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Fairy Tales: Eternal hope in a melancholy world

We don't read fairy tales to escape reality - think CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein or JK Rowling (initals required) - but because they are able to draw us out of self love and cynicism into bigger stories, even while we remain in our small situations. By carrying us into their semi-reality they take us into underlying reality.

Erik Davies observes that Tolkein's stories offer "eternal hope in a melancholy world". Tolkein argues that "people sense that such stories point to some underlying Reality. As we read or watch them, we are being told that the world is certainly filled with danger . . . nonetheless there is a meaning to things, there is a difference between good and evil, and above all there will be a final defeat of evil . . .the gospel story of Jesus is the underlying Reality to which all the stories point. . . it is the true story; it happened".

Don't we long for such stories?
Wherever we find ourselves looking we long for better, for more... what if someone could come and console those hopes with a true story?
Wouldn't you want that?

Tim Keller (afterword to his book King's Cross) "Steven Spielberg was refused any Oscars until he stopped making movies with only happy endings, yet his fairy tale-ending movies are his most popular. . . critics observe this and scowl that, of course, "escapist" stories will always be popular".

Personally, I want my boys to grow up with fairy tales, the fictious ones and the one that came true. I'll read Lewis and Tolkein and Potter and The Jesus Storybook Bible with them. I want them to dream and imagine - you can't suppress those things so it'd be better to enflame and encourage them.

In The Return of the King Tolkein has some of his most famous writing (The Fields of Cormallen, Book V, Chapter IV)
Sam lay back, and started with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last has gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” “A great shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed. “How do I feel?” he cried. “Well I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” – he waved his arms in the air – “I feel like spring after winter....
A bit like Michael Ward's observation that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe tells the story of "winter past and guilt forgiven". For some reason, we long for the Spring and Summer... for new life, for longer days and sunnier skies... ours is an inconsolable longing. That frustrating sense of eternity in our hearts that makes us perceive more without being able to get our hands on it ourselves. Which makes us long to climb the ladder without ever reaching the top. We need someone who can satisfy us, one who can fulfill the great stories, a true hero who wins through weakness, a suffering and sacrificial servant... a true and better Frodo, a true and better Aslan, a true and better Harry Potter...


  1. Great post Bish. The Tolkien extract is delightful. My thoughts increasingly run along these lines, increasingly I'm convinced the wisdom of fairytales will put to shame those who prefer melancholy endings and shades of grey because 'that's what life is really like'.

    It depends on your view of the world, if you believe in an ultimate happy ending, then you don't sour at fairytales as 'moderns' do. If you don't believe in an ultimate happy ending then the pain and disappointment of longing for one while believing that there isn't will result in cynicism and bitterness.

    We can rejoice in stories that point towards the gospel! The stories we make and tell can adorn it, and draw people to Christ like the wisdom of Solomon. (Let's not talk about tools for evangelism, but gospel-shaped and gospel-soaked lives.)


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