Tales of magic, myth and mystery: How fantasy fiction can keep religion in business

How do works of fantasy fiction – such as J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – represent and mediate religion? This is the central question addressed by Laura Feldt’s new study published by Religion.

The research highlights the inextricable links between fantasy fiction and religion, claiming that there is an ever-increasing presence of ‘the religious in the fictional and the fictional in the religious’.

Rather than being viewed as two separate strands functioning in opposition to each other, Feldt sees religion as a key theme in fantasy fiction, working in tandem with it. ‘Religious narratives and fantastic narratives often coexist historically’, making an analysis of the social significance of contemporary fantasy fiction, and of its bearing upon religious belief, all the more compelling.

Of particular relevance is the author’s belief that the intermixing of religion with fantasy fiction presents great opportunities for religious visibility in Western society. She sees Literature as ‘a resource for the formation and development of religious identities in a variety of ways’.

Taking the His Dark Materials trilogy as one example, the benefits are threefold: ‘the trilogy reflects contemporary changes in the understanding of religion and myth, offers readers an arena for reflection on religion, and […] promotes individualised spiritual seeking’. Feldt places both Pullman’s trilogy and the Harry Potter series firmly in the religious field, due to the profusion of religious overtones and their blurring of the boundaries between the ‘everyday world’ and ‘other world’.   

According to Feldt, the increased fascination with myth, reality, and religion, alongside the popularity of multi-media dissemination of fantasy fiction, presents multifarious opportunities for increased religious engagement.

As a result, this study represents a compelling window into the intertwining of the religious and the fantastic, showing how the two can work in harmony to ‘provide a site for explorations of religious ideas, meanings and attitudes to the religious and religion’.