Can a Jewish author write Fantasy?

by Anna Blanch on March 12, 2010

Via Carissa Smith at Christ and Pop Culture:

An article from the inaugural issue of the Jewish Review of Books explores why so few fantasy writers have been Jewish:

To put it crudely, if Christianity is a fantasy religion, then Judaism is a science fiction religion. If the former is individualistic, magical, and salvationist, the latter is collective, technical, and this-worldly. Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history. Its halakhic core is not, I think, convincingly represented in fantasy allegory. In its rabbinic elaboration, even the messianic idea is shorn of its mythic and apocalyptic potential. Whereas fantasy grows naturally out of Christian soil, Judaism’s more adamant separation from myth and magic render classic elements of the fantasy genre undeveloped or suspect in the Jewish imaginative tradition.

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  • Rebecca

    That is an angle I've never considered and find a fascinating one to contemplate…

  • Goannatree

    It is interesting isn't it?

    I find that the following line highlights the deeper theological dilemma at the heart of such a contention which could, if shown not only to apply to Judaism, destablise the dichtomoy:

    "Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history."

    I would argue that the heart of Christianity is about a specific man, Jesus, in a specific place – the cross and resurrection within a specific history.
    I don't think this is inconsistent with fantasy….

    I don't disagree with the dichotomy necessarily – i just wonder whether the contention that Judaism connects with specific history and Christianity does not speaks more to this author's theological position than functioning an objective statement.
    My recent post So you want to know what we wished we'd known: Goannatree's guide to Surviving Graduate School

  • Rose Bexar

    It makes sense to a point, given that the Jewish understanding of history holds that the Eucatastrophe has not yet occurred; but I know for a fact that Judaism does have its own myths (more so in Kabbalah), and this thesis doesn't explain the existence of Christian sci-fi or account for the fact that a lot of Jewish sci-fi writers, like Asimov, are secular/atheist Jews. And as you say, Anna, the fact that Jesus lived, died, and rose again within Primary World history with loads of witnesses–the "rum thing" that the myth of the dying god "seems to have really happened once"–is central to the Christian understanding of both history and myth.
    I wonder, now that I think about it, if the dichotomy isn't inverted, given de Lubac's observations about the difference between the Jewish threefold reading of Scripture (allegory based on moralizing based on the literal level, which might or might not be history) and the Christian fourfold reading (get the history right first, then apply the allegorical metanarrative re: Christ and the Church, *then* the tropological and anagogical applications).

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