Reply To: Help! Representing God in Fantasy Fiction?

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Martin Detwiler

Deities in fantasy from a Christian perspective:

It’s late, so I’m trying to communicate in as simple a format as I can!

Question 1: How prominently does real-world religious truth function in the theme of your story?

Answer: If it functions very prominently, then you need to develop your deity thoroughly and accurately. If it does not function very prominently, then the importance of even mentioning a deity goes down dramatically.

Keep in mind that prominence, in this instance, is not to be equated with presence. For example, Tolkien has many religio-philosophical truths present in his works, but they are not prominent – they don’t take up space in the actual narrative, but rather inform the underpinnings. Therefore, I think it is fine that Tolkien does not directly mention or develop religion/deity in LotR (although he does in the Silmarillion). [Or, alternatively, you may find that fact to be somewhat of a shortcoming; but the story still works powerfully as it is.]

If real-world religious truth does not have prominence in your story, but is still very present (aka like Tolkien), try to focus on developing a sense of the mystery, beauty, transcendence, infinity, incomprehensibility, and mind-blowing-ness of the deity, rather than specific theological details. An incarnate deity is very difficult to pull off without giving specific theological details, so it may be best to refrain from having one in stories like these.

For mythic-type fantasy works where real-world religious truth does not have prominence, but is very present, it may not be necessary to have any deity at all, because the myth itself is powerful enough and independent enough as a sequence of inherently meaningful events, to carry Truth on it’s own shoulders without a greater context given to it. The myth is then considered, as a whole, to be the nugget of truth at hand, and we need no greater context of deity within the myth itself, because we experience the myth wholesale as humans within this world, providing our own context. Myths tend to stand alone as independently powerful ideas/stories/concepts, and the reader interacts with them on a different level than your typical fantasy novel. Apologies if I failed to make that accessible to everyone. At this time of night, I don’t know of a simpler way to express it. 🙁

Question 2: If real-world religious truth functions prominently in your story, is your story intended to be allegorical or symbolic?

If allegorical, as @daeus-lamb has brought up, be very careful, very thorough, and very certain that the conclusions and parallels that people will draw from your story are accurate to God’s self-revelation (aka Scripture). Allegory applies imagination to the truth as an almost mathematically parallel function. The details ought not to be the same; but the parallels intended and the parallels drawn should be accurate, or the allegory has failed in it’s intended purpose.

If symbolic, be careful, thorough, and certain that your religio-philosophical foundation is strongly and clearly expressed through the themes, conflicts, and characters of your story. But when it comes to the specific details of your religion and deity, you have far more leeway of detail before people make false concusions/parallels from your depiction of deity.

Whether symbolic or allegorical, prominent or not, I think the safest route when presenting deity is the one I mentioned first of all: try to focus on developing a sense of the mystery, beauty, transcendence, infinity, incomprehensibility, and mind-blowing-ness of the deity, rather than specific theological details. In my opinion, if you successfully communicate the wonder, beauty, and awe that God is and brings, you have successfully represented God.


And as a closing note, remember that while we are trying to sub-create worlds which are internally consistent and therefore should have a deity, we are still at the end of the day creating secondary worlds – and these are intended to be consumed by people in the primary world – in which God is God, and there’s no doubt about that.

If our goal was to create something that could be considered a primary world all by itself (obviously impossible, because we can’t actually create), then we would be, I think, duty bound to always have an impeccably accurate deity in those worlds. But as it is, we are sub-creators; and while we do our best to imitate the internal consistency of primary reality by having ‘Christian’ deities in our stories, we are writing for people who exist in a world in which there is already an impeccably perfect deity.

However, because many people in the primary world do not believe in that divine being as He has revealed Himself through Scripture, it can be very helpful for us to include deities in our stories as a way for us to communicate truths about God much more clearly via art (which is, by the way, an excellent persuader, because to experience truly Christian art, the reader also experience the truth in the art, and it then becomes a part of them – inasmuch as it has become a part of their experience).

Given the complexity of some of that, that’s probably more than two cents; but there it is. I love conversations like these.

myths don't die

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