As part of the ongoing Flashback Friday series, here is a post whose content originally appeared in June 2014.
G. K. Chesterton wrote about a great many matters, including fairy tales, and I’m not going to try to capture the entirety of his thoughts on the subject. However, three of his essays present some very interesting thoughts: “Dragooning the Dragon,” “The Red Angel,” and “The Dragon’s Grandmother” (the latter two are online as part of his collection, Tremendous Trifles, available through the Gutenberg Project). In “The Dragon’s Grandmother,” he writes that the following:
“[F]airy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward, but…this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible. Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine but that the soul is sick and screaming.”
He feels that realism lends itself to a boring tale, for once you get over the sickness and strangeness, the extraordinariness of the hero, the rest of it is all dull, whereas the “wise old tales made the hero ordinary and the tale extraordinary.”
The primary focus of “The Red Angel” and “Dragooning the Dragon” is an argument against the idea that fairy tales are bad things to read to children (or even as adults) because of their scary content and cruelty. He writes:
“Children, it appears, are not to read about giants and witches because it will encourage cruelty…[However] at the four corners of the child’s bed stand Perseus and Roland, Sigurd and St. George. If you withdraw the guard of heroes, you are not making him rational; you are only leaving him to fight the devils alone. For the devils, alas, we have always believed in.”
I like how he sums it up: “The child learns without being taught that life contains some element of enmity. His own dreams would provide him with dragons; what the legend provides is St. George.”
If we believe that the world is a fantastical place, where things beyond chemical reactions occur, then why should we discourage our children or our friends from reading about them? Why shouldn’t they read good fantasy, good fairy tales, since that is the primary genre where we can lift the curtain and see the spiritual workings directly? It may be far more comfortable to think that life goes on without such warfare, such darkness and evil and goodness and light, but that will not make it more true. If we live in a battlefield, as C. S. Lewis suggests in The Screwtape Letters, then the more we ignore the spiritual side of things, the easier we are to defeat.
One of the primary objections I have heard against fantasy and fairy-tales is that they occur in worlds that aren’t true, and as such, they present an inaccurate and “unscriptural” theology. But I would think it far more dangerous if they were suggesting that their world was ours, for then we would perhaps try to incorporate their world into ours and reach a state of heresy. Fantasy writers usually aren’t saying their worlds work exactly like ours. They are often saying that their worlds are a mirror, however murky, reflecting the inner workings of aspects of our world, and it is up to us to decipher where the similarities exist and where they end. They may have dragons; we may only have devils, but the darkness is just as real in our world as it is in theirs, and we are equally in need of heroes who take a stand against it.
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by mzacha, Creative Commons