From Brian Stavely comes a thoughtful post on depicting the divine in Fantasy over on Tor.com. I’ve included a short beginning here, but read the whole thing at this link to the whole article. Essentially Stavely counts off the ways one can describe a god in epic fantasy fiction–and there are five options. I was thinking through his list, and it’s good, but I think there are at least three more ways to depict a god in epic fantasy, and I humbly offer them up:
Option 6: Use other people’s understanding of the god as description. They might not all be alike, but the confluence, the overlap of them, will give a mosaic feel to your god. It will also create character development for the characters who have seen/or believe in this god, as we tend to see what we desire in our gods. A god’s description in the mouth of one character as a “god of vengeance” is a very different character than someone who calls him “a god of protection.” May be same god.
Option 7: Use tales of the deeds of a god to describe him or her. Actually what a god does says more about him than his/her description. And again, people have tales. If you can gather up the tales of a god, you can capture a character description that readers can fill in as they go. Then if and when the god shows up in your text, it may already have a pretty firm description in the mind of the reader, based on what it has done in the world. God is rarely described in the Bible, but his deeds let you know exactly what kind of God he is.
Option 8: Every culture uses Art to talk about its gods. Can you pull together images of the divine from a culture’s art? That will help form a picture in a reader’s mind through the cultural depictions of the gods, telling you a hell of a lot about the culture, as well as the god. Michaelangelo’s God touching Adam who seems curly headed and benevolent, and other depictions of God as a fiery, anger-filled rage monster.
Depicting the Divine in Epic Fantasy
by Brian Stavely
There’s a striking moment near the end of the twenty-first canto of Dante’s Inferno, one that almost all readers tend to remember, when the demon Barbariccia “avea del cul fatto trombetta.” It’s hard to put it delicately: he turns his ass into a trumpet. Not the kind of thing you expect out of a writer recording the steps his salvation, but the image stays with you.
Likewise, readers of the Divine Comedy remember Ugolino, who, for the sin of eating his sons, is forever frozen to his neck in ice, gnawing on the brains of Archbishop Ruggieri. In fact, Dante has no trouble at all depicting sinners in the various postures of their suffering, and for seven centuries readers have kept turning the pages. Corporal violence sells. Electronic Arts even has an eponymously titled video game in which Dante looks less like a poet and more like a Muay Thai Knight Templar. The EA people are no fools—they understand that there’s a ready market for brain eating and ass trumpets.
When it comes to the celestial realm of heaven, however, Dante runs into trouble.
Thanks, Brian and Tor.com!!
Hopefully these suggestions help YOU when writing about Faith in your Fantasy or Science Fiction. Let me know what you think. And don’t forget, you can write about Faith in Fantasy and Science Fiction for the Tesseracts 18: Wrestling with Gods anthology, open for submissions right now over at http://www.tesseracts18.com!