What If Fairytales Weren’t Fairytales After All?
Wow. Apparently the whole Santa discussion is a bigger deal than I realized. Last week’s blog post struck a nerve, and led to a lot of great follow-up and questions. It seems the more broader philosophical discussion about myths was particularly interesting and paradigm shifting for many people. Several have asked me to comment more on this idea, so I will do that, but please know I am only putting into words what much greater minds have said—specifically Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Taylor via James Smith, and Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes of course).
We humans are caught within the tension of two competing narratives—the way things are and the way things ought to be. The way things are is obviously the world as we experience it. The way things ought to be is the world as we imagine it, the world we create through story.
Story telling is a fundamental instinct of human beings, as expansive as our cultures and as ancient as our languages. These stories, at least the popular ones, tell of a better world—a world with super heroes and super powers, a world of untold beauty and glory, where good ultimately triumphs over evil, where all satisfying love is attainable, where the end is not death but happily ever after.
But of course we all know these are just stories and nothing more. It’s fun to get lost in them, but any rational person knows that they are nothing more than a Darwinian instinct that aids our survival by infusing wonder into an otherwise depressing reality. As the then atheistic C.S. Lewis said to his colleague Tolkien, myths are nothing but “lies though breathed through silver.”
But are they?
What if that secular assumption was itself the great lie?
What if our stories spoke to something that was just as true as the data that comes from a laboratory?
What if the deeper human instincts, which cannot be tested—things like purpose, love, hope, and morality—were just as real and reliable as the human senses, which can be tested?
What if our stories were cracks in the secular (Taylor), windows through the four walls of materialism (Tolkien)?
What if our novels and films were both untrue and true? Untrue because they are figments of human imagination; true because they are portals into another reality, a greater reality of which our physical reality is a part not the whole.
What if we tell stories because we are made in the image of a God who Himself is telling a story that we are all a part of? We certainly cannot see this God anymore than Harry Potter can see J.K. Rowling, but there are signposts everywhere that we exist within a story written by an Author.
(As a brief aside, I saw Interstellar last week and it is the secular’s attempt to explain these signposts yet remain within the closed system of the physical space and time. It’s a good attempt, but ironically just reinforces that we know something has to exist beyond us)
Well all this philosophy is well and good, but let us state the obvious: we know it’s not true. Superman will never save the day. Peter Pan’s Neverland will never be found. And of course I agree…but only partly. Partly because I believe Superman is the shadow of a substance that truly does exist, and the substance is Jesus.
There is something utterly exclusive and compelling about Jesus Christ.
He did not claim to be a character within our story; He claimed to be the incarnation of the Author of the story.
He did not claim citizenship of a kingdom of this world; He claimed to be the invasion of the Kingdom of God.
And not only did He claim it, He proved it.
The historical reality of His resurrection from the dead is the cosmic display that His is the one true myth. It’s not that all myths are mere fanciful, rather it’s that all myths point to the one true myth, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every story we tell bears witness to the one true story conceived within the council of the Triune God.
The Father is the Author, the Spirit the Director, and in the grandest of all plot twists, the Son enters into the story to become its main character and Hero.
What if fairy tales weren’t necessarily fairy tales? Would it not be the greatest news of all to discover that the world as we know it is going to give way to the world as we long to know it? Well this is the news of the good news of the gospel. And Jesus is risen to prove this glorious news can be indulged.
I’ll close with the conclusion of Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories:
“It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true…The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind…But this story is supreme; and it is true…Legend and History have met and fused…The Evangelium (gospel) has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.”