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Should Christians Write Fantasy That Contains Pagan Mythology?

January 10, 2022

By Rachel Leitch

 

Mythology influences countless books and movies. At the elementary school where I work, it appears in Rick Riordan’s popular Percy Jackson series, which Christian readers have split opinions about. In the Marvel universe, Thor, Loki, and other characters are based on Greek legends. And earlier this year, I researched Chinese folklore before deciding whether to watch Disney’s animated film Raya and the Last Dragon. Even C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia includes creatures like fauns, centaurs, dryads, and gryphons.

 

You can’t avoid running into mythology, not when it plays a role in so many beloved stories—a few of which are probably on your favorites list. But does your faith give you a reason to feel guilty for enjoying or creating that kind of entertainment?

 

In the writing community I’m a member of, the same concern pops up over and over again in discussions. Can writers who believe in the one true God justify the depiction of multiple deities, magical creatures, and mystical rituals? Will those elements mock Him?

 

The topic can be approached from several directions, and no answer fits every situation. Ultimately, you need to listen to your conscience. But you can ask yourself three questions to clarify why you’re hesitant to delve into mythology and whether those misgivings should govern your choices or not.

 

1. Are You Engaging with Mythology or a Worldview?

According to Merriam-Webster, mythology is “an allegorical narrative” or “a popular belief or assumption that has grown up around someone or something.” The two definitions often get conflated, but usually the first refers to the use of mythology in fiction (although the second is not unheard of). That puts it in a similar category as the fairy tales you’ve been familiar with since childhood.

 

Fairy tale retellings are a current fad. Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty are some of the best-known stories in our culture, and because of that, the narratives have the capacity to carry deep moral lessons that might be overbearing in other contexts. After reading these stories, no one will assume that a fairy godmother controls their romantic opportunities anymore than they’ll expect that Zeus is fighting an enemy when thunder roars. Generally speaking, readers understand that mythology is an allegorical tool.

 

However, if your ideas don’t match the description above, you might be dealing with a worldview instead. Per Merriam-Webster, a worldview is “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint.” The distinctions between worldview and mythology may seem minor since sometimes the two are interconnected, but you can separate one from the other.

 

While worldview is a system of beliefs, mythology is a set of stories. While worldview is the sum total of a person’s experiences, mythology is born from a single culture and time period. And while readers rarely fall for false mythologies, they can fall for false worldviews.

 

When an addition to your story imparts conclusions about God, man, sin, origins, salvation, and eternity, that’s a sign it’s a worldview, not mythology. My younger brother recently took a humanities class that identified those six areas as foundational to worldview, and the principle offered so many insights.

 

Fiction can encompass a variety of worldviews, and you don’t need to fear ones that differ from your own. New perspectives can lead you on a journey of discovery that increases your ability to empathize with others and makes your convictions more resilient. But verifying whether you’re trying to incorporate a worldview or mythology can help you figure out how to move forward.

 

2. Does the Mythology Point to Truth?

What message is your allegorical narrative communicating, and can you stand behind it? Even if an ideology or custom seems contrary to Christianity, that doesn’t necessarily mean its effect will be negative.

 

For instance, Christian review sites tend to rate Disney’s Brother Bear as offensive because it revolves around Native American spirit totems. However, in my family, the film has prompted candid discussions about the nature and value of worship. It reminds us that we don’t have to spend our days obeying the whims of intricately carved or painted animals to cultivate an intimate relationship with our Creator.

 

C. S. Lewis likewise steeped the land of Narnia in Greek and Roman mythology—and his books are now considered Christian classics. Lewis believed that the Bible is the source material from which other mythologies about the beginning of the world and resurrected heroes evolved. He called mythology “a real, though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on the human imagination.”

 

Mythology doesn’t always have to involve polytheism either. In fact, it can whisper of the one true God while providing space for your imagination to roam. That’s why it’s such a sticky matter—because a mythological aspect that’s thought-provoking and inspiring for one person may not be for another. And if it’s a stumbling block for you as the author, revising your scenes would probably be wise.

 

3. Does the Mythology Tear Down Truth?

Some mythologies and worldviews may require more investigation or firsthand exposure before you can accurately represent them. Readers won’t be able to spot the truth in your story if they’re tripping over stereotypes. If that’s the problem you’re struggling with, you don’t need to abandon your premise altogether. Just focus on growing your knowledge first.

 

Other mythologies and worldviews, however, need to be handled with caution or rejected. For example, any symbol or mentality that ties directly to Satan should not be portrayed as good or sympathetic (although applying it to a villain is an option for creating a contrast between light and darkness). Three subtler worldviews that have the potential to be destructive are:

 

  • Eastern religions—or, more specifically, the practice of humans attempting to better themselves without God. Although this worldview can take the form of habits like meditation, also be wary of characters who elevate works above salvation.
  • Atheism. When well-meaning writers worry too much about sounding preachy, sometimes they accidentally swing too far in the opposite direction and dilute Christianity so that it comes across as wishy-washy. But God is unchangeable and truth is unwavering, and both can be expressed gently and artfully without watering down.
  • Liberalism. Yes, people in difficult circumstances need compassion. But even when outside pressures cause someone to act wrongly, that doesn’t absolve them of responsibility. People’s differences must be embraced and supported in a healthy manner that doesn’t excuse sin.

If you notice that writing about a certain worldview is clouding your own and skewing your story, stop. Research its tenets thoroughly and re-examine the themes you’re hoping to convey, or drop the project altogether.

 

4. Is the Worldview Alive Today?

If the worldview or mythology exists in our modern culture (as opposed to being a part of history), you’ll need to tread much more carefully. Present all sides of an issue fairly, highlighting both the good and the bad, and request input from sensitivity readers to make sure you’re being respectful and tactful.

 

You might wonder why those steps are necessary. Aren’t you risking misleading readers if you surrender any ground to a false worldview? Shouldn’t you castigate it instead?

 

Jesus urged us to treat others as we want to be treated. If we’re hurt when secular novelists paint Christians as hypocritical and naïve, then people with other worldviews react the same way when we typecast them as hateful and self-centered. Attacking others damages our witness.

 

Looking for an example of how to achieve a balance? All of the characters in Amy Lynn Green’s novel The Lines Between Us have a unique worldview, and she addresses the trials of war through each of them. Some of the righteous characters believe lies and make mistakes, and some of the wicked characters believe truth and behave honorably.

 

Freedom to Explore

Early in my writing, I had a long list of topics that I refused to touch on. All of my protagonists mirrored my own beliefs, and all of my antagonists didn’t. When I finished, I had a tidy first draft that didn’t threaten anyone (except, of course, the “dark souls” who needed to be threatened).

 

But the project also didn’t challenge me, or readers.

 

I cheated myself out of the chance to strengthen my relationship with God. And I cheated my readers out of the chance to feel seen and known and loved—to realize that God meets them where they’re at and desires to redeem them.

 

In the years since, the worldviews and mythology I’ve studied have only solidified my faith in God. I’ve learned to celebrate the best of human diversity while striving to help the worst of it. Now I hope that each novel I write includes at least a hint of another worldview—portrayed both realistically and sympathetically—and reflects it back to the light. I hope to craft characters that readers of all backgrounds can relate to. And I hope I can show even devout Christians attributes of God that they’ve missed.

 

Can you imagine what would happen if every writer reading this article committed themselves to those goals? Thousands of readers would encounter God more powerfully than they ever have before and be forever changed.

 


Rachel Leitch discovered the book of writing when she was seven. She’s been turning pages ever since! When she’s not hidden away, penning young adult historical adventures, she’s trying to fit all her reads on her shelf in a somewhat organized manner, rambling through history, daydreaming at the piano, or teaching students to be just as bookish as she is. In all of her adventures, she learns how to shine brighter for the Father of Lights.

 

For more lessons drawn from books and movies and other stories (and to claim your free historical fantasy short story), follow her adventure journal at https://racheljleitch.weebly.com.

3 Comments

  1. Joelle Stone

    Woah. This came at JUST the right time!! I’ve been debating whether or not Lord of the Rings is a good story to ingest so much (it’s definitely high on my favorites list), considering Tolkien’s wizards and Gods (capital G pluralized) and all the Greek mythology throughout his series. I’ve reckoned with the wizardry and decided that it actually ISN’T magic, as Tolkien himself insisted (it’s a natural part of their world and doesn’t involve supernatural forces), though I wish he wouldn’t have used the words “magic” and “wizardry” to describe it. His whole “Gods” concept has been a lot harder for me to grapple with, though. This article gave me the missing piece I needed. Tolkien is using MYTHOLOGY, not a worldview. And it make sense.

    So thank you SO SO SO much!! I really didn’t want to stop reading a book so chock full of great lessons and role models and morals just because of his worldbuilding. GREAT article!!

    Reply
  2. Neasa

    Great article! I’ve been looking for something like this for ages as its something that I’m still a bit jumpy about as a writer. I love mythology and I really want to incorporate them in my stories in a way that I feel comfortable doing, without completely erasing God from the narrative.

    Reply
    • Abriana

      A thought-provoking article. In my latest story, there are my own versions of fairies, elves, dragons (no magic in the world, more like a sci-fi “alternate Earth/strange planet”). They’re just supposed to be creatures that live on the planet with “alternate Earthlings”. I’m not trying to support worldviews contrary to Christianity. I’m just trying to make a world similar to Lord of the Rings (best comparison I can come up with) but with more science fiction elements

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