There has been quite the internet blog-o-sphere to do revolving around Michael Weingrad’s essay “Why There Is No Jewish Narnia“, which led to D.G. Myers asserting that “Fantasy is a Genre of Christianity“, where upon E.D. Kain proposes that it is not Christianity but Anglophone culture that is the root of Fantasy literature in “Fantasy and the Anglosphere“.
In “Fantasy and the Anglosphere” Kain writes,
“When I published my fantasy piece in the Atlantic it was linked (reproduced?) by Richard Dawkins’ site and a number of the atheists in the commentariat had scathing things to say about fantasy literature. Apparently it is not enough that readers of fantasy do not, in fact, believe in their make-believe. Apparently the fact that dragons and sorcery are not based in science is enough to earn the scorn of some anti-religious types.
This reminds me of the reaction of many conservative Christian groups to various fantasy novels, from Harry Potter to The Golden Compass and the attempt by some conservative groups to ban these books in schools due to all that witchcraft and other devil-worshipping (you know, all those satanic rituals Harry Potter and Hermione engage in before the strange sexual acts begin.)
But many, many Christians and atheists and people of various other faiths enjoy fantasy. “
It struck my absurdity bone as darkly funny that folks are unable to enjoy fiction because it is not science.
And then being the internet it gets better, as Alyssa Rosenberg jumps in the fray with “Is Fantasy Inherently Christian?” and Adam Serwer joins in with “High Fantasy is a Subgene of Fantasy“, wherein Mr. Serwer brings in the fantasy traditions of many cultures worldwide.
What I find interesting is that none of the writers above, after name checking C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Chesterton, with one or two brief references to Arthurian legends of the high Middle Ages, discuss the Romantic and Victorian infatuation with all things that we would now label as Fantasy: elves, fairies, the sublime, the door between the worlds, other worlds, etc. Not just the folks in the British tradition, but also Wagner (The Ring Cycle), the Russian literature around Baba Yaga, the Welsh Mabinogion, the Celtic revival of Yeats, Wilde, et al, etc etc.
Or how about the writer that both Lewis and Tolkein gave much credit to, George MacDonald. While MacDonald was a poet, writer, and minister, many of his tales border between a mash up of older Scottish fairy tales with the early Modern Christian allegory tradition, wherein the fairy tales come out a bit stronger in his stories than any claims to a 19th Century version of Pilgrim’s Progress.
Wherever we want to trace the history and genealogy of contemporary Fantasy literature, it is far deeper and broader than Tolkein, Lewis, and Chesterton. The Bridge of Birds immediately leaps to mind.
Also to say that Judaism is only concerned with the here and now, and thus couldn’t produce a tradition of Fantasy is also only looking at the last 100 years or so of history. I would love a time machine to take me back to 1100 or 1200 AD to Cordoba or Granada to sit at the feet of a Jewish storyteller and hear of the tales being told in that moment in Andalucia. Maimonides may have had a few good fantastical stories to tell that weren’t all theological in nature.
We, a people who have lived through and beyond the age of the early Modern explorers, the empires where stories leaked back and forth between subject & subjector, as well as the Modernist love of all things industrial progress and the rational, dip into many strands of fantasy in our TV, books, films, and now internets, of which many of these strands may have root in the primary culture we live in right now or the stories may scamper up and down other trees and roots of places we have not yet seen nor heard of.
Many of the stories we now think of as Christian or Medieval are stories that have been radically reshaped or completely created anew in the last 200 years the Industrial Revolution, the Romantics, and the various Revivals of the late 19th century. How much of the current genre we call Fantasy is not necessarily the creative child of Christianity but really the rebellious teenager of rational Modernism?