My favorite hobby as a kid was reading; yes, you read that correctly, READING. One of my earliest memories of loving to read was in my kindergarten class when I was five. We had 5th grade “buddies” that would come down weekly to read to us in order to help them with their reading skills but what happened was I would end up reading to my buddies instead. Now, I know I wasn’t really reading the words but the books had been read to me before and I could remember the gist of the story based on the pictures. I am sure my “buddies” either found me entertaining or annoying; either way, I got to “read” and I felt very proud of myself.
Fast forward a few years and I was reading at an 8th grade level in 3rd grade. I wasn’t trying to be a know-it-all or show-off, I genuinely loved reading and read hundreds of books. As I started reading more advanced books, I didn’t always know what the words meant and would take out our family’s dictionary (I am pretty sure I was only the one who ever actually opened them up) and look up the word so I could understand what it meant in order to understand the story. I even remember looking up hard to spell words and repeating them to myself until I could spell them without looking. My greatest accomplishment in the 1st or 2nd grade was that I could spell “Mississippi”, “Hippopotamus” and “Massachusetts”. I would walk around chanting them to myself as I did my chores. I am sure my parent’s thought I was nuts.
Cut to me discovering the Chronicles of Narnia series and I was HOOKED. My mom would come into my room at 2am and tell me to go to sleep and my response was always, “just one more page.” I didn’t leave the house without my books. I even took them on family vacations and was constantly told to “put your book down and look out the window, you’re missing it!” I was too busy engrossed in my fantasy books to care what was going on outside the car window on our drive to Jackson Hole, WY. Have you seen Wyoming? I have, I used to live there. I wasn’t missing much.
The Chronicles of Narnia took my imagination to a whole new level and I ended up re-reading the series several times simply as a form of escapism. Around the time I entered high school I had read the series seven times and was finally seeing some connections to Christian stories and beliefs. However, I never had a lesson in church, Sunday school, family home evening, youth events or girl’s camp that ever used fantasy fiction to teach what Yergensen calls “equipment for living.” I understand his point and that fantasy stories such as “Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” have Christian elements to them. However, I find it rather odd that any Christian based faith would use pop culture to teach lessons from their Bible and God. In fact, I would find it odd that any religion would use pop culture fantasy books/movies to demonstrate their teachings.
|Even the view from my office looks like Narnia|
On one hand, you have the group of Christians saying that fantasy fiction is “of the devil” while others espouse the virtues of the same fantasy fiction. One group of Christians do not speak for all Christians and some sub-groups may find using pop-culture helps keep their youth engaged in conversations surrounding religious virtues but I still find it a stretch that Lord of the Rings was the material used make to make connections between Christian ideals and the four fantasy themes named in Yergesen’s research: 1) realization, 2) repentance, 3) being strengthened, and 4) teaching others.
Nevertheless, Yergensen and others’ research has shown that Lord of the Rings has been a useful tool in creating dialogue with their followers which leads to better understanding of Christian beliefs and practices. If the main goal of a congregation/bishop/pastor/reverend is to know and integrate the teachings of their God into their lives and pop culture happens to be that vehicle, then so be it.
“Fantasy theme analysis has traditionally been viewed as the construction of groups and cultures through the sharing of similar stories. With equipment for living being a way to solve problems, people are doing more than just creating a culture with stories, but are sharing how they solve the problems of life” (pg.163).
I just don’t see the need for religions that are based on a book that is hundreds of years old to use fantasy fiction to teach their message. The Bible stories themselves are groups sharing and bonding over their culture. It almost sends the message that the religious teachings themselves aren’t “real” and are based on myths rather than God’s word, which Christians profess the Bible to be.
My love of reading has led me to read a diverse collection of books and I have found messages in each of them that either resonated with me, taught me something about life or myself, exposed me to brand new knowledge or straight up shocked and disgusted me. Some of the books I have read have been made into movies and the movies rarely live up to the imagery in my head.
“A reader learns about the world and imagines it differently from the way a viewer does; according to some experimental psychologists, a reader and a viewer even think differently. If the eclipse of reading continues, the alteration is likely to matter in ways that aren’t foreseeable.”
I learned those things from reading them first, not by being exposed to their film version. Again, if fantasy film has been able to help Christian faiths teach their message, then that is awesome. But reading stories and coming to your own understanding is much more powerful because YOU read the material, YOU asked the questions, and YOU found your answers without the influence of pop culture messages that change with time and societal norms.
1. Have you ever read a book that has then been made into a movie? Did the movie live up to what you had imagined? Or not?
2. Do you think it’s a sound religious practice to use popular culture fantasy fiction to demonstrate religious teachings?
3. Do movies provide us with a deeper understanding of the messages they want to portray in comparison to books?