Friday, July 12, 2013

In Defense of Dragons.

Fight Dobrynya Nikitich with seven headed serpent Hydra  - Viktor Vasnetsov

In Bill Watterson's immortal Calvin and Hobbes, the main character, Calvin is asked to write a paper in defending the Tyrannosaurus-rex as a predator opposed to a scavenger. His argument goes something around "The T-rex was a predator not a scavenger because it would be much cooler that way."

That's an easy trap to fall into when defending the use of fantasy creatures. Unfortunately for a lot of fantasy writers out there, there is a definite subculture within Christianity which is suspicious of the use of dragons, elves, fairies etc, especially as good guys. The reason given? They're pagan creations. Shouldn't Christians stick to reality when writing fiction and stay away from using the alluring creations of non-Christians?

 It's a compelling argument and those who are Christians should pause and give it a second thought. We who write fantasy more often appeal to Christian liberty, but in doing so we're just saying "Dragons are cool therefore I want to write about them," in a slightly more sophisticated way. Alright, writing about dragons is cool and nothing in the Bible expressly prohibits it, but is it really edifying? Does using pagan creatures and myth really help grow us as Christians.

The answer is yes. But for reasons that go a lot deeper then the Christian Liberty argument. And the argument has everything to do with the redemptive nature of Christianity itself.

Christianity, of course, unlike most other world religions (there are exceptions), is trans-cultural. It was not founded to found one monolithic culture and have all others conform to it but rather to set the foundation for Salvation and have all cultures redeemed by it. When the Early Church started evangelizing, they didn't reject things just because the pagans did them. They tried to find out how the ideas the Pagans had conformed or contrasted to Christianity and tried to explore then in light of the Christian Faith. We can't reject something just because the world does it. We need to examine why it does things instead of outright rejecting them.

When it comes to fantasy creatures, they are inherently symbolic creatures. Things that the pagans used to convey certain ideas, life, death, mercy and nature, this makes them a ripe opportunity for use in evangelism and the Christian Novel. This doesn't mean we should we should use them in the exact same way the pagans did. Christianity will always give mythical creatures a different twist because the ideas behind Christianity are inherently different from those of paganism. For example dragons are symbols of power, and thus a dragon can be used to communicate the Christian view on power. Faeries are symbols of beauty and they can be used to communicate the Christian view on that as well.

Always remember though the meaning behind certain fantasy races/creatures when you use them. The reason we use them is not simply because they are cool, but because they are able to communicate ideals in ways that few other things are. It's not that coolness is not important, but it's secondary. The point of other races/creatures is symbolism. 


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  2. This is epic. ^_^

    My favorite lines: " It was not founded to found one monolithic culture and have all others conform to it but rather to set the foundation for Salvation and have all cultures redeemed by it."

    That's so true...and it reminds me of how Christians would have contrasting holidays to the pagans around them, as supposedly they did with Christmas.

  3. *Still stubbornly likes dragons because they are cool* ;) Good post, Brendan. Something to ponder. ^_^

  4. Very interesting ideas. I certainly agree with your points about mythical creatures as symbols in literature. However there are a few things that make the use of dragons (at least as a force of good) rather complicated for christian writers. The way I see it, dragons may be different from elves, fairies, etc... because there is a dragon in the bible. And since the bible is the basis for our christian beliefs, it may be wise for us to follow the connotations of the dragon in the bible.

    And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (revelation 12:9).

    So I guess my question is this: should we treat dragons differently then other mythical creatures because the bible clearly uses a dragon to represent the devil?

    1. Very insightful comment Susana. I say that the Dragon is not necessarily used as a symbol of evil per se, but a symbol of power. For instance the snake is used a symbol of the devil, but it is meant to denote the cunningness of the devil. Not it's evil.

      Also if you want an example of good dragons in the Bible, look here

  5. Still others argue that the Leviathan is a dragon too, so that's another Bible point to throw into the proverbial mixing bowl.