This post was written by Donna Lynn Hess.
Is fantasy a bane or blessing for our children? With the rise of the New Age movement, this question is one of increasing concern to Christian parents. However, before we can judge the value of fantasy, we must first understand its definition and purpose. In a broad sense, fantasy can be defined as a genre, or type, of literature in which one or more of the following characteristics exist: the setting is a non-existent or unreal world; the characters are fanciful (i.e., fairies, dragons) or unreal (e.g., personified abstractions, animals or objects); the conflict focuses on physical or scientific principles not yet discovered or contrary to present experience (as in science fiction). The purpose for creating such settings, characters and conflicts may be “merely for the whimsical delight of the reader, or it may be the means used by the author for serious comment on reality” (C. Hugh Holman).
Like any other type of literature, fantasy can be used for either moral or immoral purposes. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, is a noted literary work that uses the elements of fantasy for a moral end. Unfortunately, there are also negative examples, such as those found in the current occult fantasy movement. It is these negative examples that have prompted some to reject the entire fantasy genre. But is such rejection necessary or even wise? The answer is to apply a Biblical standard of evaluation to every story, regardless of genre.
As stated above, the purpose of fantasy may be whimsical (for pleasure) or may be to make a serious comment on reality (for instruction). The second purpose evokes our greatest concern. We want to be sure that the instruction provided is Biblically sound. To make this determination, we must examine the characters, their actions and the ultimate consequences of these actions in the story. We can evaluate these elements by asking questions like the following: (1) Are the sympathetic characters noble? (2) Do the characters’ actions encourage the reader to accept virtue and reject vice? (3) Does the resolution of the story reward the good and punish the evil that has been presented in the plot? (4) Has the evil been clearly portrayed as dangerous and repugnant? Regarding any evil or objectionable element presented in a work, there are two other important criteria to consider: (5) Is the representation of evil purposeful or present for its own sake? (6) If the representation of evil is clearly purposeful, is it present to an acceptable degree, or is it more vivid than the purpose warrants? The answers to these questions will enable us to determine whether the instruction provided by the work is consistent with God’s Word. (Note: For more detailed information on Biblical analysis of literature, see the author’s Objectionable Elements: The Biblical Approach (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1990). In addition, the author’s Best Books for Kindergarten through High School (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994) provides an extensive annotated bibliography of quality literature recommended for each grade group.)
On the positive side, Rebecca Lukens, author of A Critical Handbook of Children’s Literature, points out that high, or pure, fantasy often “appeals to the intellect and raises thoughtful questions” about the world and our place in it. It is, therefore, particularly effective for broadening a child’s perspective and helping him take an objective look at universal problems. Fantasy can provide what we might call “mock encounters” with good and evil. Such encounters when presented in an appropriate way can help us prepare our children to live godly lives in a fallen world.
The character of Edmund in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe provides a good illustration of this point. At the opening of the story, Edmund is a typical but selfish young boy. This selfishness makes him more vulnerable than his brother and sisters to the flattery and deception of the White Witch. Only after much hardship and pain (to himself and others) does Edmund learn to see the truth about himself and the evil in Narnia. This recognition, however, makes possible his restoration and allows him to be part of Aslan’s ultimate triumph. Through Edmund’s experiences children can learn the dangers of self-deception, the illusion of sin’s pleasures and the pain that results from pride and rebellion. They can also learn the means whereby one who has fallen may be restored. The instruction provided in the story is Biblically sound. A more detailed evaluation, using questions like those mentioned earlier, only reinforces this assessment.
Fantasy—in itself—need not be shunned. Careful evaluation will enable us to discard specific stories that would prove harmful. But we can go a step further. Fantasy can also help children develop valuable literary skills. The sensory images, extended metaphors, personifications, symbols and allusions that fill high fantasy can develop our children’s ability to discern the difference between the literal and the figurative use of language. By teaching our children the benefits of reading good fantasy, we can help develop in them an appreciation for and understanding of similar literary elements used in Scripture.
Is fantasy a bane or blessing to our children? The answer depends on our willingness to evaluate each selection and to nurture in our children an appreciation for valuable literary skills.
Donna Lynn Hess is an author and teacher. This article was copied by permission from FrontLine magazine.