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Religious Iconography in Fantasy and Paranormal Stories

Angel statueSince today is Sunday, it seems fitting to tackle a new topic here at QSF – the use of religious iconography, including angels, demons and devils, in Fantasy and Paranormal stories.

This practice has a long and studied tradition, going back to some of the very roots of Fantasy (see CS Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles) and Paranormal (often drawing on themes of heaven and hell).

But it seems to me that there’s a particular opportunity here for storytelling from an LGBt point of view – our community was long persecuted by the Church, and even now, most opposition to LGBT rights and marriage equality comes from a religious place.

So my questions today – does religion have a place in our story-telling, especially in fantasy and paranormal? And if so, what unique “take” can we bring to the subject as LGBT writers?

And finally, have you written or read any LGBT fiction that covers these themes?

5 thoughts on “Religious Iconography in Fantasy and Paranormal Stories”

  1. This is such an important aspect of LGBT fiction, for several reasons. First, spirituality (which can include, but is definitely not limited to, its codified cousin, religion) is an essential aspect of human experience. Anthropologically, non-heterosexuals have often played a respected role in the spiritual life of their people. See “two-spirit” in First Nations cultures.

    Second, fantasy is by nature an ideal forum for exploring familiar themes in unusual settings, thereby having a way of avoiding/addressing issues that are important to us — especially belonging in the natural order of things.

    I shamelessly put forward my own novel, Traveling Light as one book. Ian, the hero, is an apprentice shaman in modern Vancouver. (Shamanism as a tradition generally respects two-spirit people.) The world I created (and which I believe in personally) is that every choice is sacred, and all together our choices shape our lives. Ian’s challenge is he has to choose what kind of a shaman he is going to be. It is a fundamental spiritual choice.

    In this sense, every story in which an LGBT character has to make a fundamental choice about forgiveness, love, belonging, compassion, empathy, or authenticity of self is a spiritual story. Fantasy and paranormal is a great genre to explore these issues, because as authors we can strip away some of the familiar thinking habits about them and escape our own ruts. Maybe escape our own ruts of feeling/thinking BY doing precisely that!

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  2. Religion is codified spiritual practice. Something that mystics, for example, don’t require. Codification is often where the majority of society builds its self-image and power. So religion is often used as a source of terrible persecution for people like us — simply because that’s been historically true.

    What if, in a fantasy novel, people like us were elevated, revered, and given special power/status/responsibility over heterosexuals? What character canvas might that give us to ponder and paint?

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    • Hey Lloyd, thanks for the great replies. I agree, these genres can be an interesting way to explore these issues. You should write the latter one about being revered – kinda like the two spirits in Native American tribes or the mahu in Hawaii?

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  3. The first book that comes to my mind is T.J. Klune’s Into This River I Drown, the exquisite novel that won a Lambda this year. With a guardian angel as a main character and a profound examination of death, choice, and spirituality, it resonates on many levels. There are many more. No fantasy (and I include paranormal as a subset of fantasy in this regard) novel that fails to deal with questions of belief and/or religion can present a fully realized world.

    I think LGBT fiction provides a unique opportunity to explore religion and spirituality at a deep level, a level that delves into the heart of what it means to be both human and beings of spirit. It creates opportunities to bypass religious dogma and bring a new perspective. Both fantasy and science fiction, it seems to me, are genres in which writers can explore “radical” ideas in relative safety, and still plant thoughts in the minds of readers that can profoundly influence how they see the world we currently live in. Combining the two makes for powerful potential to open minds and influence where we go from here.

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  4. I agree… or even create a religion – there’s an old story about how L Ron Hubbard created scientology on a bet with a couple other sci fi writers… :)

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