Author Topic: Religion in fantasy  (Read 1754 times)


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Religion in fantasy
« on: April 10, 2019, 08:28:52 PM »
Eeeurgh I just write this out and lost internet connection as I posted so lost the whole post reee.

Anyway, a while ago I read some of William Morris' odd fantasies which are set in presumably some kind of parallel world (the settings are very very vague, like an old fashioned fairy story) in which Christianity is a thing and the protagonists always come from Christendom and have some form of Christian traditions and morality. And it actually feels believable, like a real part of the world. Not the things people believe in but the belief itself and the impact it has on the characters and the world. And I realised that no other fantasy I've read has ever pulled that off - even those set in parallel worlds with some form of parallel Christian theology. I certainly can't think of any entirely fictitious religion which feels like anything other than the author trying to tick a worldbuiliding box.
Any other authors who manage this? Any thoughts on how to do it? Would it break the immersion to have a totally fictitious world with real world religions wadged into it?


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Re: Religion in fantasy
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2019, 02:08:13 AM »
Try 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' by Philip K. DICK and see what you think of "Mercerism".


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Re: Religion in fantasy
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2019, 07:19:45 PM »
Are you looking for books where religion is a central theme or it's just dropped into the background?

There are authors who do both. I like religions from Pillars of Eternity, they're fantasy rip-offs of irl religions but I feel they fit the tone and the world nicely enough. For background, I think like JS Collyer's Orbit series has it where someone every now and then has a star of david necklace or a cross or whatever. Doesn't feel intrusive or box-ticking.
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Re: Religion in fantasy
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2019, 08:33:33 PM »
I think fictitious worlds with real world religions can work, not sure what my exemplars of good fantasy religion would be though - I guess Small Gods for me feels like one of the best fantasy + religion takes, and Feet of Clay, but those are both more satires around those issues anyway.

I do think it's super difficult to make fictitious religion work well, and agree it's usually done to tick a box - GRRM's religions feel like that for example. The difficulty IMO is admitting all the different facets of religion and how it's interwoven with societies and mentalities. Often authors think very structurally about a religion, so they design it as a societal institution, possibly with a core theology that they all follow, and that's that. But the practical real impacts of religion are much more subtle and less hierarchically driven than that sort of top-down model implies, because most religious people experience religion via worship practices. In fiction these are at most often boiled down to "priest gives sermon which alpha male hero character can be cynical about", but to make it work I think you'd have to think much more about how different people in society tie in with religious ceremonies and practices, how these reflect their respective roles and positions, and also about heterodoxy and the fact that almost no real people literally believe, or even know, the full complex theology of their own religions.

This might be a good topic for an Exilian article sometime...
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