Fairy Tales That Aren’t Fairy Tales

OnceUponATimeAlthough I read more fantasy than anything else, there are a great many books that I consider favorites that are from a variety of other genres. And many of them, now I think of it, are really fairytales at heart.

I don’t mean “fairytales” in the sense that they include fairies or magic or other worlds. I mean they are tales that tell us something more about ourselves, or perhaps about others, that we might never have seen otherwise. Something that’s so close to our own heart’s desire that we read the story and know we will never forget it, never be the same again, whether it’s romance, fantasy, mystery, contemporary, or any other genre.

So what makes a story a “fairytale” in this sense? Instead of describing it to you, I’ll do one better, and illustrate examples of what I mean. None of these are traditional fairytales – not even close. Their outer workings illustrate in stark detail the inner workings that have meaning to each and every one of us. They have elements of the eternal in them.

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES: Finally Seeing What’s Right Before Your Eyes
Is there any girl who is capable of not feeling something for this story? Anne is stubborn, and hot-tempered, and sharp-tongued … and utterly lovable. That’s something most of us can relate to. She also happens to be an extreme romantic – so extreme, in fact, that she can’t see the true anne and gilbert hair pullinglove staring her in the face in the form of her childhood friend, Gilbert. Anne longs for a tall, dark man to sweep her off her feet, and in the end she finally (whew!) sees that her best chance of happiness (and romance, for that matter!) is with the man who stood by her through everything, challenged her when she was wrong or unrealistic, laughed at her and taught her to laugh at herself. Anne saw that true love and romance lie in small things just as much (sometimes even more so) as in the large things. Did the scenarios in her wild imagination ever make their way into her real life? No. And was her story’s ending any less of a fairytale because they didn’t? Nope. It’s sweet, and it’s romantic, and in its way it was, after all, everything Anne had ever dreamed of. It was a fairytale.

PERSUASION: Strength and Second Chances
As I grow older I learned to appreciate this story of Jane Austen’s much more than I did when I first read it as a teenager. It has such a sweet, subtle message of hope. Anne Elliot (another Anne!) had a chance at true love when she was younger, but made the heartbreaking mistake of abandoning it due to the influences of others. She lived for several years in regret, always with a sense of sadness and disappointment beneath. Every day in the back of her mind was the realization of this huge mistake she had made in letting her beloved Captain Wentworth go. But she got a second chance – a second chance! How many of us have longed for such a thing in our lives! I know I have. But it’s rare that anyone gets one. Anne’s Captain returned, their love faced trials, it rekindled from the ashes, and returned stronger than it had been. And watching Anne learn to know herself better, learn to be strong and stand for what she believed, despite the bullying of others – that’s inspiration. That, to me, is like a fairytale.

old.man.and.the.seaTHE OLD MAN AND THE SEA: Never Give Up
A man who arm wrestles for more than 24 hours, until his fingernails are dripping blood, is a man to watch. You can’t not want to see what he will do. And he does not disappoint. Santiago is methodic, he is observant, he is wise, and he is feeling. Most of all, though, he is determined. When he decides on the fish he wishes to catch, he doesn’t stop until he catches it. You can almost feel your heart break for him as the story progresses, slowly going from bad to worse, until Santiago finally catches the fish he has dreamed of … and dies from the struggle. What always struck me about this short masterpiece was the old man’s fire and grit. How could it fail to? It’s a feeling I’ve known myself – and a feeling that many people, sadly, would label as fanatic or extreme. No matter what you think of Santiago’s actions, I dare you not to admire him, or perhaps even to cry a bitter tear for his fate. Dying in the pursuit of a heart’s desire, whatever that desire might be? Call it what you will – I call it a fairytale.

So, you see, there are books upon books, stories upon stories, that contain bits and pieces of “fairytale” in them. And in the end, maybe it’s not so much “fairytale” that we see in these books as it is a part of our very selves, or the promise of what we may someday become if we wish to.

The above stories are ones that have affected me greatly over the years, taught me things about myself and others that I may never have seen before. And there are many others where those came from.

But I’m curious – what are the books that have impacted your heart? Which stories, no matter where they fall on the scale between fantastical and realistic, have made you long to become something more, or have made you feel more alive?

THE WORD CHANGERS: Cover Reveal and Giveaway This Wednesday

book3I’m very delighted to announce that the lovely fantasy author, Anne Elisabeth Stengl, will be hosting a cover reveal for my book, The Word Changers, this Wednesday, February 19, on her blog. If you are not already a fan of her blog, please don’t wait until Wednesday to check it out! She has a wonderful and witty archive of posts to browse through, not to mention a truly beautiful series of books called The Tales of Goldstone Wood.

The cover reveal will include a book giveaway as well, so don’t forget to sign up for that! I will be giving away one signed copy when the book is released in June, but you will need to enter the giveaway on Wednesday!

For a description of The Word Changers head here, and to visit Anne Elisabeth’s blog click here.

Fairy Tales … Truer Than Real Life?

Escapist. Nonsensical. Childish. Delusional.

Those are the words that come to mind when many people think of reading fairytales and fantasy. Far-off worlds full of mythical creatures and over-blown heroism. Dragons, swords, magic, fairies, and epic battles. What could be further removed from reality …. right?

For the longest time, when asked what I was reading, I would list off my most recent historical fiction or non-fiction read, and skip dragon4
right over the fantasies and fairy tale retellings that were my true favorites. What would people think if they knew a grown woman loved reading those types of books more than anything else?

But one day I decided to take a close, honest look at my hesitancy, and I found that this tactic stemmed not from what others thought of me, but from the misguided embarrassment that I myself felt. As an inward person, an analyzer, the question I asked myself next came very naturally:

Why do I love reading fantasy so much? And not only as an adult, but as a Christian?

I knew down deep the answer couldn’t really be what I feared it was – that my thoughts, emotions and tastes were childish. But if not, then what was the reason … the deeper reason?

Here are my conclusions:

Fairytales promote a desire for … other. Not a desire for fire-breathing dragons to terrorize your city block, or a desire for fantastical battles to happen on your front lawn, but a desire for “something beyond.” Children’s Christian fantasy writer and theologian C.S. Lewis argues that “this desire for something beyond does not empty the real world, but actually gives it new depths.”

Fantasy transforms our perception of reality. But what the best fantasy does, in my opinion, is to transform it into something truer, and more real, than it was to begin with. When I am immersed in a world of fairytale, its characters, its whimsy, its dangers and its heroes, I see each as a sort of echo from my own heart. An echo of the things I know to be good and pure and just and true and lovely from my own experience, from life itself, and even from God’s word.

Let’s imagine that you take a virtue such as bravery or love or forgiveness and wrap it in a shining fairy world. Go ahead – bury it deep within, mix its essence right into the story’s very structure and life. Now – give the story to someone whose heart has ignored that virtue, shelved it away in a dark, cobwebbed corner of her heart. She will plunge into the story, drawn in by its many facets and adventures. Then she will stumble, as if by accident, upon something – see something golden and true flit out of the corner of her eye.

once upon a time2And just like that, she’s found it – she’s found the hidden virtue, the truth beneath the illusion. And the finding of that one simple truth will be more amazing and delicious than if it been handed to her on a golden platter in broad daylight. When something is found in this way, and its unexpected whisper is heard through the pages of a story, the truth of it can resound stronger and further than a shout, or a sermon, or a real-world book with a supposed real-world message.

Fairytales and fantasy stories stand out in shocking relief from the dullness of life. The best and most thoughtfully told ones offer a new, bright way to discover something that our hearts have known all along. Maybe it’s a discovery of forgiveness, faith, or bravery. Maybe it’s seeing God in a brand new way.

I have often felt, when reading fantasy (Christian fantasy even more so) that the story holds a light. For many years I felt that light was shining into the stories, showing me their secrets. Now I know that the light comes from the words of the stories themselves, and it shines outward into me, if I allow it. A light that shows us new things is a wonderful thing. But a light that shows us the great things within ourselves that have been there, hiding in the dark, all along … now that’s a light I will go to some trouble to find.

Jesus Himself told fairytales of a sort; the Bible calls them parables. He knew that sometimes a direct message falls on deaf ears or sinks and disappears into a jaded heart. He knew that the truth laid out flat is not always the path to true understanding and wisdom. And He understood that a story, spun with imagination and deep meaning, can lead the lost home again.

I no longer worry when someone gives me an odd look after I confess to reading fairytales, or when I tell them I write fantasy. I just breathe a silent wish that they will one day see fairytales for what they truly are: not stories set apart from reality, but a way of taking life’s tired and faded truths and uncovering the vibrant colors hiding just beneath.


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A Teller of Tales

“Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart longs for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.” – W.B. Yeats

I love this.

For I’m a teller of tales, constantly reaching to seize what my heart longs for. That next perfect word, that world only I can see, that turn of phrase, essence of place, note of book1longing, glimmer of hope.

I discovered long ago the miracle the God gave me: that within me lies a kingdom. And knowing this about myself, I realize it must be true of others as well. We have worlds within us … did you know that? Did you possibly guess?

Whether you write about that kingdom, whether you live it, or speak it, or pray it, or even ignore it … it’s there.

Everything exists. Every possibility. Every promise. Every joy. Reach out and take it – it was God’s gift to you long ago, even before you were born.

I write the worlds within me. I glorify God’s Kingdom by writing of the kingdoms in my imagination, of thrones, of heroes, of evil and triumph, of battles lost and won.

Tell me, how do you give life to the world within you?