Support Books Under the Bridge

Monday, February 11, 2008

Religion in Fantasy, or An Irrelevant Quiz

I've had a recent series of posts on religion in science fiction (here, here, here, and there, too). I briefly compared sci-fi to fantasy. A typical fantasy novel has gods, priests, religion. (Although some have disputed it, I still maintain the opposite is true of sci-fi: the typical sci-fi novel has none of these things, when considering humans.)

As I was saying, the typical fantasy novel has religion - religions plural. Multi-culturalism! Admittedly, often of quite a crude sort, but the best fantasy authors envision wonderful worlds, with many interacting cultures and races, with differences good and bad, and richness of belief.

Quick quiz.

I spy with my little eye... a fantasy author who envisioned a beautiful world of incredible richness, with many races portrayed with wonderful depth, and yet not one culture had any religion whatsoever?

Even if there's more than one right answer, there's only one right answer.

And for you nitpickers, anything this author may have written down in notes unpublished during his or her lifetime... so totally, completely does not count.


Billy Goat said...

I'm going to opt out of this little quiz for a few days, since I peeked on this post while it was in progress. It would be unsportsmanlike for me to comment at this time. :)

Mister Troll said...

No credit for you, cheater! :-)

I'll leave this post up and see if anyone ever stumbles across it. To the future: we'll definitely respond if you post a comment.

tjs282 said...

To answer your riddle:

Presumably you're referring to LotR. Although it's true that none of the characters/races are portrayed as religious, the book surely is. Despite JRRT's assertions to the contrary, the whole work is a religious, specifically Christian, allegory -- as clearly demonstrated by Volume 3's title, and plot. (NB Same goes for the HP series -- JKR did that deliberately)

To add a few more SF novels that include human religion (of some description) as a motivating factor:

Do Androids Dream...? by PKD

One of the central premises of that novel is that, due to their lack of empathy, the andys not only don't participate in 'Mercerism' (the 'shared suffering' religion practiced by Deckard and his wife - and presumably many other humans), they can't even comprehend it (and indeed, ridicule it). Much as I love Blade Runner, the removal of the Mercerism thread and also the clear implication that the replicants were actually 'more human than [the] human[s]' almost completely divorces the movie from its source material.

The 'Galactic Milieu' series by Julian May

'Soft' s-f it might be, but areligious it most certainly is not. Nearly all the major characters have been raised Catholic/Christian (the chronology starts in the 1950s), although there are also a few Hindu/Buddhist/atheist minor characters. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is mentioned frequently. Religious beliefs and the moral/ethical dilemmas thus engendered, form a major part of the plot, and hence many of the characters' arcs.

'Neverness' and its sequels by David Zindell.

It's been a while (nearly 20 years!) since I read the first two, and unfortunately I only read them once (they were borrowed not bought), but I read The Wild earlier this year (it had been sitting unread on my bookshelf for years, because I'd bought it secondhand thinking I'd read it already). The books posit a future where mathematician-priests control the spaceways, although the protagonists of the first book actually spend quite a long time in the company of a tribe of 'neo-neanderthal' humans who have 'de-evolved' themselves in an attempt to become closer to universal truth (IIRC). The books are fairly heavily philosophical.

Mister Troll said...

Very interesting, tjs. Thanks for leaving the comment.

Of course I agree Tolkien's writings are heavily influenced with Christian symbolism, although much is pagan as well.

According to Wikipedia (according to Wikipedia!), Tolkien did explicitly state that LOTR was intended to be Christian.