I wasn’t sure whether I should post this, for fear of being accused of answering questions that haven’t been widely asked. (Let’s face it: I’m not exactly burning up the best-seller lists right now!) But I do know of at least one person who has been disappointed, however briefly, with the fantasy content in Look Behind You, and I’m sure there may be others. “Why,” the question runs, “would a good Christian girl be studying the occult to write a book like this?”
The thing is… I didn’t study the occult. I didn’t have to.
Much of my information came from folktales, especially Irish and Scottish fairytales and the legends of King Arthur and the Round Table, though some American Indian mythology also comes into play. I consider such literature mostly harmless, and many fairytales carry good lessons. The Ethics of Elfland from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, C. S. Lewis’ reflections in On Stories and Other Essays, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories all discuss ways in which the right kinds of fantasy, and fairytales in particular, can be extremely useful as part of a Christian’s literary diet.
(IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: There are wrong kinds of fantasy. I’ve actually known someone whose spiritual life got messed up by reading the wrong books, and I’m pretty picky about what I read myself. Yet–and this is crucial–no two people will react the same way to the same book. I know very godly people in the Harry Potter fandom, over which other very godly people have expressed concerns that I think are valid; I know people who’ve gone astray over The Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien himself called “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work” [Letter 142 to Father Robert Murphy, Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien]. In this area, as in all things, each believer needs to exercise prayerful discernment for his or her own walk… and not presume to make his or her needs or preferences an absolute rule for everyone else.)
But the rest, quite literally, is history. Many people know, for example, that Hitler and Himmler were interested in astrology and the occult. What may not be as readily apparent, and what didn’t register for me until I worked on translating The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction, is the insidious nature of even one of the best-known bits of Nazi propaganda, the concept of the “thousand-year Reich.” Translation has done us English-speakers a disservice here. The term der tausendjährige Reich doesn’t only refer to a hypothetical thousand-year Nazi kingdom; it was and is the theological term usually rendered in English as the Millennial Kingdom or the Millennial Reign, the period prophesied in Revelation 20:2-7 during which Jesus will return, bind Satan, and establish a thousand-year reign of absolute peace on earth. Hitler’s use of the phrase was deliberate blasphemy.
And it gets worse. Here’s one of my sources, a History Channel documentary that argues that the Nazi Party was a full-blown cult:
If you prefer a more scholarly print source, Heather Pringle’s The Master Plan: Hitler’s Scholars and the Holocaust documents in greater detail the SS obsession with the occult and attempts to resurrect ancient German paganism.
In all honesty, I have zero desire to study magic. The danger of genuine magic, as opposed to mere sleight-of-hand trickery, is that it attempts to force reality to bend to a human’s will. There are, of course, perfectly acceptable non-magical ways of getting nature to do what you want it to do; that’s called technology, which is subject to its own questions of ethics and morality. But magic seems, at least on the surface, to fall into one of two formulas:
Do you have problem W? Do X, Y, and Z, and your problem will go away.
Do you want D? Do A, B, and C, and you will get exactly what you want.
And from where I stand, what you plug into those blanks makes not a dime’s bit of difference–killing a black cat at 3 a.m. on a starless night of the new moon, washing your hands in a silver basin by moonlight, rearranging your furniture just so and painting your walls a certain color, or (dare I say it?) thinking happy thoughts and telling God what you want and sending $50 to your favorite televangelist. At best, it won’t work, and either you receive something good that would have happened anyway or you get no results at all and end up wondering what you did wrong. At worst, you end up in league with powers beyond your understanding or control, powers that want nothing more than your absolute destruction.
Prayer doesn’t work that way. Prayer submits reality to God’s sovereign control, humbly presenting petitions with full trust in His goodness and seeking to align our will with His will. That’s why “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”–and that’s also why, if you pay close attention, the only ‘spell’ I write out in Look Behind You is actually a prayer. That power is the only power I need… and even when I write fantasy that involves an element of horror, I will always show that prayer trumps magic, because that is the truth.