  12. marcusjosephus says

    Excellent piece Father! Besides Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” Walter Hooper edited a work for Lewis known as “Of Other Worlds” . This collection of short monographs addresses these issues.

    Your clarification of Phantasia according to the Fathers is bang on. I have Read St. John Chrysostom’s direction for rearing children but am unfamiliar with St. Basil’s work. What is the title of the piece mentioned above?

  13. Laura C. says

    Thanks for the reflection, Father Andrew. I spent my teen years with various groups of fanatics, and their rejection of all fantasy lumped together nearly broke my heart. Of course there’s garbage out there… but you can’t lump Jacqueline Carey in with George MacDonald. Speaking of whom, I’ve read nearly all of his fantasy and am currently working through his “Unspoken Sermons.” I’m curious as to whether you’ve read the latter, and if so, what your thoughts are about it.
    As far as tips for parents are concerned, I find it helpful to read the one-star reviews on merchant sites. If something is obscene, some good citizen usually bloviates about it. :)

  14. Laura C. says

    Oh, I also think that even some fantasy that might be considered garbage deserves a second look, if only because the better stories tackle theodicy head on, rather than sweep all of the painful inconsistencies under the rug. Joss Whedon may be an atheist, but he’s inspired quite a few conversations about redemption.

  15. hopealhawi says

    excuse my intrusion, but what this article has to do with the Orthodox Dogma or Liturgy?

    • says

      It’s not explicitly about dogma or liturgy, but it has every bearing on how we live out the implications of those things in our daily lives. This is about Christian culture, which is an extension of our doctrine and liturgical life.

  16. Becca says

    After reading your article and some of the comments, I wanted to say that I agree with you. =) But I did have some questions. This is regarding the Twilight books, since they seem to be the only specifically named series with a negative connotation. Whats so wrong about them? Regarding statements like “What I meant is that some creatures that were created to represent evil such as vampires have transitioned over time as different authors write about them and build on each other to be somehow not really evil. The whole point of a vampire is that it’s a supremely evil being that is incapable of redemption.,” In what way is changing what they do wrong? I found out about these books because they were recommended by a fellow parishioner. My whole family has read them and really I don’t find anything wrong with them, at least not anything worse than McCaffrey’s books. Now, I have encounter this belief that it is wrong to portray something that has always been evil as something that can have any redeeming qualities. I still have troubling grasping why this is wrong, or dangerous to read since it is about a fictional species in which many authors have taken their own liberties in describing for years. Anyways, I was just wondering if you could offer some clarification on your views on this. Thanks!!

    P.S. I love this article, its put down into words what I have been feeling on this subject for a long time.

    • says

      Becca, I could go on and on for pages about the problems I have the with twilight books. I must confess that I didn’t get through them all. I disliked the first one enough not to continue with the rest. Asside from the gender portrayals I find that the characters lack anything truely admirable. It’s basically got all the elements of a harlequin romance novel except minus sex and there are vampires.

      To answer your question more directly, I think that when you take something evil and portray it as good without truely redeeming it that it is a type of suggestive brainwashing. A true redemption of vampires would have been if some way had been found for them to become human again. What Twilight does is not redeption, it’s basically saying that it’s okay for a girl to be so pathetically and emotionally involved with a guy that she looses all perspective and no longer cares if even her own soul is in danger. But that’s all okay because hey he doesn’t kill people. Right. NOT!

      By making the vampire appear desirable the reader looses sight of the fact that he should be rejected at all cost and is severely dangerous. It entices a person to dabble with the question “Just how close to the edge of damnation can I get before I can no longer be saved?” The question we should be asking ourselves is how far away from temptation can we run, not how far can I go before it’s sin. The main character is a girl who as near as I can figure looses herself to temptation. She has made a vampire her god. She wants nothing more than to be completely possessed by him. But he won’t do it. It doesn’t matter she has lost the battle of the mind. If a fully developed critically thinking person reads this the problems with twilight are fairly obvious as it’s not even really that great of characterization. The reason it’s so popular is because it causes a person to have fantasies about the forbid. The problem is that if you fantasize long enough about the forbiden you’ll want it. So putting this book in the hands of young impressionable girls so that they start looking for guys like the guys in this book is so supremely aweful. There are no guys like the ones in this book. Any guy who looks remotely like one of the guys in this book would be a horrid husband and spiritual leader. Actually, maybe even a heroine addict.

      For me I found the book dull and annoying. I don’t get the whole frenzy. I didn’t identify with any of the characters in the book. Read it if you want but I’m not giving it to my daughters. It’s mindless nonsense preaching a rediculas world view. I would also liken it to porn because when people look at porn they are literally training their brains so that they become attracted only to the thing they see in the porn. Romance novels are porn for women. It trains women what to be attracted to. Except that it trains women to be attracted to all the wrong things. The fact that this book has no actual sex is rediculas. It has all the other elements. In real life they would have had sex. In real life their lives would have been destroyed. The characters are not believable. But they tell a young girl exactly what she want’s to hear. Go ahead date a non christian … go ahead, your not taking your clothes off so it’s okay…. the slippery slope goes on and before you know it a line has been crossed all because a girl got the idea somewhere that bad boys were good and enticing. Maybe an adult woman would be pulled into this but I’ve done youth ministry for years and these books were popular for just that reason. Parents thought it advocated abstainance but did it really? Really, Really? Or was it more deceptive than that.

      The thing is you don’t see all of this because there is the whole fact that he’s a vampire. If he had been a human being who was a drug addict for instance then the whole thing would be less appealing. That’s really what he seems like to me is a heroine addict. I’ve known a few so I can tell you and she seems like a codependant. The book is about lust weather or not there is any sex in it at all. The book says it’s okay to lust as long as you don’t act on it but that isn’t true according to the church. We not supposed to lust. But you like the vampire, you start to feel sypathetically toward him. So now instead of St. George slaying the dragon, mabe we should have a PETA meeting about protraying the cruelty of animals. Of course that would be absurd. Just as absurd as making a reader feel sympathy for evil and embrace evil by making evil appear good.

      It’s not so much that it’s wrong to portray something that has always been portrayed as evil as suddenly good. In any writing you have to ask yourself, what is the author really saying. What kind of world are they painting, and do I think that world is a beneficial one to embrace. Stop thinking that anything is just mindless, harmless entertainment. You have to think about what you are reading the same as you have to think about the food you are putting in your mouth and weather it is poison or not.

  17. hopealhawi says

    You are right Fr! Christian culture is an extension of our doctrine and liturgical life. However if we replace the word Orthodox in the title :” Is it Orthodox to Read and Write Allegory/Fantasy Children’s Books?” with the adjective “right” or simply the word “ok”, would the article be still fit for this site? or more for a daily Magazine? As an Orthodox believer, I see that the word “Orthodox” here is void and has no spiritual dimensions; that seems a bit odd. thank you

    • says

      I think there may be some confusion here. The title you reference is not a subtitle to an article on my site, but it is the title of an article on another site to which I was responding.

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