Monday, 24 January 2011

Ecumenical Monday

Interesting departure today, getting away from everything from the God-Emperor of Dune to small gods, every kind of religion in fiction in fact. With a slight humanist angle possibly detected in the last post - and presumably secular humanism, unlikely if so - I thought you might appreciate a couple of links on religion informing fiction.

A couple of days ago I mentioned the zen of modelling re the latest Ork in the series, and we're all aware of the Christian influence on fantasy set in Middle-earth and Narnia, but how many of us know anything about Jewish fantasy or Islamic SF? Didn't think so. Then that seems like a reasonable place to start. Time for a revelation or two perhaps?

Thanks to Bibliophile Stalker for the second link, and possibly the first indirectly.

22 comments:

Trey said...

A interestingly neuroscience-based Neo-Shintoism plays a role in Karl Shroeder's schience fiction novel, Permanence.

Voodoo loa emerge in the fractures mind of an AI in William Gibson's Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.

The Angry Lurker said...

Religion does play a lot in games and books, WH40K especially with the religous fervour for the emperor.

Porky said...

We have the whole spectrum here then, from real-world religion informing fiction, through real-world religion in fiction either intact or altered, to new religions in fiction entire.

@ Trey - With this and your last post, the one thing clear is that you read cool books I need to read too.

@ The Angry Lurker - That's possibly the one we hear most about. It's interesting how much of the 40K emperor overlaps with the Dune, almost as if...

Dethtron said...

Philip K. Dick's "Valis" mashes nearly every religion together from Zoroastrianism to Greek philosophy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VALIS

In "parable of the sower" and "parable of the talents" Octavia butler creates a religion based on nature worship that stands in direct opposition to many Christian values, while still being loosely about Christianity.

Gustav Meyrink's "der Golem," while maybe more of a metaphysical fantasy, is steeped in Judaism.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

I can recall Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein, something insanely popular that I enjoyed the first half, until it got all hippy-commune culty. (Which apparently was the basis for at least one new religion in the 60s)

40k does have numerous religious references:
- The God-emperor who has reached mythical status requiring "faith" and will be reborn one day to save mankind
- The Ork's dual god system, but I don't know if there's enough fluff to draw parallels..
- Same with Necron gods, though it's interesting in itself that a robotic race has Gods. (frakking Cylons)
- Chaos, the evil ones have their gods, but they display their power and themselves, rather than requiring faith from their followers. (An important distinction when looking at religions)
- Eldar have a Pantheon that reminds me of Greek or Norse tales.
- Then there's races that as far as I know the fluff doesn't get into religion, like Tau and Nids.

The other thing I find interesting is that Eldar and Chaos are the only religions that overlap and integrate into each other, though Eldar is probably the most developed, something that needs to be done to make a Pantheon seem real.

Porky said...

This is turning into a great reading list! No complaints, except that to fit the reading in I'll need more heads.

It's got me thinking of Doris Lessing, and especially the Canopus in Argos series, which was influenced by Sufism. Her novel The Cleft is an attempt at a pre- and alter-Christian creation myth, and might be a worthwhile read most of all for any young male gamers reading this.

Re 40K, the Eldar pantheon is developed enough that it borders on realistic and sets me wondering about the nature of deities and spirituality in a universe with something like the warp. I'd say the Tyranids definitely bear thinking about in this respect too. In terms of their higher nature and origins they've always intrigued me more than any other faction.

Seattledv8 said...

The '68 Hugo winner , Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light uses Hinda and Buddhist mythology and teachings, an excellent read.
Steven Brust's Jhereg series deals with 'Gods',Godlike Aliens, the dead reincarnation and Hungarian mythology.

Dan Simmons Ilium & Olympos are set 'during' the Trojan War.
A great mix of modern characters, Greek gods (with all the folk from the Iliad) cyborgs and the Tempest throw in for fun (and horror)

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

I suppose Stranger in a Strange Land, like Star Wars, is somewhat off track as they're examples of sci-fi stories that have spawned real religions.

Nids are an interesting one too.. it's possible the Queen is just a deity worshiped by the hive fleets - gathering genetic offerings. A hive queen makes sense as a deity for a bug race.

The warp is really no different to places described in our planet's religions. Heaven and Hell are places occupying space ruled over by various figures who can affect our universe, purgatory as an "in between" location (the webway? where ships travel?) just as Greek mythology has different entrances/exits to their afterlife and special forms of travel/gatekeepers.

Yes, our religions limit their scope to a single planet, but that's all that they've needed to explain.

Von said...

Ach, somebody mentioned Lord of Light before I could...

In recompense, I have a few potentially interesting readings about cultural identity in fantasy, which might be of some relevance here, or indeed may not.

http://deepad.dreamwidth.org/29371.html - 'I Didn't Dream of Dragons', an essay about how Westernised fantasy works - or more, accurately, doesn't work - in India, and how the genre tropes are specifically shaped around a particular cultural framework.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html - Chimamanda Adichie on the same topic, but in video rather than text, on the way the stories we read shape the stories we write.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

@Von: I Didn't Dream of Dragons was an interesting read, but it tears me in two directions.

The beginning of it really intrigued me, talking about how it's difficult to imagine other worlds alien to you. Except she seems to have a decent grasp of other mythos, and is angry she had to read in our western tongue than hers. (Would it be great if her schools were bilingual? Yes. However it appears someone made the decision to teach kids the language that most of the world operates in, perhaps giving them an advantage.)

But it feels more like angst from someone upset at Western culture who's grown up impoverished. Yeah, we have it pretty good, but there are kids on this side of the world too who grow up in horrible situations. India also needs to look more north at Europe if they want to complain about culture being affected as a British colony. I grew up in a very diverse city, I've seen how people can adopt a common language and still hold strong to their heritage.

She makes valid points, yes, but in regards to fiction appears to be looking for excuses for her own lack of creativity. She may not have taverns in the common sense of the word, but there are certainly dens where the underbelly of society would be. (these are pretty universal nomatter the culture) Their mythos may not include dragons, but there are certainly plenty of strong indian culture involving other mythological beings. That's not to say she should be required to write about her own society's myths - quickly off the top of my head I can picture an story involving a dragon keeping oases away from the people while wells dry up.. travelers can find shelter in crags within the desert..

Some of the most popular stories are universal - Both Lion King and Little Mermaid were taken from other cultures by a company that excels at creating entertaining stories - you can't honestly tell me that if we can adapt other society's stories for western culture, that other cultures have no ability to do the same. I'm not going to say Aladdin is an accurate representation of eastern culture, however I will point out that the genie mythos isn't a western creation and yet it was adapted just fine.

Porky said...

@ Seattledv8 - Good suggestions. Can we somehow wire up our minds to have one person's reading experienced by all?

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - It could even be that the hivemind itself is the deity, after Spinoza. With your final thought in the first comment you might be foretelling much interesting development, but development hopefully free of trauma for all parties.

@ Von - It's all worth having, these for sure. They seem to me well on topic, another necessary drain on time..! Dave's later comment makes me all the more interested.

One more interesting entry, and a very well-known one, might be Dune, for the Orange Catholic Bible. It's the holy book for a possible fusion and development of several real religions, though details of the process as a whole aren't given.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

@Porky: I'm sure the last thing on GW's mind 30 years ago was how religion connects all the races of 40k - they just wanted to make an awesome game.

Now that they're established, it would be interesting to get their take on how each race's mythos and creationism tales explain each other. I think they've already established that "The Warp" ties the universe together in strange ways, and it would be interesting if they expanded or clarified it.

Of course, they may be purposely avoiding getting into details so that parallels cannot be drawn. Religion can turn into an ugly topic and if people interpreted a 40k religion as representative of an existing one, GW could be in for some real negative press if that 40k religion or race was seen as bad in some form.

Von said...

@ Dave - I'm certainly not suggesting that anything written by angry Dreamwidth users should be taken at face value (nothing should, but especially not anything by angry Dreamwidth users).

I believe her objection is towards the global primacy of English, and the idea that English, which she perceives as a language of colony, oppression, and later of appropriation, is the 'advantage' that it is. It's not a notion to which I am completely opposed, although (from my horribly privileged perspective as a white middle class able-bodied educated British bloke, and an English teacher to boot) there's a certain amount of 'better to have it than not, in the world as is' in my response.

I would certainly like to see more appropriation of Western culture by the Other, whoever that Other might happen to be, although I suspect that the response might be that to use the tropes of Western fiction is to perpetuate them, and since said tropes are part of the machinery of privilege, paternalism, repression &c, that that would be Wrong.

I've had this argument before, on occasion. There is a reason I don't use my own Dreamwidth account so much these days.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

@Von: It just seems to make sense that a universal language helps the world operate. Pointing all that blame at "western" culture seems like misdirected anger though when Europe was already using it as a standard communication means.

I've grown up in a very diverse area with a strong heritage. I can walk into any store and everyone speaks English because that's the way business works. Meanwhile the cultural festivals are strong throughout the year, the communities still have their customs, craft stores are self run and have their ethnic style, friends still have their family commitments for various reasons, the Mennonites still work the land and live simply while selling their goods at the market.

@Porky: heh, sorry for totally stealing your thread.

Porky said...

No worries, Dave. I'm enjoying it. These are big subjects and you're all dealing with them well, while keeping the gloves more or less on. As far as I'm concerned you can go on and on!

Von said...

@Dave - for one, the widespread use of English is in itself not entirely unproblematic; for two, it is perhaps unfortunate (although, from my point of view, inevitable) that the 'universal language' be one that's historically associated with oppression, repression and, more recently, appropriation. I can completely see why a historically-minded Indian might resent the primacy of English as language of power in India, given what we got up to in that part of the world.

I do agree that it's easy to hate on the West, and easy to appropriate the discourse of social justice as a means of obscuring one's creative limitations; as I said, I think appropriation is a two-way street, and seizing the machinery of Western narrative in order to impose another milieu onto it is something that ought to be done more often.

I think the argument against your neighbourhood goes 'but English is still the language of power/privilege'. Again, I'm only guessing; this is a perspective which I'm far too embedded in that power/privilege structure to adopt with any honesty, and I'm mostly playing devil's advocate here, seeing how the discussion pans out without the intensities of emotional and personal-political investment.

Likewise, apologies to Porky - your permission is noted, but I reserve the right to a little guilt.

Porky said...

I've just seen your discussion at HoP and I'm starting to understand. It's taking on the feel of an eternal struggle, with the challenge unchanging and only the subject and venue in flux!

At any rate I'm privileged to play host, and I've enjoyed the read and reflection very much.

Von said...

Mmm. Besides gaming, my great love is language, and the culture that surrounds language. It's strange that I end up talking about it more in comments to the work of others than I do on my own blog - whether that's the 'expert in other people's achievements' effect of postgraduate study, which can turn one more into a commentator than an active participant if one's not careful, or whether that's just out of a desire to keep GAME OVER about games... I cannot say.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

@Von: It's a good point that it's unfortunate a universal language comes from oppression... however a large part of the business world has grown from the colonies. And you're right, it's possible the smaller communities would prefer to do business in their own languages.

There've been attempts, such as Esperanto, to create a universal language, and Latin is still used in the scientific community and as the basis for words.

Unfortunately our world has enough problems to focus on that by the time the world's countries could figure out a new agreed upon language, English will be even more predominant.

Von said...

Quite. It's unfortunate, but - and perhaps this is a position which only an Englishman could take - it's the way things have ended up and I'd rather work with it, opening up the 'dominant' language and culture to appropriation and adaptation, than stop short at 'DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING'.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

It's true, a lot of progress is stalled from people too upset with the way things are and stuck in the past, rather than looking forward how to adapt. (*cough* music/media industry *cough*)

Papa JJ said...

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!

Sorry about that outburst, I just wanted to bring in a little mention of one of my favorite... um, anti-humanist religions I suppose... to this discussion, the Cthulhu mythos. Lovecraft certainly drew on a wide range of ancient religions and mystery cults in establishing the basis for what has grown into perhaps one of the most bizarre and ultimately nihilistic of all fictional theologies. While his own writing style may leave the modern reader feeling somewhat unsatisfied, it's tough to deny the impact his ideas have had on the realms of weird fiction and supernatural horror.

Cheers, Porky! Hmmm, now where did I leave that curious little idol I found out at the beach? It was such a hideous thing, gave me nightmares I think...