Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Literary Magic: Fairy Tales

     Now that I have time, I figured I'd come back and finish up this series. You wouldn't think it, but these posts are incredibly difficult to write. You could probably write a book on this subject, or at the very least an essay, which several people have done (and by several I mean 2).

     What on earth, then, should Christians do with the magic they find in literature? What should we do with stories like fairy tales and myths? It's a fair question, in my opinion. The way we understand the nature of magic and the way it relates to our faith also determines what we do and do not find acceptable in our literature. We see a lot of magic in literature and on film these days from Harry Potter to The Chronicles of Narnia. From Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings. From Star Wars to Frozen. Is literary magic something Christians are allowed to enjoy? Do we have to feel a little bit guilty when we pop in Sleeping Beauty or are we actually allowed to enjoy these things? I thought I'd start off this discussion by looking at a common magical culprit: the fairy tale.

     Just, before I even start on this, just know a couple people have already tackled this topic. I've included some of their essays at the end of this post. If you want, just read those, because I can say nothing about Fairy Tales that wasn't said a billion times better by Tolkien. But I do think I have more of an apologetic perspective on the matter than Tolkien. I'm not sure it ever occurred to him that fairy tale magic might prove controversial in Christian circles. He certainly thought (and I agree) that you couldn't even have a fairy tale without magic, and I think that's what makes the genre relevant here. I hope to show that there is no biblical reason that Christians should be banned from fairy tales.

     A fairy tale is a story that deals with a completely different set of issues than other fantastical tales like legends or myths. Fairy tales do not seek to ask the 'big questions' nor do they seek to give any 'big answers' to those questions. Rather, fairy tales and the magic in them are more in line with the idea of natural and fairy magic I discussed in previous posts (in which (I hope) I demonstrated that these kinds of magic are not necessarily forbidden or condemned by the Bible). Fairy tales take the idea that there are creatures and powers in this world that we cannot see and explores what that means.  

     Fairy tales take the reality of magic and magical creatures for granted. These things aren't supernatural by any means, fairies and the magic of plants and animals are more natural, in some ways, than we are. The purpose of a fairy tale is in some sense moral and in another sense practical. Fairy tales are meant to teach the hidden nature of the world around us. Always be polite to strangers because you can never be completely sure who you're talking to. Don't cross certain boundaries. Don't take things that don't belong to you. Fairy tales are meant to demonstrate physically the hidden rules and realities of the world around us.

       So, what should Christians make of fairy tale magic in books and film (visual literature)? As always we should be discerning. Is what is being depicted the kind of magic prohibited by the Bible? If the magic being portrayed is of the natural or fairy ilk is that really so bad? I would argue no.   The kind of magic you find in fairy tales or Disney movies isn't really a problem, because it isn't really magic in the way we define the term. Instead it's an extension of the natural world. The earth has certain properties that, if properly understood can be used by a character, or if incorrectly understood can harm a character. The earth is home to more creatures than just us, and we shouldn't really interact with them, but what should we do if they decide to interact with us? How should we treat these creatures?

It seems obvious to us today that fairies don't exist, that the earth doesn't have any magical properties, so can fairy tales really still have any value at all?  I would argue yes, again. Fairy tales are not centered around a moral (that kind of story is a fable, or a parable), they are not allegorical, rather morals and lessons subtly infuse the story. Fairy tales were designed to delight primarily, but also to teach. Christians believe that there are moral laws, laid down by God, that infuse the world we live in, Natural laws (natural law is not the same as laws of nature, which are physical. Rather, they are moral laws, the knowledge of which is available to all thinking creatures. They are universally binding like the laws of nature, but rational creatures can choose to disobey them, unlike laws of nature). Fairy tales, through their use of Faerie, of natural magic help shed light on the nature and character of Natural law, what it is, how you should apply it to your life, and the consequences of breaking or keeping it. Fairies and their magic belong solely to nature, they act as a manifestation of the abstract world we live in, and it seems to me that this is the sort of thing that Christians should really appreciate.

Magic is an incredibly useful tool in literature. It raises the moral stakes of a story. You can tell more easily in a fairy tale what is good and what is evil because of the magic that is used. Magic makes the villains more villainous and the heroes more heroic. It's a necessary aspect of the fairy tale because its a story that describes what happens when our world intersects with another, what happens when the rules that are binding on both worlds are challenged. And that's a beautiful and worthy thing in my opinion.


     I'm not alone in my acceptance of fairy tales. I can bring to their defense two of the best Christian authors of the twentieth century: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I won't take the time here to fully lay out their position of the matter. Those interested can read what they have to say for themselves (and I highly recommend reading these works if you are working in the fairy tale genre). You can find some of their works on the topic here: [X]  [X] [X] [X


  1. This is very interesting! Thank you for taking the time to investigate this.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! :D


Ok children, here are some ground rules. Keep all posts clean and polite. Flamers and Trollers (unless they are legitimately funny) will be hunted down and destroyed. You are allowed to have, and express, your own opinion but make sure to keep it respectful or else I shall get very cross :).