There’s one last question to answer before we move into distinguishing among Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. All of these are, in one way or another, fantasies. Although Star Wars is technically science fiction, it certainly has many of the same features as a fantasy. It occurs in a reality which differs significantly from our own, and it involves fantastic creatures and an imaginary, supernatural element.

So, what about fantasies? Surely we can write off stories about counter-factual or non-existent realities.

Well, how about this one?

“One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’ But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’ Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’ But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’ But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and humans, to hold sway over the trees?’ Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’ The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’”

This story not only has talking trees and shrubs, but it also mentions multiple gods and promotes drinking wine. You can find it in Judges, chapter 9.

And then there’s that whole, “Lazarus and the rich man” thing, which, as they say, is wrong on so many levels. Yes, both of those examples are parables. But parables are not limited as to length.

I’ll remember a pastor once told a charming story about a tree that was made into a manger for the Christ child and then a cross for the Savior. He called it a parable, but that didn’t prevent a judgmental and angry member from declaring, “This man shouldn’t be a pastor; he can’t tell the difference between a parable and a fairy tale.”

I was tempted to ask that member to explain the differences between a parable, an allegory, a fable, a fantasy and a fairy tale–but I was pretty sure the irony would be lost on him.

The scriptures are a rich source of literature of nearly every kind: imaginative, emotional, evocative, compelling, convicting–truly a treasure for all of us. It challenges our assumptions and defies categorization. It is a wonder.

And, as I recently heard a wise scholar say, “The Bible is a casebook, not a codebook.” We are the ones who make the rules and assume they are biblical. The Bible itself shows episode after episode of God interacting with individuals and groups. Those are “case studies,” so to speak.

Our job is to determine when cases are similar and apply what the Bible tells us about God in such cases to the circumstances at hand. It’s harder than a rulebook. But then, every real relationship defies being turned into a formula.

Unless some reader can think of some other reason to categorically rule out Harry Potter and the others I have mentioned, we will be forced to actually evaluate the content of each of them. That, too, is more difficult than simply applying a rule, but that is the task of a mature and maturing Christian. As my counselor once said, “This business of being a grownup isn’t easy.”