Preparing Your Children for the One True Fairy Tale
To Harry Potter, or not to Harry Potter: that is the question.
Or to state it more plainly, how should Christian parents engage the world of myths, fantasies, and fairy tales? I understand some parents feel the need to protect their children from worldly myths, but I want to suggest that in so doing they may unwittingly be training their children to embrace the world’s greatest myth of all.
Allow me to explain.
The lie that will be repeatedly told to your child, both overtly and covertly, is that the physical world and natural order is the exclusive reality. This is the essence of the secular age we inhabit. That “this” is all that there is. That what is true is only what can be evidenced by the physical senses.
That, my friends, is the greatest myth of all, and we must learn to train our children to renounce this heresy of secularism. But how? There are many answers to that question, but one of the most effective is to let your children get lost in a world that is not secular, whether that be “Hogwarts” or a “galaxy far, far away.”
Believe it or not, it was myths that converted C.S. Lewis from his staunch atheism. His fellow Oxford professor, J.R.R. Tolkien, asked him to consider that fairy tales were only partly wrong. Tolkien claimed that fantasy is indeed untrue but not completely untrue.
These stories we tell ourselves—stories of supernatural battles, of good triumphing over evil, of escaping death and living forever, of tragedy giving way to victory—are not merely a way of coping with our reality but instead speak to a far greater reality that we are all a part of.
In other words, our fairy tales are of course untrue, but they point to something that is absolutely true. Tolkien convinced Lewis this was the case, and that the story of Jesus was not just one of many myths, but the one true myth to which all other myths point. That’s what eventually led C.S. Lewis to believe in Jesus and become one of Christianity’s greatest apologists.
Do you see Tolkien’s wisdom when it comes to our parenting? Allowing our children to encounter and even “believe” (children don’t cognitively believe like we believe. They have an ability to get lost in fantasy without detaching from reality) in fantasy is one of the greatest ways to prepare them to believe in the true and better story to which all other stories point. Or to put it negatively, to deprive them of fantasy is to reinforce the lie of our secular age that there is no fantasy.
What if our novels and films were both untrue and true? Untrue because they are fantasies 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 love to 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 any more than Harry Potter can see J.K. Rowling, but there are signposts everywhere that we exist within a story written by an author.
So then the question of questions becomes this: Who is this author, and what is this story? Now we come to the utterly exclusive and compelling story of Jesus Christ.
He did not claim to be a character within our story; He claimed to be the Author entering into his own story. And not only did He claim it, He proved it.
Do you know what Easter 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 story of Jesus Christ.
What if fairy tales weren’t necessarily fairy tales? Would it not be the greatest news of all to discover that the cruel world as we know it is going to give way to the beautiful world we read of in our stories? Well this is precisely the promise of Easter. Jesus is risen as the invasion of a new story, a story that’s going to actually end happily ever after.
So let your kids indulge a bit in myths that point to the true myth, and tell them with audacious certainty that the story they want to be true will indeed one day come true.
Allow me to conclude with Tolkien’s conclusion in his famous 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 gospel has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.”