"Why There Is No Jewish Narnia"

An article from the inaugural issue of the Jewish Review of Books explores why so few fantasy writers have been Jewish:

To put it crudely, if Christianity is a fantasy religion, then Judaism is a science fiction religion. If the former is individualistic, magical, and salvationist, the latter is collective, technical, and this-worldly. Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history. Its halakhic core is not, I think, convincingly represented in fantasy allegory. In its rabbinic elaboration, even the messianic idea is shorn of its mythic and apocalyptic potential. Whereas fantasy grows naturally out of Christian soil, Judaism’s more adamant separation from myth and magic render classic elements of the fantasy genre undeveloped or suspect in the Jewish imaginative tradition.

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  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com The Dane

    Judaism’s more adamant separation from myth and magic render classic elements of the fantasy genre undeveloped or suspect in the Jewish imaginative tradition.

    Seriously? The culture that adopted Lilith into its mythology is adamant in its separation from fantasy? I… I don’t know how to respond to the suggestion other than simply wonder at the author’s credentials to make such a guess.

    Interestingly, one of the premiere fantasy authors of the day, Neil Gaiman, is Jewish. Though an agnostic/atheistic Jew (if memory serves).

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com The Dane

    Hm, thinking about this further, most fantasy authors are not Christian. And of Christian fantasy authors, there are only two great: Tolkien and Lewis. MacDonald is rated highly because there is really such a small pool to draw from and Rowling, while the argument can be made that she qualifies as a Christian author, does not qualify as a great author (sorry, Rich).

    Christians certainly love fantasy (N.D. Willson writes: “I write kids’ books because I can tell the Truth, and the Truth is that The Real is throbbingly fantastic“—throbbingly?). But so do non-Christians. And so do Jews, if the linked article is any indication.

    I don’t find anything about Christianity that would prompt its authors toward fantasy and not Jewish authors. After all, the closest bits of the Christian canon to approach something that could double for fantasy are shared with the Jewish canon. I mean, save for Easter Sunday. But seriously: a six-day creation? a Noah’s ark? a tower of babbling? dream interpretations? staves and snakes and plagues and pillars of fire? a-tumbling walls, red sea crossings, enervating haircuts, lion’s dens, fiery chariots, talking donkeys, and the day the sun stood still?

    Come on, man. Don’t kid a kidder.

  • Carissa

    Yes, there are plenty of other fantasy writers who are Jewish, too (I think Gaiman’s background was sort of Jewish-Scientologist), so I don’t entirely buy the arguments here. But it’s well-written and interesting.

  • http://goannatree.blogspot.com Goannatree

    I find that the following line highlights the deeper theological dilemma at the heart of such a contention which could, if shown not only to apply to Judaism, destabilize the dichotomy:

    “Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history.”

    I would argue that the heart of Christianity is about a specific man, Jesus, in a specific place – the cross and resurrection – within a specific history. I don’t think this is inconsistent with fantasy….and as the Dane mentioned Jewish literary and scriptural incorporation of myth is well establish

    I think the dichotomy is simplistic and i wonder whether the contention that Judaism connects with specific history and Christianity does not speaks more to this author’s theological position than functioning as an objective statement categorising literary tendencies.


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