“Why,” he asked, “would you write that? Why wouldn’t you write something more . . . real?”
Not an uncommon reaction to speculative fiction, really. Some people are confused by it. Others think it’s downright wrong-headed (or worse, downright evil). Others get it. They just get it. They know why authors would choose to write Middle-Earth instead of downtown Manhattan. They know why we care about dragons and elves, or about stars and alien civilizations, or about warriors and far-away, dangerous, beautiful things. They know why writing about those things isn’t just “escapism,” but can be a powerful act of creation that helps us grapple with our day-to-day existences in better ways.
They get it. That’s why they read it. Randy Alcorn said it really well: “When we get excited reading [fantasies by Tolkien or Lewis], it’s not our sinfulness that arouses that excitement. It’s our God-given hunger for adventure, for new realms and new beings . . . God has given us a longing for new worlds.”
There are three parts to Christian speculative fiction. Let’s take them in reverse order.
We are, first off, writing fiction.
We do this for the same reasons any other writer of fiction does it: stories grab us. Characters take shape in our minds and need to be let out. We use fiction to explore what it means to live, to be human, to know God, to make decisions. We do it because (I believe) we are made in the image of God, who is the Creator, and inside us there is a creative impulse.
Good fiction gives us a unique vantage point on life. It simultaneously draws us in so deeply that we can experience a story subjectively and allows us to step outside our own lives, giving us objective perspective on who we are.
Of course, all fiction is speculative to a degree. All stories are born from the question “What if?” But speculative fiction gets its name because its authors are given to asking really wild questions, to playing with answers that take us entirely outside of this world as we know it. So in speculative fiction we may meet beings, races, and creatures that don’t really exist here; we may roam the geography of a world or a planet that is entirely imagined; we may have superpowers or travel through time or get a window into the supernatural that we do not actually have.
Why? To that question I have to ask, why giraffes? Why cherubim? Why black holes? God has chosen to place inside of us the same creative impulse out of which He created the cosmos. If that creative impulse sometimes goes in unusual directions, well, we come by it naturally.
We speculate because it’s fun. We do it because it stretches our creative powers. We do it because it’s a way to honour the imagination of our Creator.
Lots of people who are not Christians write speculative fiction. So what makes Christian speculative fiction different? And what makes it particularly worthwhile — to read and to write?
Christians write from several places that non-Christians do not write from. First, they write from a worldview that is based in the revealed Scriptures (the Bible). They write with a particular understanding of human history, human nature, and the future of humanity, and with an understanding of the corresponding history, nature, and future of God.
Christians also write from a relationship with God. They write as people who believe they are innately wrong but have been saved, in the greatest act of self-sacrifice of all time, by the One who is innately and entirely right. They write from a desire to worship that One, to reveal something about Him. And just as authors are influenced by their spouses, their children, their daily milieu, so Christian writers, including the spec-ic ones, are influenced by a day-to-day walk with God.
(At least, ideally they are.)
I wrote earlier that fiction allows us to experience a story in a subjective way. You can call this escapism if you like. But at the same time, that subjective experience allows us to come back and look at our own lives with greater objectivity.
So there is a chance that when readers escape into a speculative world designed by someone who is immersed in truth and relationship with God, they might just experience truth or encounter God in a way they have not done before — in a way they can bring back out into the “real world” to make an objective difference. Aslan has truly deepened readers’ worship of Jesus. Middle-Earth has really made us long for heaven.
To answer the questioner above, no fiction is real. But all fiction can help us encounter and understand what is real in ourselves and in God and in the world around us. Speculative fiction, because it takes us into worlds so very different from our own, does this particularly well.
And that is why I — we — write it.