Potions and Prophecies (Should Christians Read Stories With Magic?)

I don’t even remember the first time my mom read us The Chronicles of Narnia. But I do remember the second time through, and my excitement as I walked through a wardrobe, met an evil witch, and tasted the magical food of Ramandu’s island. And I remember quite clearly when I first encountered The Lord of the Rings – sitting on the floor in the living room, and shivering as the Black Riders chased Frodo and Co. through the Shire.

While Lewis and Tolkien are generally accepted (and loved) in Christian circles, the concept of magic is more controversial with other books. Should we read books that have magic in them? If so, what kind of magic is okay? I know good people on both sides of the debate, and I’m not going to try to give the seminal answer on the subject. I’m just going to explain my own views, which are hopefully informed by the word of God (and some common sense). I’d love to see some discussion, so please don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts in the comments!

Witches and Wizards?

“There shall not be found among you… one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, (Deuteronomy 18:10)

The Bible clearly forbids the use of magic. In the Bible, magic is associated with demonic activity and a forsaking of God. For Christians, this makes sense. We have a personal relationship with the God who holds the stars themselves, and He commands us to trust in Him – not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Trying to perform magic of any sort would obviously point to a lack of trust in Him, and would therefore be sin; even if it weren’t generally accompanied by demonic power.

Other Worlds Than Ours

Fiction, however, is definitely not the real world. Every author creates a world inside his own head – and then on paper. This is particularly true in fantasy, where authors spend hours upon hours in worldbuilding, but even books set right here on earth have their own “story world.” In these other realms, the rules might be different.

Consider a (fictional) world. Imagine that the “laws of nature” in this world are slightly different – maybe allowing the inhabitants to turn invisible whenever they so desire. It would seem like magic to us, but to them it would be totally normal. Now imagine that it isn’t possible for them to do things that seem completely ordinary to us – for instance, standing on one foot. So if they came to our world, they would think we were wizards just because we could stand on one foot.

It’s kind of a ridiculous example, but my point is that magic in books can simply be a natural part of its story world. It doesn’t have to be evil, and it doesn’t have to mean any kind of rebellion against God or authority.

Kinds of Magic

Obviously, the magic in some books is different from that of others. In my own reading, I’ve discovered at least a couple of different types.

  • The first type is more of a “divine power” sort of magic. Usually it depends directly on the Creator figure of the story; however, dark magic would also fall under this category, since it would come from either a demon-type figure or be a corruption of what was given by the Creator. The magic in The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson falls under this heading. And while Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works are a bit more complex, most of the magic in their books would also be of this kind – think of the “Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time,” Father Christmas’ gifts, and Coriakin’s powers, along with evil beings like Jadis and Tash; or Tolkien’s wizards (who are actually a sort of lesser angelic being). (I haven’t read The Silmarillion, so I’d appreciate any input, but I believe the Elves’ powers also originate with the Valar somehow?)
  • The second type is magic which is a normal part of daily life and/or a hereditary trait. The first books that come to mind when you think of this kind of magic are the Harry Potter books (I’m hoping to post my full thoughts on that series whenever I get around to finishing it). In Patrick Carr’s series (The Staff and the Sword, The Darkwater Saga), “gifts” or certain magical-type powers are given to certain people. They can be hereditary, or they can be intentionally passed from person to person, but they’re obviously part of the natural order in these story-worlds. It’s also worth noting that these books have heavy religious themes; there’s always a triune Creator-figure, (Deas in Staff, Aer in Darkwater), and in Staff a lot of the backstory centers around Him.

I believe both of these kinds of magic are acceptable, since they don’t inherently entail rebellion against God or encourage us to try and practice magic ourselves. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all fantasy is good to read.

Guarding Our Minds

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Ultimately, it’s these criteria that need to determine what we read. Is this book based on truth? Does it support what is honorable and right? Will it cause our minds to dwell on things that are pure? Is it lovely, excellent, of good repute and worthy of praise?

Maybe a story will advocate a kind of magic that is deliberately in rebellion against authority or deity. In that case, it would probably be wise not to read it and be influenced by that ideology. Or it could be a story where the magic itself isn’t an issue, but there is an issue with the way in which a character is using it (and the book supports his actions).

In some stories, there won’t even be issues with the magic itself; but the book still supports ideas or attitudes that aren’t healthy or right. It may be how the characters treat one another, or it may be that the book has a pointlessly large amount of violence, profanity, or sexual content; or it may be something else altogether.

In the end, God’s word needs to be the deciding factor in what we choose to read (and watch, and listen to). If we’re constantly filling our minds with the truth, we will be much more discerning in which books we choose. And if we do read a book that contains ideas we don’t agree with (because I’m not saying we never should, though that’s a post for another day), we won’t be led astray.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. (Psalm 119:9-11)

Let’s talk about this! Do you like fantasy? What are your thoughts on magic in books?

Join the conversation!