P is for Pagan fiction v Christian speculative fiction
I love speculative fiction and murder mysteries and quite frankly and an awful lot of things named sci-fi and fantasy involve a murder mystery, somewhere in the story. But there are distinct differences between stories written by pagans and atheists and the stories that were written by Christians.
Case in point the stories written by J.R.R.Tolkien and the fiction written by MarionZimmerBradley, DianaPaxson.
In Lord of the Rings, you quite clearly have a heaven, Hobbiton & and the West, and a hell, MountDoom and everything past the Black Gate. You have Frodo in the roll of Adam and you have a prophet that dies and returns again, Gandalf, you have a wise ruling Christ in Aragorn and you have a unconditionally loving Jesus in Samwise Gamgee. Everything past the Black Gates could have been borrowed from Dante in it’s challenges and horrors. You even have the Fellowship in the guise of fallible and faithful apostles. And you have Gollum and the Ring in the role of Satan, the trickster, the murder, the twofaced tempter. The only reason Frodo doesn’t fail many times in the journey is the deep love and friendship of Sam and in many ways it’s Sam that is the hero of the story, in that he never gives up hope, he keeps on taking care of Frodo even when Frodo abandons him or Gollum frames him for allegedly being greedy and eating the food. It’s Sam that keeps the light and goal ahead of them to the end and it’s Sam that saves Frodo from despair and his love saves him from the fate of Gollum in the fires of Mt Doom. Tolkien was a staunch Catholic and despised people for trying to find symbolism in his book but it is there to clearly see and he wrote what he knew the faith he found after surviving WWI and watching many of his friends die. We write what we know and live whether we live it or not and the Lord of the Rings is very strong Christian allegory even if it is clothed in the trappings of ancient Celtic and Scandinavian and Germanic myth. And yet it’s an exciting book and one of my favourites.
You don’t see those themes in books written by pagans, they still use the format of problem, conflict, and solution but it’s usually not an outside entity that saves the day. Usually it’s the protagonists themselves that solve the problem. No Ents, Eagles or Elves swoop in at critical moments to help the wanders and literally save them.
In MarionZimmerBradley’s Darkover books, the problems happen but people solve the problems often by their psychic skills or their problem solving ability, Same with her Avalon books which were later written by her sister in law and former First Officer of COG, DianaPaxson. There is no Christ figure that saves the day. It’s the character’s nature and brains that are the hallmark of fiction written by pagans.
And I would also argue we, pagans writers use deity differently in our stories, we tend to have diety give advice or counsel or sometimes to get in the way such as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods but we don’t use them to save the day, we let them save themselves and then go on with their lives. We don’t transport them “into the West” after they have survived Hell.
Something to watch for next time you pick up a fantasy or sci-fi book, who saves the day and how do they do it. Is it a Christ figure or outside agency, a pagan deity or the character’s themselves?