Modern Christian Fantasy

  • Colin Manlove


While it may fairly be supposed that God did not as Nietzsche claimed, die in the nineteenth century,1 it must be admitted that much of the ‘mythology’ of Christianity, the supernatural stories recounted in the Bible, became increasingly open to question.2 The textual authority of the Bible had been in dispute long before the nineteenth century: one has only to look at Dryden’s Religio Laici (1678), for instance, to see that. But the empirical, scientific, investigative side of the late-seventeenth- and eighteenth-century mind had long tended to practise a form of self-silencing when it came to matters of faith. It is only with the Romantics and the new ’mythophiles’, with their emphasis on the creative imagination, that we begin to find systematic questioning (such as Blake’s) of the visions of the prophets or apostles as subjective rather than literal,3 or come across a pioneering attempt (J. G. Herder’s Maranatha of 1779) to view the Book of Revelation as literature rather than a true record.4 The new German ‘liberal’ theology of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century found its most revolutionary statement in D. F. Strauss’s Leben Jesu (1835), in which the historical and human dimension of Christ’s life began to take on significance at the expense of his divine self and his ‘supernatural’ actions.5


Creative Imagination Paradise Lost Unconscious Mind True Record Referential Purpose 
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  1. 1.
    God may have retired from literature, as J. Hillis Miller describes it in his The Disappearance of God (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963),Google Scholar
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  3. 2.
    See also Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1974), which particularly emphasises the sources in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century German theology and philosophy.Google Scholar
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    Though of course there are earlier isolated instances of this, as in Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde (1657).Google Scholar
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    Bernard McGinn, ‘Revelation’, in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (eds), The Literary Guide to the Bible (London: Collins, 1987) II, 539.Google Scholar
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    On the ‘immanentist’ emphasis of nineteenth-century and to some extent twentieth-century theology and Christian belief see J. S. Lawton, Miracles and Revelation (London: Lutterworth Press, 1958) esp. p. 142; and Chadwick, A History of the Victorian Church, II, 31.Google Scholar
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    See for example Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1836)Google Scholar
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    Evinced most signally in Arnold: see Stephen Prickett, Romanticism and Religion: The Tradition of Wordsworth and Coleridge in the Victorian Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976) pp. 213–17.Google Scholar
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    See Nathan Scott, Jr, Craters of the Spirit: Studies in the Modern Novel (London: Sheed and Ward, 1969).Google Scholar
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    This is what happens, if indirectly, with some of the writers of German Romantic fairy tale in the period 1790–1820. On the whole subject, Burton Feldman and Robert D. Richardson, The Rise of Modern Mythology, 1680–1860 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972), is invaluable; see esp. pp. 303–4: ‘Romantic myth may in part be described as a revival in secular or idealist form of an older Christian hope.’Google Scholar
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    George MacDonald, ‘The Imagination: Its Functions and its Culture’, A Dish of Orts, Chiefly Papers on the Imagination, and on Shakspere (London: Sampson Low, 1893) p. 28.Google Scholar
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    The term is Robert Reilly’s: see his Romantic Religion: A Study of Barfield, Lewis, Williams, and Tolkien (Athens, Ga: University of Georgia Press, 1971).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Colin Manlove 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin Manlove
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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