Fairy Tales

October 24, 2010

"[Y]ou just believe a myth. Your faith is in a bunch of fairy tales.” So spoke my atheist friend who was irritated that I was suggesting “my truth” was “truth for him, too.” But I got to thinking: what if my faith really is a myth? What if my faith is only in a “bunch of fairy tales”? This line of inquiry, in fact, was what led the writer C.S. Lewis to embrace Christianity in the first place. A noteworthy literary scholar even at that time, and someone who had given up faith in God, but not the company of God’s good people, Lewis was challenged by fellow author GK Chesterton in this way: if Christianity was a myth, it was the “One True Myth” from which all other myths borrowed, and on which all other myths depended:
What Tolkien showed me was this — that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a pagan story I didn't mind it at all — I was mysteriously moved by it. The reason was that in pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth. (from a conversation between Lewis, Tolkien, and Hugo Dyson)
Chesterton has elsewhere argued for the use of fairy tales for this exact reason. In this sense, then, faith in the One True Fairy Tale is not diminished because we find out the children’s stories we learned to love weren’t really true. On the contrary, Chesterton asserts such children’s stories actually fuel our hope. They feed us and our soul-level suspicion that there really are dragons out there. They encourage us to think—even to know—there really is a prince who must slay him at the cost of his own life:
Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. (“The Red Angel” in Tremendous Trifles, GK Chesterton, p. 86)
So far from harming children’s psychology or spirituality, fairy tales promote the kind of imaginative faith that will allow them to engage their world—the real world—with courage and confidence. On this basis, I guess we should certainly avoid removing all books with weapons in them from our kids’ libraries. While we’re at it, we can teach them that “Santa is real, honey!” And why not? Something akin to Plato’s forms, fairy tales point with a common grace finger to the Ultimate Story of the World: God redeeming sinners at the cost of his own blood. So I conclude: if all this is true of fairy tales, let’s keep spinning them, telling them, sharing them, writing them. Likewise, if that’s true of epic poems, then another helping, please. Which is exactly what we’re doing. Our mission at Ruminate is to create tangible hooks and tactile handles for our faith. We want to remind you with pictures and words that you’re not crazy, there is an order to the chaos, and a happy ending to our misery. If it seems that some, if not much, of what we publish highlights the chaotic side of the equation, you would be correct. But consider that the “happy ending” you crave in what we print might actually best be written with the pen and ink of your own life? Could it be that God might use what we publish, falling, as it often does, within the minor chords of human existence, to inspire you to write the happy ending yourself? These are part of the greater works of which Jesus speaks. The tragedy of his going away was the impetus of the healing of the world. By writing roughly, we aim to breed stout dreamers who learn (by tragedy and trial) that no matter how great the suffering, there comes a day of reckoning when all will be made well, and what is hidden will be revealed. Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. (With thanks to Alicia at love2learnmoments.blogspot.com, accessed on 2-6-2010.)

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