When I was writing The Sign of the Sword, it was fashionable for Christian fantasy writers to include fictional Christ-figures in their stories. C.S. Lewis had done it in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with Aslan, his noble talking lion. This scene still gets to me.
Ambrose Pendragon, the Christ-figure in Sword combines elements of Christ, Aragorn (from The Lord of the Rings), and King Arthur. I chose the name Ambrose when I found out it meant “divine, immortal.” It wasn’t until later that I learned that one of the real-life inspirations for King Arthur was a man called Ambrose Aurelian (or Ambrosius Aurelianus).
In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien avoided recreating the story of Christ in fantasy form, but his novels include scattered elements of that story. (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read or watched The Lord of the Rings.) Aragorn, a wandering king in exile, returns to claim his ancestral throne. Gandalf the magician sacrifices himself for his comrades, falling into a bottomless abyss with a demon only to defeat his foe and “resurrect” later in the series. Frodo Baggins, because of his purity of heart, is able to resist the corrupting power of the One-Ring long enough to deliver it to a place where it can be destroyed. Like the others, he is not a perfect Christ-figure. The ring does eventually manage to corrupt him even though he holds out longer than most.
Interestingly, Christ-figures have appeared in secular films in such unlikely guises as Frankenstein’s monster, E.T., and Superman. In The Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s creature is portrayed as a persecuted innocent who is even tied to a pole by a mob in a scene that closely resembles the crucifixion. (Somehow that managed to get past studio censors.) E.T. was an innocent visitor from another world who had healing powers, died, returned from the dead, and disappeared back into the heavens. Superman has always been something of a Christ-like figure, but the latest movies have emphasized the parallel more than the Christopher Reeve films of the seventies and eighties did. In The Man of Steel, he is even placed in front of a stained glass window as he is having a conversation with a priest. In Batman vs. Superman he dies and, in Justice League…well, you saw the previews, didn’t you?
Both versions of The Day the Earth Stood Still also has some interesting parallels. Scott Derrickson emphasized the parallels more in the 2008 Keanu Reeves version and as well as adding an environmental message. In one of my favorite scenes in that version, two aliens who have taken human shapes are sitting in a diner talking about how bad humans are. Then one of them says, disguised as an old Asian man, says, “but I love them.”
Whether Jesus-allegories are in fashion or not, a story that powerful can’t help but inspire some imitators. There are just too many wonderful hero-story themes to avoid it.