Screwtape on Fantasy: A Response to Todd Friel

Todd Friel of the ministry called “Wretched” and others have come out against fantasy fiction having any place in the life of a Christian. You can find his video on Youtube, concerning “wizard fiction.”

In response, I wrote my idea of a possible “Screwtape Letter.” I do hope it does no dishonor to C.S. Lewis.

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My dear Wormwood,

I am writing to address your inquiry in your most recent letter, regarding the use of the fantastic in the Patient’s reading habits.

In truth, the subject in and of itself is of little use to Our Father Below, and I expected better even from the likes of you. I must once again indulge the holding of your hand through this matter.

When fiction is the reader’s chosen subject, he ventures into a cinema or into the pages of a book, knowing full well the story’s author is not presenting a documentary or a statement of belief. It is what one might call a neutered lie. All the sinister pleasures of deception have been defanged, because almost all Patients will not take the story as descriptive of reality. Since our goal is to cast illusions and phantoms across the face of real life, attempts to harness fiction to our Father’s cause are severely hampered before we’re even out of the gate.

It is true that a human’s worldview influences their process of artistic creation, and therefore influences those who partake in it. But the medium itself, as a neutered lie, in most cases can only impart a watered-down influence. Even here, however, there can be some meager potential, which I shall explain in a moment.

The human art of pretend storytelling (including the more fantastical varieties) is comparable to any of their other artistic endeavors. Art is not a den of sin by nature. Whatever use fiction has against the Enemy, it cannot give of itself, any more than a bucket can provide water of its own accord. It has to be filled with whatever you wish to provide.

But even then, the best use we have for fiction is not to drag them to our Father’s house, but to reinforce a dragging that is already underway. For instance, Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy does carry a note of delicious subversion, and has in a tiny handful of cases been helpful in bringing humans before our Father’s leering grin. The key is that it is helpful, not foundational. Pullman needed to be guided and coaxed before he could instill his anti-Enemy worldview into a single paragraph. And as with the author, so with the reader. You will notice that a large majority of his devoted admirers already held the Enemy in healthy contempt, or were well on their way to doing so.

Thus, we can see fiction for what it is: a sort of “working out” of a Patient’s heart, with an influence that has to supplement whatever is already present. It is spice, not entree.

Of course, you were mainly interested in fantastic fiction, particularly with magical figures in the story, who commune with spirits and turn into animals, and the like. I am afraid that even these are of use that is as limited as it is dependent.

It might be a different story if High Command did not have the standing order to (in your Patient’s culture, at least) conceal our presence unless otherwise necessary. Magicians are much more charismatic when they are taken seriously, not laughed off as charlatans or fringe lunatics. Rank materialism is closer now to being hybridized with belief in the supernatural than it was a century ago, but for now most of the links are still tenuous. The best of both worlds is still just beyond our grasp, and we must give it time to mature.

Therefore, as always, your Patient’s particular vulnerabilities will decide the angle of attack. If he is one of the precious few in his culture who regard real Magicians as commanding authentic power, you might be able to work some favorable influence. With the right kind of fiction, that is.

Fiction that subverts the Enemy’s declarations – whether overtly or with subtlety – can sometimes make all the difference. You can often see our own whispers into an author’s mind, filtering through the pages. In that case, I reiterate that this fiction has value, but only as a means of reinforcing whatever else we have encouraged and cultivated. Otherwise, a novel that has reinforced one soul’s journey to Hell might disastrously be used by the Enemy to wake another Patient to that same journey, whereupon the human is in great danger of reversing course and wandering into the Enemy’s embrace.

That explosion can be ignited by a thousand short fuses. Perhaps the Patient is awakened to the need for a transcendent reality and, unless promptly guided to one of the many decoy religions we have established, will be on a fast track to Heaven. Or the beauty and gravity of the fictional world might rekindle a hunger that will have him asking all the wrong sorts of questions, which of course the Enemy will be delighted to barge in and answer.

As for fiction that is not subversive of the Enemy, those varieties of fantastic fiction and characters hardly ever were of use for our Father’s cause, except perhaps as idle entertainment that distracts instead of edifies. Be sure your Patient avoids any and all fiction that the Enemy has encouraged in humans. He is crafty, and you stand to only make half-hearted and ham-fisted attempts of subversion against a foundation He has already laid.

As always, if you find yourself in the enemy’s camp, see if you can exploit the legalism inherent in a pharisaical teacher, who commands or coaxes other believers to regard every variety of fantastic fiction as an encouragement to the Occult.

Such humans are eminently amusing, spreading strife where it need not occur, and souring the seeds of the Enemy’s will for many a budding storyteller, all because they lack (or have not exercised) the insight, or craftiness, or creativity of the very God they endlessly claim to speak for. Alexandria never lost so many books to fire as we have successfully suppressed in Christians who were convinced by such teachers to withhold their stories from the world.

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

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Here’s How Fiction Can Make a Difference in People’s Lives

My last post is long-winded and deals with a subject that seems kind of trivial, when I think about it. This group or that “demographic” (what a dehumanizing word that is) feels underrepresented in fictional stories, and rather than writing tales to their own liking, the warriors of social justice shame authors and assassinate their character, basically saying fiction is empty unless you meet a politically correct quota.

What if fiction could make a difference in other people’s lives? I don’t mean them feeling more connected to a character because that character is more like them in a superficial way. I’m talking about people halfway across the world running for their lives. What if you could do some small part to help give people comfort after they’ve been forced out of their homes?

That’s what has happened thanks to ISIS kicking Christians out of Iraqi cities, even killing them. For religious differences. But an organization called Voice of the Martyrs is providing those Christians with material aid. (Here’s their page on financial accountability)

I was asked to join an event on Facebook called Authors in Solidarity, where authors are donating royalties from the month of September to Voice of the Martyrs to help these Christians fleeing for their lives in Iraq. You just buy our books, and we’ll take care of the rest. Head over to the group’s page and see what books are being offered! It’s a month-long event.

All of my Kindle stories on Amazon are being turned toward this effort. And when it’s published (SOON), the fourth entry in the Arrivers serial will also be part of this fundraising. From today until September 30, 100% of my royalties will be donated to this cause. You don’t have to buy any of my books, but please consider helping out these other authors, if any of their stories strike your interest.

Thank you for your time, and God bless.

Regarding Intentions

Photo courtesy of psychicdonut.com

One of the classic but seldom mentioned quirks of human nature is that we can’t read the intentions or thoughts of others, yet expect those same people to perfectly understand every nuance and twist of whatever we mean to say or do. I am probably ten times more guilty of this than you are, but it affects everyone to one degree or another. We expect to be understood, then make up our minds about someone regarding their words and deeds.

My latest example of this double standard involves another writer, who has published a series of novels. He is understandably frustrated that a number of reviewers are calling the series “Christian fiction,” even though he wanted it to be accessible to non-religious people. Given how it’s normally just Christians who read books with that label, this would be a legitimate gripe…if he hadn’t let it get published under the “Christian” section of a large publishing house. In his dissertation-length explanation to someone else who pointed out the reason why his books are being called religious, his best excuse is that he and the publisher intended to give readers a book that all people, Christian and otherwise, could appreciate. But we all know what the road to Hell is paved with.

Obviously there is that whole “splinter in your neighbor’s eye, a plank in your own” situation to look out for. I fell into the same trap when I developed a harsh and glowering attitude toward him, thinking Well, maybe he should realize that others won’t care about his intentions if the label turns them away from his books! What an idiot. Why didn’t he just go with another publisher? Of course, this isn’t a very charitable thought to have about another human being. And I should realize more often that I can’t read minds, and I never know the whole situation. Maybe something else happened that I didn’t know of — his agent zealously recommending he go with that publisher, a close friend he had in the publishing house wanting to print his work, or an affection he might have had toward the company. Since I don’t know, I should shut up and give this writer the benefit of the doubt.

There isn’t much advice or wisdom I can offer to you here. I still have to learn to (1 not read too much into someone else’s situation, and (2 not get too frustrated when someone misinterprets something I did or said. If they misunderstood me, I can answer them graciously and humbly, or I can shrug it off entirely and keep going. A harsh/lengthy/scathing response is unwarranted, in any case. The best I can do on my side of the fence is try to say and do exactly what I intend the first time, and hope that not too many people will draw the wrong conclusion. And if they do, it’s not the end of the world. Normally you’ll have an easier time becoming a millionaire than you will convincingly explaining “what you really intended” after-the-fact.