|Synopsis||The Fantastic 42 is the third installment in the 42 Series, a collection of devotionals written by nerds for nerds.|
|Author||Eric Anderson, Nathan Marchand, Darrin Ball, Nick Hayden, Chris Cooke, Becky Smith, and Scott Bayles|
|Release Date||August 30th, 2021|
The first book in the series 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom drew it’s numerical title from The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. What is the significance of 42? Why it’s “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”… of course. Each book contains 42 devotions with 42 quests through all things geek.
Violence/Scary Images: None
Drug/Alcohol References: None
Sexual Content/Nudity: None
Other Negative Content: None
Spiritual Content: Some of the books, films, and other media referenced contain elements such as magic, spirituality, and references to other religions.
Positive Content: An engaging devotional that conveys a number of spiritual truths through the lens of speculative media.
The reviewer received a copy of this book from the editor.
Eric Anderson, Nathan Marchand, Darrin Ball, Nick Hayden, Chris Cooke, Becky Smith, and Scott Bayles comprise the “fellowship” of authors contributing to the journey through matters of faith, with an introduction by Dallas Mora. The devotions cover the breadth of geekdom from board games to television shows, classic literature to comics, films to anime and more.
The basic framework of each devotion is simple: some exposition from nerdy source material, a scriptural application, and a daily quest. Quests include introspection through scripture reading and journaling, as well as real physical steps to take – challenges to share the gospel, heal broken relationships, and draw closer to God. There is even the occasional shameless plug to binge-watch the TV show discussed or play the game.
Fantastic 42 will challenge you, as it weaves through franchises and stories with which you may or may not be familiar. While much of what we geek out about is often dismissed as ephemeral, the devotions in the book are far from fluff. More than once I thought “well, that hurt” as I read a spiritual challenge or nugget of wisdom.
Need a lesson in perseverance? Try Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Hope? Let’s look to Saint Walker and the Blue Lantern Corps. What about redemption and self-sacrifice? Beast Wars and Godzilla offer examples of both. You might easily see Jesus in The Chronicles of Narnia, but what about in the absurdity of Darkwing Duck? Is God there too? You might be surprised.
Wisdom is dispensed via Sailor Moon, Star Wars, Babylon 5, Stargate, Charlie Brown, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, and heroes from the Marvel and DC Universes. Classic films like The Day the Earth Stood Still echo the coming of Jesus. Forbidden Planet offers insight into the wages of selfishness and sin. In short, there’s something for everyone and quite a bit you might not expect. What stands out is the eclectic mix of interests, and the eclectic mix of opinions and backgrounds.
Different perspectives, bound together by the shared unity of the body of Christ.
My personal “quest” as a reviewer focused on this very truth.
A Deeper Conversation
It took me some time to write this review, in part because I got “stuck” on Day Two.
The devotion for Day Two was written by Nathan Marchand and focused on the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Chirrut Imwe, a Force-sensitive blind Guardian of the Whills, is capable of incredible feats despite his blindness. While not able to wield the Force like a Jedi, Chirrut is nevertheless able, in a limited way, to call upon it. As he steps into battle he repeats the Guardian’s Mantra:
The Force is with me,
And I am one with the Force;
And I fear nothing.
Because all is as the Force wills it.
Nathan goes on to write a compelling devotion about faith, stemming from a place of prayer and communion with God. Chirrut is seemingly untouchable, walking through blaster fire and easily overpowering assailants. Nathan continues:
He’s not unlike the Confederate Civil War general “Stonewall” Jackson, who would ride recklessly into battle believing that unless it was God’s will that he die, nothing would hurt him. Prayer is required to have faith like that. It is communication and communion with God.
When I read that, I had a visceral response. Was Nathan presenting a Confederate General as an example of someone with deep faith? Coming from a bi-racial family, I have strong opinions on the Civil War, its origins, and causes.
It is hard to reconcile the notion that people on both sides of a conflict can have faith in God, believing they are right and that God is granting them favor and victory over their enemies. Each side feels their side is the righteous one, worthy of God’s favor, while the other side is the evil enemy, worthy of destruction and divine retribution.
I can accept differences of opinion and gray areas in many things. However, as a mixed-race person directly descended from slaves, I cannot accept a middle ground on that particular evil. There is no justification, no lessening of the horrors because some masters were “kind”, no excuse. I have indeed listened to people justify or downplay slavery, because it was not personal to them. There are vast portions of my Black family history that are missing because no one tracked the births and deaths of the enslaved. There are gross injustices held within living memory by older generations. So it feels deeply personal to me when anyone is willing to praise or prop up something so degrading, so inhuman, so evil. By default, a defense of the Confederacy is part and parcel with a defense of the reasons leading to the Civil War, chief among them, slavery.
I struggled with the notion that a Confederate General who owned slaves, indeed viewed Black people as ignorant and in need of “lifting up”, could be a model of faith and prayer. Jackson was neutral on the topic in discourse, and some think he opposed it but still felt it was God-sanctioned. I tried, but I could not move forward in my review of the book.
Our nation is in the midst of convulsions over un-healed racial wounds. Civil War era rhetoric and even KKK ideology is making its way back into modern discourse, politics, even the church. I knew my hackles were up, so I asked the opinion of others, and everyone agreed I should address it in my review.
However, I did not want those sentences to overshadow everything else, including the work of the other authors. I did not want to make Nathan a faceless, distant other. An enemy. I also did not want to gloss over something that had affected me and risk someone else being hurt by words I did not address.
Rather than cancel, I opted for conversation. I reached out to Nathan, through a mutual friend, and asked for clarity. That made all the difference.
Nathan, history buff that he is, simply saw a connection between a fictional character and a historical figure and wrote about it. He did not at all agree with Confederate ideology or slavery. We both noted the irony that Jackson, who believed he could not be killed unless God willed it, was mistakenly killed by his own troops.
A few minutes and I had the clarity I needed. We then talked for quite some time about other nerdy things. I remember Star Trek and Kaiju being among the topics discussed. It was a great conversation, and I do hope to meet Nathan in person one day to continue it.
Why do I mention this here? Why devote so much space to such a small portion of the book?
We are in a constant battle with an enemy that seeks to sever our connections to each other and bring division. Jesus admonished us not to forsake gathering together. When we are divided, we are weak. That said, unity does not mean conformity. We will not all think the same things about all things, and that is as it should be. Sometimes those things do not matter, but some things we cannot compromise on.
I am of the correct opinion that broccoli stems are servants of darkness sent to vex humanity. If you incorrectly think they are edible, we can still have fellowship. All joking aside, there are opinions and belief systems that are harmful and even deadly. These usually stem from the “us versus them” mentality; the making of an enemy that led to Cain slaying Abel, and has not stopped since.
As humans we are often prone to jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst of a person we do not know. Instead of having a conversation, we close off and pass judgement.
That was the quest for me: to seek understanding, clarity with a stranger.
I devote so much space to it here in hopes that no one else will get stuck, here or in another point of disagreement life will inevitably bring.
As we geeks often tend to do, many of the authors clearly know a lot about their chosen subject, but that does not always translate to the words on the page. It might have been nice to have a little more explanation here and there of what certain in-universe terms meant or who certain characters are.
I would have loved some more illustration. So many colorful stories and ideas would have been well-served visually. However, I understand the challenges of independent publishing and this is a want more than anything that detracts from the book.
In each of these devotions, a fan of some speculative media has found a thread of gospel truth to share with you. From the serious to the silly, Fantastic 42 is in many ways a reflection of the complex and colorful thing that is the body of Christ. You may find things that resonate and things that perplex and challenge. Reflected within its pages are a variety of opinions and interpretations of scripture that may not always agree with your own. But iron sharpens iron. We grow by butting against each other and having our rough edges knocked off.
Who knows, maybe you will discover your next franchise to hyper-focus on and geek out about. Grab a journal and your Bible and settle in for the journey.
Above all, Don’t Panic.
+ Diverse representation of Nerd Culture
+ Easy to digest Devotions
+ Engaging and Challenging Quests
- Sometimes insufficient explanation of a world, game, or show for the un-initiated.
The Bottom Line
Fantastic 42 is an engaging devotional, that will challenge and inspire. The short reads and challenging quests will make this a worthwhile tool to deepen your relationship with God, your own geekiness, and potentially discover new worlds worth exploring.