This is a guest post by Brent King.
As a Christian urban fantasy author I have been confronted, as have many of my writing partners, by those who doubt that fantasy, or fairy stories, have any anchor in the real world. Worse yet, some have argued that they take their reader far out of this world into an imaginary place that has no connection to reality.
Is this true? Are fairy stories a mindless waste of time? Do they lure our minds away from reality into an anchorless world of fantasy?
What Fairy Tales Do
It’s true, when we experience a good fairy tale it allows us to open up a place inside of us where we can actually believe its enchantments. It is thrilling to go adventuring with Kyran and Posy, or on a quest with Frodo, but does it really have anything to do with our world?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” Fairy tales:
- give us a lens to see the world in a startling new way.
- help us to see our lives not only as they are, but as they could be (or perhaps should be).
- touch us in their most signature way by how we experience their endings: that sudden, unexpected joy that washes over us in the miraculous grace of what Tolkien called the “eucatastrophe.”
But How Can This Be?
Fairy stories are only successful to the extent that they reflect our world. Who would be moved by a story to which they could not relate? The only reason why the fairy world attracts us is because it is fashioned after the truth of our world.
Indeed the fairy world is our world, a world of wonder we can experience in the real—right now. There is awe, wonder, and amazement in our world. There is beauty and redemption beyond all our evil and brokenness. The problem is that our eyes are often too compromised, shaken, pacified, unfocused, jaded, or injured to see it.
Where Fairy Tales Shine
This is where fantasy shines. In a world where the simple virtues of God have become routine and expected, a fairy tale catches us off-guard and we are surprised by the truth. It breaks through what CS Lewis referred to as our “stained-glass and Sunday school associations,” and the result is pure delight. This was JRR Tolkien’s point in his lecture on fairy tales:
“The peculiar quality of the ”joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.”
Teaching by Delighting
A good story both delights and teaches, and that is the power of a great fairy tale. It teaches by delighting. This anchors the fairy tale deep in the real world, powerfully connecting it to our lives in ways that are essential to society.
Are Fairy Tales A Waste of Time?
Are fairy tales a waste of time? Only if teaching truth is a waste of time. There is realm of awe and wonder in our world, scenes of beauty and redemption, yet many of us would miss them without a good story, indeed, without a grounding fairy tale.