Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On Fantasy Christ Figures

I'm reading a Christian fantasy novel by a well-known (among Christian fantasy lovers, that is) and award-winning author whom I won't identify for now; I'll just refer to him (the old-fashioned generic masculine that could be either male or female) as Author-X. Someday, perhaps, I'll name names, but not now.

It's Author-X's first novel and that may explain the low quality of the writing. I cannot count the times I have had to lay the book down out of disgust or despair, often both. I suspect that the author's debut novel came at a time when Christian fantasy was an even less appreciated genre than it is now (gone are the days of Lewis and Tolkien). Because it was new and different, it was also exciting. But, in my opinion, the writing itself falls well below an acceptable level.

We authors of Christian fantasy must strive to be the best, better than our secular peers. With J. K. Rowling in the mix, that is an extremely difficult task. Not that we should seek to mimic her style, but we can study her and perhaps find something useful.

I am in the third quarter of the book, and I'm beginning to find something else that is disturbing. I may be completely off the mark, and might find after more reading that my first take on the matter is simply wrong. It has to do with one of the characters that has unmistakeable features of a Christ figure. To be sure, there is no one-to-one correspondence between the fantasy figure and the Christ of the Bible. Perhaps if there were, I wouldn't be so concerned; I would expect that the figure would be more closely aligned with the Christ of sacred scripture, and presented in the way the authors of the gospels wrote about him.

But I find Author-X's character romanticized, handsome, always smiling, playful, all too ready to reach out and stroke another in an effort to comfort, or show concern. Here is the reason this bothers me, and what I say here not only goes for any literature that seeks to portray Christ in any detail, but also (perhaps even more so) for cinema.

Christ is the revelation of God.

John 1:18 succinctly puts it this way,

"The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."

The word 'declared' is the same Greek word that theologians and biblical scholars use to describe the manner in which the text of the Bible is examined so that, as much as is possible, its meaning is elicited accurately and fully. The word is exegete. Christ exegetes the Father, unpacks the character, nature, judgment, will, power, etc. of the First Person of the Trinity. When Philip asked Christ to show them the Father, Jesus responded,

"He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?", John 14:9.

Everything that Christ did was revelatory of the Father. His body language, facial expressions, speech, choice of words, etc. was all revelatory. John was very careful to bring that out in his gospel and it is no wonder that he begins his first canonical epistle with a reference to his (and the other apostle's) familiarity with these things:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life...that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us..." I John 1:1,3.

If we attempt to portray Christ, whether in the imagery of our fantasy writing or on the stage or in cinema, do we not run the risk of conveying something about him (and therefore, of the Father) that is simply not true, possibly even blasphemous?

I remember watching the movie, Ben Hur, as a youth, and how Cecil B DeMille handled the appearances of Christ. There was never a shot of his face, and if the Christ figure was viewed in full, it was always from behind, motionless (except perhaps a slow turning of the head as he watched Ben Hur from a distance just before the Sermon on the Mount), giving little to decipher about the incarnate Son of God.


I think as Christian fantasy writers, we ought to steer clear of such dangerous territory. Let's not make the King of kings and Lord of lords reveal anything more than what the written revelation of God reveals.

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