True Fantasy & Christianity

This week, a new fantasy anthology, The Lost Legends: Tales of Myth and Magic from Archgate Press, will hit your digital bookshelves, and you do not want to miss it. Here, I must issue a disclaimer. I cannot give an unbiased review of this new book. For one thing, my name appears in the acknowledgments, since contributor and lead editor, Adam D. Jones, is my husband. For another, several of my friends, including our beloved editor-in-chief here at TTC, have had a hand in either writing or editing the stories in this collection. So you’ll just have to see for yourself that the stories gathered together in The Lost Legends are poignant, funny, whimsical, and evocative. No, I cannot write an unbiased review, but what I can do is to issue a few humble exhortations about the value of fantasy fiction for the Christian reader. The Lost Legends deserves a place on your bookshelf because its stories provide a glimpse of the “real magic” at the heart of human experience.

In 1976 John Timmerman noticed the growing popularity of fantasy fiction, and wrote “Fantasy Literature’s Evocative Power” for Christian Century in order to show the ways in which fantasy fiction fits into a Christian view of the world. Building upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s statement that “The Gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories,” Timmerman identifies six characteristics of fantasy fiction that help readers to connect to God, our world, and each other in redemptive ways. These traits include “story, common characters, evocation of another world, use of magic and the supernatural, a clear sense of good and evil, and the quest.”

The stories in The Lost Legends include all these elements to some degree. The stories are compelling and immersive, drawing the reader into another realm in only a few pages. Their main characters are relatable, ordinary folk who find themselves thrust into a different kind of reality than they’d ever known before, bringing the ordinary reader right along with them. In these stories’ evocation of another world, they help us “begin to see our own world more clearly.” In their use of magic and the supernatural, they provide a glimpse of the true “magic” or supernatural workings in our own world.

The stories also depict the war between good and evil. While the stories are too short to allow for a total defeat of evil or for the kind of ecstatic reversal from death to life that Tolkien called “eucatastrophe,” several of these stories paint a complex and sometimes disturbingly recognizable picture of evil. No mere fantasy evils, the evils in these worlds hit close to home, and it is often through the interjection of magic reality into mundanity that good is allowed to prevail. Also because of their length, not all of these short stories are quest tales, although some of them manage to accomplish quite an impressive quest in a short amount of time.

In short, this collection would pass Timmerman’s six-part test for fantasy fiction. It would also pass Tolkien’s own test, for these brief stories manage to create the “Enchantment” that Tolkien found central to fantasy. He explains:  “Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside; but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose.” We may only spend a few moments in these secondary worlds, but when we emerge, we are recalled back to the joys of the primary world — to the beauty of love and friendship, of nature and art, and of the metaphysical stirrings that prompt us to search for signs in the sky and incantations in rhyme.

Even the title, The Lost Legends, evokes the thrill of discovery of something rare, once believed to be gone forever — the perfection of Eden, the glory of heaven, the unstained image of God. Here, in these lost legends now found, dwells a memory of our safe and lovely home before evil kicked the door in, letting in a host of other ills. In these stories — even the harsh ones — we recognize that we are not alone in our longings to return, to be known, to hold the power of our own original magic.

And because these stories are brand new, the reader emerges newly-connected with our present reality, more aware of the particular ways good and evil manifests today. One fantasy trope that has been alive ever since Tolkien threw four hobbits, a wizard, two men, an elf, and a dwarf together into an unlikely fellowship is the idea that the first step to defeating evil is defeating our own prejudices. The fantasy stories in The Lost Legends take delight in riffing on that theme. A great evil of our age is the oppression and exploitation of others, and the same holds true in these fantastic tales. Often, that oppression and exploitation has to do with fear of difference — in the stories’ case, fear of magic. It is as though the bad guys in these tales took Tolkien’s warning in “On Fairy Stories” to heart:

Fantasy, of course, starts out with an advantage: arresting strangeness. But that advantage has been turned against it, and has contributed to its disrepute. Many people dislike being “arrested.” They dislike any meddling with the Primary World, or such small glimpses of it as are familiar to them. They, therefore, stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art; and with mental disorders, in which there is not even control: with delusion and hallucination.

When the evil characters in these “Tales of Myth and Magic” do their greatest harm, it is almost always in a reaction against those who practice magic or who upset the status quo. In their darkness, they try to stamp out the light of magic and magic’s workers and thus remove any glimpse of glory from the world.

And though spells and other forms of enchantment often save the day in these tales, the driving force behind these stories’ happily ever afters is a more powerful magic altogether: love and friendship.

In his foreword to The Lost Legends, Adam Jones writes, “…while The Lost Legends is a collection of wonderful stories, bursting with magic, monsters, and mayhem of all sorts, it’s also a celebration of the new world that today’s writers and readers are building together.”

Each in their own way, the authors gathered in The Lost Legends have built new worlds founded on community and love. And you are cordially invited to join them in these magical realms, so that when you return to the real world, you may carry that magic with you.

The Lost Legends: Tales of Myth and Magic is available in Kindle and Paperback formats on amazon.com

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