Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sci Fi Discussion on The Happy Catholic

Breaking news: The Happy Catholic, another Catholic blog, has posted on a discussion on sf literature. Here's a link:

And we'll be back with more info on the subject when we've explored it further--

And we're back.

The Happy Catholic is responding to some nasty comments by a Mr. Bottum, available at First Things.

It would be a grave oversight if The Sci Fi Catholic did not enter the debate and enter swinging. Bottum's basic argument, that sf writers do not produce literature because none of them have the ability of Homer, Goethe, Dante, or Milton, is ridiculous, and for the following reasons:

  • First, because Homer, Goethe, Dante, and Milton all produced sf literature, or rather, fantasy, which is closely related. This term is admittedly anachronistic in the sense that fantasy did not exist as a literary genre when these authors wrote, but if they wrote today, this is the category under which their literature would go, and so it is a useful label to apply to them.

  • Second, Homer, Dante, Milton, and maybe even Goethe are literary geniuses. These are the sort of people who don't come along very often. They are rarities. If only rarities can produce literature, must we sit around waiting for a genius to come along before any books can be produced? Are competent, even talented and gifted, authors not allowed to write simply because they cannot rise to the level of Shakespeare? This is absurd on its face.

  • Third, Bottum obviously doesn't read much sf. There's real literature going on here with real imagination and real writing skill. Yes, there's bad stuff, too, but that's only because the genre is large and vigorous, not because it's in a general state of atrophy. Even lousy writers like George Lucas sometimes manage to tap something deep inside of us if they play with mythic archetypes in the right way. That's why people love Star Wars in spite of its stilted dialogue.

  • Fourth, the Christian imagination is in a general state of atrophy, and it is the opinion of The Sci Fi Catholic that fantasy, sf, and horror are a good way to reinvigorate it. Religion cannot survive without wholesome myth. Indeed, when a religion is robust, myth will arise whether people like it or not, because bold religion activates the imagination of its adherents. That's how you get some of those crazy saint stories and other Christian legends. Such things embarrass the likes of Calvinists, and because culture here has been heavily influenced by Protestantism, it embarrasses some Catholics as well. But our answer is, We need those stories. They are a sign of religious health as well as a primary means by which people interact with the religion and, thus, with God. Fantasy, sf, and horror have a unique ability to tap the mythic stream of storytelling. What we need, now more than ever, are Christian sf writers. People like Bottum who attack this type of literature, if they follow through rigorously on their own thinking, will find they are attacking Christianity itself.
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