A couple years ago, I wrote a post about escapism, taking as the jumping off point, J. R. R. Tolkien’s line: “[critics] are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.”
A little further on in the “On Fairy-Stories” essay, he said, “Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the ‘quisling’ to the resistance of the patriot.”
Are those our only two choices — giving in to our culture as traitors or fighting against it as a lover of what is right and true?
Is there no intersection in which we who know the truth can show it to our society rather than running from the assault or turning to fight? In other words, can’t we win the enemy rather than destroy him? Or perhaps, can’t we make the case that we’re in this together, that there are no “sides”?
The more I think about “escape,” the more I rebel at the idea.
If we were physically starving, I suspect we wouldn’t have such a great need to wile away time on light, fun entertainment that takes us away from our troubles. The only way to stave off hunger is to go about acquiring food.
Perhaps we think spiritual food is different, but I don’t think so. Our souls which are eternal need to be fed as much as do our bodies.
Perhaps we Christians believe ourselves to be well-fed spiritually. But what about all those starving children in China? Seriously. Don’t we have a responsibility to do something for those who are starving spiritually?
Some may think those who are starving don’t actually want what we have to offer. Ask atheists if they want what we who write Christian speculative fiction have to offer, and they will probably respond with a blank stare. Or worse.
They don’t know they’re starving. They don’t realize that they’ve been eating dirt to fill their stomachs so they won’t ache so much, but there is nothing of lasting value in what they’ve been ingesting that can keep them alive.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that the critics Tolkien was addressing were right in their assessment of “fairy stories.” Rather, I think what speculative fiction does is far greater than escape.
One comment to the post I mentioned earlier sheds light on this idea:
Calling fantasy the “flight of the deserter” does miss fantasy’s close connection with reality. But I think that calling fantasy the “escape of the prisoner” misses that connection just as much. The dichotomy seems to assume that the realm of fantasy has to be divorced from reality — whereas I think that the goal of Christian fantasy should be to unite them. Tolkien’s short stories, particularly Leaf by Niggle and Smith of Wootton Major, exhibit an idea that fantasy that is not escape, but a plunge into a deeper reality. Smith (of Wootton Major) makes many visits to Faerie, but those visits serve to enhance the enchantment of the real world when he returns. The existence of Faerie in Tolkien’s writings (including LotR) does not devalue reality but glorifies it. That glorification, I think, is the mark of good Christian fantasy: the writer sees the wonder and goodness (the “enchantment”) already existent in reality; but he also sees that there is more enchantment, more reality, to be had. (comment by Tim, In Search of the Perilous Realm – emphasis mine)
I like the idea that the writer sees the wonder and goodness existent in reality, not just the raw, gritty misery. Isn’t it part of our job to show the rest of the world what we see? That there is a better way than wallowing in the gutter, than eating dirt?
I also like the idea that the writer of good Christian fantasy sees there’s more reality to be had, which allows him to point forward to that which brings ultimate soul fulfillment.
Honestly, I’m having a harder and harder time trying to grasp why it is Christians want to escape. What do we have to escape from? We have Christ. We have His Holy Spirit. We have God’s Word. We have the hope of heaven.
I can see being tired and wanting to rest. However, I’m not successfully getting my thoughts around the idea of escape. Seems to me we should be the firefighters running toward the inferno, not away. We should be about pulling others to safety, about adding to the number who are heading to high ground.
In short, I think Christian speculative writers are best positioned to engage the culture. Engage it, not confront it.
What do you think? How is Christian speculative fiction engaging the culture? Must Christian writers leave Christian publishers and Christian bookstores in order to meet our culture where it’s at?