More than any other genre, epic fantasy owes a debt to the past. From Star Wars to Harry Potter, the major brands of fantasy have their own version of the orthodox struggle of good and evil, often portrayed as the difference between light and dark.
The line between mythology and religion is faith. One being’s mythology is another’s mythology. People once’s worshipped at the feet of Zeus. Now he has trouble with his bastard son Hercules in bright crayon colors in animated film. Can you imagine an ancient Roman emperor before the conquering of Judah putting up with such nonsense?
The soaring cathedral and gothic architecture are beautiful contributions to so much fantasy today. Where would we be in our gothic imaginations without the the Reims Cathedral or the Hagia Sofia? How many novels and films have drawn from these masterful monuments of art and religious fever?
But can you imagine how a 13th century pope would have felt if he had seen the scene filmed in a church in “A Knight’s Tale”? One man’s religion becomes a myth.
Concept of redemption, saviors, sacrifices and struggle are linked strongly to our mythology and our ancient religions. There are said to be only so many plots in literature today. We repeat them over and over. I suppose in a way it can be true, though it doesn’t stop me from telling a ‘new’ story. The voice, the details, the expansions can always be done again and done fresh.
What would our fantasy look like if the Catholic church had not risen up as the political leaders of ancient Rome and instead lost to the Gnostics, a strong movement in the same era who believed that the El Shaddai of the Old Testament was a demiurge born out of Sophia’s desire to know the Unknowable Father. They believed salvation came through knowledge and forsook material things, including sex in some cases. We’d be missing a lot of crucifix motifs at the very least.
To push fantasy beyond the boundaries in which is currently lies, how many more traditions can we explore and will it resonate with us enough to entertain? Are we bound by our cultural traditions or can we enjoy fantasy based on world views other than Judeo-Christian concepts of morality and triumph?
I think that we can, but it is going to take an awareness of our pleasures and our displeasures, of our personal stumbling blocks whether or not we are aware of them.