Author Insight: Richard Abanes on Fantasy, Part 1

Richard Abanes, author of The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code and One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church, has written a new book focusing on popular fascination with fantasy in books and movies, Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings(Harvest House, 2005). Stan Guthrie sat down with him.

Why is the supernatural so big in our culture right now?

Because people are hungry today for the spiritual. People want there to be an afterlife, something beyond this meaningless world that you live through with the wars and the terrorists, and people want to connect. We’re made to be spiritual creatures. We have a longing and desire to connect with the other world, where our Creator is. That’s why you have religion in every culture of every time. People are trying to connect with God. And in this day and age, when there’s so much pressure and things are moving so fast, people are hungry and looking for spirituality, [and for] God their Creator.

Why did you write Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings?

I’m trying to get balanced information out there about fantasy literature and fantasy movies because they’re big now. And I used Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings because they’re the most popular right now.

I am a fantasy fan. I love fantasy, I love science fiction, and I basically wanted to say, “Look, there’s good fantasy; there’s bad fantasy. There’s healthy fantasy; there’s harmful fantasy.” And [I wanted to] help parents see the difference between those and how they can tell the difference and make good decisions for their kids.

Do you have a list of good ones and bad ones?

Actually, I use The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings as examples of very, very good fantasy where it uplifts biblical morality and ethics. They give lessons that can be easily transferred from Christianity. And then I talk though something I call the fall of fantasy, where there’s been in recent days a sort of degradation of the literature for kids. In that grouping I would include Harry Potter, Philip Pullman’s trilogy, and R.L. Stine’s material. [I discuss] Stine’s Goosebumps, Fear Street, and all of that because they approach entertaining children in a way that might not be very healthy for some kids, not all kids. It would be too much for them.

So I try to set these principles out and discuss child development issues and how parents can be more careful. That’s really all I’m trying to get across.

What principles guide your discussion? There are people who are critical even of The Lord of the Rings.

I know. That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book. With some fantasy, when it gets too close to real world things and that fantasy line starts being crossed too much, then there’s a danger that kids might start emulating those things they’re seeing that in the real world are not very good.

For example, if we’re going to look at Harry Potter, there’s a lot of discussion of real world occult practices, techniques, things that kids could get information on in a library or bookstore and start emulating. In fact, many occultists and Wiccans are using the popularity of Harry Potter to draw kids to their real world books about witchcraft. They’re seeing the benefits of using fantasy to turn kids in their direction.

Well, The Lord of the Rings provides a lot of the ideas behind fantasy role-playing games that sometimes pique people’s interest in darker things. Somebody could argue the same thing with Harry Potter.

If you go into Tolkien and start messing with it and changing it and expanding it into what you were talking about, that’s one thing. It’s another thing to go into something like Harry Potter and make direct contact with issues like numerology, astrology, clairvoyance, and paranormal incidents. Those have a direct correlation. In other words, you don’t really have to change them at all. When Hermione talks about numerology, that’s what it’s really called in the world. You don’t have to change it. That’s the difference. It’s easier for kids.

One reviewer said that it would be very difficult for a child to read The Chronicles of Narnia and start doing what we see done in there. But it’s far easier to see [children] reading Harry Potter and saying, “Hey, let’s get a book on numerology; let’s get a book on astrology.” It’s much closer.

For whom is this book intended?

This would be primarily for parents with kids and with youth workers, with child care workers, church leaders who have youth groups, and things like this. It’s a helpful guide to knowing what is and what is not in these three most popular series of books.

Next: Part 2

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for BreakPoint.org. He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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