How Sci-Fi and Fantasy Help Us Understand the Divine | Sojourners

How Sci-Fi and Fantasy Help Us Understand the Divine

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“In the beginning…” “In a galaxy far, far away…”

As a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction, my favorite stories were those set not only in a different time but a different world altogether. It’s exciting to enter into a wholly new landscape, and, as avid readers of both genres will say, there’s both power and joy in watching people and creatures do battle with the same forces we recognize in our daily lives (including, possibly, the power to overcome real-world social divisions — despite decades of the science v. religion binary, there’s ample evidence that both sides love hobbits).

The Bible itself is a collection of stories told by various people of different perspectives and personalities, across dramatically different times. When we read these stories, we start to pick up the through-lines of who God might be, and how humanity comes to terms with that. In belief, as in life, we are moved by the stories others tell. And those stories can help us to see the divine in some pretty unexpected places.

Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians series, speaks of his wonder reading C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series for the first time. Grossman doesn’t identify as someone of faith, and for his purposes doesn’t need to — his job is to write clear, honest, compelling stories. But he found a model for his detailed, modern magic stories in how Lewis wrote about the Pevensie children escaping the air raids of World War I.

For Grossman, as for many, fantasy and science fiction are tools not for escapism to another world, but ones for better understanding ourselves and the world we’re in now. “The magic trick here, the sleight of hand, is that when you pass through the portal, you re-encounter in the fantasy world the problems you thought you left behind in the real world,” he says in a splendid interview with the Atlantic:

“Edmund doesn’t solve any of his grievances or personality disorders by going through the wardrobe. If anything, they're exacerbated and brought to a crisis by his experiences in Narnia. ...The landscape you inhabit is a mirror of what’s inside you. ...Fantasy takes all those things from deep inside and puts them where you can see them, and then deal with them.”

We’re living in a moment when understanding our own inner narratives is of vital importance. How we deal with our own light and our own monsters, and whether we are willing to engage with others’, will indelibly shape our current fights for justice. In this season of Advent, we long for stories of expectant waiting; of dealing with profound disappointment when what we are waiting for shows up as something totally different; of the redemption that comes when others see magic in us, despite our many, obvious failings.

This week we’re celebrating the stories we love and share, informed by the story that remains the most baffling, frustrating, complex, and beautifully true of all — the resurrection of life over death, hope over despair, and dignity over denial.

Read along with us this week — and may the force be strong with each of us.