Thursday, 4 July 2013

Ban This Dangerous Fantasy Before it Claims More Kids' Lives!

Some "believers" think magic spells work.
but the real Debbie would know better
Disturbing news reaches us of an incident where a family's obsession with fantasy caused the death of an innocent 11-year-old girl.

Unknown to her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, Kara was diabetic and when she became ill her parents didn't phone the doctor or call 9/11. Instead, they asked a character from a book to heal her!

The Neumanns are one of what is thought to be many thousands of people who think that characters in a book about magic and gods can actually answer the calls of those who are "believers". Even when Kara was on the verge of death, her father said that he thought that repeating phrases in the book ("prayers") would cause her to come back to life even if she died! Obviously, this proved not to be the case.

The Book
"I used the Bible as an excuse and made
So, what is this book that has ensnared so many people into twisted slaves, prepared to watch their own children die a slow death? Well, in fact it doesn't have a name, and is just called "The Book" or "The Holy Book", usually with a thin layer of pidgin Latin to make it sound "gothick" - "The Bible". It's pretty distinctive if you look for it, whether in its normal all-black binding or the even more sinister "Children's editions" with their bright covers featuring characters seemingly designed to invoke association with healthy reading material like the "Harry Potter" or "Discworld" books. There is little clue to the true nature of the contents.

The book is in fact an anthology title - a fairly straight-forward example of the "shared world" collection where a range of authors take a basic concept and timeline and produce a series of more-or-less connected stories set in the world thus described. Thieves World is perhaps the best known, but the genre can trace its roots in English at least as far back as Dickens' Mugbe Junction of 1866.

Same idea; done better
The Book is considerably older, having been put together in its common form sometime around 1100, but with material reaching as far back as 800 B.C and originally in two languages - Hebrew and Greek - which have been translated, not always successfully, into pretty well every language in the world today.

Naturally, the material is patchy - inconsistent, even - but that's par for the course for these anthologies. The stories are arranged in an approximate internal-chronological order starting with a couple of alternative accounts of the creation of the world. One of these, clearly written later, is a very curt account resembling parts of Tolkien's Silmarillion and is little more than a fragment of a synthetic framework where all the threads are nicely tidied away and tucked in.

It is immediately followed by a different author's account of the creation which is much more "rough and ready" and happily skips ahead from the creation to a point where there are lots of people but one particular couple live in a protected garden, away from everyone else - obviously the inspiration for the anti-social "gated communities" that the "believers" are so keen on today and are prepared to protect with lethal force.

Talking out your ass
What follows are a range of what appear to be fairly normal fantasy stories about talking snakes, donkeys, clouds, bushes, and statues which help, hinder, advise, or trick the various heroes and villains within, ending with a strange sort of appendix of letters written by the main editor in his attempts to get the book out to a larger audience. In fact, this last item is perhaps the most innovative part of the book as the supposed editor is in fact just another character in the book itself which has at this point become somewhat meta.

The Threat
So, what's the problem? Sounds like fun! The problem is that not everyone is a fantasy role-player. We know the difference between truth and fantasy when we see it. When someone tells us "an angel came down and told the virgin that she was pregnant" we think "Oh, interesting. Must have been an incubus; probably used charm person. Neat story." and on we go to the next tale.

But not everyone was raised with the sort of understanding of comparative mythology that fantasy role-playing instils in kids and for many of them the framing device of The Book - that it is a series of factual accounts - is confusing. The so-called letters of Paul at the back have particularly confused many simple folk with their apparently eye-witness accounts of this would-be editor fighting pagan gods and performing miracles as he plods around what seems to be our eastern Mediterranean Sea.

"I have a polearm and reasonable armour; roll initiative!"
It reminds one of Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle in some ways as "Paul" seeks for the one person that can release him - and all the believers - from their troubles only to ultimately find that salvation is not available from outside and he too dies at the hands of those who's religion he insults and attacks at every turn. It's all moving stuff, although it's hardly The Death of Sturm, to be honest.

The problem is that believing that the Book is actually a real account of real events is not the same as believing in UFOs or fairies at the bottom of the garden or that Margaret Thatcher was a human being. These are mostly harmless eccentricities.

In comparison, the Book encourages people - and bear in mind that this book is routinely aimed and marketed at children as young as 3 or 4 years old - to be grossly intolerant of other people's beliefs; to own slaves and to force them to have sex; to overlook serial incest if it gives an old widower some sexual relief (but not a widow); to hope for their enemies to be slaughtered indiscriminately without trial; and, amazingly, to do the slaughtering themselves.

"I can't find any WMD in Sodom"
Because the major flaw in this shared world is the massive difference in tone between the early stories (the "old" stories) and the later ones. The blood flows for hundreds and hundreds of pages with the minimal of motivation. Rape is overlooked or even approved of, cuckolded husbands are murdered to protect the reputation of "holy" kings, and at least two cities are nuked after the most cursory of investigations into the supposed "sins" of the inhabitants.

Remember, kids, only Glastonbury can
really bring the dead back to life
THEN, suddenly a new character is introduced by the name of "Joshua" (badly mangled in at least the English translation to "Jesus") who says that everyone should be nice to each other! This message, which he is very emphatic about, causes a lot of trouble and eventually, after various adventures with stormy seas, flying magic users, and dead people coming back to life, he too is killed for his trouble. Luckily, he gets better and, in a really clunky deus ex machina, flies away to "heaven" without giving a firm date for when he would be back other than to say it would be in the lifetimes of those he was talking to.

The paradox of the evil influence this book has had is that this last part is both the source of so much confused belief and the clearest indication that it is fiction - for the events recounted are set almost 2000 years in our past and, clearly, Josh never made it back.

But today, many "believers" are prepared to select the bits they like (and most aren't too keen on the "be nice to everyone, even the people who attack you" bits) and use them as a guide to living their real lives in the 21st century! Worse still, they are raising their kids to believe that personal responsibility can be washed away by reciting magic words to people no more real than Sherlock Holmes. Literally hundreds of children have died due to this most base of superstitions.

It is well past time that the authorities stepped in and either had the book removed from circulation or at the very least made sure that the cover was clearly stamped "fiction" and kept away from children until they are of an age where they have played enough Dungeons and Dragons to have developed into well-balanced adults capable of telling fact from fantasy and won't run off on a crusade or refuse to get someone medical help because they think that a character in a book will magically help them.

References: Parents leave child to die. A different couple allow two of their children to die on two separate occasions.

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