September 20, 2020, 11:58:24 PM

Author Topic: Religion in Fantasy  (Read 8950 times)

Offline K.B. Adams

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #15 on: May 18, 2017, 01:42:05 AM »
I'm not the least bit religious, but as long as a book isn't preaching about why I should have religion in my life, I don't have issues with. Religion is often in the center of conflicts and societies in history, it makes sense that it would feature heavily in epic fantasy. It is a very important component of how people function, what motivates them. As long as the author approaches religion in the same way as they should approach characters it should be fine. Avoid blatant stereo-types (or creating stereotypes within the fictional world), make it realistic, don't preach to the reader. Religion provides so many possibilities for conflict! Both personal and on a larger scale, there is so much room to build your world, your characters and the story.

I sure agree with this -- especially the warning not to preach to the reader, unless of course one is specifically writing for a certain religious genre (such as Enclave Publishing which publishes Christian fantasy and sci-fi) with a fan base that already wants and expects that. But it isn't just the major religions such as Christianity where authors can fall into the preaching trap. With some New Age paranormal and ascended master types of fiction, the authors would surely feel they are not preaching, just telling a good story. But in fact, it's blatantly obvious the authors feel their spiritual slant is superior, and the authors make sure their characters come to understand, in the end, just how superior that spiritual school of thought is.

Offline eclipse

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Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #16 on: January 15, 2020, 09:29:02 AM »
I’ve just finished the The bear and the Nightingale and it features the Christian religion, I’ve read some reviews of the book and quite a few people are saying it shows Christianity in a bad light according to them.

Would you write real life religion into your fantasy books ? Or is it best to avoid any controversy by featuring real life religion.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2020, 09:35:55 AM by Eclipse »
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Offline Yora

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #17 on: January 15, 2020, 09:52:27 AM »
If it is set on planet Earth, of course.
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Offline isos81

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2020, 11:48:02 AM »
I’ve just finished the The bear and the Nightingale and it features the Christian religion, I’ve read some reviews of the book and quite a few people are saying it shows Christianity in a bad light according to them.

Would you write real life religion into your fantasy books ? Or is it best to avoid any controversy by featuring real life religion.

Well, I would avoid real life religion because I would not want to affect my readers on something I did not create.

BTW, I read the book, too and once again I'm glad that I do not believe in God :)
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'Yes' said Caladan Brood. 'You never learn'

Offline NedMarcus

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #19 on: January 15, 2020, 12:42:19 PM »
Would you write real life religion into your fantasy books ?

No, because I prefer making things up. But if you can make it work, go for it. You do take certain risks though!

Thanks for the second resurrection of the religious thread :)

Offline NedMarcus

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #20 on: January 15, 2020, 12:45:58 PM »
Would you write real life religion into your fantasy books ?
To quote you a second time—I forgot to say that if I was writing a contemporary fantasy, and the theme was religion, then I probably would.

Offline Matthew

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #21 on: January 15, 2020, 02:35:16 PM »
The Demon Cycle seems to portray both Christianity and Islam in a bad light (though using different names).

I prefer the pantheistic religions for storytelling though. If they're directly involved in the plot they are so much more interesting.

Offline Bender

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #22 on: January 15, 2020, 04:29:58 PM »
Would you write real life religion into your fantasy books ? Or is it best to avoid any controversy by featuring real life religion.

As Yora said, not unless it's urban fantasy or set in earth. And even then I'd minimize it to avoid polarizing view and have wider appeal.
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Offline Rostum

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Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #23 on: January 15, 2020, 08:03:16 PM »
Quote
I’ve just finished the The bear and the Nightingale and it features the Christian religion, I’ve read some reviews of the book and quite a few people are saying it shows Christianity in a bad light according to them.

OK Which flavour of Christianity I can think of 8 without really trying. And people being offended is something that should largely be ignored it is a ubiquitous reaction. When they come back with evidence of why they are offended then give them the time of day.

Offline Neveesandeh

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #24 on: January 15, 2020, 10:10:55 PM »
I am religious, and religious themes end up in pretty much everything I write. I hope that if someone who doesn't share my beliefs ever reads my work, they're able to find it interesting and thought provoking rather than preachy, but I don't know whether I have the skill to pull it off.

When I was younger I took a much more flexible and unorthodox approach to religion than I do now, and the made up religion in one of my books was largely based on what I believed at the time. My beliefs have changed since then but when I go back to revise those books I'll leave that religion the same, I'll just try to portray it in a more ambiguous light.

I don't mind reading works critical of religion, so long as they don't go out of their way to shock or offend without really having anything of meaning to say. That's not to say I will agree with those criticisms, but I'll still be interested in their perspective. The obvious example of this is 'His Dark Materials' a series which I've said in another thread looks to be surpassed by its own adaptation. (The series, not the film.) I think Pullman;'s thoughts on religion are nonsense, but the world he has created to get his points across is still compelling, at least until the third book, which I found a chore.

From a sociological perspective, I don't really think a society without religion, or at least a society without a firm set of values can exist, at least not for any long period of time. I could buy a speculative world without any traditionally 'religious' beliefs, but there has to be something, a political ideology, a philosophy or a set of principles that keeps their society together. A work without this feels a little off to me.

Offline Skip

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #25 on: January 16, 2020, 01:40:31 AM »
>Would you write real life religion into your fantasy books ?
I do. It hasn't been central to any story I've told so far, but I can see a couple of places where it might be. So, not in the next book, but down the road, maybe. I write historical fantasy, so the raw materials are there.

Fantasy writers by and large do poorly with religion. Many think "religion" is the same thing as church, theology, doctrine, and practice. They tend to think there's a clear line between religion and superstition, and overlook the wide range between formal doctrine and popular belief. They also tend to present a religion as if everyone believed the same things in the same ways. In short, they have a shallow view of religion.

Secondly, fantasy writers use organized religion as a scapegoat. They take all the worst elements and manifestations of historical religions and make these normative. They also vastly overestimate the power of a church to dictate belief and practice. In short, they have not only a shallow view, but an overblown one.

I'm an atheist. But I'm also a medieval historian, and you don't get far in that field without taking people's beliefs seriously. Religion is filled with wonderfully rich fields to explore. Alas, too many writers only want to go into the one field, stand in the middle of it, and shout.

The above (and more) explains, at least to my own satisfaction, why so many fantasy works do such a poor job of representing religious practices of non-humans. We and SF writers have this extraordinary opportunity to explore religious themes *without* explicitly referencing known religions. SF writers do a much better job than we do.

Anyway, what was the question? Oh. I would answer: yes.

Offline Neveesandeh

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #26 on: January 16, 2020, 08:03:21 AM »
The above (and more) explains, at least to my own satisfaction, why so many fantasy works do such a poor job of representing religious practices of non-humans.

I second this. How many examples can you think of of non humans in a fantasy story all having the same religion for some reason?

Offline Yora

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #27 on: January 16, 2020, 09:45:22 AM »
Even in the Middle Ages, people have been pondering the question if other intelligent humanoid creatures exist in distant parts of the world, with some even considering that there might be other worlds too. And that raised the question if missionaries should be send to convert those monsters and aliens. Though that might not be necessary if they already are Christians, which was considered a posibility.

It's easy to imagine fantasy worlds in which the people are Christians in practice though not in name, under the assumption that it's a universal truth that applies everywhere.

There's a sci-fi movie from the 80s or 70s where a human and an alien pilot crash their fighters on an uninhabited planet and nobody is coming to rescue them. They start talking about their worlds and cultures, and the alien explains something which the human recognizes from the bible. Which does not surprise the alien who just says "Of course. Truth is truth."
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Offline Ray McCarthy

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #28 on: January 16, 2020, 10:40:45 AM »
Fantasy writers by and large do poorly with religion. Many think "religion" is the same thing as church, theology, doctrine, and practice. They tend to think there's a clear line between religion and superstition, and overlook the wide range between formal doctrine and popular belief. They also tend to present a religion as if everyone believed the same things in the same ways. In short, they have a shallow view of religion.

Secondly, fantasy writers use organized religion as a scapegoat. They take all the worst elements and manifestations of historical religions and make these normative. They also vastly overestimate the power of a church to dictate belief and practice. In short, they have not only a shallow view, but an overblown one.

I'm an atheist. But I'm also a medieval historian, and you don't get far in that field without taking people's beliefs seriously. Religion is filled with wonderfully rich fields to explore. Alas, too many writers only want to go into the one field, stand in the middle of it, and shout.

Absolutely. Many adherents of many religions have superstitions not in the doctrine. Many religions have official religious practices that are at odds with their faith, theology and doctrine (three different things).
You can be an Atheist and a Bishop.
Few adherents of any Christian denomination know the doctrine of that denomination. The Roman Catholic Church even has denominations in it that believe contradictory things.

Organised Religion (Hindu, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Luther's Reformation, Calvinism, the two branches of Islam, Shinto, American Evangelicals, Ultra Orthodox Judaism) has often been exploited by cynical politicians.

Even an atheist Fantasy writer is better off reading the works of respected Theologians and Philosophers rather that Richard Dawkins or Philip Pullman who have their own badly informed bigoted view of Christianity and seem to know little of other religions, or what Christianity or Judaism really believes or decent Philosophers over the last 4,000 years.

Reasons to have Religion in Fantasy:
Background for motivation of some characters
Making a point of difference between a Particular Organised religion and what it  is actually supposed to believe.
Any world without any religion or superstition or philosophy beyond science and mathematics is unrealistic. Science and Mathematics don't tell you what love, hate, respect, justice, mercy, morality etc are.

Superstition, Religious practice, Organised Religion, Faith, Theology, Doctrine, Philosophy are all different things with different overlaps. Even Atheism is ultimately a faith, a religion, because there is no scientific basis for belief or rejection of the idea of a God, gods and there is the problem of morals.

I think having the myth & legend aspect ancient gods rather than the religious belief or practice in Fantasy isn't religion. It's story. See many books with Norse, Greek, Egyptian and ancient Celtic "personalities". The Norse and Celtic stories we have handed down don't mention much about actual religion. Modern Druidism was made up the in the 19th C as was Spiritualism. Wiccan invented in early 1950s and Scientology was invented by an SF writer who decided there was more money in it than writing.  Tarot as a card game is old, the fortune telling isn't.

So if you are putting religion, superstition, philosophy or ancient gods in a story at least research it all first so you don't look like an idiot, a bigot or the Witchfinder-General.

I think the oldest known musing about Aliens is "A True Story" written in the second century AD by Lucian of Samosata, a Greek-speaking author of Assyrian descent. On Gutenberg in English translation.

It's also worth reading about what we think the Sumerians and Akkadians believed. Or what we think they claimed to believe.

Some ideas attributed to Christians such as Young Earth are not widely accepted by Christians and not much taken seriously till the 19th C, the calculations in Mediaeval times being purely of academic interest. Flat Earth was a Victorian invention.
Galileo didn't get in trouble with the Roman Church for his science but because he sought to interpret passages of the bible in the same text. 
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Offline Bender

Re: Religion in Fantasy
« Reply #29 on: January 16, 2020, 04:33:50 PM »
To see in perspective, religion is just another plot tool. It's either good or bad. If not a plot tool and just part of world building, then it loses much significance on how its portrayed.

The difference between religion vs doctrine vs belief is not really understood even in current day earth, so getting that distinction in fantasy book is not realistic. We have had a Medieval/Dark Age where Religion was rampantly bad and so no wonder we see parallels in SFF.

Having said that, it still is a trope and used unidimensionally and authors can do with a bit more variety.
"I shall hunt your firstborn children and laugh with glee as I tell them of your death in terrible detail, with many unpleasant adjectives!" - M-Bot

"Who needs science when you have a dragon?" - Neil DeGrasse Tyson in Sharknado 6