ASLAN'S KIN ¶ Interfaith Fantasy and Science Fiction

Sylvia Louise Engdahl

The science fiction young adult novels of Sylvia Louise Engdahl (who now writes under the name of Sylvia Engdahl) explore the relation between science and religion, providing a unique perspective that embraces both Religious Humanism and mysticism. In addition to her novels, this American author has written books on modern science.


The line between science fiction and fantasy has always been hard to draw; it is defined in various ways. My personal view is that while both forms may, through the portrayal of a world other than our real world, express underlying truths about life as we now know it to be, science fiction also expresses ideas about things that are not yet known; and it does so without recourse to supernatural explanations – though it sometimes deals with phenomena normally thought to be "supernatural."

["The Changing Role of Science Fiction in Children's Literature," in Children and Literature: Views and Reviews, edited by Virginia Haviland]


Not everyone notices the extent to which space fiction has religious implications, and yet practically all of it does – this is one of its most striking aspects. Essentially religious premises underly almost all popularly-successful space films, whether or not they're identified as such. This isn't surprising; myth has always dealt with the same areas religion does, since such issues demand metaphor for expression. To be sure, the attitudes toward these issues in various space stories don't agree. Fortunately, ours is a heterogenous culture, and thus the tenets of Space Age mythology, in contrast to those of the mythologies of earlier cultures, are not uniform. There is no danger of their turning into dogma. But an author is compelled, more than in most forms of fiction, to deal with the subject implicitly if not explicitly.

At the time I wrote Enchantress [to the Stars], we had seen the film 2001, which openly endorsed the "Gods from Outer Space" concept, and the Star Trek television series, which did so more subtly by portraying humans who too often ignored their nominal policy of not playing God on alien worlds. I don't share this view, and I set out to present a different one. I didn't originally think of it as a religious issue. I did not, at first, recognize any of the religious issues in Enchantress, although when I read over the finished book I did grasp the implications of what I'd said about truth in metaphor. Only much later did I see that ESP and other psychic powers pervade space fiction as a metaphor for spiritual reality. This became most specifically apparent, of course, in the film Star Wars.

[The Mythic Role of Space Fiction]

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