The OF Blog: Fantasy, SF: Influenced by religious movements?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fantasy, SF: Influenced by religious movements?

Since it seems I won't have the time to get around to reviewing Adam Roberts' The History of Science Fiction before the school year begins in a shade over two weeks, I thought I'd throw out (with the unavoidable risk of distorting this part of his thesis) a central argument of his work, that of the religious influences on SF and Fantasy (at least as it pertains to European/American writings).

Roberts postulates that the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on a more empirical approach to matters of faith (and ultimately of life) created a climate more favorable to the eventual development of science fiction. However, for Catholics, there was a more mystical, backwards-looking approach that favored a more static society, elements that later were featured in tales by Catholic authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, among others.

As I said, such a brief sketch risks distorting Roberts' argument, but I think it can suffice to serve as a ground of debate. Are the elements most commonly associated with SF to be found more often in places where the Protestant Reformation took place? Are there really deep connections between fantasy fiction and Catholicism? And what about the other groups, such as the Jews, Eastern Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.? Where would they fall along this?

Just a little discussion thing to start the week, no?


Anonymous said...

Well, you did say it was a brief sketch, but as it is, I'd say it's rubbish.

The local SFF culture in France tends to like separating SF from Fantasy a lot, and theorizing Fantasy is "mystical" and irrational, and conservative by comparison with SF. So as a catholic country they certainly don't seem pro fantasy. Of course Fantasy does sell well as well, and there's a lot of steampunk-like sensitivities as well - Not even going into comic books or RPGs.

I believe that Jewish writers are, in general, all over the place in the realm of SFF. Fro Azimov to Kushner to Neil Gaiman... yeah. Seriously, I don't see anything to ground that argument.

Lsrry said...

Yeah, if I had the time, I could probably find a few dozen exceptions to his argument. But I don't, unfortunately.

Cheryl said...

I suspect that Roberts is writing from a very English perspective.

Lsrry said...

Likely so. Although I regret I don't have the energy to go into it as I would like, what I noticed is how much it felt like a permutation of the old Protestant Work Ethic theory of Max Weber, with some differences of course. Maybe in a few months I'll have the time to re-read and then discuss as I would like. All I know is that right now, grasping how Le Guin is approaching Vergil is somehow beyond me. Frustrating.

Anonymous said...

It makes me think of social evolutionist more than it does of Weber, although I can see how someone not thinking things through would jump from Disenchantment of the World to Science-Fiction. In facts, however... does he address early French SF writers likes Vernes or Bergerac at all?

Lsrry said...

Yes, Roberts is a big fan of Verne's at least and I believe he mentioned the other as well.

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