God in a fantasy universe
December 2, 2020 at 9:06 pm #122190
I’m writing this vast interconnected story universe, called the Domidium. Think of it as the Cosmere meets Tolkien’s worldbuilding, but undergirded by my own rapidly developing writing style that I haven’t quite figured out how to describe yet.
I began outlining for the Domidium four years ago, when I was a fairly clueless fourteen-year old. Now, with a lot more life experience and one completed novel draft set in the Domidium, I’ve realized I need to change… a lot.
My original vision involved writing several epic fantasy series, and then having an extra-epic crossover. Worlds colliding. Ancient secrets being revealed. Beloved characters going through the crucible and coming face-to-face with their own sins and shortcomings. Which of course leads to the need for a savior. Thus, I planned for my magnum opus to climax with the death and resurrection of an allegorical Christ-figure. After all, what could be more climactic than a parallel to the most important event in human history?
Problem: that leaves 90% of my planned Domidium stories set in a pre-Christian world. Furthermore, it’s a world with few parallels to the world of the Old Testament. There’s no ethnic people-group chosen by God to produce a blessing for all nations; rather, the faithful are scattered across seven different planets. Furthermore, I want to write character who have relationships with God like I have a relationship with God, not only because this is what comes naturally to me, but because I connect deeply to characters like this, and because I can’t find enough of them in well-written fantasy novels.
What I have right now is a parallel Christianity that doesn’t really mention Christ, because he hasn’t come yet. If it does mention him, it has to speak in future tense, “the coming deliver will save us from our sins”, which is just weird.
I’m considering shifting the ‘redemptive timeline’ of the Domidium so that the Incarnation and Atonement take place in the past. One question I have is, how can I do this, and how can I write characters who are essentially Christians and have relationships with God, in a way that isn’t just cutting-and-pasting Christianity into my fantasy world? How do I create a fantasy religion that is both true and an integral part of the world I’ve created?
おはいよう. 日本語は好きです .December 3, 2020 at 11:26 am #122205Zee@zee
Great questions, @toklaham-veruzia! Very thought-provoking. First of all, I have to congratulate you on your ambition and perseverance.
You say you don’t want to “cut-and-paste” Christianity into your fantasy world, but the fact is, if your created characters are going to have a personal relationship with a God who actually joined them, lived with them, and then died to save/deliver/redeem them, then what you have, despite whatever you may decide to call it, is Christianity.
Remember, even in this world the way the redeemed have interacted with their Redeemer has varied greatly across time, molded by conventions, climates, philosophies and cultures of all sorts, from holy rollers handling snakes in the mountains of West Virginia to the pomp and circumstance of a service at St. Peter’s.
Your take on the faith, since it’s set in a different world, will be different from anything this world has seen, but in its essence, it will be the same. And that’s not a bad thing.
To help answer your question, I find myself asking more questions–in your fantasy world, how did the Redeemer figure enter it? What kind of person was he (or she?) How did he live? Where did he live? What did he teach? When, where and how did he die? Now that he’s (presumably) no longer in your world, what expectations do his followers have? How do they honor him? How has their interaction with God changed because of the Redeemer’s coming?
There are no wrong answers to these questions, of course (and I’d love to hear some of them!) but in the end, they’re really only surface issues. The basic story, of a Christ-figure’s sacrificial death for those he loves is the same, so the foundation for this part of your world-building will be the same…yeah. Christianity. Can’t escape it.December 3, 2020 at 1:43 pm #122211R.M. Archer@r-m-archer
I don’t think you necessarily need to ditch the idea that it’s pre-redemption. The God of the Old Testament was still personal, He was just personal in different ways. He was certainly personal with Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon… The authors of the Psalms understood Him as a personal rock, redeemer (in a different context, obviously, but in the same role), judge, etc.
I’m in a similar boat, actually, writing a fantasy world with a Christianity-based God-figure who hasn’t sent a savior yet. Personally, I think the anticipation of a savior can be a great tool and a great theme to work with.
But it also could be that while my world is suited to a pre-redemption and a post-redemption, yours isn’t, and in that case I back up what Zee said. You can’t change a whole lot about Christianity without losing its power, but your fictional version will still take on its own style and color even if the core pieces are the same.
Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.December 3, 2020 at 2:43 pm #122212
Well, would it be better to simply have characters who represent Christ, God, The Holy Spirit and their different attributes, instead of having a God figure in a different world which dangerously leans towards Mormonism.
For instance, Tolkein, in the Lord of the Rings, has Gandalf, who portrays God as the powerful father, wise counselor.
Aragorn, as the King who is coming, mighty and strong,
And sam, as the suffering servant, who bears with frodo’s decrepancies.December 3, 2020 at 4:24 pm #122215
@toklaham-veruzia I’ve often wondered about this subject too…my favorite writing of a personable God in a fantasy world is the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. Although his characters portray different parts of the Redemptive story throughout the series (forgiveness, protection, self-sacrifice, etc.), Peterson also has a figure called the “Maker” that characters pray to, talk about, and believe created and is involved in their lives. The Maker never “shows up,” in the story, and he never changes the character’s circumstances through supernatural intervention, but he is active in the story nonetheless.
I find that Peterson’s portrayal of God is refreshing, accurate, and very relatable to where we are today. God is still as powerful as ever, but He choses to reveal Himself through the Bible and creation today more than supernatural events. Characters in the Wingfeather Saga deal with, “Did the Maker leave us? Is He even there?” throughout the story, only to look back later and see His hand working the entire time.
Hope that is a little helpful.😉
Not all those who wander are lost.December 3, 2020 at 4:36 pm #122216
Thanks for pointing out that we need to be cautious not to write another “god” into our stories. Although I think you have a point about not leaning toward Mormonism, I don’t think that you’re totally right that it’s better to only portray God through characters.
Aslan, in the Chronicles of Narnia, is very much a God figure. C.S. Lewis avoided the idea of multiple gods though with Aslan’s line, “I’m known by a different name in your world.”
In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf has that amazing line about how Frodo was “meant” to find the ring. Gandalf was also “sent” to Middle Earth. Who meant Frodo to have the ring, and who sent Gandalf? I think it points to a God figure.
Also, I noticed that you didn’t mention Frodo along with Gandalf, Aragorn, and Sam.😉 I know you can’t name everyone, but he’s my favorite character, and I can’t help sticking in a word for him. His journey, bearing the ring, is a representation of Jesus willingly laying himself down for us. Frodo knew the ring would kill him, but he carried it anyway…to save everyone else.
Not all those who wander are lost.December 3, 2020 at 6:56 pm #122226
While you bring up good points, and Narnia is one of my most beloved series, something we cant take away from it is that God is sacrificing himself for peoples from all different worlds and universes. While C.S. Lewis wove a masterful allegory of redemption and Christs sacrifice when Aslan died for Edmund, when he said i am known by a different name in our world, this would indicate that Aslan/God/Jesus is sacrificing himself for other people in other worlds, which takes away from Christs one and only, and completely sufficient sacrifice for us on the cross.
Tolkein did portray a God figure, and i do not say we shouldnt involve images of sacrifice in our books, but i think Lewis may have been a bit misleading with that. Also his whole Tash/Aslan fiasco with that calormen soldier was a but strange. Unrelated but yeah.December 4, 2020 at 12:22 am #122249R.M. Archer@r-m-archer
@crazywriter I don’t think it’s “leaning toward Mormonism” to include a sacrificial god-figure in a world that is assumed to be completely separate from our own and completely its own entity. I can sort of see where you’re coming from with the Narnia example; I understand your concern, and it’s something I’ve wrestled with in another of my fantasy worlds that is linked to Earth (and still haven’t completely figured out). But in a world where there is no God of Earth because Earth doesn’t exist, why would a religion based on Christianity imply any second sacrifice?
Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.December 4, 2020 at 1:44 pm #122252
Mormonism believes that there are tons of worlds out of there, with different gods ruling over them. So if you made a stories with multiple ‘god’ figures, someone from that background could take that as book leaning towards them, since that isnt fantasy for them.
I am not saying that we shouldnt put sacrifice in our books(see my message above) merely not to disdain Christs one and only sacrifice by replacing it. Replicating it is not a problem, but i in my books personally will put characters in that represent Christ, and have them die for the main character(example). Showing that would give a subtle image of sacrifice so its not shoving Christianity down their throat, but it is there enough to point them to the true story.December 4, 2020 at 5:21 pm #122266
@crazywriter You have some good points. I do see how it could be confusing to some people.
As for the Tash stuff…I was always confused by it too. I’m not sure what Lewis meant to do there, or if he meant anything at all.
Not all those who wander are lost.December 4, 2020 at 7:26 pm #122272
And i respect y’alls opinions greatly. Up until last summer i held to the same thing, but then my older brother kind of explained this opinion to me.
so all y’all bring up good points, and i’m not saying i’m right, just what i think.
Good friendly debate!December 4, 2020 at 7:57 pm #122274
@crazywriter @arindown I’m glad my question has sparked some important thoughts. As for me, Christ-figures in alternate universes pose no problem. While we ought to do our best to present truth in our stories, most readers will read fantasy novels as fantasy novels, and not interpret them as literally making claims about other gods in other worlds.
I’m leaning toward weaving an atoning Incarnation/Death/Resurrection into the ancient past, and then thinking through how different people across the eras and empires of my fantasy world would respond to the message of what God’s done for them. I hope to create realistic traditions/denominations of parallel Christian worship, traditions that rise naturally rather than being copied from our world.
If I’ve managed to interest you in my storytelling, you can read some of my short stories and join my email list for free at my website: https://authorzacharyholbrook.weebly.com
おはいよう. 日本語は好きです .December 4, 2020 at 10:41 pm #122279Rusted Knight@rusted-knight
There was this one book that my mother read out loud to us a long time ago. I think it was about Luke before he was a Christian? At one point in the story, he ends up with Magi how tell him about God. Something that stuck out to me was that they did not know everything but had enough to know that someone would come. To that end, they sought to find out where and how to prepare the path for that someone. Perhaps that is what your “Christians” are doing.
Just to spice things up. As a reader of JRR Tolken’s The Silmarillion, I can attest that Gandalf is technically a lesser angel. The God of Tolken’s world (Eru Ilúvatar) is never confirmed to have come to Middle Earth. (There are some readers, myself included, that believe that he is Tom Bombadil) The closest he ever got was in the War of Wrath, when the Valar (Seraphim) descended to capture and banish the fallen Melkor (Satan). Perhaps a reading of The Silmarillion would be wise. I must warn those that try. The names are mostly elven and therefore difficult to pronounce. For the world builders in training, it is a most awesome read to see what we know to be the world of Middle Earth before it was as we know it to be in the Third Age.
The Devil saw me with my head down and got excited. Then I said AmenDecember 5, 2020 at 5:16 pm #122329Maya Joelle@mayajoelle
@toklaham-veruzia So. Reading through your initial comment made me want to read your pre-Redemption world stories very much. Like, I understand how that could be difficult to write, but if you could pull it off… wow, that would be amazing.
But if you really want to go with the post-Redemption world… you’ve got some really good feedback here already, and I love the idea of different “denominations.” That’s awesome. How important is the faith aspect of your world to your story? Will there be conversions in your novels? Is your audience primarily Christians, or primarily non-Christians, or a mix?
I’m not sure I have any more ideas, but knowing the answers to those questions might help.
(And again, having even just one novel/novella set in the Domidium pre-Redemption would be… *chills* incredible.)
(oh, and after reading Mistborn and figuring out what the Cosmere is, the Domidium makes a lot more sense to me than it did before :))
fear no evil | may evil fear youDecember 8, 2020 at 2:37 pm #122469
@mayajoelle My dream is to bridge the gap between Christian and secular audiences. Ideally, a secular reader would see God acting in my story, but accept it as an organic part of the story-world rather than as deus ex machina or a shoehorned evangelism attempt.
The downside to a pre-Incarnation setting is that I think that would drive my stories in a darker direction, one where people have a much less clear of what’s going on spiritually. But then, Till We Have Faces had God acting in a pagan world in a way that’s both obscure and incredibly powerful, so I could try to go that direction. (It’s gonna be a loooooong time before my skills can match the epicness of Till We Have Faces, though)
おはいよう. 日本語は好きです .
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