The idea of religion in fantasy and how people react to it has been on my mind the last few days. The wall of my room is plastered with a raging mind map of one of my worlds. A large part of it at the moment is committed to the complicated religious system, a mythological system that coexists with it and how this all developed over time. Religious history, of every kind is a rich quarry for fantasy writers. All enduring religions have spoken to people deeply through the years and I believe we often turn to fantasy for the same concepts we experience in religion, those of heroism, the search for truth, salvation, redemption, struggle, the primordial battle between good and evil.
Where my western educated bias ends and my baser human experience starts I cannot objectively say. I do know that the same concepts that are found in popular Japanese anime are also found in widely read English literature, so there is a good deal of overlap in the escapism material that people from the east and west enjoy. I often wonder how our national and racial cultures contribute to the brands of fantasy we choose to indulge in. My gut tells me on some level it must. Minimally, it does inspire the writers in each culture. Consider Dante Alighieri, the first novelist in the Italian language. He wrote of something that everyone would have recognized, Heaven and Hell, from the Catholic mythological perspective. I say ‘mythological’ consciously, as he used social incidents and real people known at the time within his work and posed criticism of the Church. Hence, I hesitate to say it was a statement of faith for him as a writer.
So, either as a social commentary or a rollicking good fantasy, Dante wrote from his own cultural perspective and also helped perpetuate that cultural using fantasy. The writer of Genji, the first Japanese language novel, written by Murasaki Shikibu also wrote in a fantastic form, including vengeful ghosts and wandering spirits, using the native mythology of her racial identity and preserved that cultural to be passed along to future generations.
So how much do our own myths, religions and cultural stories, mythological or not, influence what fantasy we enjoy? Are we socially programmed and predisposed to enjoy one set of fantasy creatures over another? Are we drawn the familiarly fantastic? How adventurous are we actually being when we delve into fantasy? How much of a barrier do we experience when faced with myths from a racial or social history other than our native set?
How original can an author be before we’re turned off as readers?
I’m afraid I’m posing more questions and no answers this post. This may be a slowly evolving topic. It’s something I’m thinking about, as a reader and a writer. Drop a comment below if you have any thoughts. Would love to hear from you!