by Bruce Blake
Several of the members of the Guild of Dreams were recently discussing (via Facebook group) their plans for upcoming blog posts. I didn’t know what I was going to write, so I made a smart-ass comment that I thought I might blog about turtles. Turns out I should have picked some other aquatic animal–mudskippers or jellyfish or something–because there’s a lot more going on with turtles than just a hard shell and an inability to right themselves if they get flipped bottom side up.
The first comment after my flippant remark mentioned Discworld, and the subject of faith naturally came up after that. Turns out that different cultures have long viewed turtles as a symbol of Heaven and earth, not just the imagining of Terry Pratchett and/or Stephen King (at the time I first read it, I didn’t get the turtle reference in IT, but I’m far more edumacated now).
“Do a post on faith in fantasy,” Chantal urged, the words smacking of both taunt and dare.
So I thought about and decided, “What the hell!” (The jokes will not be getting any better than that.)
For a guy who’s not religious (spiritual, yes, but not religious. I’m one of those 21st century Canadian west coast types), it comes up a lot in my books. Without religion, Icarus Fell wouldn’t exist. The idea of Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil is kind of a major plot point when your protagonist is brought back from the dead to harvest the souls of the newly deceased. Religion also plays a big part in my Small Gods series, though not your run-of-the-mill Christianity. Only in my Khirro’s Journey trilogy does it not play much of a role, though it does get the odd mention here and there.
To be quite up front, I didn’t think much about the subject until I picked up A Game of Thrones (didn’t George RR Martin change everything for pretty much everyone?). Sure, there’d been religion in the other fantasy I’d read up to that point, but there was something about the way he described the Seven, the old Gods, the Heart tree, The Drowned God, and all the others. So many religions, all of them with different rites, rituals, and beliefs, all of them unique. I know there are many other books and series that delve into the subject, oftentimes featuring gods as characters, but these were the first ones that seemed real to me. Maybe because they were religions being practiced by people who could have been us, not by elves and dwarves and such.
It was the textures and feels of Mr. Martins faiths and religions I held in mind when I was world-building for my Small Gods series. I wanted it to feel realistic, be believable. Some characters would have undying blind faith, some wouldn’t believe at all, some would want to but doubt, some would waver. And, of course, there couldn’t be only one religion, not in a fully realized world.
With my wife being the unshakeable burlesque diva feminist she is, I thought it would earn me some brownie points to make the religion’s central figure a goddess (known as ‘the Goddess’, strangely enough). After a little brainstorming, I decided the Goddess should be served only by women (a la Amazon.com’s namesake, but I don’t think they noticed). I know this isn’t exactly groundbreaking–Wonder Woman did it years ago–but I also decided I’d have different factions within the religion, each with a unique way to continue without the benefit of having men as part of their population. That’s where the fun began.
And, of course, if there was to be a ‘women-only’ religion, there had to be the opposite, right? A rogue and looked-down-upon group of men who worship a god and have distinctly different ways of doing things than the women came to life.
That, my friends, is the genesis of the major conflict for the story. Out of a desire to put a little religion into the book, an entire series was born. You can try out some of examples of the religion in the Small Gods series for free over on Wattpad with the prologue to When Shadows Fall and also The Darkness Comes.
I don’t expect any of my ideas to take root and become religions in our world, but who knows? If a science fiction writer can convert Tom Cruise and John Travolta, maybe anything can happen.
What are some of your favourite examples of faith and religion in fantasy? What writers do you think do it particularly well?
(PS – no turtles were hurt during the writing of this blog)
Bruce Blake is the author of eight books, the owner of one white dog, and a lover of the serial comma (though he prefers referring to it as the Oxford comma). You can follow him on his blog here, read some stuff free on Wattpad here, or purchase any of his books at very reasonable prices here, here, here, or here.