Y’all, I used to think of February in terms of hearts, various shades of pink, cheap chocolate, and the bloated popularity of celebrating romance wherein girls and boys everywhere preen and sweat over exaggerated expectations.
But those days are OVER.
And not because I caught the bug. But because now, whenever February rolls around, I think about Fantasy Month! And celebrating the awesomeness of fantasy is way better than . . . well, almost anything else, really.
Our intrepid host and founder, Jenelle L. Schmidt, has rolled in this year full force with an entire month full of fantasy related blog posts and FB/IG challenge prompts that have been an absolute blast so far! Check out the hashtag #FebruaryFantasyMonth2024 to see what’s going on, and join in the fun!
Fun Fact: there will be guest posts over on Jenelle’s blog throughout the month, and I will be one of them! I’ll let you know when it goes live in a couple of weeks, but because y’all are here I’ll give you a hint on what it’s about: Land of Legends
(Anyone have a guess? Let me know in the comments!)
Now, before we get too carried away in all the excitement of fantasy and all the fun things therein, I thought it might be good to define ‘fantasy’ and talk a little bit about why it’s important (aka, not silly, stupid, or purely from the devil).
Finding God in Fantasy
According to Merriam-Webster, the noun ‘fantasy’ is thricely defined thus: 1) the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need; 2) a creation of the imaginative faculty whether expressed or merely conceived; 3) the free play of creative imagination
All three touch on that golden word, but of them, I think the last one defines the essence of fantasy the most succinctly—the free play of creative imagination.
There’s a thread amongst people that view the fantastical as a waste of time, that fantasy stories are juvenile and prefer to read only contemporary stories and watch contemporary TV where nothing is outside of the world we live in because it’s ‘more realistic’. I mean, to each their own, I suppose, but I have to live in real life, so I want the stories I experience to take me out of that for a while and show me something amazing. Something outside of the ordinary that hints at grander things.
There’s also an opinion that fantasy—that anything involving inhuman sentient species, magic, and/or any deities apart from the God of the Bible—to be evil and unchristian. That creative imagination is something to be squashed.
But that simply isn’t true. I’ve spoken a bit before on how important stories are to our human experience, that even Jesus used stories to teach us about God and the kingdom, but what about fantasy? Where does creative imagination fit in?
Well, what is the first encounter we have of God in Scripture? What is the first thing he tells us about himself?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.Genesis 1:1
Creativity! The very first thing that God chose to tell us about himself was that he is creative. He is the ultimate creative being, forming everything that exists out of absolute nothingness. And you know what else? We are created in his image! That means he made us to be creative, too. It means we can (and absolutely should!) look at the world that God has made —the plants, animals, seas, sky, the vastness of the universe with its planets and billions of stars and gigantic galaxies that dwarf the one we spin in full of trillions of stars and nebulas—and be in absolute wonder over it. There are things in existence that we are only now just discovering and things we’ll never know about this world and everything that exists, because God delights in art and he expressed that mind-boggling imagination with marvelous creativity.
He made beautiful and wacky things because he enjoys them and knew that we would be inspired by these things to use the creativity he gave us to reflect that for ourselves.
God filled his world with imagination, this concept of forming an idea and then giving that idea substance and expression. But so often the imaginary, the fantastical, is put down as not true, as false—especially within the church community. But as image-bearers of God, we need imagination in order to live in God’s world. Denying that gift from our maker results in ugly, lifeless things that do not enrich us or bring him joy or glory.
All truth is God’s truth—therefore, any human attempt at imagination is an expression of the eternal image. It’s not our work, it’s not our creation, but it’s God’s, therefore, it can be described as a sanctified imagination. This capacity to create beauty is what places us squarely as a being created in the image of God.Steve Laube
I have pages and pages of notes from this theology of wonder, a keynote address given at a Christian writer’s conference that I so wish I could have on repeat, but to sum it up: creative imagination is the foundation of the world we live in and finds its source in a holy God.
While it’s true that not all imagination, not all creativity—not all fantasy— is holy (since the Fall and humanity’s separation from God because of sin) and many try to take God’s good gifts and twist them to evil things, that doesn’t mean that it’s ALL impure. It cannot be, because it came from God, and we know that God is fully pure.
Therefore we go back to this concept of a sanctified imagination, one that is steeped in God’s holiness, one that expresses God’s truth in ways that reflect God’s own creativity.
So why elves and dragons? (And this is just my own thoughts, so nothing too deeply theological) I think that it’s this exploration of ‘otherness’. God is so far beyond our finite, ephemeral existence that we struggle to wrap our minds around his eternality and the things heaven (I mean, any account in the Bible that describes visions of cherubim and seraphim, or the future . . . WOW.) Yet, we ourselves are created for eternity, we are drawn to that which is beyond this world. That ‘otherness’ is built into us, and we express that in many fantastical ways, kind of like how children play-act dinosaurs or superheroes. Imagining something beyond ourselves, exploring the realm of possibility.
The word 'fantasy' is rooted in the Greek 'phantázein' which means 'to make visible'. Revealing something heretofore hidden.
Through fantasy, then, hidden things are uncovered. What hidden things, you may ask? How about truths? Jesus taught the people truths about God and his Word, illustrated what Scripture says, through the parables he told. Revealing a hidden thing and making it more accessible by making it more accessible.
The oftentimes larger-than-life elements typically associated with the fantasy genre are an artistic expression that delights our senses and sneaks past the walls around our hearts and worldviews to reveal things to us we might not grasp or even be open to otherwise—because God knows us and is infinitely creative in how he reaches us with his truth and love.
We may academically know about community, loyalty, friendship, and sacrifice, but when you watch/read Lord of the Rings, all of a sudden you understand in your heart of hearts what those things really mean, and then you apply that understanding to Christ and what he did? We may have a Sunday School knowledge of redemption, but then we read/watch about Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and then we better understand what it really means—because it’s been illustrated for us in emotive story and vibrant symbolism.
So, just because something isn’t real doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and I would argue that using immaterial means to illustrate immaterial truths to the immaterial soul just makes sense.
Fantasy is also a conduit to speak of and explore a myriad of topics—broad, acute, sensitive, controversial, etc.—in a safe environment that reaches a far wider audience than a news article or non-fiction book. It allows readers into the heart of a matter and invites us to think differently about things we live and deal with in the real world, to gain another perspective that better helps us love our neighbors, see others as Christ does, and experience and show grace. Christians and nonbelievers alike can share kindred enthusiasm over the same fantastical story, because fantasy has the power to bridge that barrier. It makes a way for the Gospel to reach those who don’t know Christ through the biblical truths innate in a good story—because all good things come from God and his truth is written into the foundation of this world that he imagined and then created—into this world that he fantasized.
Let’s chat! What are your thoughts on fantasy? Have you ever seen biblical truths illustrated in the fantasy stories you read/watch? Are you going to start looking deeper now? (sorrynotsorry!) What’s one (or more!) fantasy that resonated with you in some way that helped you see something in your life a little differently? Got any recommendations for great fantasy stories? I’m all ears!