Fairy tales are often closer to gospel truth than many of the things that pass under the banner of the gospel these days. From bumps in the night to melting polar ice caps, children are taught to be either helpless or afraid. Fairy tales, by contrast, teach them to rise and conquer.
A fairy tale (or folklore) does not teach evil. Kids already know about evil. They live in a world with plenty of it. What fairy tales do is give birth to the very real idea that dragons can be slain, death stars can be defeated and evil can be beaten.
It was April 2012 and an elementary school in Ohio sent home a note that said a stranger had been seen speaking to some of the students at a popular bakery on their way to school. The headline read, “School Alert: Man Seen Talking to Kids. The situation is now in the hands of the police. Fortunately for us today, all of our children are safe.”
Turns out the man was a local and daily visitor to the bakery and was buying some doughnuts when he stopped and said hello to some of the many familiar kids.
I saw my cousin in the supermarket one day. He was about 8 years old. I jumped out from behind the aisle and gave him a fright, as you do. He ran home screaming. He thought I was there to commit some unspeakable act he had heard about from his teacher during a stranger danger lesson.
Poor kid. He had no defence, only fear.
When one of my daughters was two and a half she decided to climb up to the top of the jungle playground in a local park. Frightened parents looked on and wondered where the parents were. We were right there, quietly cheering her on. No point freezing her with fear half way up.
The dangers in life are real, no two ways about it. But it’s our crippled, anti-gospel response and 11-year-olds reaching for the Xanax in order to cope with their fears that has my attention just now.
The gospel teaches us that evil is real. But it also teaches us that the evil can be broken. For this reason, Jesus came into the world: To kill the dragon and get the girl. Which He did. It is the event upon which all our fairy tales and folklores get their meaning and why it matters that we learn their lessons.
Our stuffy scientific rationalism has taught us to believe that realism is all that has value and that fantasy is useless. Thing is, my kids never had a nightmare after watching Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. They fell asleep with thoughts of conquest, which I trust will manifest itself in full-throttled wisdom and courage when they are grown.
They do, however, risk a few nightmares after accidentally watching an Al Gore documentary or the evening news.
C. S. Lewis dealt with the problem head-on. He said that stories which promote realism, that is, the story doesn’t break any law of nature (like flying men) or that include themes which are probable – though highly unlikely (like winning Wimbledon, or every child getting a trophy) are more deadly than fairy tales in that they tend to provoke resentment and anger.
People like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers were among a very small group of people in the last 100 years who actually knew what the victory of the gospel implied, and so it found a home among their tales.
It would be nice if no child were ever frightened. But if they are going to be frightened, let it be coupled with a readiness to do battle. And let their courage bubble up, not from another dose of Xanax, but from thoughts of Samwise, Gretel and St. George.