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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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Why I Kissed Self-Esteem Goodbye

It’s a term you can’t avoid hearing in our culture: self-esteem. Think better of yourself. You deserve the best. Be confident in your abilities. If you believe you can do it, you can.

For years I bought into it, too. Finding myself. Finding my worth. Loving myself despite my faults and the “ugly” things about me, inside and out.

Image courtesy of stockimages at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages via freedigitalphotos.net

That’s what the world tells us to do, right?

But then God nudged me awake. And instead of slapping me on the face with the horrible truth as He could have done, He gently and gradually showed me the lie I was holding so dear. You see, the problem with self-esteem, and even self-confidence, is that, well, it’s all about … you guessed it…

Self.

As a Christian who was searching genuinely for the heart of God, truly wishing to make His desires my own, I couldn’t help but see it.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)

What place does self-confidence have if we are to become weaker, so that God is able to become stronger within us? Shouldn’t it rather be called God-confidence?

What place does self-esteem have for someone who delights in weaknesses and insults? Wouldn’t it better be named God-esteem?

The world takes admirable virtues such as esteem and confidence and even love, and turns them inside out, makes them things of selfishness, small and warped, casting shadows into our souls. We let the world feed us these lies because we so ache to believe them.

But then, the best and most believable lies are always laced with a bit of truth, aren’t they? Because, in fact, we are of worth, we do deserve love and esteem. … But not in and of ourselves. Not because of anything we’ve done or ever will do or ever can do.

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Image courtesy of dan via freedigitalphotos.net

No, we deserve these things solely because of Jesus’ love. Jesus’ blood. God’s grace and overwhelming mercy.

Some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known have had no great physical beauty. God’s spirit filled them so completely that they shone with it. Their kindness was a glittering mantle. Their humility was a peaceful balm. The love that came from their eyes dazzled those around them with the undeniable awareness of God’s goodness.

When I think of it that way, my physical attributes seem so remote. My self-esteem and my self-worth fade to insignificance.

I won’t deceive you, it’s hard to do. But don’t ever think that it’s impossible, because it’s not. Just like any journey of the feet, a journey of the heart takes time. It’s painful and wearying … but oh so worth it in the end. Because it leads us closer to God, closer to who He intends us to become.

Self-esteem? I have no use for it. Not in the way the world wants me to, anyway. With my eyes firmly on God’s plan for me, with my desire for His will alone, my self slips into the place it was created to be…

Within Him.

The Author of the Story

I found it amusing, at first, to know that I was writing a story within a story while penning The Word Changers. Now and then I would smile ironically to myself and shake my head. It was just too much fun. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, The Word Changers is about a girl who falls into the pages of a book. She spends almost the entire remainder of the story within that book (a fairy tale, in fact). Yes, with my dry sense of humor I found it incredibly droll to think about that.

But then I reached the part about the Author.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I had it all planned out. I knew the theme I was aiming for. I knew the meaning I wanted to hide within the Hand writing using quill penpages of my story, the meaning that the Author would be a part of. I knew what I was in for. Or so I thought.

Writing about the Author made me start asking my own author-self some questions. And as I wrote the dialogue between the Author and some of his characters within my book, I began to see something happening that I hadn’t planned on at all.

Not, as you might imagine, a change within my story. But a change within myself.

Because, as an author myself, I do care about my characters. I do want what’s best for them. But many times, in order for them to have what’s best, I have to watch them go through some heartache and pain. If I take control of them and force them into roles, put them in just the situations I want them to be in, like chess pieces in a game, what would that say about me? My poor characters would never learn a thing. And they would end their stories just as they began them. Selfish, heart-sore, bitter and broken. Would my love for my characters be truly shown if I allowed that to happen?

This led me, of course, to look at the way God handles us, his “characters.” He allows us to see heartache and pain. We wonder why He doesn’t lift a finger to help us. But His help is often different than the help we demand of Him. It comes in a form that is subtle, sometimes invisible … many times unexpected.

*Spoiler Alert*

In The Word Changers, Posy is imprisoned. While in her cell, she cries out angrily to the Author. He is the one who wrote the story she’s stuck within, isn’t he? Why can’t he change her story, release her from prison? It would be so simple … he would only need to change a few of the story’s words, wouldn’t he? Posy wants the prison doors to be opened for her. She wants to walk straight out of her cell.

Instead, the Author shines down on her in the form of the moon. Gently, silently. And that single ray of moonlight shining into her prison cell is his answer. At first Posy doesn’t see it. Then she realizes she has to work with what she’s given. Her door isn’t thrown open, as she wished. But the shaft of moonlight shows her the way to escape. It’s a painful and difficult escape, but an escape just open bookthe same.

*Spoiler Alert End*

So writing The Word Changers helped me understand God a little better. It made me focus on His eternal intent for me, as opposed to my own petty every-day goals and desires. It made me understand that sometimes the difficult way can be the best way – the way that helps me to grow and learn and become more closely the person God wants me to be. Writing about the Author in my story forced me, for just a small minute, to enter into God’s way of looking at things. And what a different and infinitely superior way of looking at things that is!

That’s just a small part of what God has done for me through the act and process of writing for His glory. I can only hope that you, my readers, will get half the blessing out of reading my book as I did in writing it.

The Fairy Tale Gospel

This is a guest post by Brent King.

Deeper than our deepest longings, fairy tales tell truths about our inner and outer world, truths that are either too obvious for modern men or too truthful. Take, for instance, Little Red Riding Hood. It affirms that the world is dangerous, that there is an evil wolf that will eat us up if given the chance. Yet there is also a huntsman who can slay the wolf and save us. The great themes of sin and redemption are encapsulated in such a story in a clever and deeply symbolic way.

It’s All About the Good News

GK Chesterton said that the deepest truth about fairy tales was not that dragons exist, but that they can be beaten. Who doesn’t see the bad news about dragons? They lurk all around us in our broken world. It’s the good news of their defeat that we need to hear.

The Pagans Knew More!

Many of our modern tales do not reflect this reality. In these stories, the young girl easily defeats the wolf or the protagonist befriends the dragon and they live happily together ever after. Consequently, our children are assured that wolves and dragons can be effortlessly vanquished. The pagans of old knew more about the dragons than we do!dragon and knight2

It Seems Impossible

The good news in those ancient stories is that, beyond all hope, the dragon has been defeated. They are stories that seem impossible. We have all seen the pictures of the hideous monster dwarfing the brave knight wielding a sword. How can that story ever have a happy ending?

Yet it is this hope that lies at the root of our fascination with fairy stories: that good will triumph against all odds. The eucatastrophe, as Tolkien called it, of the fairy tale represents the heart of the Gospel: the dragon has been destroyed. The princess has been rescued, and she will live happily ever after with the prince.

A Primal Story

Fairy tales hold power over the human heart because they reflect the Gospel story, a story that rejects the idea of the princess saving herself. Of course, this is the primal story. It tells of a God who made the world and man. It tells of a malevolent angel’s attack, and man’s defeat and captivity. It was a rout so complete that, to save men, God had to become a man and fight the enemy Himself.

That is What Happened, but We Tell the Story Like This:

Once upon a time there was a lovely damsel who fell in love with a prince. Through her own folly, she was captured by a necromancer, drugged, and confined in his dark tower. The prince disguised himself as a commoner and entered into his shadow-shrouded stronghold to rescue her. But the sorcerer was too strong and slew the prince. Yet he could not combat the ancient magic that brought the prince back to life. The prince subdued the sorcerer and his minions, rescued the princess, and took her back to his kingdom where they lived happily ever after.

An Enduring Story

We tell and retell this story, as if we can’t get enough. Somewhere deep inside, we all know it is true. It awakens our imagination, rousing us in a way that religion cannot. No one, anywhere in this world, is immune to its power. It revives a hope of victory that reaches down into this broken world from beyond.

This is the Fairy Tale Gospel

The fairy tale world shares the darkness of our world, yet its world powerfully pictures a place where marvelous and unbelievable things truly happen, where good battles evil and survives to tell the tale. This is the fairy tale gospel: a gospel that introduces us to the true Gospel so that our once upon a time can indeed become a happily ever after.

 

Brent King is a freelance writer of Christian fantasy and historical fiction from Lake Oswego, Oregon.