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When we think of amphibians, we think of frogs, which live where land and water intemix; or of amphibious airplanes, which come to rest on land or water. The word itself comes from Greek roots: amphi, meaning two; and bios, meaning life: two lives – a dual life, perhaps even a dual nature. We don’t think of ourselves – human beings – as amphibians, but in a sense we are; we live in, and are aware of, two dimensions (at least) of existence: the physical and the spiritual. Attempts to define human beings in terms of just the physical are grievously flawed and destructive, reducing the human being to, as an acquaintance of mine phrases it, “clever pieces of meat.” In a similar way, to define humanity in only spiritual terms, one becomes too heavenly minded to be any earthly good (to paraphrase a well-known quote).
Science fiction and fantasy explores this in a number of ways. Master Yoda says “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” Separating body and spirit is a standard trope, whether voluntary (such as astral projection) or involuntary (such as demonic possession); not just in fantasy, but in science fiction, where a person can transfer consciousness into a new body, or even a computer network, and remain a human individual. This is a peek into how these fictional explorations might resonate and conflict with an orthodox Christian understanding of what it means to be human, and what it might reveal about ourselves.
In the World, but not of the World – J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor on Christians Writing for Secular Audiences
As Christian writers of fiction – especially of speculative fiction – it can be difficult to identify ourselves, our audience, and our relationship to our audience. Do we write “Christian Fiction” as a genre distinct from secular fiction? Do we write “SF/F” while leaving our faith at the door or hiding it from our readers?
The greatest of Christian artists have rarely directed their work toward the “Christian market”. To the contrary, they recognized that Christ’s own mission was to those who did not know him and who did not accept him. Just as Christ used parables to speak to those who “see but do not perceive, and hear but not understand” (cf. Mark 4.12, etc.), Christian artists have presented in their works a Christian worldview in terms that the secular world finds both accessible and challenging.
J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor both recognized this role of the Christian artist, and both reflected on it in their essays and letters. In this presentation, I will explore their understanding of the relationship between faith and artistic creation, and how this impacted their approach to writing fiction. They deliberately do not inject a “Christian message” into their stories, but rather develop compelling characters, metaphors, and plotlines from their faith in the reality of Jesus Christ. Current Christian fiction writers can learn from their experience, and can apply their insights in our own work. If time permits, we may discuss other Christian authors (e.g., William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Gene Wolfe, Dean Koontz, etc.) who root their decidedly secular writings in their faithful Christian worldview.
Presvetyra Elizabeth Turvo
Towards a Doxacon Seattle Writers’ Group
Many of us who love Christianity and Fantasy/Science Fiction also love to write. We write poetry, fiction, true stories, memoir, or theology, but we especially love to produce work which is both speculative AND Christian. But the bustling literary scene in the Pacific Northwest is sometimes less than welcoming to Christian writers, and, contrariwise, many Christian readers and publishers decline to read SF/F literature.We can’t do better than imitate our beloved forefathers, Lewis and Tolkein, who met regularly to share their work and learn from each other. These giants even improve their writing this way! For example, the draft of the last chapter of LOTR, which was ’roundly condemned’ by Tolkein’s “beta-readers,” is so far inferior to the final version, that it almost seems to have been written by a different writer! [published in Sauron Defeated]
All of us writers, in addition to dedication, hard work, and a bit of talent, need mentors and a community. So… let’s start a Doxacon writers group! Perhaps even our own journal one day?
In this session, I’ll tell you a little about my own efforts as a writer, then expand on my ideas for the writers group: sharing our unpublished work in a collegial atmosphere of constructive feedback and mutual encouragement, including a signed code of conduct, and networking together as we try to reach our audience. We will talk over any suggestions you have and start to make plans for meeting up and format.
The Zone is Personal: Tarkovsky’s Stalker and the Orthodox encounter with Personhood
The mysterious room figuring at the center of the ‘Zone’ in Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘sci-fi’ masterpiece, Stalker, has proven more than sufficiently spacious to sustain any number of interpretations, from the religious to the materialist, and from the psychological to the ecological. In the film, a scheming scientist and a jaded poet enlist the services of a stalker, or guide, to lead them into the mystical, beating heart of the Zone, where, according to legend and hearsay, one’s deepest longing and desire are liable to find an answer.
But what exactly are these three seeking out? And what, if anything, do they find or encounter there? Turning to a brief and powerful essay of Vladimir Lossky on the Orthodox understanding of hypostasis, or person(hood), as well as a handful of other Biblical and patristic sources, I lay out a perhaps somewhat unexpected or unorthodox reading of the film: the mysterious room at the center of the Zone is a Person – not in the sense in which we commonly understand personhood – that is, in terms of individuality, ‘personality’, psychology, will, etc. – but in the specifically patristic sense of hypostasis. But what sense is that? What could it mean for someone, let alone God himself, to be a person, or hypostasis? Each in a similar fashion, both Tarkovsky and Lossky trim back the gnarled briers of our modern ways of conceiving of persons and lay bare this very question, or better: they lay us bare before the mystery of God and neighbor as person.
Tanya Keenan & Tim Brown
Christ is in our Midst: Bringing Christianity to the Table in Tabletop Role-Playing Games
Much of the fun of fantasy role-playing games is being able to embark on adventures you wouldn’t normally get to experience, or have abilities you wouldn’t normally have. It’s very unlikely that we’ll ever be able to get magic missiles to come out of our fingertips or fight a tribe of ogres. However, experienced tabletop role-playing gamers can attest that each player brings a little bit of him- or herself to the playing of a character. Join Tim W. Brown and Tanya Keenan as they discuss the impact their faith has on the characters they play (or the games they run), speculate on how this may change when the game moves to an electronic medium, and share stories of their own characters spiritual journeys that may have reflected their own.
Middle Earth, Writing About the Real, and the Theology of Community
Flowing from Tolkien’s understanding of Faith, of writing, and of the purpose of story, he embarks in his own story-writing on a creative endeavor that can illuminate and elucidate aspects of community which have bearing on our own lived experience. His stories are meant to teach in a profound and theologically informed way that is more than mere fable or allegory, but is aimed at the heart of the matter. He intends to build a world where even its very assumptions are Faithful, where every character, place, and circumstance his readers encounter teaches them something at a deep and very real level.
These are not allegories, but people and places and events that are ‘real’ in a transcendent way, real insofar as they teach us something real. In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, each one of Tolkien’s societies exemplifies aspects of human relationality. Because of the particular natures of the hobbits and the elves in these stories, because of how they relate to the world around them and within their own communities, these peoples uniquely exemplify a right ordering of the human communities that arise through married lay and consecrated communion, respectively. The representation of orcish society, by contrast, illustrates precisely those ways in which community can be distorted and what happens as a consequence. As a result of the characters of these societies, and in the spirit of Tolkien’s approach to “sub-creation,” they are thus particularly instrumental for instructing us on the proper Christian way of living in these types of community.
Steven “Reece” Friesen and Tanya Keenan
Anonymity: the dark power of choosing not to be known
Join Reece and Tanya in conversation around the power of the mask in comics and other
media, and how this translates into our own lives as Christians. On this panel, we will discuss
the role masks play in fiction (print and media), including popular figures such as Spiderman
and Batman, and how masks operate with both heroes and villains. This discussion will move
into the ethics of the mask, and how it may subvert relationship, accountability, and ultimately
justice. Finally, the discussion will move into exploring how in our culture we use masks in our
own lives, particularly using the anonymity of the internet, and how this changes (or not) our in-