Are Fairy Tales a Waste of Time?

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 snow-white-933491really 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.

take-532097Where 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.


Brent KingBrent King is a freelance writer of Christian urban fantasy from Lake Oswego, Oregon. He also works as a massage therapist and health consultant. He has two sons, 20 and 23, who live in British Columbia, Canada.
Brent’s first book, The Grip of Grace: God’s Hand in The Lord of the Rings, was published in January, 2014. His debut novel, The Fiercest Fight, was published in November 2015.
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A Thing or Two About the Phoenix


1.  A phoenix can live between 500 and 1000 years, at the end of which it will build a nest and ignite, burn fiercely, and be reborn from its own ashes.

2.  The Roman poet Ovid maintained that the phoenix was not necessarily reborn from its own ashes, but that it would burst into flames while giving birth to a newborn phoenix.

3.  According to Greek mythology, the phoenix lived in Phoenicia near a well. In the morning it would bathe in the well and sing its melodious song, which was so beautiful that the sun god, Helios, would stop his chariot to listen.

4.  A phoenix’ cry is like a beautiful song.

5.  The phoenix, unsurprisingly, is mostly used to be symbolic of rebirth, resurrection, and immortality.

6.  Fitting so closely with Christian themes, it is no surprise that Christians have used the phoenix as a symbol for many centuries. Pope St. Clement (in 96 A.D.) used the phoenix to prove Jesus’ resurrection (hmm …).

7.  Jewish culture also has a story about the phoenix (Hol). It was the only animal allowed to remain in the Garden of Eden, all because it refused to eat the forbidden fruit. For its obedience, God granted it immortality.

8.  In ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology, the phoenix is associated with the sun god.

9,  What does it look like? Many accounts agree a phoenix is of about the size and general appearance of an eagle, although different cultures and accounts describe it also as looking like a heron, a peacock or a stork. The French author Voltaire describes it as having mild and tender eyes, plumage of a thousand shades of gold, and feet of purple and silver.

10.  What does it eat? Ovid said it ate only frankincense and gums. Others say it lives off only dew. Some say it eats nothing at all.

11.  Phoenixes in literature: The Phoenix Bird by Hans Christian Andersen, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (Fawkes), The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit, The Tempest by William Shakespeare.

12.  In zoology, there is an animal family called Phoenicopteridae (of which flamingos are a part), which means “phoenix-winged.”phoenix

13.  It is said by some that only those who possess magic abilities can call on a phoenix in times of need.

14.  During the Renaissance, the phoenix was a popular emblem of people like Queen Elizabeth I (who used the phoenix as a royal badge) and even Joan of Arc. The phoenix has also been used through the ages as a symbol on both family crests and shields.

15.  During the Classic time period, the name of the phoenix was associated with the color purple.

16.  Many cultures believes that only one phoenix can be in existence at a time.

What a rich canvas of possible meanings and story ideas! The phoenix is definitely a mythical creature I’d love to write about one day. How about you?!