1. thalorin19
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    thalorin19 Member

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    Religion in Fantasy novels?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by thalorin19, Oct 31, 2010.

    In the midst of writing a fantasy novel at the moment. I have the world pretty detailed and crafted. But I always have a reoccuring thing in my mind.

    Should I put a Religion in?

    Personally, I'm not religious. Not that I despise religion or anything, but that my parents just never really took me to church or had me read the Bible or anything, so it's just something I don't really care about.

    Most authors that write Fantasy will put some religion into their books. Whether it's some real-world religion re-hashed a bit with a new title, or creating something new. Some don't put it in at all, such as Tolkein I believe - I never read his books, but it didn't really some like there was much religion in it during the movies, that I can remember.

    So my question is, do you bother putting a religion? Why do you? Do you think it brings more 'life' to your world? Or do you use it as a critical part of the plot? I'm just curious to what other readers think. I don't think I will ever add in religion. I don't think it's something thats party of the story. And with me being not to religious, I think I would have a hard time writing religious characters, nevertheless creating a whole new religion itself.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How willing are you to do the research into religions to make your fictional religions plausible?
     
  3. S-wo
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    S-wo Active Member

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    I'm semi religious myself, but definitely spiritual. If you have a sense of spirituality then I don't see one could not produce a story featuring a world with religion, because all religion has roots in spirituality. Myself? In my first novel there is some hints to the religion of the world, but I didn't touch upon it heavily as for that story I felt like I didn't have to.

    I plan to write another book where religion is a key part of the plot, but for right now I'll just go along with other subjects, until I feel that I am better prepared for it.
     
  4. Zombie_Chinchilla
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    Zombie_Chinchilla Member

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    First- LotR did, in fact, have very subtle religion in it. Gandalf was his form of an angel. In The Return of the King, he describes to Pippin the sight of Heaven, or at least the Middle Earth version of Heaven. I think there was a Christian-like tale in The Silmarillion that my Mom told me about, though I never read it. I can't exactly recall it, however.

    Anyways, I think it would be your decision. As a devote Christian, I'm describing my own beliefs in God with "God" in my fantasy series. It's only a tad bit tweaked to fit the history of the books.
     
  5. Egil1Eye
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    Egil1Eye Member

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    I have to agree with S-wo, religion, as far as I am concerned, is based on spirituality, but it can also be based in mythology or legend.

    Many times a religions or at least 'religous movements' have spawned from the lives of people, or marters, as the case may be, therefore not actually rooted in gods, angels, or dieties of any kind at all.

    This may be something you might think about, whether or not this helps, I'm not sure, but it's just a thought.;)
     
  6. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    I'm going to echo Cogito's sentiment that if you want to include a believable fantasy religion, it will require some degree of research.

    I'm an atheist, but I often include religion in my fantasy stories. But world culture, ancient history, religion, mythology and philosophy are all some of my favourite subjects, and my inclusion of religion on my stories is simply an extension of my interest in those subjects. Adding religions to a fantasy setting will provide you depth, and a tool for characterisation, but if it isn't something you are committed to researching, and if it's not a topic that interests you, then why force yourself to include it? You might be better off either not mentioning religion, or simply relegating it to the background.

    Edit: For your other questions: Its importance in the plot depends on the individual story. In my current WIP, an aspect of the setting's religion is very important to the plot, but religion itself is in the background. In others, it is in the forefront.
     
  7. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    People do tend to need to believe in something, though. I wouldn't advise leaving it out altogether, even if you never use it except for a tiny bit of extra description here and there - like remembering to include a temple in a list of buildings in the city or whatever. History, and rulers, are often venerated like gods - you could always introduce an element of worship to a living character to supersede the need for an abstract god figure, and that always makes a conflict more interesting. *shrugs* Just thinking of ways you could get some in there. :) I personally always include a few mentions at least, even if it's just a different god's name when a character blasphemes, or mentions of shrines along a road or something. Anything to remind the reader that people have spirituality and I've not forgotten it.
     
  8. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    Yes, a few quick mentions will help in building a setting, and is probably a good approach if you want to show some of your setting's culture without spending too much time on its religion. In that case you'd mostly have to think of what your fantasy society reveres- are they something like the familiar pantheons, abstract embodiments of the state, its rulers, ancestors... or something else entirely.
     
  9. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The are a few hunter gather societies without religion and with extremely concrete world view. But they live in extremely small societies
    If you have a complex society you need a complex world view, no matter if it religious, ideological or scientific.

    Whit that said I think there is two methods to pull of religions in a fantasy or sf book where the religion isn't in focus.

    A: You take something extremely obviously inspired by a real world religion/s, and dont try to hide it. The reader can pick up what sort of world view the religion has without much effort and yet appreciate the complexity of it. Jaquline Carey is among the author that did this very well. I also seen it done with smart mix of religion, like merging Norse religion with the Christean view of good and evil, making Loki whos traditionally a trickster the inequivalent of Satan.

    B:
    You use a religion with a very simple base, so that the reader can deduce the world view from. GRRM did this in A Song of Ice and Fire with the seven gods (Maiden, Mother, Crone, Father, Smith, Warrior and The Stranger(representing the unknown)) All representing a simple set of values and what society saw as important. Half female, half male and one without gender.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think if you leave it out all together, the world is a little less believable, particularly in a fantasy setting. Religion may exist simply as myth, spirituality, or something short of an over-arching, organized religion, but it stands to reason that it will exist in most fantasy settings.

    Most fantasies are set in pre-technological worlds where science and scientific explanations for the world are poorly understood. Those are precisely the societies in which humans develop supernatural explanations (myth, magic, ritual, etc.) to impact and/or explain the world around them. If you completely ignore that aspect of humanity, I think the story will be weaker for it. That's my personal view.
     
  11. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    For as brief overview of the world's religions, see Religious Tolerance.
     
  12. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Um, that's the site that is owned by Scientologists and whitewashes everything about their own religion.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Doesn't look like it, if you do some searching on the owners (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance). Are you sure you're not mixing them up with someone else?

    They actually address this in the "About Us" section. Apparently someone decided they must be Scientologists because of the way they write the date :D
     
  14. throughthepeephole
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    throughthepeephole Member

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    I would describe myself as being spiritual moreso than religious. I loosely follow the Buddhist faith, and believe in many of its teachings. I think that all fictional societies need some kind of core belief system, possibly more than one if you have more than one race. It doesn't have to be described in detail, or even used, but without it I think your characters could become rather 2-dimensional, having no reasons to back up their opinions, beliefs, decisions etc. That's just my personal opinion. As I say I'm not heavily religious, but would endeavour to include something.
     
  15. Egil1Eye
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    Egil1Eye Member

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    Another view on religions is the fact that prayer and honouring something doesn't have to even include anything supernatural, or otherworldly. Primitive man had no gods in the beginning of our evolutionary ladder, they humbled and prostrated themselves to what they considered higher powers; volcanoes, fire, earthquakes, etc.

    So depending on the age of your works this may be a viable solution as well.
    :cool:
     
  16. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    Only if the religion is applicable to the story line. Otherwise you're just using it as space filler.
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Depends. Does it make the novel better?
     
  18. truant
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    truant New Member

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    It's pretty hard to overstate the importance of religion in pre-industrial societies. In our desaturated, secular world, religion has become a sort of footnote for non-religious people. (These are really the only people who would ask if they should include religion in their story. :rolleyes:) There are no large, complex civilizations in history prior to our own where people were not influenced on a daily basis by religious considerations. Morality, justice, birth, marriage, death, holidays and celebration, political order and justification, the division of wealth, art, music, and literature, etc., were all impacted in some way by religion, if not outright determined by it. Large religious organizations were largely responsible for the accumulation and dissemination of academic knowledge, shaped philosophical and scientific views, cared for the sick and destitute, held political power, etc., etc.

    That doesn't mean you have to include it in your story, however. If it doesn't play a significant role, and you're not comfortable writing about it, then a mere mention or two should be sufficient to hint at wider implications. If you're feeling more ambitious, there really aren't many areas of world creation that provide you with a bigger canvas to paint on or more interesting possibilities to play with. I really think this is one area where most fantasy settings just plain fail to deliver.
     
  19. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    What they don't mention is that their essay on Scientology used to be co-credited to Al Buttnor, who is the Director of Special Affairs for the Toronto branch of the Church of Scientology, and that large parts of the text is copied directly from the Church of Scientology's own materials (Scientology Critical Information Directory). By publishing their texts on a seemingly neutral and informed web site, the Church of Scientology can cite their own marketing materials as fact. There have been very persistent attempts to use religioustolerance.org as a reputable source on Scientology on Wikipedia, for example.

    The man who is listed as author of most of the texts on religioustolerance.org is Bruce A. Robinson, who only has credentials as an engineer, not as an expert on religion. The site may still be informational, but it shouldn't be viewed as authoritative.

    But to get back on topic, the thing about religion is that it tends to permeate all parts of a society:
    * Marriage usually involves religious ritual
    * Laws are often based on religious traditions
    * The swear words and linguistic metaphors of a culture are often based on religion
    * Monks and priests used to be the keepers of written knowledge, both in Europe and large parts of Asia. Scientific research was often carried out by monks before the advent of modern universities.
    * The societal structure is often supported by religion. For example, in medieval Europe, the power of kings was said to be approved by God. In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs derived their power from being leaders of the country's religion. The caste system in India was supported by religious beliefs.

    ... and so on. In a realistic society, the influence of religion can be found everywhere (even if you don't need to throw it in the face of the reader).
     
  20. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    Well researched Islander.

    Here's my take on religion in fantasy: I am all for it if it has meaning to the story.

    Religion is a driving force in my fantasy novel. I have two distinct major religious orders, plus several other inferred orders from my narrator's perspective. One is more Taoist, with teachers, guidance but no central deity to worship. The other has a small pantheon, with one major figure, a creation myth, and has religious practices weaved in to every aspect of a group of nomadic hunter/gatherers life.

    There is even a conflict over religion a la the Cruisades in the backdrop that the MC gets embroiled in, but between one dominantly religious nation and one dominantly atheist nation.
     
  21. Beckahrah
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    Beckahrah Member

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    If you feel you need it; if there's something lacking in the story. Anne McCaffrey is somewhat famous for never including a shred of religion into her Dragonriders of Pern books...and she's one of the most prolific and successful fantasy authors ever!! Don't force anything. Religion can be good or bad in a story
     
  22. lumivalko
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    lumivalko Member

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    I agree with Beckarah. There's no "must" in putting religion in stories. If there is a need for it, then you should do it, but if it isn't necessary, don't. In any case I think that you should have some picture on what kind of religion the people in your story have, just for exclamations like "Oh my God" - it there's several deities, "Oh my Gods" would work better, etc. You can also intentionally exclude the whole aspect of religion.

    In my story, for example, there is no mention on what religion they have, but it is mentioned that the Death is female and they do use this "Oh my Gods"-exclamation.

    Just do what feels most natural to you :)
     

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