Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Religion In Science Fiction Romance

Oh, this is going to be a painful blog entry to write and to read.

But a woman has to do what a woman has to do if she's going to be a kickass heroine of the writing craft.

Below, I'm going to get to discussing the TV Series, Sanctuary on syfy network, and a chat thread on twitter hashtagged #scifichat which discussed Children's Science Fiction and Fantasy on Friday Jan. 22, 2010, and is slated to discuss Religion in Science Fiction on Friday Jan 29, 2010 because we danced all around Religion in the discussion of kid-lit.

So before we get to the pain and rage of Religion, let's take a moment to imbibe a photograph of a Character from Sanctuary, John Druit the Vampire who was Jack The Ripper but is Magnus's beloved and still fights a compulsive need to Rip people to bloody shreds (talk about overcoming prejudice!).
That photo is from
where you will also find luscious episodes to watch and all the rest of the online stuff that's usual these days.

And I am ashamed to say I forgot to mention SANCTUARY as a case in point on the #scifichat about children's SF/F that blends religion and science -- (OK, the scripts are a little thin BUT! the worldbuilding is redolent of a theme at the core of many Religions).

On twitter I saw the following comment:
crside Our culture is composed of sequels, reruns, remakes, reissues, re-releases, recreations, re-enactments, adaptations, and anniversaries etc....

And that's just what Sanctuary is, a "re" -- while at the same time it's original.  For that alone, the TV show is worth studying.

If you're young enough, the oldest stuff seems startlingly original -- and Sanctuary falls into that category.  They've rearranged and re-slanted the pieces of older material until it's relevant to today's audiences. The show is a bundle of cliche's arranged in an artful composition, and probably seems original to a lot of viewers.  Others yawn and surf away. 

On twitter's #scifichat, we tossed around a few comments on how religion appears in SF/F, and @rixshep answered a few comments, echoing my thoughts even after the chat had officially ended.  The @jlichtenberg at the beginning of the comment indicates the tweet was from @rixshep in answer to a tweet of mine, or requires my direct attention because of what I'd said earlier:

@rixshep @JLichtenberg Re: Pagan, christian & other symbolism in "classics". IMO, yes & no & both. Not always intentional, but reflects soc. gestalt.
Friday, 22 January 2010, 4:27 pm -

@rixshep @JLichtenberg For example of what I mean, see this review I did some time ago of a christian book about The Matrix: http://bit.ly/712bHy
Friday, 22 January 2010, 4:30 pm - 

That shorted URL is actually:
where @rixshep reviews a nonfiction book about the film THE MATRIX.

@rixshep really does know this field!  Here's more comments:

@rixshep @JLichtenberg RAH MAY have had religious symbolism, but knowing his conscious stance, it would be inadvertent, ingrained from culture.
Friday, 22 January 2010, 7:18 pm -

@rixshep @JLichtenberg Frank Herbert, otoh, could have put stuff in deliberately, just to yank chains of readers! Lol.
Friday, 22 January 2010, 7:20 pm

So Science Fiction has a grand tradition of enfolding the common religious contentions of the day into its most popular novels, both consciously and unconsciously on the part of writers.  And of course that continues.  

Now, what has Sanctuary the TV Show to do with Religion in Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance, especially since SANCTUARY wasn't even mentioned on the kid-lit chat #scifichat ?

Here we go all around Robin Hood's Barn (and you all know what happens behind the barn).

Religion in Science Fiction is a perennial topic at Science Fiction Conventions for a good reason.  It interests, astounds, repells, fascinates, and enrages.  It is a topic which somehow touches everyone in the broadest communities.

Agnostics and atheists have firm and unwavering opinions to air on the topic of Religion in general, nevermind Religion that shows up in fiction that includes religion either "on-the-nose" or off!

So even people who don't practice a particular religion as part of their daily lives have an urgent need to be heard on the topic of Religion.

Parents have positions on religion that they want their children to absorb,and many religions harbor a conviction at the deepest level that the biggest favor they can do a friend, relative or acquaintance is to convey the primary message of their own religion. Some people feel that convincing others that what the other believes is totally wrong is the highest act of charity.

Religion is very important to people from every profession and social stratum. And maybe it's most important to those who wish it would just go away!

Red faced, explosive screaming matches erupt when Religion intrudes into a conversation.  And nothing is resolved, usually.  People lose friends over those fights, and rarely gain a lover via religious acrimony (now there's a challenge for a red-blooded Romance writer!).

Yet the fact is that many organized religious institutions are shrinking in America, while more and more people are "unaffiliated" and raise their children to be as neutral as possible on the topic.

Just google Religion In America Today for more data than you could ever want.

Here's a headline from USA Today important to writers because this is the demographic profile of the intended readership for most fiction:
Most religious groups in USA have lost ground, survey finds

That's a 2008 survey. Now it's 2010 and we're into a census year so in a while we may have more statistics, but I doubt such a huge trend will suddenly abate.

This article has links to explore and it says:
"These dramatic shifts in just 18 years are detailed in the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), to be released today. It finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990."
Another quote from that same article:
"Meanwhile, nearly 2.8 million people now identify with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccan, pagan or "Spiritualist," which the survey does not define.

Wicca, a contemporary form of paganism that includes goddess worship and reverence for nature, has even made its way to Arlington National Cemetery, where the Pentagon now allows Wiccans' five-pointed-star symbol to be used on veterans' gravestones."

In the USA it isn't politically correct to discriminate against someone because of their religion, even if they don't have one.

But somehow, it's not really too bad to try to sell your religion to someone else, especially if they don't have one.

Many who hold religion tightly to themselves feel a sudden sense of emergency when confronted with an unaffiliated person possibly because of the sense of shrinking community. To survive, any community must grow and propagate values to their children.  Having lost a child to virulent hatred of the parent's religion, a parent might attack any new acquaintance, driven by a need to replace that member of the community by converting someone new.

Some religions regard Science Fiction and Fantasy, even some Romance with blatant sex scenes, as dangerous sources of ideas, attitudes and values that can undermine a young person's faith.

They may have a point because it's been proven that the 18-40 year old demographic is most susceptible to having their behavior modified under the impact of commercials. Repeated messages from Authority (such as teachers in school, or even more influential, the young person's peer group), can alter behavior and perhaps eventually beliefs.

Ideas truly are "dangerous" because new ideas, the specialty of Science Fiction and SFR, can alter perception of reality. 

The panicked need to convert friends may not seem so irrational if you remember the sense older people may have of a shrinking community.

Friends, contemporaries, are dying off, children are leaving the community, and nobody really knows why this dynamic has taken hold since 1990's.  In those circumstances, a parent may see anything as a threat, even to their own life, secure retirement, support group, and long range prospects for their posterity.

Many communities regard higher education as the enemy of their religion, for it is on the university campus that children must encounter the whole wide world of all religions, and open armed acceptance of every faith and non-faith or anti-faith, unless the campus is specifically constructed for one single Religion.

At college age, youth is easily indoctrinated in anti-doctrine attitudes.  Rebellion is normal, a necessary part of growing up.  Youth reaches across all boundaries to find a true-soul-mate.  Any way of life that's inherently easier may seem to be founded on an ultimate truth.  (Sometimes it even is!)

A well rounded university education has to come with some survey of the world's religions and historically how religion has sparked so many wars, so much violence, so much truly ugly bloodshed, so much really important Literature, and is still churning and erupting today.

The roots of today's worst wars must be studied, and those roots go back thousands of years into --- yep, Religion. 

Remember, Conflict is the essence of story.  Also remember the point I made last week
about how visual violence and purely primal images are easily accessible across cultural gulfs and thus have a broader potential audience, and bigger profit margin, than more nuanced stories, more "adult" stories.

The nuances, ethics, morals and philosophies behind Religion don't make popular story material.  The violence and primal angst generated by Religion through history do indeed make popular story material.

The violence and bloodshed take front-center stage while romance due to religion sinks into the background -- mostly because real drama that sells big time has to have violence and bloodshed along with some raw sexuality.

In fact, in many Romance genres (Regency comes to mind, but many Fantasy Romance series too), "arranged marriage" is portrayed as the ultimate evil in society, victimizing women, possibly even men, in the name of Religion, Society, Inheritance, Political Power. The philosophy behind using arranged marriage is rately discussed "on-the-nose" though.  It relies on symbolism. 

Most religious symbolism taps into the over-arching, primal mythos of all humanity.

Please stop reading this blog right now if you haven't yet read The Golden Bough, a seminal work surveying religious practices around the world among the most ancient peoples.  Every writer needs to read that survey (or one like it) because it is a vast "show don't tell" on the nature of all the archetypes at the root of the human psyche.

If your religion forbids you to read about other religions, maybe you have to find another source for that over-view of world pre-history. If you know such a source, please drop a comment on this blog entry about it.

In many previous posts here, we've delved into "Worldbuilding" as a writer's primary tool for sweeping a reader into a story.

Most writers and readers think that it's "character" that grabs and holds a reader, but "character" isn't it.  Readers feel it's the character that sucks them in, but that's not it.

A character is the product of the world he/she is embedded inside of.

Readers are dragged kicking and screaming into stories they would probably not ever want to read because they see, hear, and feel a specific character who is a version of the reader's Self handling a world that is ostensibly not the reader's world.  It is that contrast, that conflict, that sucks the reader in.

The Reader's Self in the Reader's own world would be boring.

Someone totally not-Self in the Reader's own world would be bewildering.

The Reader's not-Self in a not-World would be irrelevant.

It is the Reader's Self in an oddly challenging World that creates the dramatic vortex that sucks a Reader into a story.

"What would I do?"  "How would I survive that?" "Who would I save, the mother or the baby?" Quandries, plights, challenges, adventures, circumstances, arrowing straight at the Reader's heart and soul make fascinating reading. 

Reading is all about what the reader would do in those circumstances.

"Who would I be if I were a Princess with Magical Power?"

We all know there are lots of versions of Self that we could manifest.  Which one we manifest is partly a product of choice, partly a product of what choices were on that menu of choices at birth, and partly a product of aspirations, visions, wishes, fantasies.

As I learned from Alma Hill, writing is a performing art. 

As with an actor, a writer's most penetratingly real characters are the ones that partake of some unmanifested potential within the writer, being someone they really are not.

"Who would I be if I were in that world?"

Think about stories of being tossed into The Witness Protection Program and leaving your whole Identity behind (and how hard that is if you stay in this world!) Enter another World and you could be someone else!

We all know "who" we are now, in this world.  The parameter that changes, from "here" to "in that book" is the world, not the reader. And in that World, the Reader can be someone else.

Many Religions consider it wrong to strive so hard to escape the plight that Divine Plan has dictated for you.

Here's a blog entry by a Professor of Spanish who has been pondering many esoteric philosophies, and pulled a quote from one of my Review Columns about the Soul entering manifestation through the dimension of Time.


It is because of "dangerous" thinking like this that many Religions frown on frivolous pursuits such as reading fiction.

I, however, don't regard Fiction as a frivolous pursuit, nor do I believe that any form of fiction is "escapist" in nature.  The most "escapist" literature rubs your nose in the hardest facts of reality, such as Love Conquers All.

To create that kind of "escapist" literature, the writer's first job is to build a world for the reader, and the second is to build a character the reader can recognize as Self reshaped by that strange new world.

We've discussed many aspects of worldbuilding (here's a sparse selection of what there is posted on this blog):







When it comes to Science Fiction or Fantasy, whether it's SFR or Nuts-n-bolts, it's all about worldbuilding.

The world causes the problem.  The world shapes the characters and their inner obstacles to solving the problem.  The world provides the raw material the characters must reshape into a solution to their problem.

Shaping our own world into solutions to our own problems is what life is all about, and practice makes perfect.  So we practice living by reading fiction.

The bold philosophical questions, such as those by Religion, embedded in the SF/F "World" makes our literature different from mundane literature.

In mundane literature (where the world is reality), certain things exist, and others do not, and the rules of our real world are never broken, just illustrated (ho-hum-yawn).

In SF, Fantasy, Paranormal, SFR, some one thing about our general reality is different.  The writer chooses to change that one thing because in our everyday reality, many other things are based on that one thing.  Change the one, and everything else must change, too. The writer's job is to let the Reader see that if you change this, then that must change too because of the way things are connected.

The point of reading SF/F with or without Romance is to find new ideas about how the things in our everyday reality are connected without ruining any real lives with our experimenting. 

By tracing out the connections among things in this fictional "model of reality" we learn to understand how our everyday reality is constructed around us, and to find the connections between the manifestation of our Self at the moment and the World we are embedded in.

"How has the world shaped me?"  Answer that, and you gain the power to change your life.  There are Religions that believe it wrong to allow followers to have that kind of power, and others that work hard to empower their followers.

Armed with that understanding of what we can change by choice and what we can not change but must adapt to, we can make a new Self to live our life.  Fiction, especially SFR, is the arsenal for such arms because the fabric from which SF is constructed is woven from the fibers of Religions -- all Religions.

I discussed fiction as a woven fabric here:

One most common example of a "fiber" is The Hero Archetype and The Hero's Journey.

By living an "adventure" with a Hero in a novel, we can tap into the reservoir of heroism residing within ourselves and actualize that potential, becoming more heroic in our daily lives.  ("What would Captain Picard do in this situation?")

To create that effect for a reader, a writer must create a world, and know more about that world than is imparted to the reader.

So a writer may start with a story to tell (Heroism 101 for Dummies), and wrap a whole world around that story, making everything match by using Theme to select what to put into the world.  But once created, the world must make some kind of sense to the reader on an unconscious, subliminal level.

To achieve this sense for the reader, the world is built around The Theme, and the bits of the world that are imparted to the reader all have to illustrate The Theme.  The writer may know all kinds of things about the world that do not illustrate the theme, but the writer reveals only those bits that do.

The way those revealed bits are inserted into a narrative without yanking the reader's attention onto them (spoiling the effect the way seeing the wires in a flying scene spoils a movie) is to use SYMBOLISM.

Where do you get that symbolism?


You can't beat it for a source of symbolism.  In fact, you can't avoid it.

Every symbol that means anything to human beings has been used by some Religion at some time.  In fact, some might say that Religion invented Symbolism (writing itself is a form of symbolism as is mathematics).

Symbols are a tool for thinking, especially about abstractions, non-concrete things, things that don't actually "exist." 

Your symbolism won't "work" if it's not somehow related to, derived from, echoing or shadowing some religion or another.  Even if you deliberately make something up, it will (inevitably) evoke some religion, possibly one you've never heard of.

Every well built "world" has to define the "truth" as well as the "fantasy" about Religion because every human culture we know anything about has a place for Myth, for cosmology and cosmogony, for epistemology.

Symbolism must be in the fictional world or the fiction just won't work.

If you don't put it in consciously (as @rixshep pointed out with Robert A. Heinlein and Frank Herbert's Dune ) it will slip in subconsciously, and possibly contradict your chosen theme.

All religious symbolism is old, public domain stuff.  Every archetype has been used in one or another religion because archetypes are really powerful psychological symbols that speak loudly even to (or especially to) those who have no formal education in them.

Everyone responds to these primal symbols.  It seems sometimes that the less education or intelligence someone has the more powerfully symbols speak to them.

But the real spooky thing is that even for those erudite few of the upper reaches of human intelligence, symbols ROAR their message and even control behavior while the scholar denies it emphatically in multi-syllabic rhetoric.

The more firmly denied the symbolism, the more powerful it is.  The harder you fight it, the more prevalent it becomes.

The writer who understands this and fabricates a world out of that raw material of religious symbolism can reach tender minds and reshape our reality.  The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

In the USA recently, starting probably in the 1990's, we've seen a gathering wave of Fantasy becoming accepted mass market fare.  The most popular, best selling, books and the most predominant television thows such as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, share a worldbuilding quirk in common.

I've written about this trend in this blog


and in my review column
http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/  from about 1995 on.

If you've seen the film Avatar you should be thinking about it right now.  The very title means symbol.

"Good" and "Evil" are actually symbols, or in the parlance of mathematics, they are "Variables" -- having different values in different circumstances.  Think about that.  All "Villains" are desperately fighting the terrible "Evil" of "Good" which so adamantly opposes their goals!  And most Religion is about how to be Good.

I've discussed the trend toward building worlds around the theme that reality is a thin film over a seething cauldron of Evil.  The Hero's job is to keep the lid on that cauldron, to keep a finger in the dike holding back the demons of hell, and not let the masses know what's going on (the giant conspiracy theory of reality).

The thematic statement that seems most popular today is that the real world is actually a horror movie where the best we can do is hold off Evil.

The huge generation gap between fiction written in say, the 1940s and fiction written in the 1990's separates two very distinctive world views among reader/viewers.  These distinct world views are reflected in the tidal wave of defections from organized Religion noted in the USA Today article cited above.

The model of the universe depicted by the mixed-genre fiction composed of SF, Fantasy, Romance, Horror and Religion is that Good can not win against Evil.  Evil is a necessary and legitimate (Harry Potter's Hogwarts) part of our world and must not be conquered, certainly not obliterated.

In the 1940's, the guy in the white hat always won.  GOOD always wins in the end.  EVIL is always vanquished.

Today, the best we can hope for is a draw, and in fact Good must not win because that would upset the balance.  Besides who are we to impose our own idea of what is "Good" and what is "Evil" on others.  We must not be judgmental!

If you've been reading my posts on Astrology and Tarot, you have developed a grasp of the underlying juncture between Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and modern Wicca as mentioned in the religion survey article.  That juncture is symbolized by the Tree of Life, the Kaballah.

The mystical view of the universe always depicts good and evil in balance, a dynamic equilibrium around a center pole.  Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

But there is yet another view, and that view is embedded deep in the archetypes that depict the skeleton of the human psyche.

It is a view endemic to Science Fiction and exemplified to the mass market by Star Trek, and Sime~Gen.


Actually resolve the conflict of Good vs. Evil by understanding that, at a certain Soul level where Wisdom rules, there really is no such conflict at all.  Love does Conquer All.

Realize that the Horta is just a mother protecting her young.

Take the thorn out of the lion's paw so the lion can go home to the jungle.

Or the Biblical commandment that if you see your enemy's donkey foundered beside the road, you must stop and help unload that donkey. (In Kaballah it is understood that "donkey" is a symbol for the human body, the animal body that carries the Soul through life.)

Or the instant classic novella by Barry Longyear and later film, ENEMY MINE -- two fighter pilots from opposite sides of a war are stranded together beyond the edge of the fighting and must become allies -- then choose to become friends.


Making your most deadly natural enemy into your most valuable friend (lover, Soul Mate, Forever Partner, Alternate Self) is "Love Conquers All" in it's purest form, and has been an integral part of Science Fiction since my earliest memory.

That's why it's the central theme of my Sime~Gen Universe novels

And many of my novels involve a karmic plot, presupposing past life choices generate this life's plight. This is evident in my Dushau Trilogy, and you can find free chapters at

Love Conquers All is a theme garnered from shared symbolisms embedded in our extremely diverse religions. Wherever you see a theme of Love Conquers All, you are looking at Religion manifest in the fiction, whatever the genre, even if the rest of the fictional work embodies an Atheist point of view.

Love has been appropriated by Religion since long before the Ancient Greek Mythology promulgated stories of the dysfunctional families of their gods.  Love was worshiped as a Goddess, remember.  Love is primarily a Religious issue, even when it's not.   

"Soul Mate" a key element or potential in Paranormal Romance, is at bedrock a Religious theme because it presupposed a Soul (whether that soul is actually immortal or not).

Again, I refer you to

Most people might attribute the concept "Soul Mate" to more recent neopaganism and the modern practice of Magic.  Some might trace it back to Christianity's origins.

But it's also a Jewish concept, and integral to most Kaballistic thought on the origin and purpose of Souls, what life is and what marriage is about, and why traditionally only married men were allowed to study Kaballah. (Google Bashert)

So an element of the worldbuilding in a Soul Mate story needs to be (not necessarily revealed) how the Souls got into reality to begin with.

The Soul in jeopardy by Demons (from wherever) and the Soul Mate's rescue is a primal story that is always a winner if the worldbuilding is done well.  But the worldbuilder has to ponder whether Souls can be destroyed or fundamentally altered in any way.  What exactly is the jeopardy?  What horrible thing could happen if this other thing doesn't happen?

We have seen variations on that theme of Souls In Jeopardy in every sort of built fantasy world.  And all those worlds that I remember are built around the Aristotelian notion of the universe as a zero-sum-game (because it's hard to depict a war in a world where everyone always wins without making someone else lose).

I've discussed the philosophy of the universe based on a zero-sum-game (where if I win, that necessarily means you lose) in many posts here.  Here's an example:


SANCTUARY The TV Show on the syfy channel does not take place in a zero-sum-game universe because Magnus (Amanda Tapping from Stargate: SG-1 )
 flat refuses to allow that premise (I win means you lose) to invade the Sanctuary.

The premise of Sanctuary blends Science with Magic into a seamless whole, where magic is just another natural occurrence of our everyday world, treated something like ESP.  The world of Sanctuary includes shapeshifters who can change mass during a shift, telepathy, empathy, levitation, and much more.

But all the magical looking effects are based in genetics.  Magnus is a geneticist with a tiny bit of Vampire blood (and a titch of immortality).

But none of those elements that I deem important or interesting are sited on the page "about" the show.  Here's their description pitching the show (study this all you writers who want to learn to pitch).

The following is from

Sanctuary blazes a trail across the TV landscape with never-before-seen production technology. Starring Amanda Tapping, best known to fans as the brilliant Col. Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary is the first series to shoot extensively on green screen, using virtual sets and extraordinary visual effects.

Sanctuary follows the adventures of the beautiful, enigmatic and always surprising Dr. Helen Magnus (Tapping), a brilliant scientist who holds the secrets of a clandestine population — a group of strange and sometimes terrifying beings that hide among humans.

Along with her new recruit, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), her quirky tech wiz Henry (Ryan Robbins) and her fearless daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), Magnus seeks to protect this threatened phenomena as well as unlock the mysteries behind their existence. The series also stars Christopher Heyerdahl as the sinister John Druitt.

Created by Damian Kindler (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis), Sanctuary is produced in association with Syfy and is distributed by Tricon Films and Television. The show is executive produced by Damian Kindler, Sam Egan, Amanda Tapping, Martin Wood, Keith Beedie and N. John Smith.

Since that was written, they've killed off the daughter Ashley and replaced her with a stray girl Magnus picks up, Kate Freelander, played by Agam Darshi.

If I'd just read this description, I wouldn't bother to watch the show.

The interesting part of this show is the half-vampire in love with a Vampire who (we learn only this season) is possessed by an energy-being that is "Jack The Ripper."

That's right, they borrowed Jack The Ripper from Star Trek where Jack was a disembodied spirit that could possess the main computer A.I. of the Enterprise.  And this season, that entity possessed the computer system retrofitted in the Sanctuary building itself.  If you know, love and appreciate cliche, and know how to use it in writing, you can tap into the root power of all symbolism with it.  

See?  @crside was right -- everything is "re" this or that.

So why shouldn't our fiction be "re" too?

In fact, the best stuff is "re" because practice makes perfect.

So, now you see the Vampire Romance hidden in Sanctuary, where's the "religion" in the show?

It's in the worldbuilding, deeply buried inside the world that Magnus lives in and defends with her life.

None of the characters are especially "religious" and they don't talk about God or any transcendent Power that controls their lives.  When they're in deep trouble, they don't even pray (so you would notice, anyway).

Nothing that happens is attributed to God.  They haven't done a bunch of Star Trek like stories where they meet "God" and it turns out to be a powerful alien entity.

One can easily see why parents who want to impart their religion to their children would object to Star Trek which shrugs off God as an insane alien entity, a childish alien entity, a power-mad alien entity.  Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was a Humanist as were many who worked on the show, and the show embodied that philosophy about the nature of divinity.

So, again where's the religion in Sanctuary?

And again, in the premise, in the worldbuilding and in the theme, where it belongs in a good story. Out of sight. 

Sanctuary depicts all the demonic forms and demonic forces you could ever ask for (they aren't kidding about the unique appearance of the visuals) but takes a Star Trek attitude toward them.

The "abnormals" that Magnus collects from the wild and brings to her Sanctuary often become friends and allies, but in any case she tries to provide them a secure home while preventing the mayhem they would visit upon our world (or our world would visit upon them).

These "abnormals" are genetic oddities, like her, not "supernatural" in origin.

But the things they can do are things we ordinarily attribute to the supernatural.

The Vampire John Druit can teleport and do most all the usual vampire things.  And he admits, in front of others, (when the Ripper entity is not inside him) that he loves Magnus. 

From their various encounters in different episodes, we can see that they are soul mates. They never use that term, of course.  Too religious.  Too "on the nose."  But if you know anything about Romance, you know what you're looking at with the Vampire and part-Vampire in this desperate alliance (that has produced a child between them, too). 

Yet Magnus has had to kill John to prevent him from killing her (and revive him in an act of desperation).

When the Ripper entity was not inside him, John chose to take that horror back inside himself and exile himself from the Sanctuary to protect Magnus (and the world).

This energy-being is not (apparently) genetic, and it's more "horrible" (and Magical) than anything else they've dealt with.  It's not a misunderstood but well meaning freak of nature, as far as we can tell. And they couldn't destroy it.

It's the force of destruction and death - it is the essence of pure glee feeding on human pain, blood and most of all suffering.  It torments and tortures.

It's a game-changer in understanding this TV Show's universe and a revelation about the nature of this world built out of a philosophy that says "It's all good."

Magnus's universe simply has nothing EVIL in it -- even the Ripper-entity, somehow, will have to turn out not to be Evil.  This is a universe where there is no such thing as supernatural evil.

Sanctuary depicts a universe in which the seething genetic soup of Earth's biosphere (the science element) has produced a completely integrated, harmonious whole composed of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.  That is GOOD and EVIL and the synthesis or half-way blend of the two in dynamic equilibrium have combined into ONE.

That's the Religion element embedded in the worldbuilding.  

Early in the 20th century we held that Good could and should win.

Today it seems the argument is that Good can and should hold back Evil, but never, ever actually win so that Evil disappears forever.

But Sanctuary shows us a world where it's all GOOD.  Not one conquering the other or one vanquishing the other or the two in tension.  No.  It is ALL good. 

I can think of one religion that looks at it that way.  Can you?

As I said above, it's possible that Friday Jan 29, 2010, #scifichat will be about Religion in SF/F.

You can attend the #scifichat (and contribute or just follow the moderator's questions and writer's answers) by going to http://twitter.com and filling out the signup (it's free).  You don't have to "follow" anyone or even complete your "profile" telling the world who you are.  You can just look on the right side of your home page, type #scifichat in the box labeled SEARCH, click the magnifying glass SYMBOL, and at the top of the page it shows you, click to save the search for the future.

Refresh your screen to watch comments scroll by.  If you see someone interesting, click on their name to see the screen with their profile displaying usually their personal website and a list of recent tweets.  You can "follow" that person by clicking "follow" in the upper left part of the screen.

Twitter is simple, but many use "clients" (free or paid downloads) that display the data differently, sometimes more handily.  I use hootsuite.com sometimes.

The #scifichat happens at 2-4 Eastern time on Fridays.

There are other chats on writing you can attend with or without participating.  Another is #litchat.

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Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Nicely presented! And thanks for referencing me!

    I agree with much of what you say, with a few exceptions. Most assume war and suffering came mainly from religion. But in modern times, the terrible purges and holocausts were done by atheistic regimes. Also, few ever look at the good done by religion over the millennia. Most modern American universities and hospitals came out of Christianity here. The Hippocratic oath and centers of healing were begun by religion. Many charities and aid programs that existed over time came from various religious sources. Someone should investigate that sort of list sometime.

    But this blog is about science fiction and fantasy, especially Sanctuary on Syfy. I do have a few comments on that!

    While I disagree with Sanctuary's worldview, your analysis of it is quite accurate. Chris Heyerdal, btw, is a fascinating actor! He has many short Lovecraft stories on youtube that are well worth checking out.

    I am glad I'm not the only one who recognized Star Trek's Jack the Ripper mythos. I actually put out a tweet after the episode, that I half expected someone to tell the computer system in the Sanctuary lab to calculate pi!

    About symbolism in science fiction and fantasy, I recommend "Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth" by Bradley Birzer, on the meanings in Lord of the Rings.

    I like your ideas on how character and world-building draw people into stories. I would add a couple of other attractors.

    Sometimes people are drawn in due to what may be strictly real world. People relate to situations they identify with in their own actual experiences, here in the ho-hum, mundane world, as well as an escapist one.

    Here is one common element in LOTR, Harry Potter and Star Trek (and other great works):

    In one popular Christian understanding of human nature (which I happen to agree with, but that's beside the point. Don't let it put you or anyone else off. ;-), there is a concept of the human psyche or soul consisting of mind, will and emotions. We saw this reflected in Spock, Kirk and McCoy respectively. The will/Kirk takes information from the mind/Spock and emotions/McCoy, and with them, decides on courses of action. People instinctively recognize that struggle within themselves, which pulls them into the drama and by-play of the characters.

    It is in the Harry Potter stories with Hermione, Harry and Ron as mind, will and emotions. And in Lord of the Rings, we have Sam, Frodo and then Merri and Pippin.

    Wherever this triumvirate is accurately played out in the arts, it is instinctively understood, even if on a subconscious level, hooking the patron's interest.

    Another aspect of the real world that catches people instinctively, and engages them powerfully, is in horror. I mean "real or classical" horror (as understood by Alfred Hitchcock) vs. modern horror, which is simply shock treatment. Most modern horror stimulates only because of a shock effect. It doesn't stay with you. It is not real. But that which could actually happen is what grips you. Again, in Christian thought, the idea is that we live in a fallen world. Bad things really can happen to good people. Much of modern horror is only scary at the moment, but doesn't stay with you, since it just can't happen. How many are scared today by re-watching the original "Alien"?

    Even in a fantasy or sf setting, knowing some aspect of the horror element could exist in the real world makes it much more effective.

    Contrast "Alien" with Hitchcock's "The Birds". We don't know they COULDN'T attack us. Years after watching that film once, many still get cold chills when walking by a large flock of resting birds! These same people can watch "Alien" again and again but never find the same thrill once it is over and they are back in the real world.

    Well, that is most of what I had to say. Thanks again for the very stimulating read! Great stuff!

    Rixshep / Rick Shepherd

  2. rixshep:

    Thank you for the compliment.

    One objective of my non-fiction writing style (even fiction come to that) is to create in the reader's mind those "with one exception" moments.

    The point is to engage the thinking process.

    My theory is that the more people we have actually thinking, the more likely humanity is to figure out some solutions that work.

    As for modern times being peppered with bloodshed created by "atheists" -- I agree, but I did try to make the point that atheists (and even agnostics) have their "Religion" vacuole filled by a "philosophy" they call atheism or whatever.

    Then the emotional structure of basic humanity just expresses that philosophy with the same vehemence and neither-left-nor-right focused purpose that drives the really beautiful Souls adhering to this or that religion, and the religious nuts.

    The vehemence with which we perpetrate our philosophies is the same across the spectrum. The philosophies vary. The question is does the content of the philosophy make such a really big difference? (I think it does, but that's a question worldbuilders have to answer in each world they build.)

    Oh! I didn't see your tweet on this episode of Sanctuary! Wish I had. I had stared at the screen the whole time with the horrified fascination expecting "calculate pi" also!

    I actually like the way the old scifi channel let shows play the fan-in-group-joke game, and I'm hoping syfy will continue that tradition.

    And my point of course is that it isn't necessary to agree with any worldview demonstrated in a built world -- in fact, in many cases the whole point is to disagree with the build world's worldview, but to suddenly discover while articulating your disagreement that you have reasons to disagree that you, yourself, didn't know about until you opened your mouth.

    You wrote:
    there is a concept of the human psyche or soul consisting of mind, will and emotions. We saw this reflected in Spock, Kirk and McCoy respectively.
    Yes, and that view predates Christian thought by a few thousand years, too. It's the core of the Kaballah, and Astrology, and articulated by modern scholars as archetypes.

    For that reason (that it turns up in every ancient culture, and is still clearly visible today even in international politics and every kindergarten play yard), I accept it as an operational theory and find it quite easy to apply.

    You stated it very well, too. Thank you.

    Oh, and Gene Roddenberry did that with Kirk, Spock and McCoy on purpose.

    And I think you're right about modern Horror. It deserves a whole discourse all its own!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg