The works of authors such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are known for their allegorical concepts and themes, but the authors here have gone even further by creating deep (and sometimes bizarre) religious structures within their work. Some of these are stories that feel very close to home within the real world, while others create concepts far from the scope of the natural world. If you’re looking for worlds that include grand and provocative theologies, then these books and the fictional religions within them might be of interest to you!
Dune by Frank Herbert: The Bene Gesserit
Frank Herbert’s classic novel, Dune, is set on the desert world of Arrakis, a world where the most valuable substance, the “spice” melange, can extend ones life as well as ones consciousness and is ruled by the powerful House Atreides. The novel follows Paul Atreides on a great journey after his family is betrayed, towards bringing about humanities most impossible goal.
Arrakis is a world that contains a variety of religious orders, most notably the Bene Gesserit. Led by the Reverend Mothers, this order of strong and compelling women, who through intense mental training have the abilities to not only control their own emotions and resistance to physical pain, but also manipulate the minds of others with an ability called “the Voice”. To maintain control of their followers the Bene Gesserit make use sewing prophecy into the world of a coming messiah, one that they intend to create themselves.
Sensor by Junji Ito: Amagami (or Angel Hair)
Drawing from both historical Japan and the natural phenomenon of “angel hair” for this manga collection, Junji Ito blends aspects of ordinary concepts into a bizarre tale true to his iconic style. The manga begins with a humble and quaint village near the base of an inactive volcano. Here the villagers are blessed with the telepathic gifts of the “amagami”, the hair-like substance that rains down on the village as a result of cooling lava from the volcano. The villagers themselves believe the angel hair to not simply be from the volcano, but the hair of a Christian missionary who their ancestors protected during the Edo-era of Japan and now worship as a God for blessing them with the angel hair. Besides these telepathic gifts, the villagers use the amagami to search the cosmos for their lost God and bring about his return. This plan however, goes awry after Kyoko Byakuya is drawn to their secluded mountain home by an unknown force, and things grow much stranger from there.
The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft: The Cthulhu Mythos
When discussing fictional religions it hardly feels complete without at least mentioning one of the most well-known creations in modern fiction. Since the publication of The Call of Cthulhu in 1928, Lovecraft’s tentacle-faced ancient deity has left a massive imprint on genre fiction as well as the world, and evidently so have the small sects and cults featured in Lovecraft’s work. The worshipers of Cthulhu and the other “Old Ones” depicted in the mythos have one of the simplest goals on this list, of simply shrouding the world in darkness and death upon the arrival of Cthulhu and other Old Gods. A fairly basic belief system to be sure, but where this one stands out, is the affect it has had on it’s audience.
Much like the fictional cults in the stories, real life “cults of Cthulhu” have been known to pop up in the modern world, following mixtures of Lovecraft’s original texts and various other texts, including the “Necronomicon”, another work depicted in Lovecraftian mythology. While this belief system may be one of the more extraordinary on this list, it’s the only one that seems to have taken root in the real world as well.
Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer: The Face of God
The first book in the Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy, and one of the more unusual books here, Far-Seer is set on a world populated by anthropomorphized, sentient Tyrannosaurs. The Quintagilos along with other prehistoric creatures worship a sun-like planet as “The Face of God”. If nothing else, a story based in a world of sentient dinosaurs certainly sounds like a strange and intriguing place to get pulled into, but combine that with the detailed religions found in the trilogy, Far-Seer grows even more fascinating. The worshipers of “The Face of God” follow the words of the Prophet Larsk, and are called to travel the path he took in his journey so they too can witness it. This world is shaken however when a young Quintaglio discovers “The Face” is just a planet and starts on the hard road to convince others of this.