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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About bookishashlee

Ashlee is the author of The Word Changers, a Christian YA fantasy that released June 2014.

Posted on February 7, 2014, in Christian, fairy tales, fantasy, Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I enjoyed this post! I, too, love to read fairy tales as a grown woman. Both my children enjoy them as well. I’m looking forward to your book release! Blessings to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your take on this Ashlee! I have also pondered the same things and written a quite a bit about it on my blog. One of my favorite philosophers, Peter Kreeft (he wrote The Philosophy of Tolkien), gives a great analogy for what is happening with fantasy:

    “Let’s use the image of water. A city is surrounded by walls and it is fighting a war. The enemy is trying to knock down the walls, but they can’t do it because the walls are too strong. Then a great rainstorm comes. As the rain suddenly gets underneath the walls and softens the ground, the walls fall down and the city is conquered.
    Rational arguments are like bullets. They’re useful, but if we’re going to conquer the city that is the world, we need rain and not just bullets. Images and attractive symbols are like the rain. They soften the ground as they seep into the unconscious. Lewis called it “baptizing the imagination.”

    This is so great! Anyway, I enjoyed your post a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow … what an awesome quote!! Absolutely perfect for the idea I was trying to get across. Just love that. I am definitely going to have to read that book! I’m so glad you stopped by and enjoyed the post, Brent! I’m going to head over to your blog and take a look around now 🙂

      Like

  3. Pepper J. Darcy

    This was beautiful! I mean absolutely beautiful. I agree 100% with everything, both as an adult woman, a reader of fantasy, and as a writer of fantasy/fairytales.

    We tend to forget that, as Christians our own story, the Creation, the Fall, our Redemption, and the Life God gives us after death, all have elements that are often times vital to fairytales, and in a sense, what with Christ dying to redeem us from God’s wrath, the miracles He preformed, it’s a fairytale in a sense. Creation around us is truly beautiful, good and wonderful in every single sense of the word! It’s common to us, but think of how extraordinary it actually is? Even colour… how it’s such a creative, singularly beautiful facet of creation. We don’t have Elves and fairies and goblins, but maybe our bears and panthers and dinosaurs are fairytales according to them 😉

    Not in the sense that it’s untrue, but in the since that it is wonderful and heroic and beautiful. It’s absolutely true, but all of those elements in our history are the elements we pour back into our fantasy epics. We have hope, and– above all else, a true fantasy epic in the purest sense gives the reader hope. Not false, wishy-washy hope that we get from Disney princess stories, even though some of those are beautiful… but deep, meaningful hope that we can take from the fantasy realm and apply to our everyday lives.

    And this was beautiful! I loved it so much! ❤ Thank you for sharing this! I've only read this post, but I am absolutely, totally in love with your blog now. Totally following you! ❤

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    • Oh, Pepper, how very honored I am! I’m so glad you enjoyed my post 🙂 You are right, the “fairy tale” is all around us, if we only have the eyes to see it. Isn’t that such a wonderful thought?! …and welcome to my blog!! Going to check yours out now 😉

      Like

  4. Wow, I LOVE this post. I am new to your work, but… I am looking forward to The Word Changers. I have it on my wish list. Thank you for sharing… Blessings.

    Like

  5. Ps. I agree with Pepper!! I am also following you and look forward to MORE!

    Liked by 1 person

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