Faith and Fantasy
by Karina Fabian
Don’t you love this cover? A good-looking guy, a dragon—and a nun! Some people might find it a contradiction to have nuns and dragons together, but I don’t see a contradiction with putting religion in a fantasy setting. In fact, I believe it enhances the story.I originally included religion in my DragonEye world simply because I had a noir-style dragon detective, Vern. Noir detectives always have a tortured past they are jaded about. What works better for a dragon than an encounter with St. George? Of course, if George had killed him, I’d have no character, so he drafted him instead, and now Vern’s stuck serving God, and in some very unusual ways.
Of course, that meant I needed an infrastructure to support George and direct Vern; Sister Grace just jumped into one of the stories, and since that universe is one of magic and magical creatures, she’s a part-siren nun with powerful magical ability dedicated to God’s works. This has set me up for some powerful—and fun!—challenges when merging a known religion into a fantasy world.
1. Keeping the line between fantasy and reality. I remember hearing about one author who had to stop writing one of her series because people were taking it too seriously—she’d written convincing stories of magic happening in our world right now that people pestered her for “the secrets.” While I think we can trust that most people reading fiction know it’s FICTION, we need to be careful not to be too convincing in our realism. Even though my DragonEye world is totally implausible, I made a line: Mundanes (people of our world) can’t do magic—genetics or God’s Will (both, really), but only a few Faerie humans can perform magic—and even then, they need to be near the Faerie realm or have a stored supply. (That’s important in Live and Let Fly.)
2. The faith needs to be believable to the creatures of your world. For example, a “Mother goddess” on a world of insectoids that hatch, alone and independent, from eggs--why would such creatures, who have no concept of "mother" by nature, develop such a religion? Just like a blind race would never develop the concept of visual color, so this species would not develop a religion around a nurturing motherly figure. They would worship God in some other image that they, by their nature, would understand. A great example of this is "Dyads" by Alan Loewen and Ken Pick. Their foxlike creatures, who mate for life, have their own trinity: husband, wife and eternal dance.
In Live and Let Fly, I had to adapt what is essentially a Catholic faith to a world that included other creatures—from dwarfs to dragons—and to take into account the ancient gods. Magic also changed the basic nature of the battle between Good and Evil. Their World War II, for example, was about Satan trying to take over the world.
3. If you are incorporating faith into your fiction, especially true faith, do not use the story to serve it. In other words, you want your religion to be an integral part of the world, supporting the plot and characters and not to deliver a message. If the book becomes all about The Message, then you lose the reader—and your chance to reach them. Themes are important as are lessons, but they are the subtext. The story is what gets readers to read the book; the theme is what keeps them thinking about it. Show the difficult as well as the beautiful of your religion, make it take the back seat when it needs to; do not preach. (This is actually not a problem for me, since I never start with a message in mind—I’m just trying to write a crazy fantasy mystery.)
I believe that faith is a part of sentience, and as a result, I incorporate faith in my stories—sometimes based on real religions, sometimes fully make-believe. Done well, they enhance the world and the characters. It’s worth the challenges.
Thanks to Karina Fabian for stopping by! Come back on April 12 for my review of Live and Let Fly.