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Coffee Without Cream…?

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Hi H3roes!  You are in for a real treat today.  I snagged a famous author to write a guest post for me!  No, the author is not me.  Actually, the soon-to-be discovered Christian YA & MG author JP Cabit.  His blog The House of Happy chronicles everything from his friend Planty to How To Summerize Your Life. 

JP is also a fearless superh3ro and is presenting a fresh view to a highly debatable subject.  May the Lord richly bless his ministry to reach others for Christ and encourage the saints.  Enjoy and be challenged.

Coffee Without Cream…?   

I like my coffee with a little cream. Just something to take the edge off of the burnt-bean flavor that many people love. I watch old people take cream in their coffee, and think, “How could you live here so long, and not have gotten used to the flavor of coffee yet?” Hopefully by the time I’m old, I will have learned to stand the flavor of black coffee now. Or physical coffee at least…in the here and now, I like my literary coffee black.

So, a blog post about coffee…” You lean back in your chair, unconvinced. “Writers love coffee, but I’m not about to read a whole post about it. And what on Earth is literary coffee?!”

Literary coffee is fantasy, and the cream…is magic.

Harry Potter, Narnia, and Percy Jackson are (now at least) among the most renowned fantasy stories. People love to see Harry wield his stick, Aslan bringing children on cross-dimensional trips, and a demi-god doing—well, I’m not sure what, I’ve never read the book. *Weak laugh*

What do you hear when you hear “Fantasy?” Probably what a lot of people think of. A unicorn. A castle. Perhaps a wizard or two. Maybe an epic hero, and some cross-world traveling. Perhaps a “Chosen One” as well. But when I sit down to write fantasy, a completely different thing comes out. I jump out of my world, through my keyboard, into an Earth vaguely familiar, but strikingly different as well. Some things are different, but not too much. English is predominant, if even an odd sort of English. Technology has been stunted, communication comes via post, and we are not too far ahead of ourselves. Unicorns may exist, but only as a species. Wizards are unheard of. And I typically stay away from “Chosen One” archetypes—But of course, that’s just a matter of taste.

Why no magic? Isn’t that what fantasy is all about? Well, not exactly. A “Fantasy” implies something you daydream about…an escape form the real world. Fantasy does not need magic, because for certain, when I daydream, there is nothing magical about it. 🙂 I’ll first give you a practical reason for fantasy sans magic: Magic can tend to be a cop-out. In a normal, magicless world, you could surmount an enemy’s fortress by, perhaps…negotiating craftily with the sentinels, perhaps slipping the guard a photo of his childhood sweetheart that you cleverly managed to find, and using a bookshelf as a ladder into the main keep, having of course burned all the books in the previous room, not only to make the bookshelf lighter, but also to create a wildly successful distraction.

Then the bell rings—Round two!!! And the aforementioned magicians step onto the scene. What tricks do they hide up their sleeves? Well, only one—they fly over the wall on a broomstick.

But this is not the main point I am trying to make. Magic stunts creativity in this way, but it is not why I’m against it.

So what’s the real reason?…” You ask, leaning forward over your cup of cocoa, “Why no wizards? I mean come on. They’re—epic!”

As a Christian, I believe in the power of God. I also believe in the Devil. And you just gotta wonder sometimes: Just where are Wizards—for that matter, Warlocks, Wicked Witches, Conjurors, and Cronies—getting their power? Are the powers of magic really what we should be focusing on, when writing for our own enjoyment, as well as for the people of God? I don’t think so.

I can see how the flash of colors and people zipping through the air can be a very visually attractive scene. Perhaps even alluring.

A warning, dear friends: Beware the allure.

I am tired of going to the library, picking up, and putting down, books that look otherwise amusing. In my search for a good read, I am tired of dealing with ghosts, goblins, dungeons, dragons, curses, creepers, and commendation of the powers of darkness. Isn’t there a book out there…a book about a fantasy world with more imagination than incantation?

Don’t read this as a shame-fest. Read it as a challenge. A challenge to all Christian fantasy writers: This summer, try your hand at Magicless Fantasy. Be creative! Stretch your imagination! 

Try to write some fantasy this summer without the cream. 😉

Did you enjoy JP’s post?  Be sure to visit and support him at his website and by following him on Twitter!

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15 thoughts on “Coffee Without Cream…?

  1. Now, if there’s no magic in it, is it still fantasy? I’d argue the story would therefore be science fiction, or steampunk (in the case of your story).
    Magic can be used a useful metaphor. Ho do we deal with power? Or use gifts/talents responsibly? (“With great power, comes great responsibility” hehe) It can also be used to explore the ideas of otherness/being different. Using magic as a metaphor allows a one step removal from the real world so it can feel safer for readers to explore difficult issues (for example, dealing with race, identity, disability – something that superhero fiction also does very well).

    CS Lewis was explicit about the fact that Aslan in his books, was an allegory for Jesus. The children in his books did not have any magical powers. They had to resist the temptations of the evil witch. In the end Aslan’s sacrifice (and resurrection) are what save the world. He meant the books to teach Christian values, and for the Christian content, he’s criticized in some circles.

    On another note, what is magic? In some cases magic can be explained by scientific reasons (mutation, the undiscovered psychic potential in the human mind). In the case of another world, perhaps people evolved differently.

      • This is why I don’t often like to get into religious discussions online.

        Respectfully, but the linked evidence, if the reading is attempting to argue against Lewis’ bonafieds as a Christain Apologist, would then seem to paint Christianity in very narrow terms. That’s fine for an individual, or even a group of individuals: which is to say, if being narrow-minded about what constitutes a christian is what floats someone’s boat, they’re entitled to their opinion. But no such narrow group of individuals – no single sect – can ever lay true and unequivocable claim to a title so broad as the term “Christian”; and indeed a man or son of God who died on the cross two thousand years ago can never be owned by any of us.

        It is not man’s place to define “christianity” or exclude others from membership in that group. And it is to the detriment of those who profess to christianity when they attempt to play such games of definition and exclusion, as it is most certainly “un-christian-like” in direct terms of how Christ himself is portrayed biblically (He made a pretty regular habit of “slumming it” with people the Jews didn’t think were worthy of a rabbi’s attentions.)

        I belong to a christian sect that is often counted as “not-christian” but certain members of other christian sects, so I am very sensitive to that kind of exclusionary language, and it can be hurtful.

        That said, to a more direct point: the link didn’t mention anything about Aslan. And… on a second read, reading it as an argument against Lewis’s christian-ness only works if you’re reading it with that preconceived notion. Otherwise, it’s just a (fairly short) laundry list of things Lewis said or did or believed… and I didn’t actually see a statement marking any of this as good or bad… That being the case, my reaction to it may have been a little strong, but I did read it first in the preconceived way mentioned, because I was looking for some evidence that Aslan =/= Christ Allegory (and didn’t see it).

        I’ll comment on the post itself in a bit.

    • Hey Theresa, thanks for reading 🙂

      I think there’s a difference between an appropriate metaphor and an inappropriate metaphor. In my opinion, magic is an inappropriate metaphor. Perhaps it’s the slippery slope argument—once you start, there’s no end. Or perhaps it’s just my belief that magic is mainly the Devil’s domain. God’s view of the occult was seen in: “Suffer not a witch to live.” (Ex. 22:18) — Witchcraft is also listed as one of the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:20), and in 2nd Chronicles 33:6 it is listed among terrible things that a king did to provoke God to wrath.

      So I for one will stay away from magic. 🙂

      I suppose there is some variance in the usage of the term “Magic,” but again, I point out the slippery slope—argumental fallacy or not. 🙂

      • I’ll say I think it’s a fallacy, and a big one.

        There’s an enormous world of difference between secretly using one’s powers and abilities (be they occult or more often natural) to the detriment and harm of others, and a fictional account of “magic”.

        The kind of witchcraft talked about in biblical terms really boils down to trying to harm other people. Some might ascribe occult-ness to that, but I don’t think it was ever about powers of an occult nature so much as hurting others to help yourself or misusing the gifts that we have.

        “Magic” in a fictional setting is most frequently and generally portrayed as “natural” powers, in that they are things that occur naturally (i.e. are part of creation). In that way, they are the same as a person’s intellect, or physical strength. They are powers that a person is naturally able to use: either for good or for bad. They’re super-natural in that not everyone has access to them (but then, not everyone has a superb intellect or bulging massive muscles or athletic grace, or so on and so forth). That’s what makes it a useful metaphor.

        In the real world, we don’t really have access to “supernatural” powers. But in fact, the words we have for “magic”-workers, like “wizard” and “mage/magician” and “witch” and so forth all come from root-words that mean “learned, wise or intelligent”. In other words… “Witchcraft” means only the craftiness and knowledge of one is is learned and wise, one who is studied. In the pejorative sense, then, we return to where I began: using your knowledge and wisdom to your own benefit but at the detriment of others… and I think that’s what’s being condemned.

        In that way, I think avoiding the use of “magic” in a fictional account is being… well… it’s an attempt to observe “the letter of the law” without really fully understanding or appreciating either the letter nor the spirit of the law.

        So, not trying to be offensive, there, but I do think this does readers/writers of christian fantasy and/or readers/writers of fantasy who happen also to be christian a bit of a disservice. I’ve known several good christian folks who’ve thought that reading anything fictional at all wasn’t in keeping with Christ’s teachings – nevermind fictional accounts of the use of “magic”. And I’ve known those who only have a problem with fictional magic. But I believe that’s just missing the point. When you ask, where do the various workers of magic derive their power, you’re implying that it’s from Satan. But if the context is a work of fiction, that isn’t necessarily the right answer. If I write that the magic comes from earth-spirits in the ground, then that’s where the magic comes from. Are earth-spirits synonymous with Satan? If by “Satan” you mean “embodiment of evil” and in my story earth-spirits are good, and servants of a good god, then the answer is no. What if, in my story, all magic comes from a benevolent and loving god who grants the power to his faithful followers? Is my portrayal of magic evil? No: it’s now metaphoric for the gifts given to a benevolent and loving god’s followers.

        But even if in a story magic powers are granted by forces of evil: should I not then write/read that story? Take, for instance, “The Wheel of Time” series. There are two sources of magic power in that world: the “good” power that comes from the world’s creator (divided equally into male and female halves), and a dark power that comes from the “satan”-figure of the story. Only the villains use the evil power (except in one instance in which the hero is tempted very strongly and nearly loses himself to the primary villain). In some ways, the two competing powers are indeed very powerful metaphors for the struggle between good and evil. If you deny yourself the ability to ever write about evil magic, you may deny yourself the ability to write about powerful and compelling villains. And without powerful and compelling villains, you’ll find it difficult to make for interesting and compelling challenges and conflicts for your main characters, and you’ll have a difficult time highlighting the stark choice between good and evil that they face, and it’ll be pretty tough to visualize the power of either good or evil in such a magically-neutered world.

        So, I think you have to keep an open mind about the subject, and be willing to try different things, and accept that writing about things – even things you may consider bad in the real world – doesn’t make you a bad person. I mean it didn’t make the writers of the bible bad to write about witchcraft, and it won’t make contemporary writers bad when they do.

        With regards to writing fantasy without magic… from a genre/literary/pedantic perspective, and ignoring the arguments regarding religion… That’s also problematic. When you remove one of the central, core tropes of a genre, it can be argued – and I think successfully – that you’re not really writing in that genre any more. Bending conventions or writing against them is a time-honored thing, of course… but simply removing them entirely, I’m not sure works. Although, of course, there’s nothing wrong with a story without magic. I read such stories all the time. But are such stories really “fantasy”? (The definition of “fantasy” in the literary sense, after all, is not something you daydream about. It is, more generally, stories in which things we know to be true of the real world aren’t always true, or aren’t always what they seem, and more specifically stories in which the mythological or the supernatural are real.)

        Lastly, I just wanted to point again to Tolkien’s poem “Mythopoeia”. Tolkien was devoutly Christian, and his poem is an argument for the benefit of writing about mythical, magical things from a christian perspective, and it’s a pretty eloquent defense of the Fantasy genre – magic and myth and all.

        Here’s the link:

        http://home.ccil.org/~cowan/mythopoeia.html

      • Oh my, what a long comment—I will try to write a somewhat coherent answer in what little time I have. Sorry for not getting to this sooner, I have a lot on my plate these days and it’s becoming increasingly less-prioritized for me to catch up online.

        I see all the points here mentioned, about when you write something, it’s your truth and you can do what you want with it. I.E. in “Your world,” if you say Magic is OK, then it is OK. I understand that point completely. And I agree that writing about some action does not make you equal to the doer of that action. Otherwise I would never write a story with any villains whatsoever!

        Those are my concessions. 🙂

        I must disagree with you however, that magic is okay when used for personal reasons, be they secretive, public, or whatever. I do not believe it is biblically sound—for that is where I try to take my pointers—to say that it’s okie-dokie to have a little séance privately, or to work on your skills of enchantment, maybe cast a spell here and there as long as it is not hurting anybody. We may not agree on biblical issues very much 🙂 but that’s what my argument boils down to.

        It all comes down to this: Personally, and naturally, I can see where magic will come in handy when writing fantasy. I can see it as a metaphor for good vs. evil. I can see that people use it to portray power. I can reason my way around things, but then I look at my bible and read things like “Don’t suffer a witch to live,” and “Witchcraft is a work of the flesh,” and “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” (If you are interested, the link for the scripture is here and the link for the word “Witchcraft” is here.)

        Well, again sorry for not answering that sooner. Hope that helps this discussion (not argument ;)) along.

        Any thoughts?

      • We’ll just have to agree to disagree, then.

        Because I disagree with the exclusive interpretation of “magic” – especially of “magic in a fictional context” – to equate with the biblical prohibition on “witchcraft”. That’s just a wrong interpretation of the scriptural teachings. It’s especially wrong to equate a fictional representation of magic with biblically-interdicted “witchcraft”, when the former just plain doesn’t exist at all and when the latter should be understood only within the biblical and cultural context from which it derives. (i.e. the modern understanding of “witchcraft” in the bible comes from mistranslation and misapprehension of what the original Hebrews meant when they wrote that commandment down. For instance, the following link might be of interest, which points out that the Hebrews were, in fact, primarily concerned with destructive or harmful magic: http://www.proteuscoven.org/proteus/Suffer.htm).

        I don’t really agree with segregating fictional “magic” from other forms of biblically-approved supernatural power (i.e. “miracles”) simply because of the aforementioned conflation of fictional “magic” with biblical “witchcraft”, which is a further excercise in “missing the point”.

        And, to a certain extent, I also disagree in part because… well… I don’t really believe in supernatural, non-divine “magic” power – neither in the modern world nor at any time (in other words, I don’t believe in a unique, exclusively “satanic” power, or that the devil has any power over man that we have not first granted him of our own free will) – but rather I believe that all powers in this world are native to the human species and the natural world, and if a supernatural power of any kind exists, it by necessity must be a naturally-occuring thing, and therefore neither good nor evil unless we direct our willful use of such a power for purposes of either good or evil. (More specifically… I’m a “supernatural power” skeptic/agnostic, meaning I don’t really believe in most any supernatural power… but I’m open to the possibility of their existence; and I give a general waiver to “divine” power because I do believe in God, though I do think that God generally works through natural processes rather than whiz-bang special effects.)

        And I disagree because I’m a fantasist who happens to be a Christian, and I will always defend both sides of that coin: both fictional Fantasies – which fairly by definition include the magical, the mythological, and the supernatural – and their compatibility, in general, with Christian belief. And I will say without reservation that anyone who seems to think that the inclusion of the supernatural or magical in a fictional story is somehow anti-Christian is wrong, and probably hasn’t been reading the current body of fantasy literature – especially fantasy literature by writers who happen to be Christian – very closely. I don’t mean that to be offensive… but the fact remains, a significant number of fantasy writers are, in fact, Christian, and there is nothing incompatible between the use of the tropes of the genre and our faith, and arguing the reverse will always be a failing argument.

      • I understand your point, and I think you understand mine—so we’ve gotten somewhere. 🙂 I think, since we are two people so strongly convinced of our own position position, it might be best to agree to disagree on a friendly basis.

        In the words of Emma Woodhouse: “I’ve made my point, you’ve made yours. Let’s not quarrel.” (paraphrased)

        Happy regards & happy blogging,
        jp

  2. Good points, darlin’ friend J.P. I think, however, that imagination was also a design of our divine Creator. Yes, God wants us to use our imaginations and creativity to edify, uplift, and entertain. You are right in that it can be accomplished in many more ways than using magic and wizards, unicorns and vampires. I, personally wish that the writing sphere were not so flooded with so-called “fantasy fiction.” it seems so many are fixated on it, to the detriment of all, mainly because it is so one dimensional.

    Never underestimate the power of God to speak through every kind of literature – even porn (I don’t read it or care about it) – because everything is instructive if one reads it with “God-glasses” on. Some of the greatest messages I have ever received have been sent to me through popular fiction. I don’t believe that I have read any so-called “Christian literature” (which far too many times is an oxymoron) that has given me as much insight as some simple detective or mystery or narrative novels.

    What I’m saying (quite incoherently) is that while I totally agree about the fantasy minus magic concept, don’t dismiss the use of any genre completely – God does indeed work and speak in a multitude of ways and languages!

    Great and well-written post. Hope to see you over in EIB soon! BTW, how’re Planty and friend?

    I wish you as always, enough. . .
    Paula

    • Hello, PTC…Thanks for visitng 🙂

      While I do somewhat agree that we can find meaning in just about any genre, I wouldn’t go so far as to look for the voice of God in say—occult and paranormal romance novels. We should be selective about what we put into our minds/how we entertain ourselves.

      I have been awfully busy lately and haven’t caught up much with Planty and Gersh… 😦 Thanks for the reminder though, I think Gershy needs a repotting soon!

  3. I look at magic in terms of “that which is arbitrarily made possible (in fiction) though can’t be explained or duplicated using science.” I think the range for interpretion on this is fairly vast and can include anything from the divine to the paranormal to your more typical definition of “magic.” I think miracles would also fit under these parameters, as they are connected to the divine.

    For example, most non-Christians would probably consider a lot of the miracles in the Bible to be fantasy, one reason being that they can’t be explained using conventions that are understood through science. How does one part a sea, or bring down the walls of Jericho by marching? The answer in the Bible, of course, is through faith in God but ultimately by the power of God, but since God can’t be neatly understood through the scientific method, then his feats tend to be relegated to fantasy outside of religion.

    Touchy territory here, I’m sure, but that’s just one way to look at it.

    • Yes, these are all good points. Magic is a fiction writers way of explaining the unexplainable…i.e. power in a fiction world. My point is simply I have never found God to condone the use of magic…if anything, he speaks against it.

      For instance, what if in fiction we used the metaphor of somebody killing all his friends, allegorically meaning that sometimes we have to cut off things we love? My point is that sometimes the metaphor is an inappropriate one.

      Thanks for reading. Was my first guest post, I thinks. 🙂

  4. I like what J.P. has to say. I am a Christian teacher, and have often searched for quality fiction for my students. Much of the contemporary literature is laced with magic and the occult. It is not something I have wanted to recommend to my students. I have often said that anyone can write a work of fiction that incorporates magic as it can easily bypasses real problem solving, witty dialog, creative genius, and allows the writer wild card in which to resolve a conflict or enhance a story. I truly wish that someone would begin to write children’s fantasy fiction sans magic.

    While I understand Tiyana’s concerns, I don’t think one can fairly compare fantasy with miracles. The Bible is a historical record of things that actually happened (although i agree that not everyone accepts this fact). However, the power of God is divine as she stated. What J.P. is talking about is something altogether different. J.P.’s point seems to be that magic is not connected to the divine, but to darkness. I like his challenge. I hope someone (maybe even J.P.) will take it up!

  5. Also, on “witchcraft”… the following links may be of further relevance:

    http://www.hollowhill.com/fun/halloween/witch-bible.htm (Which suggests that “witch” actually means “Poisoner”, i.e. someone who poisons other people, which is a secretive way of committing murder.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft_and_divination_in_the_Hebrew_Bible (Wikipedia and the different sorts of “witches” and occult powers mentioned in the bible.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_and_religion (Wikipedia with further discussion on the complicated relationship between “magic” and religion.)

    And of further possible relevance to this discussion: the use of this biblical interdiction to commit various attrocities (i.e. the murder of otherwise innocent people after the mere accusation of “witchcraft”, etc., which is relevant because it touches on the fact that there is a history of incorrectly and tragically demonizing “witchcraft” within the greater Christian community, which ultimately has been a work of evil rather than good) throughout history:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hunt

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition

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