Magic, Fantasy, and the Christian Mother

Hey, Kelsey! I have a super random question and I know it can be a bit of a sensitive topic in some circles but I also know you and your hubby are kind of fantasy nerds like my hubby and I so I’m curious to hear your take. How do you tackle the subject of magic? In average day to day cartoons we have “magic spelling wands” and “big world magic” and then “magic kingdoms” and sorcerers on Disney …I never thought much of any of it … until today. Kennedy said, “Can I do that when I get my magic powers?” I responded with a simple people can’t really do magic sweetie, it’s just pretend. But it kind of opened up a mental can of worms. Thoughts/opinions? –Hailey

Apparently, Hailey has gathered that I’m a bit of a Fantasy fan. Perhaps it was from our family pictures this year…

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Or maybe from my boys’ Knight & Castle bedroom…

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Or maybe because having a kid dressed up like this around the house is pretty commonplace around here…

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But it really is a great question, so I’m going to give my best shot at answering. I’m afraid my thoughts on it are a bit complex.

Basically, the Bible refers to witchcraft and wizardry as evil, so any form of magic incantations, calling up the dead, special powers drawn from objects, etc is evil (2 Chronicles 33 and Galatians 5).

However, the Bible definitely makes a point of those things *existing*. I was raised not being allowed to watch any Disney movie with a witch or wizard in it, as if it was bad for me to even know they even existed. I believe this was the wrong approach. There ARE witches, Satan worshipers, demon possession, and other evil forces out there and it’s good to be prepared to fight them. The important thing is to not confuse them with what they actually are… Enemies.

We have a great Castle park down the road with lots of knights, princesses, dragons, and wizard stuff in it. Gabriel dresses up in his armor, grabs his sword, and we go frequently together. He loves it! The entire time, I encourage the good of Fantasy (being courageous, conquering wickedness, rescuing the Princess as Christ rescued his Bride). However, every good epic needs bad guys to fight, so that’s what the wizards and dragons are for. (I think the people who originally built the park intended for the Wizards and Dragons to be good characters, but Gabriel is being trained to think otherwise.)

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In the past, stories like St. George and the Dragon made for great kids’ stories with clear-cut bad guys that inspired boys to manhood. Nowadays, there’s a huge push in modern culture to twist up tradition and change what was once evil (Dragons, Vampires, Werewolves, etc) and make them good guys who are just ‘misunderstood’. While I enjoy a unique twist to a story as much as anyone, I think the ultimate effect is damaging. In the Bible, the Devil is represented by a Dragon/Serpent and men are supposed to crush his head. Teaching my children that Dragons are good, is the wrong symbolism.

We watched How to Train Your Dragon with Gabriel a few times, but it’s not on our frequent list because I don’t want him growing up to think of them as friends and allies. I think Harry Potter had great Good vs. Evil themes and plan to show it to my children, but because of its confusing terminology with good witches, spells, etc. I’m going to wait until they’re older. I also encourage any Disney movie where the main character is fighting against an evil witch or wizard and overcoming. Once those witches or wizards start being portrayed as good guys, is where I get nervous.

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Now, I’m not saying that you should never watch anything that’s not 100% (because… then what would we watch, honestly?). Instead, I recommend waiting until your children are old enough to watch it from a Christian perspective and recognize the good and the misleading. If, after watching Harry Potter, my 10 year old announces that ‘witches are cool’ or that ‘he’d like to be wizard when he grows up’ we have a problem. However, once he’s old enough to understand that the story has its faults and mixed up terminology, I think it can still be appreciated for its epic battle of good vs. evil (in my opinion). After all, the Christian life is a constant battle between Good and Evil, and some stories are more inspiring than others. Let’s find stories that inspire and prepare our children to fight that battle bravely.

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Okay, my last thoughts are on MAGIC in its generalized term (as distinct from Witchcraft, Wizardry, or Sorcery). Magic, in the tradition of great Christian authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, is the term for powers beyond normal life or understanding. Narnia and Middle Earth were filled with all sorts of magic, but Aslan (the untame Lion) was the Creator and Sustainer throughout it all and only select characters in LOTR were gifted with the ability to use it.

I think Magic, as portrayed in Fantasy and Fairy Tales, reminds us of the supernatural. There IS more to this world than meets the eye, and it’s good to remind our children of that. There ARE evil forces and there are also strong, unseen GOOD forces. After all: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12)

I appreciated this quote from the movie Thor, which summarized my thoughts on it rather nicely. “Your ancestors called it magic, you call it science. Where I come from, they are one and the same.” So in other words, Magic is the term for supernatural happenings that we don’t understand yet. Of course, Magic isn’t just some static ‘force’ out there in the cosmos (*cough, Star Wars, *cough*). Instead, this whole world is run by a both powerful and mysterious Creator who has chosen to reveal his glory in past through miraculous happenings. From Moses’ 12 plagues and the parting of the red sea to Jesus’ Christ’s healing of the sick and raising of the dead.

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We, as Christians, cannot be materialists, believing only in what we can see. Instead, we have more license than anyone to enjoy the magic of what cannot be seen. Ours is a faith of prophecy, miracles, and conquering evil. So let’s teach our children how to fight the good fight, remembering that so much of life is learned through stories.

I’ll close with one of my all-time favorite quotes.

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19 thoughts on “Magic, Fantasy, and the Christian Mother

  1. Kaylee Trammell says:

    So appreciated this post!! Thanks for your wisdom and insight.

  2. coachhoss says:

    Very nice thought to magic. There is a shift in the moral fabric of this country. People are not offended by things that are evil. They want to accept them. What people get offended by these days are Christian views and how that is not “accepting” to everybody. What they don’t see is that Jesus Christ/God who hates sin is accepting to all sinners who will turn to him.

  3. Wow, this is a tough subject! You did a good job of making complex thoughts understandable and attainable. 🙂

  4. Megan says:

    I love your comments. I agree there is a big difference between true evil and pretend magic. And in order to survive our world our kids need to understand the difference. As for dragons I take the view that in the bible satan is compared to a serpent in genesis. However that doesn’t mean snakes are evil. I teach my kids that dragons are fine as long as the dragon is good. Any creature is inherently good because God created all. But I teach my kids that sometimes people, creatures in stories etc choose to let satan in their hearts. So that they always have to be on the watch. Things aren’t always as they appear. Good sometimes looks bad and bad sometimes looks good. But they can always pray and Heavenly Father will help them to know the good from the bad. So just feel lucky if you come across a good dragon:)

    • I'm Kelsey! says:

      That’s an interesting perspective. I was getting the dragon reference from Revelation, but I suppose snakes are still a ‘good’ part of creation, as much as I’d like to think otherwise. Good thoughts!

  5. Love this post, and the quote at the end…and all of it! =D

  6. I really liked your thoughts on this and how you explained it. I actually had a discussion with my kids a few months ago on the whole magic/witches/wizards issues. We read the story about King Saul and the witch of Endor, and my daughter was worried about it and if it was okay to read Harry Potter and other books like that. So, we talked about the difference between pretending and having fun, and really using magic and believing you can use magic. It was a great discussion.

    And I love that knight hoodie. I WANT one for ME. And my kids might like one too. But, me I want one.

    • I'm Kelsey! says:

      Isn’t it wonderful? My sister in law made it after a more expensive one she saw on Etsy. They do make it in adult sizes there. 😉

  7. I notice in your post that there’s not really a separation between fantasy and reality. You seem to take the approach that because practitioners of magic are evil in real life, therefore they also must be seen as evil in fantasy. I don’t think that’s terribly helpful, especially if it involves teaching your children to read into fantasy literature and art things that the artist never intended. It’s possible the kids will be unable to really understand and interpret art involving wizards and dragons if you stick with this approach. (*)

    The approach I take is that every fictional setting, whether it’s a movie, book, or the local Renaissance Fair, is essentially an alternate universe. Many of the rules we have here in the real world don’t apply, so it doesn’t help us analyze Harry Potter if we’re stuck on the fact that Quidditch isn’t a real game, for example, or that in the real world, ghost encounters aren’t as darkly humorous as Nearly Headless Nick. This opens us up to accepting magic in Harry Potter as part of the setting of the stories, with no real inherent meaning in and of itself in that context only. And when we’re not distracted by the setting of the story, we are better able to appreciate the excellent themes that you mentioned, such as the fact that good and evil exist (which you can’t take for granted in art anymore), and that the truth itself is worth committing to at all costs.

    On a somewhat related tangent, Joseph Pearce wrote a book called “The Quest for Shakespeare” in which he began with the assumption (as I do) that to understand art, you need to understand the artist. Especially to the degree that the artist is different than you or I, to help avoid biasing our interpretation with assumptions that we might take for granted. He follows this book up with “Through Shakespeare’s Eyes” in which he uses the information uncovered in his first book to help interpret a couple of Shakespeare’s better known plays. It’s really very eye-opening.

    So my overall point is – allowing kids to enjoy wizards and magic and dragons in a fantasy setting as something good or neutral doesn’t undermine anything that you’re trying to teach them about the real world, similar to how generations of little boys grew up pretending to shoot one another with guns and yet didn’t all grow up to be murderers.

    (*) As an extreme example of this, Stefan Molyneux analyzed the movie Frozen based entirely on an assumption that magic in literature is ALWAYS a stand-in for madness (youtube-able – you only need to take the time to listen to the first couple minutes to see what I’m talking about). Because he starts off with an assumption completely contrary to what the artist intended, it throws his whole analysis off.

    • I'm Kelsey! says:

      I agree with you on a lot, Athena! Understanding the author’s worldview is crucial to understanding so much of the story. I’m all for creating new worlds and allowing our minds to be stretched and exhilarated, however I think, even in an alternate universe, God’s right/wrong guidelines still have to be maintained. For example, if we condone witchcraft or wizardry in a movie and call it ‘okay in their world’ then what is to prevent us from calling murder or adultery okay ‘by their world’s standards’. See what I mean? It’s a slippery slope and definitely something that requires a lot of wisdom from us parents.

      • Hi Kelsey!

        “I think, even in an alternate universe, God’s right/wrong guidelines still have to be maintained.”

        I thought about this after I wrote my response, because the way I said it, there isn’t anything to stop us from saying that, for example, murder is okay in an alternate universe. And that’s not anything that I would be on board with, so I thought we could explore this a bit more. In our universe, there are two categories of “wrong” –

        1. Things that are always and forever wrong. These can’t be changed because even in an alternate universe, the author will need to draw on our understanding of universal good and evil to tell a story. Killing a person in cold blood will always fall in this category (assuming that there isn’t any need for self-defense or that the other person isn’t an enemy combatant as defined by the Geneva Conventions – anyway, I trust you see my point).

        2. Things that are situationally wrong. This is where things that are wrong in one situation can become good or neutral in a different situation, by “changing the rules” in our alternate universe. Killing another person (generally) goes in this category because killing someone in self-defense (changing the situation / rules from category 1) is not wrong.

        Magic goes in this category because, as you said in your original post, magic in and of itself isn’t evil. However, God was very clear that we, as humans, are not supposed to be messing with magic; not because it’s inherently evil, but because it’s not for us to do. For all of humanity in our universe, the “situation” is that magic is wrong. But change the rules and create an alternate universe where it’s appropriate to our situation as humans (or certain select humans, i.e. wizards) to practice magic, and you now have the possibility of a wizard being neutral or good.

        3. (Bonus category) – Things that are clearly wrong but the degree of wrongness is debatable. Sci-fi and fantasy tends to do a really good job exploring this with hypothetical, no-win ethical scenarios that really provide a lot of food for thought. Deep Space Nine episode “In the Pale Moonlight” is my favorite example of this, if you’re familiar.

        Hopefully that explains it a little more.

        • I'm Kelsey! says:

          Interesting thoughts, Athena! I suppose I do agree with you to an extent. After all, I thought Gandalf was a legitimate wizard in LOTR, gifted with special ability by a higher power. However in Middle Earth, the use of magic by humans still remained consistently bad news (which would be Biblically consistent). However, the Elves and other ‘higher beings’ in Middle Earth seemed to use different forms of magic without problem. So yes, Fantasy does allow for some rules to be bent and clarified, however I would maintain that wizards/witchcraft still be something my children never aspire to themselves. Make sense?

          • Yes of course – in real life attempting to dabble in magic is a really bad idea. But I would still argue that it’s more than okay for kids to pretend to be wizards and the like. Kids know the difference between fantasy and reality, especially if you help underscore it as a parent.

            After all, generations of little boys grew up pretending to shoot each other, and virtually none of them became mass murderers as adults.

  8. Cinny says:

    Kelsey, I love how you were able to articulate your thoughts here! There are so many people of faith in the world that have a very narrow view of all things “magical.” And they can’t articulate anything about why those things – those stories, movies, books – are bad other than: they. just. are.

    An example of this:

    I want to begin by saying: I am a huge Harry Potter fan! And I was raised in a Baptist church where the general opinion was “Harry Potter = bad, because it is about magic” – all this from people who never read a single page of the book.

    I remember when I was in college, in my Brit Lit class, the professor talked about the series as a whole. She was working on receiving her tenure, and she discussed with us how she wanted to teach a Harry Potter course.

    I never thought about the books on a deeper level than that until that discussion in class. And how the overwhelming theme of the books is that love is the most powerful “magic” in the world, and that it conquers evil. (At that point, my mind was, in a word, BLOWN. 😉 Which, coincidentally, is something that is stated throughout the entire story.

    In that, I do think people should wait until their children are older – so they CAN discuss this underlying themes.

    To that end, that’s why I love books like the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings – because I am able to look at the deeper issues around the story. (My general theory is: watch the movie to enjoy a movie. Read the books to get the whole experience and the deeper meaning.)

    • I'm Kelsey! says:

      Excellent thoughts. Yes, I love re-watching good movies or re-reading good books to understand their deeper meanings. I was suspicious about Harry Potter for a long time. I still wish that a lot of the terminology was different so I could stand behind it more (their powers are more genetic than cultic in the story anyway), but I thought it was an excellent story of Good conquering Evil with a great dying-to-self-to-save-others ending which seemed very Christian to me. Good thoughts!

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