Should Christians Authors Portray Magic

By Brent King On February 13, 2014 Under Christian Fantasy

Magic:  Miraculous, Demonic and the Supernatural

harry wandPerhaps one of the biggest objections I get about fantasy is its description of magic and magicians. The concern, a legitimate concern, is that demonic forces use this medium to forward their agenda. Yet there is a difference between a story such as Lord of the Rings and one like Harry Potter. The difference is their worldview and the consequent way they portray their magical characters because of it.

Steven Greydanus talks about seven hedges that both of them put in place to put their works completely beyond moral question.  These show how incredibly responsible Lewis and Tolkein were in writing their stories.  You will not find these implemented in much of the fantasy that floods the market today.

1. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to wholly imaginary realms, with place-names like Middle-earth and Narnia — worlds that cannot be located either in time or in space with reference to our own world, and which stand outside Judeo-Christian salvation history and divine revelation. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a fictionalized version of our own world that is recognizable in time and space, in a country called England (which is at least nominally a Christian nation), in a timeframe of our own era.

2. In Tolkien’s and Lewis’s fictional worlds where magic is practiced, the existence of magic is an openly known reality of which the inhabitants of those worlds are as aware as we are of rocket science — even if most of them might have as little chance of actually encountering magic as most of us would of riding in the space shuttle. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a world in which magic is a secret, hidden reality acknowledged openly only among a magical elite, a world in which (as in our world) most people apparently believe there is no such thing as magic.

3. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are numbered among the supporting cast, not the protagonists with whom the reader is primarily to identify. By contrast, Harry Potter, a student of wizardry, is the title character and hero of his novels.

4. Tolkien and Lewis include cautionary threads in which exposure to magical forces proves to be a corrupting influence on their protagonists: Frodo is almost consumed by the great Ring; Lucy and Digory succumb to temptation and use magic in ways they shouldn’t. By contrast, the practice of magic is Harry Potter’s salvation from his horrible relatives and from virtually every adversity he must overcome.

gandalf5. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are not in fact human beings (for although Gandalf and Coriakin are human in appearance, we are in fact told that they are, respectively, a semi-incarnate angelic being and an earthbound star.) In Harry Potter’s world, by contrast, while some human beings (called “Muggles”) lack the capacity for magic, others (including Harry’s true parents and of course Harry himself) do not.

6. Tolkien and Lewis emphasize the pursuit of magic as the safe and lawful occupation of characters who, in appearance, stature, behavior, and role, embody a certain wizard archetype — white-haired old men with beards and robes and staffs, mysterious, remote, unapproachable, who serve to guide and mentor the heroes. Harry Potter, by contrast, is a wizard-in-training who is in many crucial respects the peer of many of his avid young readers, a boy with the same problems and interests that they have.

7. Finally, Tolkien and Lewis devote no narrative space to the process by which their magical specialists acquire their magical prowess. Although study may be assumed as part of the back story, the wizard appears as a finished product with powers in place, and the reader is not in the least encouraged to think about or dwell on the process of acquiring prowess in magic. In the Harry Potter books, by contrast, Harry’s acquisition of mastery over magical forces at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft is a central organizing principle in the story-arc of the series as a whole.

Protecting our fantasy with these hedges can help us author books that can better tell the truth, painting a clearer picture of God’s character and better showcasing His love.

I would like to hear your ideas about magic in Christian novels. Please comment below.

 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Eisley Jacobs
    February 17, 2014
    5:40 pm #comment-1

    This is a good subject, one in which I haven’t formed my opinion lightly. I think you make some valid points in this Magical Exploration. Tolkien and Lewis are the “founding fathers” to “Christian Magic” and I think #7 is exactly what my opinion stems around. As a Christian Fantasy writer, most my characters were born with it, or they come into knowledge of it and there is no training or incantations. It is just what it is. The idea is of course that we know there is a back story, but we don’t have to dwell on it. Jesus turned water into wine. He made a dead man walk. He rose from the grave. These are pretty “magical” happenings. The Lord can do all things… all things. And even though he doesn’t make it a habit (this day and age) to move mountains and cast them into the sea, he can and will do it.

    • Brent King
      February 18, 2014
      9:00 pm #comment-2

      I think you’re right about this last point being one of the more important issues about using magic in our novels. I also realize that these points are vocalizations of a more conservative viewpoint. Some Christians feel that there are no moral issues at all with Harry Potter, that stories can be moral and uplifting regardless of world-view, characters, setting, and plot. They may be right, but I believe that it is good for each of us to process ideas from all sectors of the discussion.

  2. Ki
    January 3, 2017
    8:09 pm #comment-3

    Apologies for being several years late to the discussion.

    If my humanities teacher said it once, he said it a thousand times– “The worldview (religion) flows from the theme.” –“What is the theme of the book?” should be the question asked. Does its theme reflect a Christian worldview or not? As a Christian, I have no beef with magic in Harry Potter. In all three series that you reference, all have “good” magic and “bad” magic, a good side and a bad side fighting against each other. The good side is sacrificial (an ultimately Christian theme), and the bad side is power hungry, ruthless, prideful, etc., just like the real world we live in– there is “good magic” (God’s power), and “bad magic” (Satan and his demons), and every story that celebrates a good force triumphing over an evil force (with Christian themes such as self-sacrifice, bravery, loyalty, kindness, truth…) is, at its basic level, a story with a Christian worldview. Now, there are some minor themes in Harry Potter I have trouble with, mainly the stupidity of adults and the brilliance of children helping them out. If it were a book geared for adults, I wouldn’t mind so much, but I believe it unwise to give this underlying commentary to children that their teachers and caretakers are nitwits (yes, there are stupid adults, but I believe there are an excess of them in Harry Potter).

    All that being said, it can be argued that one (a child especially) could take things too far and meddle in *real* dark-art magic because of the influence of a book like Harry Potter….but that could also be said of any other fantasy, be it Lord of the Rings, Narnia, or half of the old Disney movies (Aladdin? Sleeping Beauty? “Good magic” and “bad magic” again). But I would think that is the exception rather than the rule, and would attribute that particular instance to the lack of guidance on their (Christian) parent’s part.

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