Religion in Fantasy

One of the hardest moments for me in writing Butterflies came when I had to describe a wedding.  The reason this was difficult was because I had to address a question I had not considered prior to the wedding: religion.

I know that weddings do not necessarily require religion to happen, but for many people the ceremony is based on the forms and traditions of their faith.  As Butterflies is set in a world that I created, it fell to me to create everything about the people and culture.  Religion is a part of this, and this issue has been handled differently by different authors.

In most fantasy worlds that are very strongly magical, I have typically seen two variations on religion.  Either the belief system and the magic are heavily intertwined (as in The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan) or the magic makes religion a moot point.  Ursula K. LeGuin explained in a description of Earthsea that relatively common magic use in part of the world had precluded the development of an organized religion. 

Several of my favorite authors have a different approach.  For these authors, the deities in the story are heavily active in the lives of their chosen people.  Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series is fairly light on magic, as fantasy goes, but is full of gods and angels intervening in the lives of the characters.  Some of the cultures in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books get their ability to work with magic (on its own a natural phenomenon) from the very involved goddess or god of their people. 

I have read some fantasy that takes place in a setting similar to medieval Europe.  In these books religion seems similar to what is expected for Europe at the time.  And then there is fantasy that doesn’t really approach the question at all; if it weren’t for that wedding, I would never have felt the need to address the issue in Butterflies.  Honestly, I kept it pretty simple; I described the ritual and a brief glimpse into the beliefs, but I didn’t dig around or get philosophical about it.  I figured that was sufficient.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nicole W.
    Dec 23, 2010 @ 18:47:32

    It could all just come down to whether it is necessary for the story. In your case, religion only played a small part because it was not a key element of the story. For one of my story ideas, I created a religion by happenstance. I was trying to think of alternate names for the sun and the moon and things just went from there. The next thing I know the religion starts to become intertwined with some of the important festivals of my country. Of course, the religious beliefs of the author could factor in as well.

    Reply

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