Archive for the ‘On Fantasy’ Category

(Wo)man Overboard!

I’ve been swamped. Matt’s been sick, youth group kids are having crises, there’s writing and editing goals and deadlines piling up, and the house is a mess, which doesn’t help anything.

As such, I’ll make it clear right now that this post contains very little in the way of original thought and analysis. However, I will leave you with another tidbit of the excellent From Homer to Harry Potter:

What comes to mind when you think of a spell? For most people, it has the connotation of magic or enchantment… The World English Dictionary defines a spell as: “a word or series of words believed to have magical power, spoken to invoke the magic.” For those in a Christian tradition, therefore, a spell is thus likely to be viewed as a thing of evil…

In the Old English, however, the word spell had a somewhat different meaning. Originally the word spell meant “story.” Hence, gód spell is “good story”–the close translation to Old English of the Greek evangelion, or “good message.” Thus, when Christians came to England, they called the evangelion the gód spell, which later became the gospel: the good story.

So how did the word change meanings? How did a story become magic? The change is not so dramatic as it might first appear. After all, a good story (or Old English spell) really does cast a spell (in the more modern use of that word). The best sort of story enchants the listener or reader; while he or she is hearing the tale–listening to the “series of words” used to tell the tale–the characters seem real for a time. Indeed, the mark of a successful writer is the ability to make characters so real to us that we care about them.

Discuss as you will. This stuff fascinates and excites me.


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Life on the Boundary

I mentioned a few days ago that I’m reading From Homer to Harry Potter, which I neglected to mention before is written by Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara, and which looks at the tradition and importance of myth, legend, fairy tales, fantasy, whatever you want to call all of it.

I’ve only read about 65 pages (in part because I keep putting the book down to process everything they’re saying) but already there is so much that I find both relevant and… not so much enlightening as seeming to put into words the things I have always felt and thought about fantasy stories. I keep telling myself I’m going to put together a ‘real’ post about all of this, but so far I haven’t had time, so perhaps I’ll turn it into a little series of bits and pieces.

So, for today I’ll start with a quote from philosopher Peter Kreeft, as quoted by Dickerson and O’Hara:

Death is the most natural thing in the world; why do we find it unnatural? … We complain about death and time…. There is never enough time. Time makes being into non-being. Time is a river that takes everything it brings: nations, civilizations, art, science, culture, plants, animals, our own bodies, the very stars–nothing stands outside the cosmic stream rushing headlong into the sea of death. Or does it? Something in us seems to stand outside it, for something in us protests this “nature” and asks: Is that all there is? We find this natural situation “vanity” [“meaningless”]: empty, frustrating, wretched, unhappy. Our nature contradicts nature.

As humans we stand with one foot rather literally in the mortal stew of time and decay and everything else, and yet there is some part of us that sees it as unnatural, as wrong, and struggles against it. Some part of us is eternal.

And, after quite a bit of discussion and inclusion of ideas from Tolkien, Lewis, and other luminaries, the two authors make this statement:

If man is indeed the spiritual animal, the creature who lives at once both in the world of the seen [mortal] and the unseen [eternal], then those stories that take place in both worlds–that is, on the borders of Faerie–will be far more relevant than stories that take place entirely in one world to the exclusion of the other.

It is after reading passages like these that I feel like jumping up and down and cheering. This is why I read fantasy. These stories touch on truths that illuminate and inform my everyday life, because I do not live simply in the material world. No other genre speaks so clearly to my walk-on-the-boundary life.

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