Recently I’ve been buying and reading some of the books in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, and have read ‘A Study in Sable,’ which features Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson (& Mrs. Watson) as characters. But what the book also features is Sarah Lyon-White, a medium, and Nan Killian, a psychic.
The disturbing part is that in the real world when we encounter someone who is labelled a medium or a psychic, we are encountering a con artist. Some of the ‘information’ provided by these con artists is the result of secret research— they know Mrs. Smith’s only son recently died, or that Mr. Terry has certain financial woes. Other information comes from the process of ‘cold reading.’ The psychic/medium guesses, ‘I see an older male spirit who wishes to speak to you,’ and they can tell by the subject’s reaction whether that’s what they are looking for. If the cold reader guesses wrong, he’ll say ‘No, not a older male, it’s a female.’ The subjects tend to forget the wrong initial guesses and say ‘that psychic was so great, she knew is was my great-aunt Felicity I wanted to contact and that she was an embalmer and had four children and a pet orangutan.’ Even though the cold reader guessed wrong two dozen times to come up with that info.
The medium character is used to place tired old Spiritualist ideas into the story, like the idea that ghosts surround us and can communicate, using the proper medium, that some of the dead stay because they don’t know they are dead or that they fear the ‘false’ idea of hellfire, and that other disembodied spirits have unfinished business like hidden finances they want to tell their widow about or solving their own murders.
These Spiritualist ideas are not backed by any scientific research. They also go against what Judaism and Christianity have taught about what comes after death. The problem with embedding these ideas in fantasy fiction is that some readers think that the author is endorsing the real-world Spiritualist viewpoint as true.
The medium and psychic characters are also referred to as having ‘gifts’— clairvoyance and telepathy, respectively. There is nothing in Judeo-Christian teaching which says having clairvoyance and telepathy are sins, but there is nothing in the Bible or in the Church Fathers to indicate that clairvoyance or telepathy were even known to the Biblical authors or the Fathers. And science has examined the ideas of telepathy and clairvoyance and not had any great success in finding people with these gifts.
‘A Study in Sable’ and books like it bring with it a moral problem. If some readers might be led astray into accepting mediums and psychics as real, we can’t honestly recommend the books to others. We probably shouldn’t be reading books like this too often even if we DO know better. Both from a scientific and a Judeo-Christian perspective, this book and those like it present a problem.
Now, I have been reading Mercedes Lackey books obsessively for years and I just presumed that Lackey was a neopagan or Wiccan of some flavor, and had a low opinion of Christians that might be termed ‘hate’ if Christian-hate were considered bad like antisemitism and Muslim-hate are. But I have heard from a Christian writer that she met Mrs Lackey at a writing conference and that she says she is a Christian. Given the viewpoints in her books, however, one can’t term them ‘Christian fiction’ in any sense, and I don’t know if Mrs Lackey goes to a church that teaches historic Christianity or a ‘post-Christian’ church like the Presbyterian denomination I grew up in, the PC-USA (which is ‘post-Christian’ because it no longer requires members or clergy to believe/teach anything specific about Jesus Christ, like He is part of the Holy Trinity and the Son of God.)
I still enjoy reading Mercedes Lackey books in spite of content concerns, but I do not recommend them to teenagers, people in their twenties, or Christians who have not learned their catechism yet. You need a bunch of knowledge and discernment under your belt first, if you don’t want to be led astray.