Something to Believe In? Faith in Fantasy Fiction

John C.

After a long day’s wielding their swords in pitched battle or employing the immense power of sorcery to defeat their opponents, knights and warlocks alike can reflect upon a force greater than themselves...In a genre where the vivid detail of world building is essential, and where the fight between good and evil still generally forms the basis of the narrative, faith matters in Fantasy fiction.
Many Fantasy novels embody an Anglo-Saxon or Medieval belief system, drawing upon European history and culture to portray the tension between pagan or Norse gods and a single god, as Christianity expanded, squeezing out older forms of worship. In longer works, there is space for a variety of religious forms to be contrasted. In some novels, this is central to the plot, in others, religion provides merely a cultural backdrop.
Most recently, monotheistic religions, such as Islam, have been the bedrock for world building in epic sword and sorcery battles as Fantasy moves beyond a Euro-centric view. The genre is also embracing a more diverse and global outlook by using polytheistic faiths from Medieval times to inspire the creation of vibrant fictional universes drenched with fascinating myths and legends. Whatever historical period and location is chosen for inspiration, Fantasy authors are increasingly asking themselves, "What, if anything, do my characters believe in?"
In the Game of Thrones series from George R.R. Martin, the 'old gods' referred to are not fully differentiated with distinct identities. The North, including house Stark, hold to the old gods, but other than that, we know very little about them. Other houses are pledged to the new gods, who are individually named, giving hints of the characteristics each embodies, such as the Mother, the Maiden, the Stranger, and the Warrior. There is a pagan feel here, but it is developing into an established religion supporting the state.
These ‘new gods’ (referred to as deities but open to interpretation as the Seven Faces of the One God) are co-opted into a system that resembles a Christian church with septas, septons, and even missionaries gathered around their leader, the High Sparrow. Due to its sheer length, the Game of Thrones series has the space to present all stages of development in religion simultaneously. This is very unusual for Fantasy, where writers tend to have only one faith present in their fictional universe.

Read the entire article in the November 2021 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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