The Dharma of Dragons and Daemons
Buddhist Themes in Modern Fantasy
In order to live, we need air, water, food, shelter…and stories. This book is about Buddhist stories: not about stories to be found in Buddhism, but about the “Buddhism” to be found in some of the classics of contemporary fantasy including the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, Hayao Miyazaki, Michael Ende, Philip Pullman, and Ursula K. LeGuin.
Many books are called groundbreaking, but this one is truly unique and sure to appeal to anyone with an interest in fantasy literature. It employs a Buddhist perspective to appreciate some of the major works of modern fantasy--and uses modern fantasy fiction to elucidate Buddhist teachings. In the tradition of David Loy's cutting-edge presentation of a Buddhist social theory in The Great Awakening, this pioneering work of Buddhist literary analysis, renown scholar David Loy and Linda Goodhew offer ways of reading modern fantasy-genre fiction that illuminate both the stories themselves, and the universal qualities of Buddhist teachings. Authors examined include J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman (of The Amber Spyglass trilogy, from whose works the word "daemon" is borrowed in the title), Ursula K. LeGuin, and the anime movie Princess Mononoke.
A veritable cottage industry now exists to examine Christian themes in popular culture. But what of the Buddhist themes? Loy and his wife, Goodhew, offer a brief but compelling foray into the dharma teachings of modern fantasy in YA literature and film. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example, may seem to be entirely un-Buddhist (it features a Christian-influenced resurrection and posits a profound dualism between good and evil), but its preference for non-violence, shown in the repeated sparing of Gollum's life, resonates with Buddhist principles. More importantly, Frodo's quest is one of renunciation; the story is fundamentally a lesson of nonattachment. Other chapters address Michael Ende's Momo, which the authors call "a Zen-like critique of our obsession with time"; two films of Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki; the Earthsea books of Ursula Le Guin; and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. The authors concede that with the exception of Le Guin, none of the creators of these works ever explicitly refer to Buddhism, but the dharma connections are usually sound and fruitful. For best effect, readers will come to the book with some knowledge of Buddhism and of the works under discussion, which are not laid out in detail.