Think back to the stories that have shaped or impacted you… what about those stories stood out to you? What principles could you draw from them? It is probably true that the stories that stood out had a message that resonated. It doesn’t matter what age you were when you heard or read the story, you understood the message the story was communicating. Stories act as a medium in which to convey truth and principles about the human condition, and one of the most effective genres for this is children’s fantasy literature. Children’s fantasy literature is so effective because when written well, fantasy can convey truth in an easily understandable way and can take the reader out of the immanent and connect them to the transcendent.
Before we can dive into this discussion, sufficient foundation needs to be laid, specifically on what the transcendent is. The transcendent is what is holy, important, or venerated, versus what is normal, physical, or natural. Imagine a chasm, on one side is what we can physically feel and on the other side is what we should be feeling: reality and truth. This chasm impacts the way we view and interact with the world around us. For example, an author’s outlook on the world around is shaped by how he relates to truth. If he or she is coming from a Christian worldview they will interact within the lens of the gospel. Whether someone realizes it or not, when writing, every author is attempting to communicate how they view truth; both its existence and how we as humans interact with it. This is especially true in children’s fantasy literature.
Why is this the case, why is children’s fantasy such a good medium for conveying truth? Firstly, this is the case because like the biblical parables of Jesus, children’s fantasy makes easy to understand truth palatable to a difficult audience. Let’s look at the parable of the talents Matthew 24:14-30. In this passage, Jesus uses a story to connect with His audience. Christ creates a story that presents the truth about Israel’s rejection of the Messiah and he does so in a way that most people can understand. He never came out and explicitly stated, “this is what my story is about” but the principles are so clearly presented that the audience didn’t need an explanation. Fantasy literature does this the same way.
How does fantasy literature convey truth and principles so effectively? Children’s fantasy literature is a genre that forces an author to interact with the human condition on it’s most basic level. When writing, whether perceived or not, an author is forced to wrestle with and display his own unique worldview, the perspectives on the questions everyone is trying to answer: Why we are here? Where are we going? Is there a god? All have to be answered because the author of children’s fantasy has to create a world outside of the world we live in. He has to craft a universe that contains elements of the real world, while at the same time creating something other, something outside, the realm we interact with everyday. This decision of what elements of the real to construct into the created, along with showing how the human character is going to interact with them, forces a author to come to grips with how they truly perceive reality. Imagined characters displayed through writing are forced to display who they are to their readers. They are forced to have every thought and action displayed in order for the reader to understand and truly relate with each character. On a smaller level this can be seen in the parables of Christ, and fantasy acts the same way. The student christian organization is the place where you can find all information from the journal of Christian education.
Another thing that makes fantasy stories so effective is how those stories mimic the greatest story, the gospel. This can be seen by how fantasy stories force the reader to interact with their content. The author creates a world that is similar to our own. The world created in the fictional story is similar enough to ours that it makes it easy for a child to glean truth from the lessons and situations the characters experience. Secondly, the world that is created is unique enough that it displays worlds where situations outside of our normal day life that otherwise wouldn’t be possible are possible. This forces the reader to infer meaning or judgement onto the situations that are presented, and thus asks the child to search for truth and meaning as they judge what was presented to them. Third, fantasy can act as a mirror in which a reader can see themselves. Stories engage our innate moral, intellect, and will, the very things that makes us human. They depict the core of human nature giving a stage for truth to be presented as anthesis to it. The gospel does all of these things in our own life. The gospel shows truth. The gospel forces us to see the characters, in this case us, as who we really are, broken fallen, and sinful creatures.
Like the ancient ruins carved onto the stone table in the in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, that tell the true story of Aslan’s death, so too fantasy stories can act as the ruins of the greatest story, the story of Christ’s death. Fantasy stories are so effective because they largely echo the greatest story. The fantasy stories should and often contain elements of the gospel: self sacrifice, true love, redemption. The gospel is the greatest of these stories because it is true, because it contains these elements in a way that hasn’t been tainted by sin . All of creation is this myth, a grand story that is woven together culminating with the gospel.
If the stories themselves mirror the greatest story, so does the act of writing mirror he who wrote the greatest story. (do you mean the author here? Or God who wrote the greatest story?) This is yet one more contributing factor to what makes fantasy stories so effective. The act of writing forces the author to give something of himself. Writing, creating is, in and of itself, sacrificial. It forces the one to who creates it to give up part of herself. Through time, emotion, and very personal thoughts and feelings, the author pours who they are into the story. This isn’t a one to one relationship. This is a minuscule relationship in comparison. The gospel is such a good story, the ultimate story, because it is the greatest exemplification of sacrifice. The incarnation required the greatest act of giving oneself up. This is what fantasy good authors are reflecting; this is why the stories are so good at conveying truth.
There cannot be a paper talking about children’s fantasy literature written from the perspective of the gospel without discussing the work of C.S. Lewis. In his book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the 3rd book in the Narnia series, C.S. Lewis shows honestly the human condition in a way children can understand. It makes deep theological principles, relatable because the world of Narnia exists outside of our own, while at the same time demonstrating enough similarity to the world of the reader to make the lessons applicable. The world of Narnia is depicted as very similar to our own, but magic is used to teach the characters of the story underlying truth. For example, there is a very beautiful scene in which one of the main characters, Lucy, is in the study of a magician. She needs to use the magician’s spell book to accomplish a very specific task, but gets distracted. During her time in this distraction, C.S. Lewis masterfully reveals through the use of fantasy elements (in this case spells and magic), that Lucy should only find her value and her fulfillment in Aslan. Readers, then, can relate and find their value and fulfillment in Christ. C.S. Lewis drives the story with the truth of the gospel, and uses fantasy elements to present the principles.
Another way C.S. Lewis did this in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is in what is arguably the book’s most famous scene. It’s the scene in which Eustice, a particularly dreadful boy, has been turned into a dragon. At the climax of the story the dragon Eustace is desperately trying to scrape off his scales in order to free himself underneath. Trying over and over again in vain, we see that it is only through Aslan that Eustace can rid himself of the scales. Only Christ can cleanse us from our scales, or our sin.
His reader can clearly connect with Lewis and his worldview. Lewis poured so much of himself, his thoughts, opinions, and ideas into his work. His work acts as an incarnation of himself. His giving up of himself mirrored the giving up that Christ did.
Another thing that made his writing so effective was that it was a fusion of the imagination with the real world. In Lewis’ mind there was only one reality, the reality that God had created. For him, there was no division of the sacred and the secular, and this made his writing an effective fusion of the real and imaginary. Nothing was forced because of how real the gospel was to him. His writing was simply depictions of truth.
Another author who is very effective in displaying the gospel in his writing is George MacDonald. George MacDonald displays how real the gospel is to him and that he doesn’t see the separation between the sacred and the secular. We clearly see this in one of his more famous works,The Princess and the Goblin.
Simplicity stands out in this story and it’s easy to discern George MacDonald’s Christian faith amongst the simple prose of the narrative. In one scene, Curdie, one of the main characters, does not believe when presented with a god- like character throughout the story. It is only when Curdie comes to believe in the reality of this character does he ever find true salvation from the goblin’s schemes. The reader can learn through this simple example that it is only through belief in one outside of yourself can you truly find salvation.
A more modern example of a fantasy story that contains truth that is easy for a young audience to grasp are the Harry Potter stories. Although not as perfect an example, the final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a good example of this. Throughout the story, Harry is in a nearly constant battle with Lord Voldemort, author J.K. Rowling’s depiction of ultimate evil. In this last and final book of the saga, Harry faces off against Voldemort in one final battle. It is then in which the reader finds that only through the sacrifice of someone on another’s behalf can salvation from evil and death be accomplished. This is a clear allusion to the gospel story. Even this widely disputed book series can’t escape the reflection of the greatest myth.
There are many more stories that exemplify what we’re discussing. The English language has a rich history of fantasy literature. Some good examples are The Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, the Giver, Beowulf, and many, many more.
There are examples though of authors writing with the intention of striving away from the rich history of children’s fantasy literature of conveying truth. One of the modern examples of this is Lemony Snicket’s, A Series of Unfortunate Events. In this series, the author’s worldview is very clear. Many questions arise about the Baudelaire orphans, but the end of the book, none of these questions are answered. The main characters rely only on each other for salvation from Count Olaf who is depicted as the ultimate evil. Snicket’s work shows him trying to communicate that the truth of the world around the reader can never be really known, and it tells the reader that salvation can only be found in themselves. Contrast this with the worlds that MacDonald created where truth was always revealed and that truth along with salvation could only be given through a savior/god like character.
When one reads and interacts with authors like Lemony Snicket, it should inspire Christian communicators to want to write children’s fantasy literature. With such an effective medium for conveying truth at one’s fingertips and an audience who is excited to engage with fantasy stories the Christian communicator should be eager to work in this genre. However, a Christian author should follow some basic principles, drawn from the aforementioned authors..
First, one should never begin writing fantasy stories with the purpose of conveying a message. The story is first and foremost priority. If one sets out to convey meaning, they’ve already failed. The Purpose is not to set out and right a fable. The purpose is a fantasy story. When specific messages are written into a story in order to get a reader to think or feel a certain way, that’s propaganda. Art, good art, needs no justification. The beautiful thing about the stories mentioned above is that they are simply good stories. If someone attempts to write meaning, to write truth, the story will feel forced. An author has to put meaning into the hands of the reader.
One might question that if this is the case, how will truth be gleaned from stories? Let’s look back on the works of C.S. Lewis. Although hailed for writing stories that conveyed a Christian message, Lewis himself did not set out to make that his goal. C.S. Lewis wanted to write children’s stories. The Christian principles flowed out of him, because to Lewis, there was no imminent, there was only truth and the transcendent. With that mindset, the only reality the C.S. Lewis knew was the reality of the gospel, and his stories flowed organically from that. The Christian communicator who is looking to write needs to mimic Lewis’ perspective in order to write meaningfully.
The second thing follows is that a Christian author should strive to write simply. Writers need not get bogged down in overcomplicating their stories. Thirdly, the Christian communicator should be reminded to write meaningfully. They’re writing mirrors the greatest story of all and this wonderful privilege to bring a story that once didn’t exist, into existence is one that should not be taken lightly. If you have any questions or you would like to share some experiences don’t hesitate to contact ojccc.org.
Finally, let’s remember that these stories really are fantasy stories for children. They’re the stories that you remember from when you were young. They’re the stories that are rich in messages and meaning, and they continue to impact and shape you to this day. They’re the stories that were effective because they were written so well, truth was obtainable and known. You were taken out of your immediate surroundings and connected with the transcendent. That is something special. That is what makes stories live inside you. The stories that once you’ve heard them, you can not imagine never having heard them.