CSFF Blog Tour: Weird R Us

“I’ve been coming to Montserrat for a few years now. On one early visit I actually arrived and realized I had returned before the last time I was here! From Brother Lazarus’ point of view, we had not yet had the previous visit.” She gave a little laugh. “That was a real mind bender. In the end, I had to go away again because it was all just too weird.” – The Spirit Well, pg. 322

Last week I posted that I was thinking about why Christian speculative fiction is called weird. I also wrote that the question could be somewhat answered by The Spirit Well, and then I said I would hold that thought for the blog tour.

So here goes.

The “weird” label is not wholly imposed on Christian speculative fiction. Some in our crowd would dispute it, but some embrace it. If they embrace it as the American colonists embraced the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, that’s more than I can say.

If you were to browse through a Christian fiction section, the scattered sci-fi / fantasy novels might seem strange amidst all the historical fiction, prairie romance, and mystery novels. If you were a Christian SF fan, you might feel a little strange.

But I think there are reasons that go beyond the Christian market and Christian fiction. The “weird” label is broadly given to speculative fiction; the secular version receives it, too. I grant you, popular acclaim was awarded to fantasy such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and to sci-fi such as Star Wars and Star Trek. Yet …

How often, in popular culture, does the loner or the weirdo have an interest in speculative works? It’s standard for the geek to be a sci-fi fan – even of a mainstream success like Star Wars. If someone says that you’re at the Star Trek convention of life, it’s no compliment.

To give a full explanation of this is beyond my intent. The endless conspiracy theories surrounding Roswell, Area 51, and the Bermuda Triangle probably have something to do with it.

And that leads us to another reason. These strange ideas are the sort of thing you would find in speculative fiction. They’re the sort of thing you do find in speculative fiction. To this day sci-fi writers enthusiastically take up all of those conspiracy theories. When the beliefs of the tinfoil-hat crowd are fodder for your genre, maybe it is a little weird.

The Twilight Zone was weird. The premise of Metamorphosis – a guy gets transmuted into a giant cockroach – is definitely weird. Selling away your shadow or tears or laugh or voice is also on the odd side of things.

Even The Spirit Well – which isn’t weird as the genre goes – is chock-full of experiences any human would consider bizarre. If you or I ever clomped through the Stone Ages, or walked into a canyon in Arizona and found ourselves in Damascus seventy years ago, we would write home about it – unless we were worried about being brought in for examination.

What I’m getting at is this: One of the reasons speculative fiction – Christian and otherwise – is called weird is that it is weird. Not in a pejorative sense, but simply in the sense of being out of the ordinary. Whether we dream of enchanted woods or strange planets, whether it’s Elves or time-travelers or talking animals that we meet in our stories – it’s all different, all outside the bounds of the world we know. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

5 thoughts on “CSFF Blog Tour: Weird R Us

  1. Ah, but here’s where I disagree, Shannon. Only in modern times have things within the detection of the five senses defined what is “normal.” Before the age of reason, people experienced the supernatural as a part of normal human life, too. That did, in fact, open the door to the evil side of the supernatural and also to the imagined. Were the Greek gods demons people worshiped or figments of their imagination? Did people see evil spirits and think they were ghosts, or did they make the whole thing up?

    Today we label all the supernatural as either superstition, myth, or religion, and many people would merge the last two categories.

    The point is, the supernatural is quite real and very normal. It is our culture that is out of step with reality.

    On the other hand, there are individuals that go overboard and others who imagine what is not. By acceding to the label “weird,” we are moving the actual and real right into the camp with the false and fabricated. I think it’s a giant mistake to associate Christian fantasy or Christian science fiction with people walking around with tin foil hats and claiming alien abduction. We are, in essence, merging the reality of the supernatural (whether depicted in a contemporary setting or symbolized in fantasy) with what most thinking people recognized is nuts. Why would we want to do that?


  2. I wonder if speculative fiction helps prepare us for the supernatural. I love books where people travel to other worlds/places. People write those off as pure fantasy, and true, I don’t think I’ll be stumbling into Damascus anytime soon via ley line….but I reckon when we die, we’re all going to experience that “transported to a new world” thing firsthand.

  3. Julie, Becky, thank you for commenting. Speculative fiction can portray the truth in profound ways, but usually through things that are not, factually speaking, real. The supernatural is real – but Narnia isn’t.

    Once I read a fairy tale about a young prince who sold his shadow to save his little sister’s life. She was healed, everyone was happy, and for a while everything was good – until people began to notice that the prince never cast a shadow. “The prince has no shadow,” they whispered to each other. And this was so freakish to them that the prince became a pariah. Eventually, to get relief, the prince left his home, his family, and his kingdom.

    Years later, his sister went looking for him. She helped him get his shadow back so that he could return home.

    There have been cultures less materialistic than ours, but none that were prepared to accept a human being walking around without a shadow. There have been people who believed in Faerie, but none who would have considered it “normal” if they or their neighbors started living out fairy tales. Speculative fiction has always been about “weird” things – whether in the sense of being out of the ordinary or in the sense of being uncanny.

    That being said, it makes sense to avoid the “weird” label. It might give the wrong impression. Avoiding all association with tin-foil theories is probably not possible, though. SF has had far too much fun with alien conspiracy theories for that.

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