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Rachel Hartman

Emotional Maps for Mythologizing Your Experience

What is fantasy for?

I’m probably just a chronic overthinker, but I’ve never been able to do things without interrogating my reasons. If I’m writing fantasy—and I am, I always am—then it must be particularly suited to my tricksy purposes. But how?

I used to have a good answer: fantasy is a laboratory for thought experiments. You establish your counterfactual parameters, like setting up a rat maze, and then run your characters through it and see what happens. Fantasy is intellectual exercise, where you rigorously think through every implication, where every effect must have its cause—an overthinker’s dream!

[Running thought experiments, however, is not the only thing fantasy is particularly suited to…]

Five Theological Fantasies for Ecstatic Atheists

As someone who doesn’t believe in gods, I must sheepishly confess that I find them fascinating. I think it’s because, in my own way, I consider myself a person of faith—it’s just that my faith, the thing that gives me comfort and joy in this world, is the belief that there are no gods. And it is absolutely a belief, straight up. I’m not a rationalist. I’d much rather flop around in the subjective, and that’s what I look for as both writer and reader. I’ll show you my world (through Rachel-coloured goggles), and you show me yours.

I like gods in fantasy, but even more than that, I like characters who struggle with belief and with proximity to the divine. It’s a struggle I’m familiar with, godless though I am, and one of the most stubbornly human things we do. Here, then, are five books that dig into the theological in a way I’ve enjoyed. Are they the best ever? I’m going to say yes. Subjectively, of course.

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Series: Five Books About…