Worldbuilding

74 – Religion in Spec Fic

The Mythcreant Podcast
What could make for light listening better than a discussion of religion? This week, the hosts discuss how gods, faith, and worship are portrayed in various spec fic stories. They delve into deep and introspective topics such as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s concept of belief-driven deities and argue over why anyone would worship a squid god over a cat god. As a bonus, they explain why Vulcans do actually make good spies.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

The Imperial Cult from Warhammer 40,000

The Valar from The Silmarillion

Cthulu Mythos Dieties

Kushiel’s Dart (Kushiel’s Legacy, Book 1) by Jacqueline Carey

Israelite Exile to Babylon

Documentary Hypothesis

American Gods by Neil Gamen

Small Gods: A Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Merlin (2008)

The Briar King (The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, Book 1) by Greg Keyes

The Old Gods from A Song of Ice and Fire

Faith of the Seven from A Song of Ice and Fire

The Lord of Light in A Song of Ice and Fire

Lost: Man of Science, Man of Faith (Episode)

Star Trek: Voyager: Sacred Ground (episode)

The Prophets from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

The Emissary from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

The Kai from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

The Ancients from Stargate SG-1

The Ori from Stargate SG-1

The Goa’uld from Stargate SG-1

Wishmaster (1997)

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Comments

  1. Michael

    Have you ever read David Weber’s books? Several plot developments in the Honor Harrington series revolve around a pair of worlds settled by religious fundamentalists and he put a great deal of thought into how they would have dealt with their new environment and evolved (socially as well as physically) over hundreds of years.

  2. Pteryx

    Yes, there is in fact a divine bard in D&D 3.5. It’s in Unearthed Arcana, and since all the non-sidebar content of Unearthed Arcana is in the Variant Rules section of the 3.5 SRD, so is the divine bard. (Though since the Variant Rules content was not carried over to Pathfinder, neither was that version of the divine bard.)

  3. Michael

    That was always which always bothered me about Harry Potter. Why would they go into hiding? Just turn witch hunters into frogs, or simply kill them. It’s no real threat. When your starting premise doesn’t really make sense, that’s just bad, even if otherwise I like the books.

    • Cay Reet

      During the novels, it’s justified with pointing out that witch hunts are no danger for full-fledged witches and wizards, but squibs and muggles get caught as witches, too, and they are killed. In addition, even though wizards and witches are very powerful, there’s a lot more muggles. Today, it would probably be safe for the magical world to come out of hiding, but in the past, there could have been a full-fledged war which would have caused casualities on both sides – but the magical community is far smaller and would have suffered more casualities overall.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      It also should be noted that the idea of the wizards being in hiding because they fear attack by muggles was only introduced in Fantastic Beasts. There was no mention of it before then because it makes no sense at all.

      There was never a direct explanation for why wizards and muggles were separate, but the best one I can think of is that it was actually a move to protect muggles from being abused by wizards. This seems to play out with Voldemort wanting to establish wizard hegemony over the muggles, in violation of the rules put in place to protect them.

      • Michael

        It’s also mentioned in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban along with Tales of Beedle the Bard. The former notes that one witch apparently got burned forty seven times while impervious due to a spell, and the latter how they had begun to live double lives for protection. I agree it makes much more sense if wizards went into hiding so muggles would be protected though.

  4. Tifa

    I decided to listen to this podcast today on a whim, and I really liked it.
    I never noticed how there isn’t much religion per say in Middle-earth, despite the fact that I often read the Silmarillion. Now I’ll see it in a whole new light.
    Despite having half of the Discworld series currently, I still don’t have Small Gods. It’s next on my list.
    Speaking of Deep Space Nine, come Season 7, the implications of what the Prophets did to ensure that Sisko would be born are rather disturbing. Even worse is that Sisko never calls them out on it. I kept expecting him to while I was watching Season 7, and I got so angry when he didn’t. Sure, the Prophets are aliens who don’t understand humans much, but to me, that doesn’t excuse it at all.
    I tried to watch the first Stargate series, and while the premise intrigued me greatly, I just couldn’t keep going with it.
    Is Stargate Atlantis worth watching at all?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      The Prophets arranging for Sisko’s birth always bothered me because it felt so unlikely, plus it created weird paradoxes. Atlantis is distinctly okay. It’s a lot goofier than SG1, which has a very military feel. Atlantis is a bunch of nerds messing around.

    • Roger

      Small Gods is one of the best Discworld novels, at least according to me.
      Discworld often suffers from having predictable or one-dimensional main characters (which does help increase the humor in many cases).

      The main character in small Gods – Brutha is certainly not one of them, he’s a very refreshing reminder that TP can creat multidimensional characters with interesting beliefs and opinions.

  5. Roger

    Its a really interesting question – “how you can have a militantly racist character more sympathetic, wihtout excusing his beliefs?”

    1. I’d say the first thing you can do is make him brave and non-conformist. Put this character in a situation where standing by his beliefs would cause serious damage to him (he can lose his freedom, or his job, or his social status etc), while hiding his beliefs or pretending to be a liberal would benefit him. Then have this character choose the hard way – he openly sticks by his beliefs and knowingly pays the full price.

    The audience will not gain sympathy for the cause, but will at least gain some respect for the man and his devotion. He won’t be some slithering toad who is guided by self-interest. The audience may hate him, but will also grow to respect him. This combination makes for an interesting villain or antihero.

    2. Give the character a realistic reason for her beliefs, something that real racists mention when they talk about theit own motivation to join a paramilitary etc. Something the audience may not agree with, but something they will understand.

    Theorethical example: She is a white Afrikaner born under apartheid. She saw white police kill Africans, but she also saw how an ANC car bomb killed and maimed random civilians including white children the same age as her own kids. Now she sees race relations as a war and a zerosum process.

    3. Avoid making the character a “faceless stormtrooper”.
    Show the normal non-political side of him/her. Maybe the character makes great origami? Plays football with his co-workers every tuesday? Has a pet rabbit? Has a crush on a neighbour but is too shy to make a move? Plays videogames with her sister’s kids?

    Often the more regular life details you give, the more the character will be likable as a person (without making his ideology seem nicer). WARNING: this will also make her less scary as a villain.

  6. Roger

    I’m not saying that there’s no issues with prejudice in Tolikien, as it seems like all the cultures based on eastern Europe, Asia or the Middle east are always with Sauron.

    But there are two points raised in the Podcast that I believe are borderline “straw man” that should be pointed out:

    1. Tolkien believes in an allmighty good creator God, I certainly not in a “great chain of being”. In fact he has a tendency to have the characters with the “weakest background” take center stage and be the real great heroes.
    – A lowly human (Beren) triumphs over Morgoth, when all the great kings of Elves had failed.
    – A lowly hobbit (Frodo), with hobbits being arguably even less glamorous than humans, takes on the great task that the Elven king and the great “angel” (Gandalf the Maiar) aren’t able to do. He and Sam are the great heroes of the book in the end.
    – The most powerful human (King of Numenor) and the most powerful Elf (Feanor) end up being the bad guys and cause a great deal of suffering to their kin in the end.

    If there is an implicit hierarchy, Tolkien himself revels at overturning it over and over in the Silmarillion. I think here we have his catholic background come into play, as humility is shown as a great virtue, pride as a great sin. Also the “and the first shall be last” bible quote can be referenced.

    2. Numenoreans live longer (and their state is very powerful), but they aren’t a “superior race of humans”. Some of the good guys are descended from Numenoreans. But it has to be said that the single most evil and despicable human character in the whole Tolkien universum is a Numenorean king. In fact the strongest and most powerful king of Numenor. In Tolkien’s world great power always means also great potential for evil and if he ever uses the term “superior” it ends up being “morally superior”. The numenoreans are not “morally superior”, in fact quite the opposite.

    P.S

    Sorry for double posting, but it seems I can’t edit my previous post to include this.

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