Monday, November 03, 2008

Guest Blogger - Heather

Glorifying God Through Fantasy

Have you noticed the recent upsurge of fantasy books? Due to the success of The Lord of the Rings and related movies, literature suddenly abounds with dragons, knights, castles, and fair maidens. Even in Christian fiction, fantasy has been on the rise. Yet one author in particular takes the lead, Stephen R. Lawhead. Through twenty-three books and counting, Lawhead uses fantasy to tell of God’s mercy and grace.
Born in Nebraska in 1950, Lawhead was raised in the Midwest. After earning a university degree in Fine Arts from Kearney State College of Nebraska and attending Northern Baptist Theological Seminary for two years, Lawhead moved to Chicago. There he was hired at Campus Life as an editor and writer for five years. He wrote hundreds of articles and several nonfiction books. Lawhead then moved to England to research the ancient Celts. The Celtic time period of English history is the setting of many of Lawhead’s most popular books.
The subject matter of Lawhead’s books is truly unique. Shunning the orcs, dragons, and elves of typical fantasy, Lawhead delves into the rich cultural world of the ancient Celts of Britain. Not only does he write about the Celts; he retells their legends. Particularly popular are Lawhead’s retellings of King Arthur and Robin Hood.
With his unique stories, Lawhead has unique settings. The rough-and-readiness of Celtic warfare is the perfect fantasy setting for epic battles and legendary heroes. The heavy superstition of Celtic mythology creates a dark world where the Word of God shines brightly. This combination creates a rich canvas for Lawhead to paint his stories upon. The heroes constantly have to choose between the easy way and the right way. They pray often and sometimes must take up their swords in defense of their faith and friends. God Himself comes to the rescue at times, imparting wisdom or sending a miracle in answer to prayer. With memorable characters and settings, Lawhead’s books easily captivate the reader’s interest.
Lawhead’s characters are memorable because they provide a mirror of real people like us. They are not superheroes who easily leap over problems in a single bound. The characters are simply human, with all the human race’s problems, longings, and questions. They fail, fall short, and learn to rely on God’s power, not their own. They search to find God’s will in their lives and, thanks to the author’s wonderful writing style, we suffer when they do and rejoice right along with them. We can easily associate with them, especially those who experience the same trials and hardships as we do.
I am sure all of us can relate to the story of the Dragon King Trilogy. The first book of the series, In the Hall of the Dragon King, portrays a young man named Quentin in the land of Mensandar. Quentin is disappointed in the phony gods of his world but finds salvation and peace in the Most High God. Upon reflection, Quentin realizes that he had been searching for the true God his whole life; yet he had not found God. God had found him. Only the true God could fill the longing in his heart because God had made him. In the second book, The Warlords of Nin, Quentin is thrown into a war. Enemies who put their trust in darkness invade Mensandar. Through trials, hardships, and sacrifice, Quentin perseveres in doing the right thing. God rewards him and makes him an unlikely hero in the saving of Mensandar. This story illustrates that God uses the weak and makes them strong when they serve Him, much like the Biblical account of David and Goliath. In the final book, The Sword and the Flame, Quentin feels abandoned by God. His friends turn against him and God seems silent. Even his wife and son are taken from him. In this allegory of the book of Job, Quentin learns that God may test our faith, but He is always there to save us in times of need. God will always rescue those who call on Him.
With such vivid settings and realistic characters, Lawhead also brings a Christian perspective, and his stories reflect it. When the knights court the fair ladies, they do so in a godly and chivalrous manner. The characters stand firm in their beliefs, more willing to die fighting for righteousness and their friends than to save their own necks. The heroes not only fight the enemy but also themselves. They struggle daily to die to self and live for God. So many of these truths are missing from secular fantasy. In secular fantasy, though the heroes may strive to be chivalrous, they often rely on their works to save themselves. Evil is often accented or even smiled upon. This is not the case in Lawhead’s stories. Though Lawhead’s characters sometimes fail, it is because of their human sin nature. The hero must always look to God for the ultimate victory and not rely on his own strength.
But can even fantasy worlds truly acknowledge a God as great and mighty as ours? Lawhead shows that they can. Though Lawhead’s characters rarely refer to Him as God, Lord, or Jesus, the names the characters use show the author’s reverence of God. These names include Most High God, Whinoek Father of Life, Great Light, and the Swift Sure Hand. These names are always mentioned with respect and provide glimpses of God’s attributes, such as holiness, justice, and omnipotence. The characters worship God, praise Him, pray to Him, and glorify Him.
It may seem strange to some that Lawhead can combine fantasy and Christianity. Yet Lawhead does this in a way that is plausible. In the Pendragon cycle, for example, Merlin is a Roman Catholic. History shows that Celtic Christianity came to England in the fifth century, at about the time Lawhead places his books. Lawhead portrays Merlin not as a wizard of mythical art but as a bard and prophet. For those who just do not like fantasy in general, consider trying some of Lawhead’s historical fiction. Byzantium and Patrick portray the real historical figures of Aidan and Patrick, who are some of the earliest missionaries to the Celtic peoples of Britain and Ireland. These books are not loaded with the fantasy of some of Lawhead’s books yet retain all the author’s unique style and scope.
Today, many readers love Stephen R. Lawhead’s unique combination of fantasy and Biblical truths. Since Lawhead began writing fantasy in 1981, his books have not gone out of print. He has a huge fan base in both the United States and the United Kingdom. He has also received multiple awards for his writing, including a Christy award for his latest book, Scarlet. In 2003, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Nebraska. His books have been translated into twenty-one different foreign languages.In a fantasy world of dark magic, Lawhead leads the way in the growing market of Christian fantasy. With a firm foundation in God’s Word, Lawhead continues to write captivating stories that testify to the glory of God. He will continue to be well read and well received by readers around the world.


  1. Great post. Christian fantasy is one genre I haven't jumped in to yet, but your post makes me consider it =)

  2. I enjoyed Lawhead's Arthurian cycle. Will have to check out his Robin Hood saga.