Sunday, July 4, 2010

Faith and Fantasy

Happy 4th of July to all my fellow American peeps! I’m guessing very few of you will be reading this post today due to the usual outdoor festivities, but this is my day to blog, even if I will end up mostly talking to myself, lol. I was going to do a post talking about holidays and the choice to include them in novels, but I just didn’t have too many thoughts about that, as it turned out. So, if you don’t happen to be outside at a barbeque like most of the US today, consider yourself invited to pull up a chair and weigh in on your thoughts about faith in fantasy.

As a paranormal writer, I’ve often been asked how my supernatural creatures differ from others. Take my vampires. One of the things they can do that many others in fiction can’t is walk around in the daylight. Yes, just like in the original Dracula by Bram Stoker, my vampires have no lethal aversion to sunlight. Something else that repels many vampires in modern fiction, but also has no effect on mine, is crosses. I originally decided on that because I couldn't come up with an answer to the question of how a vampire who pre-dated Christianity would cringe away from a cross, and I have some vampires in my novel who are much older than two thousand years.* Therefore, religious objects in my books don’t have any effect on vampires.

That doesn’t mean faith is absent in my stories. In fact, my idea for the origin of vampires came from the Biblical story of Cain. In my retelling of it, God’s “mark” was making Cain into the first vampire, cursed to forever drink blood as punishment for spilling his brother Abel’s (or so the vampires claim. Ghouls in my books have a different version of what Cain was turned into, heh). So right from the beginning, I knew I’d have to deal with the element of faith in my supernatural world.

Still, the idea than an entire species would agree about spiritual beliefs seemed an impossible notion even for a work of supernatural fiction. Therefore, even though I made up a fictitious creationist history for the undead based on the biblical character of Cain, this doesn't make the vampires or ghouls in my book automatically Judeo-Christian. Instead, they represent a wide range of beliefs, including atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, pagans, voodoo, and more. Mencheres, the hero in my upcoming novel, Eternal Kiss of Darkness, still believes in the ancient Egyptian gods (which gave me an excuse to indulge my love of Egyptology with more research about them!)

Paranormal writers, in the process of selecting a species, plotting, and otherwise breathing life into your book, did the question of faith play into your world building? Or did you have to remove all beliefs to make your particular world work, and was that easier or harder to do?

Readers, what’s your take on books that add the element of faith into a supernatural world? Do you prefer paranormal novels to have no belief system in place? Or prefer novels where beliefs are based on dieties the author has made up (like a god named Rawr for shapeshifters, for example ;-) instead of beliefs from any actual faiths?

Friendly reminder: I’m only asking for comments on the presence/absence of faith in paranormal novels because I’m curious how readers and writers think it impacts a story (or doesn’t). Please refrain from any comments espousing the presence/absence of faith in the real world. This isn’t the place for a debate on anyone’s personal spiritual beliefs or lack thereof.

* Note: I've seen authors come up with a perfectly reasonable explanation for this in their novels, even with vampires who predated Christianity. The great thing about paranormal fiction is you can make up your own rules, so there is no one "right way" to write a particular creature.

-Jeaniene Frost


Anonymous said...

I think putting a belief system in any work of fiction, would make it just a touch more real. I love to read books with just a hint of real.
Thank you for being a writer.

JenM said...

Hmm, I've never really thought about this before, but for me, faith elements are an additional layer in the story's world building. They add complexity to the world and help me get a better picture of it.

In addition, I think they can add richness to the characters also - for example, if a vampire character had strong faith when he was alive, but is now wrestling with the question of whether he is cursed or still has a soul (assuming that he hasn't just embraced the idea of being a killing machine LOL).

In general though, if it is there, I do notice it, but if it isn't, I don't miss it.

Tracey O'Hara said...

A great post Jeaniene.

I had the similar issues with crosses and other Christian artefacts. But mine was form a slightly different tact. My problem was that if a vampire was Jewish or Muslim before becoming a vampire - then why would they fear Christian relics.

As it turned out – my vampires are not the typical vampire either – in fact they aren’t even undead. They are sort of an alien/human hybrid and therefore have their own belief structure. Same with the other supernatural creatures in my world, though some do share various human religious beliefs because their association with the human population has converted them.

I believe faith can be an important part of world building – to create a rich, believable world it includes the belief structure of the creatures/people/beings because a lot of the time it is what drives the motivations of a race to do what they do. A belief structure may or may not involve deities, they are not always essential.

John (johnnie_cakes) said...

I think religion/faith always adds to the stories. It adds so much to the depth of the characters and the world building too.

I really like when authors take existing myths and religions and twist them a little to form their own belief system (like Jeaniene's vampires descended from Cain, or Jaye Wells's vampires descended from Lilith).

I'm still completely blown away by the belief systems in Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane. She's created a world where the Church says there is no faith, only truth. It adds so much to her world building.

Faith is a part of everyday life for a lot of people, and it's interesting to me to see how authors include or don't include that in their worlds.

Anonymous said...

I think faith in supernatural stories makes perfect sense. What you are as a human comes across into the supernatural world with you. Including things like this makes the world you create that much deeper and more believable. Jeaniene, your stories suck me in so well because a person can actually see that world existing in secret right beside ours.

Terri Garey said...

Great topic, Jeaniene - way better than barbeque! :-)

The concept of faith is an integral part of my novels, as my Nicki Styx series begins with the heroine having a near death experience that takes her into the Light, and back again, leaving her forever changed from a fun-loving young women (who never took life seriously) into a fun-loving young woman who now has to deal with the dead and their unfinished business. Not only does she have to struggle with her own lifelong conceptions of good and evil, she now has to deal with the bad choices and eternal regrets of others. I've been careful not to make it about religion, merely the battle between Light and Darkness.

The spinoff from this series is even more complicated faith-wise, as the main character is Satan himself (a/k/a Sammy Divine). I've put my own spin on his Biblical "fall from grace" in that he's the one who feels he was tempted (by Lilith), and then punished (thrown out of Heaven) for doing what came naturally. He's the universe's original "bad boy", who's still seeking redemption, of a sort. :-)

I've found it fascinating to do the worldbuilding on this new series, drawing on myth, legend, Greek classics, and the multiple aspects of various religions. To my Christian friends who find it odd that I would "glorify" the Devil by turning him into a somewhat sympathetic character, I merely say, "It's fiction, not reality." :-)

Vivi Dumas said...

I had to really think about faith in writing my current wip. My heroine makes a deal with the Devil and falls in love with a demon. In my MS the devil is less the root of all evil, but instead plays an instigator. Everyone on in my book has free will and it's the decisions they make that determines their character, no matter where they might reside. And as the devil might not be all bad, angels are not all heavenly and good. I don't think my mother would appreciate this concept of religion and faith, but my strick childhood confines of religion has opened my mind in adulthood.

wulfie said...

Hi. I like stories that have an element of religion and/or spirituality added in. I especially like it when the characters in the piece are in conflict with either themselves or each other over differing belief systems. It adds another layer of realism to the world containing the story.

Trader Mare said...

As a reader, it doesn't matter to me whether the element of faith is based on existing belief systems or whther it is based on deities the author makes up. I do think the element of a faith system among any particular group of supernaturals does contribute to the believability of the story, and while not essential, it binds that group together spiritually. So yeah, I like the inclusion of a spiritual element in a paranormal story.

Larissa said...

What a fantastic topic!

I agree with Anonymous that it adds an aspect of realism to the story.

I don't really have a preference between utilizing real religions over made up ones as long as it makes sense.

This isn't something I'm really addressing in my current wip, but it will be an issue in my next one, so this is a timely topic for me. :)

Oh, and I totally have a writer crush on you, Jeaniene. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest, it doesn't make much difference to me, but this could be because I'm not particularly religious in my own life. If issues of faith come up in a paranormal book that I happen to be reading, I usually find it quite interesting ... it can definitely add a new layer of depth to the story and the characters ... they do seem to become more "real" somehow, maybe because it's one more thing they have in common with ordinary humans ... I do find, though, that when it's taken to the extreme, I begin to lose interest - at the very least in that particular aspect of the story ... for example, if the MC keeps harping on about how she has lost her soul and is now doomed and evil and whatever, it starts to become annoying after a while. I don't know, that's just my opinion :) When belief systems aren't brought up, I don't usually notice.

As to whether I prefer made up deities (*giggles* @ the god named Rawr :D) over actual faiths that exist ... I think that it sometimes becomes complicated when authors spin entirely new faiths, because - as opposed to religions we've been brought up in / around - we start off knowing absolutely nothing, and when you're trying to wrap your head around bazillions of new god names, and rules, and ceremonies - that are merely an aside to the actual story - well, it sometimes seems easier just to put the book down and go do something else ;)

Have a lovely week xx

Victoria said...

I really don't care if there is a "real" or "contrived" spiritual element to paranormal stories. If it need to be in the story it will fit no matter how you go about it. I do like how you used the Cain and Abel theme in C & B's books.
Have a very Happy 4th of July!

Barbara E. said...

For myself, I don't really care about religion. If there is a mention of it in a story, I'd rather it was something made up than discussions of any real faith. If it fits in the story, then I'm fine with it, but I'd rather the story is not based around it, that it's just part of a well-rounded story.
Happy 4th of July Jeaniene, I'm one of those people that don't have anything else to do, so thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I'm an avid reader, but truthfully only fell in love your writing (introduced by Mrs. Harris) a few years ago, so I can't fairly compare explanations of writers but I can say yours works perfectly. I liked the inclusion of Cain and Able. I also like how you included Cat's thoughts about her soul, etc. when contemplating the change. But at the same time, you don't preach (HA!) on the subject, which I admire and appreciate. I have the opinion that you believe what you believe is your business -- totally in sinc with my opinion. Maybe that's why we work so well as a team? You the writer, me the reader! Happy 4th, J, from Happy Dogs!

KerrelynSparks said...

Interesting post, Jeaniene!
I also tend to have my vampires retain whatever belief system they had as mortals. They also retain their personality and character-- which helps to make the characters well-rounded and different. If becoming a vampire wiped out a person's personality and past, then they might all be exactly the same, and that would make for dull reading! And why shouldn't vampires be like the rest of us, struggling to believe and do what's right-- we can all relate to that. So basically my vampires keep the belief system they had before--whether its Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, whatever. I just try to match their beliefs to their background-- where and when they were born and grew up.
Count me in as one of your fangirls!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with KerrelynSparks. I feel that what we believe is a part of what makes us unique. It would be very unnatural for a vampire to suddenly be wiped clean from all previously held beliefs. I like it when characters in a paranormal world struggle with with these elements as it adds an additional layer of complexity.

Vicki S said...

I tried writing a vampire story a long time ago - never finished it - but I'd decided to make vampires susceptible to faith and prayer from any religion. Specifically, I had a Hindu character who was able to ward off a vampire with a prayer of protection.

Years later, coming across Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, I was glad to see I wasn't alone. With so much variety in the world (and in each country), it's hard for me to believe in (religiously) narrow solutions.

However, now I'm in process of planning/writing a book involving demons. Demons (and angels) obviously require a little more thought about religious structure, what works to ward them off, their powers/abilities toward the 'righteous' or the 'sinned'. It's a struggle, that's for sure.

nymfaux said...

Happy 4th!

I don't think any of us like it when a story is preachy, but I actually think faith is one of the things that draws me to the supernatural and paranormal. In many fantasy worlds, it almost seems that that the characters can take their faith for granted, because they often have irrefutable proof that there is the existence of something greater than us. While so many people struggle with this in their real life, fantasy characters often have meddling gods and magic at their fingertips. Whether or not a vampire still has a soul, the existence of vampires seems to prove that WE have souls. The existence of things that science can't explain away seems to make it easier to believe in something greater than ourselves.

As to whether it's a "real" vs. made-up religion/faith, I enjoy both--something new gives me new perspectives on both what I believe, but also what I think about the character depending on what they believe or how they were raised...Or using real religions, sometimes gives me new insight on my own beliefs.

I think the trick is like every other part of the story, it has to FIT, and be NATURAL, otherwise it comes off as preachy.

p.s. just find a certain irony(?) that one AUTHOR mentioned all her characters have free will...wonder if there's another higher being saying the same thing about us?

Jessica @ a GREAT read said...

I really don't mind one way or another. Sometimes religion can be done well in the paranormal books and sometimes it gets a little too much if the characters turn into fanatics.

Religion can play a key point without really being a part of the storyline. Sometimes it can be necessary to strengthen the characters, but not in a dramatic way. It's like the religion can be there in the story's world without really being important.

I personally don't mind a real religion or one that is made up, sometimes it can add to the story as long as it doesn't get overly preachy or anything like that.

Jeaniene Frost said...

Thanks for all the insights, everyone! And here I thought I'd be whistling in the wind by myself today with everyone out at barbeques, heh. As a reader, I like added touches of faith in fantasy novels (actual and/or author's made-up belief system) as long as it feels like a natural part of the world building. And I think having a wide variety of beliefs can sometimes enhance the "other" aspect of a supernatural novel. Even though this was a SciFi series, not paranormal, I thought Star Trek: The Next Generation was so cool with how they'd subtly incorporate the faiths and religious customs of different species into their episodes - though I would never, ever want to be get married Klingon style, lol. Or be naked on my wedding day like Betazoid custom demanded.

Okay, I'm going to stop before I totally geek out on other things that I thought were cool about TNG ;-).

nymfaux said...

@Jeaniene I'm a total TNG geek, too!!!!

When I think about faith in fantasy, two episodes always pop into my mind--One where an early Klingon warrior, prominent in establishing their society, left/vanished and promised to return (Kalos?), and then, suddenly, a couple thousand years later, he DOES return...It turns out that he was cloned from some lingering DNA found on old religious artifacts...But doesn't it make you wonder how far from reality that really is?

The other episode is one where about five different races--human,klingon, vulcan, ferengi, etc...are drawn to this mysterious planet, meet up, and discover that each "race" developed from a seed that was scattered from THIS dying planet, in order to preserve it's lineage, basically implying we all come from the same place...

nymfaux said...

I'm also a big Tamora Pierce and Tera Lynn Childs. TLC uses Greek gods in her Oh.My.Gods series, while Tamora Pierce's Gods/Goddesses belong to that world, but are similar to the Greek deities--And of course their are many other examples out there, these were just the closest for me...Anyway, in both of these, deities are a REALITY for the characters--The characters may not always agree with them, and may not worship regularly, but it's never a question of whether they're real or not--The deities may guide the characters, or may only be watching, or may even have other things to worry about, but they are REAL and present in those worlds/stories--so those characters still have to deal with right and wrong, and maybe question the motives of superior beings, but never have to question the reality...which in turn is what makes them fantasy, because in the real world, we have to go on faith

nymfaux said...

and then there are books that have religious undercurrents--these books are layered, so you can often read them just for pleasure, but you can find deeper meanings and symbolisms if you try--Narnia, and Harry Potter
--Many books have been written on the symbolism represented in those books, alone.

As a reader, I appreciated not having the religion shoved down my throat. To be honest, I didn't really notice all of the symbolism in Narnia, until I could visualize it for myself when I saw the movies--Of course, at the end of the series, it was pretty blatant--but mostly I just read it and enjoyed it just for the stories, without that context.

The same for Harry Potter--I started reading it during college. First, I was simply drawn in by the stories and the adventure. But I was reading many classics, because of my classes at the same time and was drawn into a more layered world that explored myths and legends, and was full of meaning for anyone who wanted to look.

Soon after, I read The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, by John Granger, and saw that he made some very convincing arguments regarding why Harry Potter is a VERY religious, Christian text, as oppose to the people who were saying it promotes witchcraft.

But, again, it wasn't SHOVED on me--I mean, at the end, it's pretty obvious--but for the most part, it's not something I would notice if I weren't looking for it.

And so I appreciate these layers, especially because I've found that I can read and reread these books many times and still find things that are new--and also because, I as a reader can respect the author's point of view without having to commit to it--It's educational and enlightening without being overbearing.

Helen Lowe said...

Great topic, Jeaniene. (And happy 4th of July, btw.) I agree with the posters who feel that dimensions of faith can add an extra dimension to a story, but aren't required per se. My view is that the presence of faith in a story is a little like the presence of sex--as discussed in Melissa Marr's first post, and picked up by a few other Supe authors since then--i.e. if it fits in the context of the story and/or is necessary to make the story work then it should be there, but otherwise maybe not, i.e. no "faith for faith's sake." So in my own books, although I think there's clearly a moral universe in "Thornspell", faith and religion don't come into the story at all. But in "The Heir of Night" and Wall series, the main protagonist people, the Derai, have their own pantheon of gods and a whole separate class within the society bound to the powers associated with those gods. So the gods are definitely a big part of the background of the story, but not the foreground in the sense of a work like the Iliad, where the Olympians are diving in and out of the action of the story quite regularly.

Deana H. said...

Happy 4th! I personally think in your books I enjoyed the "Cain" faith aspect. You fit it in so well into your stories. I'm with other commentors, I say if it fits use it. I think it kind of gives them the perspective of a higher power to be accountable to. I enjoy it whether the faith is based on Christianity or other forms of faith.

Crystal @ RBtWBC said...

I think having some sort of religious belief system makes the story more believable. Whether its an every day normal religion or something all together new or made up. Because everybody believes in something.
I think you do a wonderful job in your series Jeaniene and I love them. Can't wait for Night Huntress #5, Come on February! Hope everybody had a wonderful Forth of July!

Anaquana said...

I love reading about the interplay of faith with the paranormal. I'm usually disappointed with UF/PR that doesn't explore faith at least a little bit just because there's so much fun stuff that can be done.

In my world, faith and the concept of will/belief of the masses plays a major role. Especially for my main character who is a half-demon. Holy words and religious icons from any major religion based on "goodness" hurt her in large part because of the centuries of accumulated belief that says demons are evil. Which puts a bit of a damper on things when she has to search for the stolen soul of a Catholic priest.

Sharon S. said...

what a cool topic! I pretty much agree with what everyone else said. I love it when an author can come up with their own twist on religion to fit the story. I think "how freak'n smart!" I've never been insulted by an authors take on religion and never will be . My favorite religion to see borrowed from is probably Eastern-ish. I love it when Karma comes into play . I also love Manga with demons and angels.

Joss Ware | Colleen Gleason said...

I've always included some sort of faith in my paranormal novels as well.

Someone once said, and I've always thought this to be very true, that you can't believe in true malevolence and evil without also believing in pure good and right--because otherwise, there would be no good in the world.

So using that, and my own knowledge of religions and faiths, I've always had that underpinning in my books. Sometimes it's more overt than in others.

In my upcoming Joss Ware book, NIGHT BETRAYED, the heroine is a sort of "soul guide"--she helps people cross over from life to death. I did a lot of research about hospice workers and near-death experiences, and incorporated some of that background into the book.

Great, GREAT topic, Jeaniene!!

Candace Blackburn said...

I think that the very presence of faith is what contributes to the redeemability of the classic bad boy in the vampire novels, yours in particular. I loved the part in Sherrilyn Kenyon's books where someone asked Acheron if he had ever met Jesus and he said he saw Jesus speak once but did not feel worthy to talk to Him. The character's faith also adds a bit of humanity to them as well. If the humanity was absent, how would you justify writing a character that feeds off of people wanting to help them? Bones is a primary example of that.

Sweet Rachel! said...

Faith although controversial, is a very interesting aspect of a story. Personally I love it when there is that sort of background and imagery to a already fabulous tale. Something about the fall from "Grace" and desire for retribution really hooks me as a reader.

Starlit Rogue said...

I like it when a series has it's own religion. Makes the world seem more different an not only that but it gives whole new religion to the reader and not the same old religions we already know.

China Doll said...

The idea of having a belief system/higher power in paranormal stories is an excellent idea. Jeaniene, I love the way you use it in your Cat and Bones novels. That Bones seems to contemplate his actions makes the plot even more real. I see this issue of faith the most in At Grave's End. I would say more, but that would be giving away the plot. I love your novels. Keep the faith.