Dragons and Wizards and Magic! Oh My!

cropped-bryandavistribute.jpgDragons and wizards and magic! Oh my!

For some Christians, the “Oh my!” is a shout of joy. For others, it is a cry of anxiety or even disdain. Fantasy in stories generates a variety of responses from Christian readers ranging from praise to condemnation. Some simply have questions as they try to discern whether or not these strange tales are helpful or harmful.

With speculative fiction titles dominating bookshelves, from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games to Percy Jackson, parents of faith are justifiably curious, skeptical, or unsure of what to do with the genre. And for a long time, Christian retailers had few answers, and certainly few book alternatives that would clearly reflect a Christian world view.

Why does fantasy mesmerize our youth? How do these stories capture their hearts? Is it simply the fun of escapism, or does the answer lie deep in their longings? Perhaps it is a desire to commune with a greater power that calls them to embark on a journey. There must be a Camelot, a hidden Utopia. Fantasy opens their eyes to a better place, a shining city they have not yet seen. The stories provide a bridge to horizons they could never distinguish with their physical eyes.

Young people are especially aware of fantasy’s alluring call. Boys and girls, still unjaded and brimming with ideals, feel their God-given programming. When a young man watches a hero draw steel from scabbard, displaying a bright, sharp sword, the boy feels valor, the bravery of a knight. He becomes a champion, copying the role model he may have never witnessed in real life. Deep inside, his heart comes alive. He feels that he, too, was built to charge the battlements, to defend the weak, and to conquer evil.

When a young lady watches a heroine prepare reinforcements, persuade the authorities to send troops, or kindle the fire in quavering hearts, she feels her inner calling. When the heroine crashes a jar over the villain’s head to save her fallen hero, a girl’s heart leaps. The courageous young lady has used whatever strength she had, at risk to her own life, to prevent disaster. Without her, all would have been lost.

Our youth long to see good triumphing, to see evil exposed and destroyed. And there are many authors who are willing to give children images they crave—some for good, and some that are poor reflections of that victorious vision.

For most of the previous decade, Harry Potter led the way in the fantasy genre by capturing the hearts of millions of young readers. Yet some Christian parents had legitimate concerns about the content and wondered if there might be Christian-themed books that exhibited the same imaginative flair.

Unfortunately, early in that period, the Christian market had not yet filled that need, so parents continued to rely on the Chronicles of Narnia, though these celebrated tales did not incite the same appeal for older readers or for those who desire a more modern setting.

In 2003, AMG Publishers hoped to fill this void. Acquisitions Editor Dan Penwell met Bryan Davis at a writers’ conference and learned about his fantasy story Raising Dragons. Bryan had been seeking a publisher for eight years, but mainstream editors deemed it “too Christian,” while dragons and fantastical content scared Christian editors away.

AMG decided to take a bold step and publish this story, using the opportunity to create a new imprint, Living Ink Books, the foundation for their approach to creating visionary books for the Christian marketplace.

Within a few weeks of publication, Raising Dragons became a bestseller, and because of its success, fantasy titles from other publishers followed the trail AMG blazed. AMG followed up that series with more bestselling titles from Bryan Davis, including Eye of the Oracle, which hit number one on the CBA young adult list in 2007, further establishing AMG as the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. They later added other top fantasy authors, such as Amanda L. Davis, Wayne Thomas Batson, Steven James, Jenny Cote, Scott Appleton, C. S. Lakin, and D. Barkley Briggs, thereby solidifying their standing in the publishing world. In fact, Family Fiction magazine named Bryan Davis the #1 speculative fiction author in the Christian market for 2011 and Amanda L. Davis the #1 new author overall, proving the market’s hunger for the genre.

AMG reports that hundreds of readers have communicated life-altering moments because of these fantasy novels. From initial salvation, to recommitments to Christ, to forsaking sins, to leading others to faith, young readers have been drawn closer to God. Such is the power of a fantastical story.

One teenaged girl wrote, “My life has changed! I now live for God! And still, every time I read one of your books, I feel like I’m filled with the Holy Spirit! Eye of the Oracle especially inspired me in that I need to sacrifice, and that God is there no matter where you are.”

Even adults are affected by fantasy’s high calling. A 44-year-old father wrote, “I’m guessing we all have moments in time when we are spiritually at a low ebb. Ironically, Christmas day was one of those low points for me. I was toast. However, during the course of reading The Candlestone, the prose sparked my own faith and continued to bring my mind back to my Savior and his wonderful love.”

These stories are not really about dragons or wizards; they are about life, about faith, about a journey to a higher plane where heroes are welcome, virtue is honored, and evil is conquered. Christian fantasy is a catalyst that incites a change for good and not for evil. Boys are looking to take the sword and discover the man they feel in their hearts. Girls seek a heroine, longing for someone to imitate, a true lady cast in the image they see beyond the mirror.

We have an opportunity to create strong soldiers by using the power of story, even through the pages of the impossible. If parents will allow fantasy its proper place, as an inspiration toward heroism, allowing powerful images to create positive models in children’s minds, they will create home-grown heroes who will build and display integrity and virtue.

Publishers and bookstores can work together to capture hearts and minds with champions of virtue, images that will reach inside and ignite the flame, setting free the heroes or heroines that God has implanted in the hearts of children. Because of AMG and other publishers who have followed their lead, parents now have an option, and bookstores have an answer. If you want to grow heroes for God, we have shelves filled with novels that will plant the seeds and provide fuel for growth. Maybe even the parents will peek inside the pages and become inspired themselves. Take a look. The dragons in these books won’t bite, but they will light a fire.

 

(I wrote this for a Christian retailing magazine, which is why it focuses on book selling. Since AMG Publishers submitted the article, I wrote about myself in third person.)

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26 replies

  1. AMEN!!! God uses stories in powerful ways.

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  2. That is so true! When I read your books it did make me feel like I had a better relation with God, while enjoying a great book.

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  3. Where was this when I wrote my senior thesis paper? Such truth! Based on the research I did (on the psychological and spiritual benefit of fantasy for children), fantasy, when used properly, is an excellent tool for children to understand the concept of spiritual gifts after salvation. The fear of the fantastic (once demonstrated by my own mother) breaks my heart. Are there certain books that do intentionally contradict the Gospel message? Yes. But I think that writing off a novel simply because the content SEEMS unholy is wrong. I say a parent should read it before and with the kids until such a time that their kids firmly know what they believe and are able to discern for themselves.
    Great article!

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  4. Your books definitely made me pause and contemplate my spiritual life. I’ve admired Bonnie’s heart and empathized with Lauren’s struggle. It is amazing the power there can be in books.

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  5. What are the concerns for Harry Potter?

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    • Many are concerned about the draw of magic. I am more concerned about the focal characters engaging in lying, cheating, and stealing to achieve their objectives.

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      • Even though there are those things, they aren’t the point. The whole reason for the story is to show that good defeats evil with the help of friendship, loyalty, bravery, and love. That’s what really wins the battle.

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      • I think how we go about accomplishing our goals can be as important or even more important than the goal. If we do immoral things along the way, what does that say about our character, or the character of the person who constructs such a story? I think it reflects badly.

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  6. I know I have said this a hundred thousand times to you over the years, but your books have, multiple times, saved my life or at least my sanity. I have always been a creatively minded person, I was always drawn to fantasy and dragons and could figure out how to put my feet in “this world”. I always longed for God and for virtue. I longed to find saints. When everything falls short in real life as it inevitably does, it is stories that bring us back to truth. Looking at old catechisis books–they’re all stories. Stories of the lives of the saints. Stories from the Bible. Stories and anecdotes of miracles, of peoples’ lives being changed. Stories of missionaries, stories of martyrs. I’m reading a book about Father Desmet right now, who was one of the primary forces in the West with the Native Americans in the 1800s. History is a beautiful thing. I love how in your books you take your own stories, you take Arthurian legend, the Bible, extra-biblical tradition, the whole richness of salvation history and bring it to life.

    I will probably say it a thousand more times and sit here and applaud your stories and what they have done for me and for others and continue to do. I’ve written so many novels but never done anything with them. I’ve thrown myself into creative writing environments, roleplay, whatever, taking ideas and playing with them, turning them, trying to bring virtue, and innocence, into groups of people and worlds where they are not–reading the writing of creative friends I see unbelievable amounts of despair. The whole theme is despair. We need fantasy and stories that do not despair. So badly we need them. I am trying all the time to write them, and feel, failing.

    I feel like I belong nowhere, as even so many spiritual people are not creative sorts, and I have never, ever, seemed to have been successful in excising that part of my personality, no matter how hard I try. If it doesn’t have a spiritual outlet it takes a worldly one with worldly company, which causes me immeasurable pain as I don’t often feel strong enough to combat in such company the huge waves of despair, vice, and impersonalism.

    Yet on I trod. Thank you for your books. They will always be a light to me. I still haul them around with me everywhere I go!!

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    • Thank you Misht, my longtime friend. I appreciate your kind words and grieve over your turmoil. I pray that you will find fulfillment and peace. As long as you seek real love, God will continue to guide your way.

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  7. On the subject of Harry Potter, I get both sides. I am 14, and personally love Harry Potter. However, my mom only allowed to read them last summer (I was 13 at the time). I think it was good that I waited. At that point, I was old enough to differentiate. As I was reading, I was able to say, “I don’t think this is morally right.” (i.e., stealing, lying, cheating). I was old enough not to be swayed to think that these things are okay. I still believe that Harry Potter contains some good qualities, and I will always love it, but I think it is best that someone wait until they are old enough, and firm enough in their beliefs, not to be swayed.
    Also, I read your books before I read HP, and I think that they helped my beliefs strengthen.

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    • You sound wise and discerning. For the same reasons you mentioned, I allowed my older children to read the series. They could differentiate right from wrong. It troubles me, however, that the author would craft the story in such a way that wrong behavior (lying, cheating, stealing) helps the characters succeed. I think this is an immoral way to tell a story. Most readers are not as discerning as you are.

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  8. Almost forgot-Happy Earth Day!

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  9. It makes me sad when I see someone decide that fantasy has no value whatsoever or that it is evil because it is a lie, etc. people need to be careful with what they read, but if a child is told to stay away from stories rather than taught to evaluate them, they miss out on a tool for building discernment and even understanding how people outside their Christian bubble think.

    I think parents need to understand the stories that are out there, evaluate them, have clear reasons why they will or will not let their children read them, and perhaps view the stories with/before their kids. Else hysteria is incited far too often, making Christians look bad when they preach against a book based on mere rumor.

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    • I agree in principle. Yet I have banned a book or two from my home, especially for the younger children, though I did so based on checking out the content myself, never based on rumors.

      I allowed my older children to read just about everything.

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      • Yeah, there are definitely some books that parents should ban.

        I was talking more about some of the situations I’ve observed and experienced growing up. A lot of times people I grew up with would ban certain things without explaining their reasons very well. Not to the extent that they would ban every fantasy story or something, but I knew one friend that wasn’t allowed to read Narnia because it mentioned magic, and for me personally I felt my parents didn’t give clear definitions on how much magic they considered to be too much, etc. they were perfectly fine with Narnia, but forbade Harry Potter. I was not allowed to read the Warriors series by Erin Hunter after my mom read the author bio, but both my parents saw Star Wars and allowed us to watch it after warning us about the religious part of it. From what I read, Warriors wasn’t any worse(I read the first and fourth books before my mom told me she didn’t want me to read them anymore.). I obeyed her, but now that I’m 21 I look back and wish my parents would have investigated each story more before they forbade it, as well as had more consistent standards in what they had problems with, so that I could have had an easier time figuring out what was allowed.

        It sounds like you have a good approach to it, and I bet your kids have learned a lot because of it 🙂

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        • I read the first book in the Warriors Series. I had liked it and was eager to purchase more of them. My mom read it after I did, and told not to read any more of them. When I asked why, she said her reason was because it was dark and lacked redemption. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I talked to a friend recently who had read some of them, and she agreed with my mom’s discernment. I’m grateful for my mom’s decision, even though it was hard for me at the time. Shortly afterward, my mom introduced me to a book series that she came across that I might be interested in: Dragon’s In Our Midst.
          The Lord works in wonderful ways. 😀

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          • I’ve read a lot of fan conversations and such, and I guess the impressions I’ve gotten about the Warriors series is that it is partially about the ebb and flow of life as the cats struggle to survive. It’s very interesting to think of how different people interpret a book. When I read the first one I think I saw it as Fireheart being the hero the Thunderclan needed in a time of turmoil. And from fan conversations I’ve observed, there does seem to be some hope and redemption. I guess one of the arcs has to do with a band of chosen cats seeking out new land on which the clans can settle, since the humans were going to bulldoze the forest. I’ve gotten indications that the band succeeded through great trial and there was some reconciliation between the clans after that. So I guess it’s about how different people see it. I find encouragement from stories where things are unbelievably difficult and the characters keep fighting even if they don’t expect to win.

            I’m glad your mother read the book, though. My mom just read the author bio and said the books were cultish.

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      • I always explain my reasoning to my “kids” (they are all adults now). Even if they disagree, they can’t say that I didn’t try to explain. I hope my efforts have done some good.

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  10. This is so good. ^ ^ Good fiction has ministered to me even more than a sermon many times. 🙂

    Stori Tori’s Blog

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  11. Like so many commentators here, I look around at the fantasy of today, and so much is despair. So much is hopelessness. So much is fear. So much is amorality. In my own stories, fear and darkness is the enemy, and only love and light can defeat it, not just romantic love, but the love of family and the love of friends, as well as prayer and song. I only hope that I can make even a fraction of the impact you have, Mr. Davis.

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