Many years ago, I had to defend the use of Madeleine_L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time for use in my 7th-grade classroom. Fortunately, the key figure in the battle was so exhausted from a prolonged war in another school district that they no longer had the energy to wage this war again. Later, there was a battle over whether books in the Harry Potter series ought to be in school libraries.
Fairy Tales are Anti-Reality
One of the arguments against such books is in an online article entitled “Christian Fantasy: Biblical or Oxymoron?” The author asserts:
God would not have His children take refuge in unreality . . . . If a Christian is loving the Lord with all his mind (imagination), he will be dwelling on truth, reality, His Word, and Him, not fairy tales and fantasy! . . . Because fantasy is anti-reality, it is against godliness, it opens the door to deceit, and is an affront to the very core of your being as a Christian.
Although this position is extreme, there are many Christians who are suspicious of fairy tales because they contain magic or other impossibilities. They mistrust these stories fearing they see them as an unhealthy escape from reality.
Those who take this view, often see fantasy in opposition to reality. But this is not so. Rather than being the opposite of reality, fairy stories bring us back to reality—a biblical reality, for in reading them we can experience the wonder of Creation, the presence of evil and brokenness caused by the fall, and the hope of redemption.
J. R. R. Tolkien was apparently familiar with the argument that escape through reading fantasy literature and fairy tales was harmful. His response to this charge is found in his essay “On Fairy Stories.” He agrees that reading such things is an escape, not an escape from reality, but an escape to reality. He compares the escape of the prisoner of war to the flight of the deserter and suggests that the kind of escape provided by fairy tales is that of the prisoner.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Those who see fantasy literature in opposition to reality, fail to understand both literature and reality. Rather than being the opposite of reality, fairy stories bring us back to reality. #Tolkien #fantasy #fairytales” quote=”Those who see fantasy literature in opposition to reality, fail to understand both literature and reality. Rather than being the opposite of reality, fairy stories bring us back to reality. “]
He argues that these stories do not take us unjustifiably away from our duty to cause and country which gives the enemy the advantage, as in the flight of the deserter. Instead, the escape we experience in these tales is that of the prisoner of war from an enemy so that we can go home and return to fight another day. His argument is that we misunderstand reality, and in so doing, misunderstand the nature of escape.
Tolkien is not alone in his belief that fairy-tales actually return the reader to reality. G. K. Chesterton argues as much in his book Orthodoxy. He says, “The things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales.” Although each fairy tale contains a healthy principle particular to itself, Chesterton is not concerned with these specific truths “but with the whole spirit of [fairy] law . . . a certain way of looking at life” which is rooted both in our experience and in the scriptures.
Fairy Tales and the Gospel
Frederick Buechner’s chapter entitled, “The Gospel as Fairy Tale” is found in the book, Telling the Truth. In it, he discloses the truths found in fairy tales—the fundamental truths of the gospel. For Chesterton and Buechner, fairy tales return us to reality—the biblical reality.
When these authors use the word reality, they mean the reality presented in the Scriptures. The Old Testament tells of a God who created all things and declared his creation good. Evil is not a part of creation; it is not found in the structure of the universe but is in the human heart and in our disobedience to God’s will. Man was created good, but ‘fell’ by his deliberate choice to turn away from his creator. The redemption element says that because of his love for us God will redeem us; he will forgive us when we turn back to him. We are powerless to save ourselves from evil, but God is actively seeking to rescue us.
Accepting the Hebraic understanding of Creation and the Fall, Christians have an expanded the notion of Redemption. They believe that Jesus Christ is the epitome of God’s redeeming love and power and that this redemption is available to all humankind and even the whole creation through him.
In short, reality is what the Bible tells us about Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. This is the reality to which fairy tales bring us.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Reality is what the Bible tells us about Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. This is the reality to which fairy tales bring us. #fantasy #fairytales” quote=”Reality is what the Bible tells us about Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. This is the reality to which fairy tales bring us.”]
Read In Defence of Fairy Tales (2) – Creation
Read In Defence of Fairy Tales (3) – Fall
Read In Defence of Fairy Tales (4) – Redemption
Buechner, Fredrick. Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. San Fransisco: Harpers, 1977.
Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
“Christian Fantasy: Biblical or Oxymoron.” Biblical Discernment Ministries. Ed. Rick Miesel. June 97. <http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/fantasy.htm>.
Perault, Charles. “Cinderella.” Folk & Fairy Tales. 3rd ed. Ed. Martin Hallet and
Barbara Karasek. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2002. 39-45.
Tolkien, J. R. R. “The Monsters and the Critics.” The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.
The penchant of the religious to manufacture causes and enemies never ceases to amaze and annoy me. The world is full of real evil. It’s the same evil that Jesus preached against… because nobody has done anything about any of it since. Meanwhile I’m supposed to worry about some imagined difference between fiction and fantasy.
Among non-Christians, and a great many mainstream Christians, much of what passes for Christianity in Greater America today looks like a bad acid trip. Maybe we need a Jeff-Foxworthy style quiz that church-goers can use to determine whether they’re actual Christians or just wingnuts. The first warning might be:
“If your teenagers sneak out of the house on Saturday night to drink beer and watch Harry Potter… you might be a wingnut.”
Thanks for this article, Trent. I wish more Christians were as Christian about this stuff.
Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit
Thanks Robin, Just to put your mind a little more at ease, there are a lot of non-wingnut Christians around. I’m just doing my bit to get the message out there — the wingnuts get all the publicity.