Thursday, April 17, 2008

Geek Epic poetry -- speculative fiction

Geeks love a good story. But their stories tend to come in fantastical packages complete with amazing powers, colossal fights, and cunning strategy. Yes, Geeks love science fiction and fantasy.

Indeed, the slew of blockbuster superhero/fantasy/science fiction films the past few years is testament to the ascendency of Geek culture: Batman, Superman, Spiderman (the original Geek icon ... Peter Parker the science nerd becomes the wisecracking friendly neighborhood spiderman), Iron Man, the X Men, Fantastic Four, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles, Lord of the Rings, 300 (though loosely based in history, it is more of a sword and fire fantasy epic), Pirates of the Carribean, and on and on. All these hugely successful shows and franchises have several elements in common:

1) they are fantastical .... imagination is key ... amazing heroes, powerful villans, lots of action.
2) they are archetypal .... the stories echo the great epic tales of old, retold with new heroes for a new era. Deeper themes lay behind the action.
3) they are escapist ... because they are a break from the "ordinary world" ... they catch the audience up into the story. We leave this world behind for a time, and thus the themes hit home in a deeper place of our pscyhe.

In short, like any of us, the stories that we love are the stories that speak to us. These fantastical worlds are their epic poetry. I discovered this when we did our Gospel According to Star Wars study. The Geek Culture mavens at BoingBoing picked up the story, and we had thousands of hits from all over the world looking at our website. But many of the geek culture comments were pretty cynical ... I found one blogger (whose site I can't seem to find anymore) who quipped something to the effect of "why can't these Christians leave our stuff alone." Theres a feeling of proprietary ownership in that comment ... "these are our stories, they're special to us .... and you Christians have been hostile to them." is the sense I get.

But you see, I'm a Geek...have been since a kid. I was reading superhero comics and playing with computers since an early age. I was reading Harry Potter before Harry Potter was cool. I was a trekkie (minus the costumes) long before there was Jean Luc Picard. I even had the Starfleet Technical Manual. I played Dungeons and Dragons. I learned to program in BASIC on a TRS 80. On Friday nights, when my friends were out at parties, I was at home watching Dr. Who. These are my stories too, you, know?

But this is where many Christians go woefully awry. I remember the fundamentalist protests against D&D and Harry Potter. I learned all about the backlash against comic books that led to the Comics Code Authority. Is it any wonder that Geek culture feels hostility toward Christianity.

Now don't get me wrong, I dont endorse uncritical engagement with these literary forms ... we ought to be thoughtful about them however. Stories are powerful and rich and touch our hearts in special ways. And a really good story cant help but point us to gospel themes .... loyalty, sacrifice, good vs. evil, atonement, redemption. Good stories are powerful instruments of fostering and growing faith.

As for me ... after being immersed in these archetypal stories for so long, they helped me understand the true story of the living God who vanquished evil. Tolkien talked about mythology as simply pointing to the true story ... and that's what he accomplished in Lord of the Rings. As Christians, we need to learn to exegete these fantastical stories, see the redemptive elements in them. We need to learn how to tell good stories ourselves (and that doesn't mean facile stories where all the people convert at the end). And we need to let our imagination play a little bit in some of the realms of the fantastic .... for that is where the Geek mind often dwells.

Soli Deo Gloria