Khemehekis wrote: ↑
30 Jun 2018 04:52
In this thread, I'd like to discuss how a conworlder's religion influences her/his conworld.
With respect, I'm not sure that's what you're doing. You seem to be mentioning that
, rather than discussing how
The first question here must surely be: define 'influence'. The second question is then: in what way
can religion influence conworlding?
I'm not sure I've seen a Mormon do it. But there probably are some Mormon conworlders out there -- after all, the Deseret alphabet is a con-script!
The main trend is indeed for Catholic* (and Jewish) SF&F authors (there are also countless evangelicals but, ironically, they tend to write only for other evangelicals and not to reach the outside market). However, Mormonism is heavily represented in the genre - certainly out of all proportion to its prevalence! The most prominent is Orson Scott Card, who is not just Mormon but very demonstratively so. Tracy Hickman, co-author of the Dragonlance books, is another example. And L.E. Modesitt Jr is, as I understand it, not a Mormon himself, but has lived in Utah a long time and many of his books are overtly influenced by, or even about, Mormonism.
*notable among the religious catholics are, for instance, Chesterton, Tolkien, Verne, Wolfe, Walter Miller Jr and Anne Rice, as well as Fred Saberhagen, Clifford Simak, Anthony Burgess, Stephen Baxter, Jerry Pournelle and Tim Powers; lapsed or fomer Catholics include Frank Herbert, Stanislaw Lem, Karel Capek, Philip Jose Farmer and Robert Anton Wilson.
Then there are Jewish conworlders. I know a number of people here who are ethnically Jewish: Shemtov, Peterofthecorn, Helios/Zontas, Khemehekis.
Are you having a breakdown or something? Because you appear to be talking about yourself in the third person...
What would an Islamic-themed conworld be like? A Wiccan-themed conworld? A Scientology-themed conworld? And what about the Dharmic religions (Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jain)?
I think you're asking a very different question there. Being influenced by something doesn't mean making your work 'themed' - or vice versa. The are lots
of broadly (or explicitly) dharmic SF&F stories out there, but most are not by actual believers. In fantasy we might point at something like the Wurts/Feist "Empire" trilogy, with its broadly buddhist setting, or in sci-fi no-one could deny that Zelazny's "Lord of Light" (in which a character takes on the role of the Buddha in rebellion against characters with the names and characters of Hindu gods) is "buddhism/hinduism-themed".
So, how have your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) influenced your conworlding? Are there any religious influences on famous conworlds I've missed in my OP? Discuss here.
Two other famous examples of strongly religious SF&F are Lovecraft (atheism) and Le Guin (taoism). It may seem odd to mention an atheist here, but Lovecraft wasn't just incidentally a non-believer: his atheism actively and consciously guided his fiction.
To address the original question, an author's worldview always shapes their work - although many soi dissant 'religious' authors can for practical purposes be treated as having a secular worldview (consumerism, humanism, liberalism, communitarianism, etc) that just happens to have a God stuck onto it when they remember.
does it shape their work? In what way? Well, how about a typology of sorts...?
One prominent way is through iconography
: an author borrows icons of a religion - images, words, narrative tropes - for their work. Sometimes this is subconscious - the Bible has been so fundamental in our culture that its echoes are often heard even where nobody realises they're repeating it. Other times it's very intentional, either to proselytise or to borrow the authority of religion for fiction: the author knows the reader will respond to certain icons in a certain way, even if they don't notice them. Just look at how many fantasy stories involve things like a prophesied saviour
, a virgin birth
(not often literal - but see how many heroes are secretly the children of authority-figure fathers, and often raised just by their mothers with rumours around their paternity), a betrayal by Judas
, a last temptation
, a crucifixion
, and a resurrection
... not to mention the old fallen angel
Notably, religious iconography is often used by non-believers, or superficial believers. It doesn't require any genuine personal commitment.
Even more overt, there's the actual topic
: a work can be 'about' a religion, in the sense of the religion being prominent in the setting and plot. This may be: glimpses of the 'real' religion (Mormons find a portal to Narnia; Mormons set up a colony on Mars); speculation based upon the real religion (what is Utah like in the year 3000?); or a parallel religion that looks suspiciously like a real one (Gofef Znith has a vision from the ahura Inorom). This can be a background element of the story - like the pseudo-Buddhism in the Empire novels - or the central plot (like Mahasamatman's new religion in Lord of Light).
And even more overt and specific, there's the question
of the work: is the work explicitly about something? Some works explain or explore doctrinal issues within a faith - again, it can be overt, or in disguise. These stories tend to be written by very religious writers, for a religious audience, since the general audience lacks the doctrinal context in which the questions actually make sense and are important. But there are exceptions. Walter M Miller Jr's classic A Canticle for Leibowitz
spends most of its wordcount discussing (implicitly and often explicitly) doctrinal questions, but in a way accessible to ordinary readers (questions like: what is the appropriate relationship between religion and science, and between religious or scientific authorities and political authorities? Is euthanasia morally permissable and if not why not? But also things like: what psychological difference may knowledge of the mercy of God expressed through the sacrifice of the crucifixion have for the Catholic believer as opposed to the pious Jewish believer?).
But more broadly, there's the issue of worldview
. It's hard to pin this down, but often religious influence is not in specific superficial questions of doctrine, but in a broader way of seeing the nature of the world and the nature of morality.A few examples...
Tolkien is a strongly Catholic author, although overt signs of religion are very few - a few broad iconography choices, perhaps, like a creator god (who is almost never seen) and a fallen angel. Instead, catholicism is seen in Tolkien in the assumptions he makes and the things he is interested in. It's something you maybe only really notice when you read him alongside other Catholics like Miller or Gene Wolfe. One thing, for instance, is the role of hubris, and its relationship to failures of faith, hope, and charity. Everyone in Tolkien (whose motivations we see) is fundamentally good, but many have lost faith. Faith here is not specifically an overt, conscious faith in another being - few of his characters show any signs of overt religious concern - but a certain mindset, a trust in the world. Those who lose faith may then lose hope, and fall into despair - which Tolkien, as a Catholic, sees not just as a private tragedy but as a public threat. Denethor, for instance, despairs, and puts Gondor in jeopardy in doing so. On the other hand, those who lose faith may retain hope, and instead fall into hubris: the belief that they have the power to change the world themselves, that they know better than the creator (or his angels, or the world itself) and do not need help. Melkor doesn't want to destroy the world, he wants to perfect it, to do a better job than Eru; likewise Sauron just wants to make the world a better, more orderly, place; Saruman turns to 'evil' in order to defeat Sauron, because he believes he has that power himself. Or look at the hubris of Feanor, as seen in his pride in his work, or the hubris of Thingol and Turgon, good men who believe that can make their own little paradise outside the world, who are inevitably brought down. Tolkien sees hubris and despair as inevitable: even Aule is hubristic in making the dwarves. The whole point of the Ring is that power corrupts, because mortals, given power, lose their faith and destroy what is good in the world in attempting to preserve it - whether that's Boromir wanting the Ring for a military campaign, or Galadriel's vision of herself as the dark queen whose desire to protect Lorien has turned her into a tyrant. But forgiveness is always possible for the repentant, and even sin can be turned to goodness - Eru improves the world by creating elves and men because
of Melkor; Eru approves of Aule's dwarves, when he shows himself repentant of having made them. So many 'victories' or actions of the gods are symbols of hope - whether it's Gandalf being sent as a messenger to raly hope around the world, or the new King being crowned as a symbol of hope in Gondor, or just the hobbits giving their countrymen the hope that they don't have to be passively bullied by Sharkey. I don't think Tolkien set out to write Catholic dogma in narrative form, but it shaped how he saw the world. And it's striking to read, for instance, Leibowitz and see how much Miller has in common with Tolkien despite the totally different setting and style - the terrible temptation of the power of the Ring, for instance, is mirrored by the terrible temptation of the power of the nuclear warhead...
Whereas if you look at one of Tolkien's closest successors, Donaldson in his Covenant novels, you see a similar 'faith-based' depth, and yet dramatic differences. Donaldon iirc is not explicitly religious himself, but he was raised Evangelical, and it shows. For him, the question of "faith" isn't an abstract form of hope - it's specifically belief in something
. Something external that anchors morality. Covenant struggles to believe in the entire world
in which he finds himself, and that lack of faith leads him to succumb to selfish temptations. Hubris, again, is omnipresent - but whereas in Tolkien hubris is seen in the horror of success
(a success with terrible consequences), in Donaldson it's seen in failure. Humankind is inadequate, iniquitous, and when it believes itself to have power to defeat evil, it inevitably fails. Donaldson's world is a world of temptations, of evil things disguised as good - whether that's the Ravers, who possess the bodies of good people, of the paradoxical horror of the verdancy of the sunbane. Both Tolkien and Donaldson are broadly 'Christian' in their worldview (even if donaldson is personally post-christian), but the introspective, pluralist, indirect Catholicism of Tolkien is very different from the stark, overt, almost nietzschan post-evangelicalism of donaldson.
Le Guin, on the other hand, is a taoist. I don't know enough about taoism or le guin and her work to say too much, but even to the layman the influence is obvious. I've read The Dispossessed
and The Left Hand of Darkness
, and both are works obsessed with fundamental dualities (and the unseen unities they obscure), skeptical of individualism and of direct action. "To oppose a thing," she tells us in TLHOD, "is to maintain it".
Meanwhile, Lovecraft's atheism led him to a passionate nihilism. His 'cosmic horror' does not shy from the 'supernatural' (his atheism was not scientism!), but radically repositions humanity as worthless and powerless in a terrifying, uncaring world. "All my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large... One must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all." His way of expressing that atheism, however - mankind in the shadow of titanic beings that appear godlike to lesser mortals - echoes his childhood identification with graeco-roman paganism.