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Author Topic: Portraying God and Religion within Fiction
Survivor
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Okay, I'm going to come right out and say something highly critical of OSC right now, so don't be offended if you read the rest of this paragraph. The Keeper of Earth freaked me out. I didn't have too much trouble with the idea of the Oversoul (though I did have a little queasiness about it), but the Keeper, the Children of the Keeper, or Kept, or whatever you want to call them, the whole thing with that, particularly the transcendent vision that Shedemi experiences, all really bugged me. And I thought hard about why that should be so and everything, and came up with various theories, but it still bugged me.

Anyway, for those of you that skipped the paragraph above, I'm asking the question. How do we deal with transcendental realities within the context of our fiction? For me, certain things, like the organization of a particular religion, are highly variable. Others are totally invarient, in my own view. If I'm telling a story about humans, or even people that have free will and intelligence generally, I have a set of invarient realities to deal with. Beings with free will can be good or bad, they cannot all be good nor can they be all bad, nor can they be subject to determinism (though they are subject to causality). Beings with intelligence must have the ability to observe the world around them, they must have a system of building knowledge for themselves. I don't call a completely unformed and unperceptive mind intelligent (or a mind, for that matter). They must have an equivalent to what we think of as reason, some basis on which they are able to make determinations of truth and falsehood. And they have to deal with the questions of meaning and purpose in life.

And that means dealing with God and religion.

Now most of the time, when we are writing about milieux that are similar to our own experience, humans living in the near future, speaking English or some other language that we're familiar with, aware of the same cultural heritage that we share with them (like, say in Speaker for the Dead) this is not hard. We don't have to invent religions or even conceptions of God, nor do we have to do more than portray religious experience. It's pretty safe ground. Tricky, but still fairly safe.

But I'm setting a book and characters in a more fantastic milieu, where there is a working magical technology, and demi gods and goddesses. And I'm looking at the problem of portraying God and religion in that setting, and considering what happened with the Keeper of Earth in Card's books. Some things are easy. There are religions that serve and celebrate one or the other of the demi-gods as the most important god, there are religions that celebrate and try to serve one of the several defunct demi-gods, there are people that function without a strongly systematic religious devotion but more a patch work of duties and pleas to this or that patron demi-god, and there are a few skeptical people that believe either only in the magics that they have experience with or in no magics at all (magic is common enough that there are few of these people, but rare enough that they do exist and even predominate in isolated places). And of course, there are artists, metaphysicists, and visionaries that believe in a transcendent reality beyond that defined by the demi-gods.

I should point out that my demi-gods really do wield god-like power, to shake the earth, to create life, to raise the dead (though the main goddess has a policy against that) to strike with lighting or plague (the main goddess is fairly sparing with both of these) and to travel with the speed of thought (actually the speed of a particle transmission moving at 96.876% the speed of light, my magic all has science fiction roots). And yes, to both read and influence the hearts and minds of mortals. I'm pretty sure that I can handle representing the devout followers of the various demi-gods, and the superstitious and skeptical as well. The problem comes up when I consider how to portray those that seek something beyond that. Particularly as, in precise parallel to the Oversoul, the goddess (we'll call her Thean for short) also believes and strives to serve this transcendent God.

Once again, those that will be unable to bear criticism of Card must skip a paragraph. I believe that Card, despite his gifts, failed terribly in the exact same situation that I face, and that gives me a great deal of pause. However, this is the story that I most want to tell. I am given hope by the Worthing Saga even as the other gives me pause. But the question of transcendent reality, and service to the will of a real God that we all have experience with, is so sparsely treated there, amounting only to Jason Worthing's confronting the people of Worthing with the fact that they would not themselves accept what they imposed on all others. Which is nothing more than to say, "Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you."


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Excellent post Survivor. Your milieu sounds great.

As it happens... I have began work on a epic fantasy story. Gods will a play a strong role in this story, and one of my current problem is that my main character will be a priestess of one of these gods, and I haven't decided about her convictions and how strong they are. To make matters more complicated, she did not grow up in the culture that spawned this religion.

Although I haven't worked any transcendents into this story (in fact, it's still in the organization and preparation stages) it might be interesting if we critiqued each other's ideas. Since we rarely, if ever seem to come from the same view point, the results might be interesting.


[This message has been edited by TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove (edited July 13, 2000).]


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Survivor
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Hmmm. I don't know. Faith is a concept unique, in my mind at least, to dealing with a transcendent God. Ae'c Theandean doesn't really care if anyone believes in her or not, she's just trying to do her job (by the way, the Ancient name of the world is Thean, and Ae'c Theandean is the cheif ecologist, responsible for making sure that...well, you know, the ecology doesn't collapse) and follow the dictates of her own conscience as best she knows how. Things are complicated for her, because she suspects that her conscience may be defective because she's not human (in fact, that's why she created the human race, but she can't tell whether or not their consciences work very well either). Anyway, things are complicated for her.

But for people that worship and serve her, the issue of faith is not particularly important because she's not a transcendent entity. It's not like believing in God, where you have to make a judgement about the nature of meaning and truth in some cosmic sense. Those that serve her are her followers, and those that pay homage to her don't have to really believe in her as an actual being. As a matter of fact, most of her worshippers think of her as a sort of Mother Earth figure, kind of a mythical being that is poetically described as having the flowers in her hair and the green clothing and the ample...eh em.

But see, I don't want to leave out the level of transcendent experience, because that's a main element in my main character's search for personal meaning in his life. In fact, in terms of my mythical cosmology, it's an important element in Thean's search for meaning as well. She created humans, a species that is at best tolerated but still pityed by other intelligent species, in response to what she hopes is divine inspiration, but sometimes suspects may just be instinctive eco-ethology.

Now of course, anything that she experiences will not be directly in the story, so I don't have to worry about it. She's not a POV character, and even when she does show up, she tends (quite naturally) to be extremely aloof. But it is important to my protaganist, since the nature of his own quest is that most transcendent of personal experiences, the search for his own place in the universe.

And in that search, he must find God. Because he has no place in the natural order of his world, the place that he finds for himself must be defined metaphysically (by the way, it involves the old saw about having numberless posterity, so be warned, his personal quest for God also entails a search for a mate).

Hmmm. I seem to be...well, hmmm.

By the way, UL, what did you personally think of the Keeper of Earth?


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jackonus
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Well, well, well. I like this topic a lot, and both of the posts so far are really thought provoking. I can't comment on Keeper of Earth (I would have to go back and read it again and I don't have time right now), but...I'll concede a certain vague disatisfaction with the Keeper. I didn't think it through at the time, but you may be on to something with your analysis.

More importantly, if we don't like it, how can we do better in portraying God & Religion within Fiction?

I think modern readers, everywhere, are familiar with the concept of THE God, even in the context of a pantheon numbering potentially in the billions. Someone or some entity that is Supreme. Most pantheistic societies incorporated a hierarchy (much like what you seem to be setting up for your fictional world). So...I don't see a problem with expressing the belief in a Supreme Authority. Even devout followers of a particular demi-god (her priests and priestesses, for example) could be expected to know her place in the pantheon and respect the one(s) above their chosen deity. Why not sprinkle references to that idea (however vaguely defined) into their ritual?

Defining the duties and responsibilities of that Supreme Deity is another story. If you've assigned creation and soul distribution to a demi-god, then you have to have a raison d'etre for the BIG GOD. Maybe the Supreme ONE is actually the spiritual melding of all that exists (like GAIA is for Earth), or it could be the essence of life without which, the demi-god of soul distribution would be handing out lifeless nothings throughout the cosmos. Or, the ONE could be God of all the Universe(s) whereas everyone else is more localized? But there must be something that GOD does that is both important and unique, besides being overarching.

As for lower gods believing in a Greater Being, all you need is ONE answered question (an unanswerable question under the god's own power) and you've got sufficient reason for the belief in a higher power. That alone has sufficed for mankind and why not for fictional demi-gods as well?

And, if you need them, you've got more empirically-minded demi-gods around who doubt until they can perceive the physical ONE GOD, then you have everything you need for sowing doubt and, conversely, explaining faith as THE GIFT from THE GOD. Seems to me.

Sounds like a story I would purchase. Hope it works out!
-Bob


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Dazgul
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I find all of these posts very interesting as I personally am in the midst of writing a novel that portrays god. My tale is a humorous tale in which a person who has recently died and has been running rampant (possessing people and such things) is caught and put on trial by the GOD committee (Ghost Official Disciplinary Committee).

I read your posts and I just thought I would mention something that I have peronally found very useful and that is uncertainty. When portraying the religious I have often found fantasy makes the way reality is too certain. Possibly your problems with 'Keeper of Earth'may have been caused by the sudden explanation of everything. The doubt in 'Memory of Earth' was much more poignant,
Religious experience is fraught with insecurity and doubt and I therefore have found it useful to have characters who have theories the GOD Committee is run by imposter ghosts not the real God -- if he even exists. I choose to avoid ever saying whather there really is a God and focusing on personal characters faith & lives.

Survivor, you mentioned that you have characters who disbelieve, but they are rare. I would suggest, perhaps you could bring one of them into an important role. A lack of belief in a magical world would hold a marvellous inverse parallel to those who have faith in God in this mundane, increasingly scientifically dominated world of ours.

Alternatively, you could fully flesh out your gods, making them all have personalities etc, likle the Greek Gods. Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman's 'Rose of the Prophet'series is a marvellous example of this. In such a case though gods are merely characters with more power and serve the tale as such, not as true divine figures.

However you wish to do it, good luck. I'm intrigued by what I've heard so far.


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Jeannette Hill
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I know I mention role-playing a lot in my posts, but I have to mention it one more time.
Steve Jackson Games, which publishes the GURP's system, has an awesome source-book on how to create religions. It uses exsisting religions as examples, plus makes up a sample one, (or more- I haven't read it thouroughly), and shows what you need to think about and how to flesh out your dieties and their ethos'. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to create a religion for their fiction, if only for reference.


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Survivor
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Ummmm.

I'm more concerned with the portrayal of transcendence. After all, my other gods exist only in the literal sense, that is, they are, as opposed to not being. They do not transcend the question of existence. So they are simple facts that could just as well be otherwise.

The problem is, a transcendent God cannot just as well not exist. He exists, will ye, nil ye. And my character is on a transcendent quest for personal meaning, so he's going to have to deal with God, will he, nil he.

So amidst all the magic and worship and whatnot directed to the literal, non-transcendent gods (which I can pretty well handle, I think), there's the question of this search for transcendence.

In fact, since the magic is completely non-transcendent (in that using it takes no more faith than, say, using a computer), the position of a person on a search for transcendence has more parallels than not to people in this age. But I think that I'm going to have to remove 'true' transcendent religion, since most people have no experience with a 'true' religion (this is obvious no matter which religion you think of as being 'true', since most people don't belong to the religion that you're thinking of). I'm going to have to make do with a few transcendent philosophies, which will be adapted from Taoism, Christian Ethics, and a version of Karmic Hinduism.

Of course, all the religions will contain transcendent philosophical tenents, but they will all be false in the sense of not being 'true'.

Hmmm. You know, I think that I'm pretty comfortable with that mix. I can really do this.

Actually, I had already decided that there wouldn't be a 'true' religion when I came up with this whole idea. I've always been facsinated by the idea of what it must be like for people that live without any reliable source of transcendent knowledge. I guess that's why I really wanted to write this.


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Survivor. The Homecomings are my favorite books by Card. I just loved all of the conflict between Nafia and Elemack, I thught that was some of Card's best work.

I was like, Jackonus and you, disappointed in the Keeper of Earth. It felt to me like Card was leading up to this big, meaningful being with a plan and purpose for humanity, and in the end it left everything open ended. There wasn't really any description of the purpose he'she was trying to achieve, and the other major let down was that none of the human characters reached a level where they came up with a meaning for what the Keeper wanted either. So it was disappointing. It was almost as if on the last few pages of the book he said, "Oh, by the way, that keeper of the earth stuff, ummmmmmmm, it really didn't matter so much, just believe whatever you like."


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Interesting, Survivor. Let me try to put this down in my own words so I fully understand you.

Your main character is on a quest to discover true trancendence- the nature and being of the supreme force that guides and directs the universe. There are other demi-gods, entities know to exist the the terms that we define as physically existing, that your main character will meet along the way... right?

To me, in my personal view of God, I do not see why the idea of a transcendent God would hold you back. I believe God exists, and since we have no physical evidence of this existence within our realm of existant, I can only conclude he exists into a dimension that we can not extend ourselves to. So you can create the scenes where your protagonist is searching for this force that he can not see or touch on any physical level, and you can have the scenes where this transcendal being exists, and being supreme, can see and hear the thoughts and crys of your protagonist. At least, that might be how I would choose to do it.

But what needs to be clear is the motives, plans and purpose of this god, at some point, that should be addressed. It would be really cool to play around with the demi gods. Just by throwing them into this mix, we, the reader can assume somethings.

One, that this supreme being created them

Two, that each has been given a purpose, and a plan to carry out.

Three, that by following their purposes, these demi-gods help to move things in the direction that the supreme god wants things to move.

Four, that by using this indirect method, the supreme god as given the humans free will.

Think about that. One other thing--do you plan to make the main objective of your character the quest to understand the supreme god? I would only warn you that very nonconcrete goals like this are harder to plan and carry out, (and ultimately fullfill the readers desires).

I'd love to hear more,
Umbie


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Survivor
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Well, no. My character is a sort of rare halfbreed. Rare, not just because the incidence is low, but because halfbreeds of his particular type are usually killed at birth or hunted down. He escaped this fate because his mother fostered him with a species that holds as a core tenent of belief that children must be raised, and then tested when they reach maturity.

Of course, they are a very different species, so when he reaches maturity, he feels impelled to seek his way in the world, but it is a world that literally has no place for him. That's his transcendent quest, to find his destiny in a natural order that precludes the possibility of his existence.

Along the way, he has to go up against enemies, magics, gods and goddesses, and ultimately, has to find a transcendent meaning to his life, because there is no extant meaning. So he's not looking for God. But he has to find him in order to find what he is looking for.

Now, for some irrelevent (to the main thrust of this topic, I mean) clarification.

quote:
In an age not remembered by man kind, and only dimly remembered even by the Elder races, there was built of all Thean a great city, that touched the stars above and the deep places below. All the peoples of that Age and every creature of Thean lived therein, without care or sorrow, for there was no sickness or death in that Age.

In the Ancient city the immortal Hlaengaurt ruled by the power of the Girian Aec Reaneal, the Circle of Stars, held in thrall to the Geannael Cae Reannealgaurt, the Gems of the Star-Lords. Of these, seven were chosen rulers, Keepers of the Master Stones. By their arts they held all things in order, and there was no chaos or contention in all Thean.

Tzast Hlaenguart 1:1-2


Anyway, that's where all the gods and Elder races (Varr, Theanear, Elditiri, Dunahardin, and Rhunhanin) come from. As you might guess, with such a sweet setup, they spend the rest of the chapter royally screwing it all up (which is why the book is called 'Tzast Hlaenguart'). Anyway, out of this there comes various things, including the creation of humans by Thean (the goddess, not the world), which ends the book of Tzast Hlaenguart.

As for what God wants, it's really quite simple. He wants the protaganist to settle down with a nice girl and have lots of really nice children (nice, in this context, means ferocious). In a sense, this is the same thing that the main character really wants as well, but it's so obvious that he doesn't realize it's what he really wants to do. Besides, there are several very powerful and persistent groups of people out to exterminate him (and all his kind), so there are also genuine difficulties.


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Ahh. Wow, Impressive. Your text sounds almost Lovecraftian..
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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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If anyone cares, I'm taking a different road with my novel from the one that it normally traveled down by most(if not all fantasy authors.) I've completely depopulated my world. No elfs, or no trolls or J.R.R. Tolkenish creatures will be running around in it. Not even a dragon. Gods will not appear on a whim and tell mortals what to do.
This story of mine focuses on humans. While the land mythical, and set in "ancient times" the more fantastic stuff will be drawn from the cultures, beliefs, and attitudes of the people who populate this world.

As the topic of this post thread is portraying God and Religion within fiction, this post may not go hand in hand with that. I will be portraying religion, in a way, so I guess it's still appropriate.


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Survivor
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Well, to my way of thinking, non-transcendent gods aren't God, they're just other characters in your book.

As a matter of fact, I'm sort of taking the opposite track from a lot of fantasy in my own way. See, the existence of the various Elder races is explained, whereas the origin of humans is completely inexplicable. Not even Thean can explain exactly what she was thinking or what they're good for.

Basically, the story is about man and God, from the point of view of characters that are neither. Thean may seem a lot like a God, but she's really just a goddess (yes, including her looks). Telamarr may seem like a man, but he's really not.

Or at least, that's one way to look at it. This has been a great discussion. I've really clarified my own ideas to myself, but I'm left with just one question.

What does 'Lovecraftian' mean?


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Masdibar
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Well, Survivor, if you'd only recall your grade school rules for turning a noun into an adverb, you'd remember that 'vecraftian' is simply a suffix implying an extreem nature. Therefore, Lo-vecraftian simply means that your writing could stand some Hi-vecraftening.
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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Ye Gods!! You really don't know? H.P. Lovecraft, the great horror master of the turn on the century, and the successor to Poe in the field of short horror fiction.

I only mention it because the names of your fictonal gods reminded me of his scheme of naming Elder Gods and Ancient Ones.

"That is not dead which can eternal lie/And with strange aeons even death may die."
Cthulhu Ftaghn!


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Survivor
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Well, of course I've heard of Lovecraft, and Cthulhu. I hadn't realized they were connected as author and creation, but knowledge is a tenuous thing, after all. That still doesn't explain what Lovecraftian means.

(and if it means what Masdibar says, then I have to say that rather than Hivercraftion, I would apply hisurraftion, since I don't want so simply go from sounding too 'Los' to sounding overly 'Hic', whatever 'Los' and 'Hic' mean).


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jackonus
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I think these posts have become too Hovercraftian. As in, Come down to Earth, guys! You lost me somewhere about a week ago. Anyway, I do agree that the story sounds interesting and I look forward to seeing it somewhere/time.


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Survivor
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Uh, I think that we were cross threading. I guess that we started making sort of ur-linguistic jokes, which probably would have gone better in the other thread, but were inspired by something in this one (guess it started with the comment about the meaning of Lovecraftian). Heh heh, sorry
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Survivor
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Check this out!

This is an interview with OSC about this very subject.


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Off topic, but-- I don't follow a lot of Card's essays, interviews and such, but doesn't it seem like as of the last couple of years every interview he gives ends up railing against the evils of the new liberialism, intellectualism.. ect..?
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Survivor
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Oh, he's always been that way. He used to get down on careerism and greed a lot too, but now he's busy with powermongering and oppression. I have to agree with him, since both of us are LDS and therefore our thoughts are handed to us in an envelope every first Sunday of the month
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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Yeah, I don't disagree with him at all when he says authors to talk about futures where humans have grown past the need to religion are really saying "Think like me," but it's a little unfair for him to say that's a bad thing and only those arrogant liberal humanist do it, because Card does just the same. Card's characters are always strong moral people, and his villians are always shown as not having the faith and courage that his protagonist have, so his message is always clear--be like my main characters, because that's the way I think humans should behave.

There's nothing wrong with that, tho.


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Survivor
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Well, and it's not exactly like he claims that he doesn't do it himself. As a matter of fact, he explicitly claims that it's unavoidable unless you specifically try to disguise your own moral perceptions behind a carefully crafted facade.

I actually disagree with this, I think that it's impossible to create a facade good enough to avoid making your own moral imperatives show through. Why? There's an old saying. I do what I want, because I can't do anything else. That doesn't mean that you can't fool some people, or even most people, but if you fool everyone, then you're really just fooling yourself.

Anyway, in a transcendent sense, that's the point that I come up against in my own writing. I reveal a lot about my own ideas and values, so much so that I'm inordinately fond of reading anything that I've written in the past (it's not just a vice of the very old to talk exclusively for the benefit of the wisest person present ). As a matter of fact, I'm now thinking of a topic closely related to religious heirarchy, the notion of governmental origins and warrent in general.

Starting with the basic premise that the authority to govern invariably derives from two sources, the consent of the governed and the enforcement of law (or consistency of codifed response, if you prefer). These two principles are curiously intertwined, both opposing and supporting each other. I'm going to write an essay about it.


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Are you going to put it in the teeny-bopper essay forum on hatrack?

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Survivor
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No, though I might submit it to my writing group. I do sort of miss my teeny-boppers, though. I think I'll go see what their up to.
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GalaxyGal
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Yes. I have purposely used Christ figures in my stories. In a short story that I'm working on right now, I have symbolized the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This imagery is not the crux of the story, but it is no accidental symbolism.

For those of you struggling with religions in your stories, I suggest you work out the belief systems of your characters before you write anything else.

I have written a six novels (unpublished) and counting for the same world. I didn't have a black and white system for them at the beginning and the storyline suffered on account of it. I found writing a "bible" for them to be an invaluable source and it has forced me to write a more believable story. My bible is about ten pages long, but that is enough for me. I am not opposed ot adding to it or changing certain sections if they become unworkable to the story line, but I try to resist the urge to do this unless it is absolutely necessary. Even though I haven't put the entire bible in my books, I do have the characters quote from it sometimes.

Even if you don't quote a single word from your made-up bible in the story, you will find it is worth the effort to write it. The "bible" will help you envision the mentality and motivation of your characters. Especiallly if your bible contains prophetic elements and unbreakable laws.

It will aid you in setting-up the history of your world, giving more understanding as to how your world came to be where it is at during the time period of the novel. Even if you do not directly reference from your bible, the reader will feel the subtle consistancy generated by the set of beliefs to which your characters subscribe.

I suggest you use the real bible for a starting point. How was this world created, according to the religious beliefs? Did a prophet emerge from a certain group of people? How did the gods of this religion reveal themselves to the people--or did they? Who among them is in charge of guarding and/or spreading the message? Did the gods give rules? Did the gods speak through their prophets concerning future events?

Sit down and work this out at the beginning and when your story unfolds, you will find that the religious element of your story works itself out, adding depths to your characters and dimensions of plot that previously had not entered your mind.


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franc li
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Wow, a 6 1/2 year bump... that blows my mind. I got in trouble with my in-laws for calling Santa mythological, though the choices were "real" or "pretend" and I was explaining that "mythological" was not really either. Perhaps one way of defining "mythological" is that the reality of a being depends on your belief in it. But if you actually believe in it, then it really is real. Sort of like marriage.
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GalaxyGal
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Oh, wow, I only looked at the date of the last post and never noticed the original post date of this thread. I wonder if that's some kind of record. Still, the information I found here is dateless--applicable and useful now and maybe forever. Hopefully, what I added to it will help someone else.
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Robert Nowall
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I spotted the dates, but couldn't find an appropriate place to bring it up, but...

(1) I didn't know the board went back that far,

(2) I didn't know you could access it,

and

(3) I'm impressed that Survivor has displayed such board longevity and staying power. (The last set of boards I hung around on, it took me about four years to get fed up with them.)

On the other hand,

(4) There are still points of interest thus contained, and worth a read through.


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Survivor
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If you search all posts by this registered user (there's a link for that on my profile) you can bring up all the oldest topics that are still in existance.

Anyway, since this topic was current I've become more familiar with the concept of cultural mythos as a source of "truth" to the believer. It's not something I really understood before, but humans believe most of what they believe because of their social affiliations rather than because of independent examination. So the issue of "transcendence" doesn't arise for most human religious experience.


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Hookt_Un_Fonix
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seven years huh? wow! I would be interested i reading some of the earlier threads to see who has been published since. Maybe do a where are they now kind of thing and see what some fo the early heavy hitters are up to.
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Survivor
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If that's all you're interested in you can check out Hatrack Writers in Print a little more fruitfully. Not everyone posts in there, in fact it didn't become very popular until recently. I think a lot of people didn't know about it. But it's a lot easier than hunting down correlations between Hatrack usernames and publication names.
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I am destiny
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So... survivior, where'd you go with this story? It sounds interesting.

I was writing a story that probably would have been a 2 book story and then my MC became religious (ordained as a Prophet of his religion) and it turned into a 5 book series. I wasnt intending to do this but what I believed so strongly came through and it made IMHO the book more interesting. I took what I believed and twisted it a little so it didnt mimic any religion specificaly, or wasnt readily recognizable. although those of the same religion would probably go yep... she is... I thought the discussion was interesting at least.

Destiny


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Survivor
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So, your MC wasn't very religious before becoming the Prophet of his religion?

I wasn't going anywhere, it was a pretty standard heroic fantasy. I've promoted the hero from POV character to mysterious Bishonen, though. Perhaps part of my reason for doing that was because he was simply too religious, particularly for a guy who's just running around trying his best to live his own life. I feel that he can be more accessible to the average reader if he's a black box.


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Crane
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Great discussion. Very useful to me. The link above to the OSC interview by Moira Allen doesn't work anymore. I found another page that has it: http://www.absolutewrite.com/novels/orson_scott_card.htm in case any other newbies stumble by and want to read it.

I am struggling with this topic in my work, but I'm not to a point where I clearly understand my question, yet. Perhaps when I get there I'll come back here and someone can hash through it with me.

Also, I feel that there's (at least) one scifi author who handles religion and faith in a sensitive and honest way. Her name is Mary Doria Russel. Her two novels The Sparrow and Children of God are heart-breaking and beautiful. They changed my life, even though I'm not a faithy person myself.

[This message has been edited by Crane (edited August 02, 2011).]


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Lissa
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Thanks Crane!

Lis


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History
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I don't really know why, but much of my writing contains religious people and themes, though I do not preach [I abhor preaching]. I've found the 4000+ years of Jewish history, theology, folklore, and mysticism a treasure trove for my stories. Many of my Gentile, and gentle, readers are frequently surprised, sometimes shocked, by the Hebrew knowledge of our shared Scripture that differs so significantly from what they learned in Sunday school. There is a naive assumption among many that the only difference in beliefs between Jews and Christians is the messianic divinity of Jesus. The truth is far different--and for many it is as intriguing as it is shocking.

Religious elements in fiction, particularly fantasy fiction, should be adjuncts that enhance characterization, motive, and conflict. They should not be the story. Save this for parables.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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Crane
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I think OSC says in that interview that religion is not a motive for good or evil; it's a justification. Perhaps I'm butchering the paraphrase, but its something that I'd not thought about carefully before, and I'm finding it quite interesting to mull over.
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WouldBe
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I read this last year and found it insightful about the various themes and motives behind God in SF:

The Gospel According to Science Fiction: from The twilight zone to the final frontier, by Gabriel McKee, Westminster John Knox Press.

There's an editorial review at the Amazon site:
http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-according-Science-Fiction-Twilight/dp/0664229018

The author's web site might be of help, too:
http://sfgospel.com/


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MattLeo
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I think the one and only question that matters here is how do you assemble the ideas you have into your head into a great story.

This really is a vanilla world building problem. Your reaction to Keepers of the Earth shows what you are up against; as some element in your story world gets more elaborate the volume of effort used to absorb that information will trigger a critical examination by some readers. That's precisely what you don't want; you want readers to suspend disbelief.

Magic in fantasy works just this way. As you force the reader to think more and more about the elaborate system of magic you've developed for the story, sooner or later readers are going to ask, "If magic can do X, why didn't character Y do Z at point T in the story?"

Most successful stories are pretty vague about how magic works, although they have to let the reader know what magic can or cannot do. One of the most apparently egregious violators of this is J.K. Rowling, but in truth while she divided up magic into subjects where were researched and taught systematically, it's all just window dressing. For example, you can kind of see how separating transfiguration and charms as magical disciplines makes sense, but Rowling never really defines the disciplines or specifies the boundaries between them. In many cases the magic Professors Macgonagall and Flitwick do look suspiciously similar, but in one case we are simply told it is transfiguration, in another, charms.

And if you go into what people could actually do with the magical powers they supposedly have, a lot of the way people live in the wizarding world doesn't make much sense. Professor Lupin is obviously a highly accomplished wizard; so why does he go around in shabby clothes with a beat-up looking briefcase? Did he flunk Transfiguration? Doesn't seem likely since his speciality (DADA) would have to be interdisciplinary.

The whole confection doesn't come down because it's all just decoration. If Harry Potter works for you, it works because you identify with Harry's quest to prove himself and claim a place in the wizarding world. She's basically updated Thomas Hughes' "Tom Brown's School Days" and P.G. Wodehouse's "Mike" for a new generation.

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited August 03, 2011).]


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Crane
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Arg! There's no ebook for the Gospel According to Science Fiction. ...I'm so dependent on my nook when I'm offshore. -_- meh.
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Pyre Dynasty
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Professor Lupin is a werewolf, which makes it hard to find a job. Hence the shabby clothes and beat-up briefcase. Just sayin'.
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Osiris
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Interesting discussion, as one of my current WIP deals with the interplay (and dangers) of religion with technology.

Even though the discussion has centered on magic in fantasy literature, this applies to science fiction as well. Numerous essays on writing advise that you should never describe how a technology works, just show that it does work. Not only will it bore your reader with the info-dump, you may expose weaknesses in your story if you didn't properly do your research and as MattLeo said, open the story up to critical examination from the reader.


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MattLeo
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Well, Pyre, why didn't Lupin repair is broken breifcase and transfigure his robes into nicer ones? Are clothes one of the five exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration?

Speaking of Gamp's Law, I suppose that's why the heroes didn't the heroes transfigure a rock into a chicken, then butcher it, because food *is* one of the exceptions. You can't make it. Except Cedric in book 4 transfigures a rock into a dog during the Tri-Wizard tournament.... Does the food rule mean he couldn't have done it if her were Korean (because Koreans eat dog)?

The point is that if you look at elaborate sets of magical abilities close enough, sooner or later something in the plot is going to stop making sense. However a motivated reader will always be able to come up with some excuse to bridge the credibility gap, so the key thing is to keep the reader motivated.


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Wordcaster
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I just finished Hatrack familiar, Eric James Stone's Nebuala Award-winning novelette, That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made on the way to work today (via the starship sofa podcast) -- excellent narration to match a great story. There are very strong religious themes (LDS/Christian-oriented) in the novelette, which is natural, considering the main character is president of a Mormon congregation. Even the title itself is drawn from Psalm 104.

The story reminded me of OSC's Speaker for the Dead in that the protagonist must look beyond his human understanding of morality to delve into what is right and wrong for a believer from an alien culture.

Anyway, I often shy away from seeking religion in fiction because of the way it is often done poorly. Often, it is used as an allegory, which worked for CS Lewis, but grows tiresome in modern fiction. The allegory creates a predictable story and makes it difficult for the characters to find motivation beyond the history it parallels.

EJS's novelette is not an allegory, but a story of its own, and is a good example of how religion can be used effectively in fiction. Any preachiness that may come across is tempered by another character (Juanita, I believe?), who does not believe in God, but plays an active part in the story.

I don't know why I waited so long to read/listen to the story. Good job, Eric.

[This message has been edited by Wordcaster (edited August 05, 2011).]


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