What About Fantasy?

From time to time writers in The Refiner’s Fire have dealt with twentieth-century Christian fantasy writers. In the following comments Lionel Basney, associate professor of English at Houghton College, persuasively argues that our interest in fantasy may be in need of balance. In the second part of this section, Cheryl Forbes reviews a new book about fantasy and explains why she thinks the genre is so popular.

Can you overvalue fantasy? I think you can. Here is my real hesitation about the zeal and abundance of recent religious commentary on fantasy. I have read, enjoyed, thought and written about the works of Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, and so on. I plan to go on doing so. But aren’t we allowing them to dominate our horizons? And if we are, is it good?

Of course, with “mere Christianity” on the defensive, it’s heartening to find writers as brilliant as Lewis and Tolkien, for instance, on our side. As evangelicals become more receptive to literature and the arts, it is natural they should turn to congenial authors. And theology has interesting affiliations with fantasy as a literary mode, though not more interesting than its affiliations with allegory, perhaps, or with Johnson’s satires. On the other hand, a preoccupation with modern Christian fantasy encourages at least two errors.

First, we can forget that it is a coterie-taste. (This is not altered by the coterie’s being large, as in this case it appears to be.) Lewis preferred George Macdonald and Charles Williams to the “standard” masters of modern literature. That was his right. Our personal preference may be the same. But if we come to think that Macdonald and Williams were, in fact, greater writers than Eliot or Joyce, or that they are more important ...

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