(When I created this blog in 2012, I wasn’t expecting to use this website for much. It allowed me to comment on blogs like Beneath the Tangles (beneaththetangles.com) a blog on Anime and Christianity. I also was consistently commenting on a blog that reviewed Naruto Shippuden manga chapters weekly. This website lay dormant for more than 5 years as I dealt with a traumatic event in my life. I was reticent to write my thoughts down even though I’ve had more than on one occasion been encouraged by friends and my counselors. I hadn’t really considered writing a semi regular blog for myself until recently. )
When I first titled this blog Steal Past the Guards in 2012, What was on my mind at that time was a quote by C.S. Lewis (title changed to “Steal Past the Watchful Dragons” to fit with quote) about the nature of stories used to get past and circumvent our prejudices, disengage recursive thinking and capture the heart’s imagination. To sow seeds quietly and almost surreptitiously. The title sums up my ponderings about the intersection between of Faith and Art that has unfolded in my life. Also I think it is fitting as a long standing idea that describes my blog post content going forward. How does Christianity engage with stories in pop culture, particularly in the areas of modern fantasy, superheroes, anime and science fiction? What does Christianity have to say about Spider-man, Jedi Knights, and Harry Potter?
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to write a story. I learned to read at an early age and found myself daydreaming about the stories I read both in novels and comic books. My mother introduced me to Star Wars , Planet of the Apes, Bionic Woman, and the Million Dollar Man. I grew up watching Star Trek, reading fantasy novels , flipping through Marvel comic books and watching Cartoons/Anime. When I got to highschool I wanted to glean from my years as a consumer of the fantastic. How could I write something “epic” ? During my early years I struggled at seeing how God could use a geek filled with such low grade material of pop culture to hum a few bars of praise of his glory? The Church I grew up in was very strong on the theological abstractions, and seemed more familiar with the Christian Living section at the bookstore than anything else. Art and Story were never discussed except as a vehicle for Truth. It stirred up doubt in me about my wanting to be a writer. How does writing a novel about fantastic things fit in with extending the Kingdom of God? Writing a modern superhero story or fantasy novel seemed silly and impractical at the time, a bit of wishful thinking.
God used the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, John Eldredge, Fredrick Buechner and Stephen Lawhead to help me readjust my vision. I began to think there was a place for fantastic stories in the Christian life. A place not interested in a didactic, preachy, propagandist, utilitarian use for storytelling. It wasn’t interested in a blatant moral message like an allegory. Story as a gospel tract was really my biggest struggle with most Christian works. Tolkien ‘s trilogy stood in contrast to this kind of heavy handed moralism. He mentions not one scripture reference in his trilogy and while there are a great many themes that exist, there is no “moral” of the story. It isn’t easily summed up. The other side of the coin for me was wondering “Should entertainment and pleasure be the only goal for writing fiction?”. Does a story merely give us a sense of distraction and pleasure so as to become “escapist” in the negative way that Tolkien calls, “The Flight of the Deserter”? Stories should do something at the level of the heart. Of course to do that means to employ beauty. “Only two things pierce the human heart, beauty and affliction” – Simone Weil . This Beauty is not the proportional beauty of symmetry but a kind that acknowledges the crucifixion as a Beautiful thing even in it’s ugliness and sorrow.
My interest in understanding how good Stories are made led me to read a number of books about story telling. I have over years grown familiar with its many elements and terms – concept, thesis, structure, plot, climax, character, Point-of-View, style, voice, foreshadow, theme, unity and so forth. However the books dealing with “technical” aspects of writing often left me disheartened. My first book on writing seemed to think writing a novel more of an intellectual achievement than a work of the imagination. Dorothy Sayers book The Mind of the Maker speak about God’s trinity and creativity structure within the Writer, which is interesting theologically. Annie Dillards “The Writing Life “and “Zen in the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury doesn’t exactly tell you how to write as give you a taste of the Writer’s own experiences. One talks about how ideas come to Ray Bradbury, the other how Annie Dillard feels about wresting with a rewrite. Julia Cameron writes about Creativity by offering writing exercises to help prime the pump so to say and remove writer’s block. All of these are helpful but ultimately what decides what a good story is? What makes up a good story?
Why is it that the original Star Wars resonates with us beyond its pseudo eastern religion? Evil rules and holds the known universe under his power and a few rebels stand against the regime of tyranny and subjugation. The power of Satan as the Prince of the World rules and Christ starts a revolution against his dark regime….. John Eldredge says in his book Epic “Every story, great and small, shares the same essential structure because every story we tell borrows its power from a Larger Story, a Story woven into the fabric of our being…” In the case of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien taps that larger story consciously and we see it throughout the saga of Elves and Men striving against the Dark Lord. Return of the King has more than a hint of the glory of Jesus’ return in Aragorn’s being made king.
In the End through a slow revelation about the overarching of the structure of the Larger Story, I began to realize where the power of that story filtered down into fiction. Eldredge’s simplified concept in his book Epic maybe off putting but realizing that the human heart yearns for eternity and those desires are at play when any story partially reflect the larger story. I began to see fiction not in the light of moralism or entertainment but as nourishment. Tolkien and Lewis taught me that fantastic things were possible if one looked with the eyes of a poets sensibility about life.