Throughout my life I’ve had a rocky relationship with fairy stories. When I was a very young girl they were all I day-dreamed about, as a teenager I decided that when I had children I would never tell them any as ‘life’s not like that’, in my twenties I broke that resolve, a few years after that as a kind of depression engulfed me I hated them again for ever having given me any romantic ideas. I got over that, because however heart-breaking, disappointing and unhappy life can be at times, I long for the happy ending.
I love happy endings, I weep over them, watch and read them again and again. I hate it when I’ve spent time reading a book or watching a film and there is no resolution, or the ending is cruel and empty. Some writers these days are afraid to even bother with an ending as life is meaningless, right? I questioned myself whether I could end the book I’m writing happily as life is often so full of sorrow (I’m not telling what I decided). Yet, I long for good triumphing over evil, for love that conquers all obstacles.
I’ve just finished reading, ‘King’s Cross’ by Timothy Keller. I can’t recommend it enough for Keller’s briliant look at Jesus’ life through the book of Mark in the Bible. Whether you’re a Christian or not, read it. It made sense in my head and my heart jumped up and down and sang for joy in so many places, because it makes plain the amazing magnitude of what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection achieves for us, for every one of us.
So what has this to do with fairy stories? I don’t believe that the gospel is a nice fairy story to make us feel better for a few moments. It’s what I found in the very last chapter of Tim Keller’s book that made me realise my love of fairy stories isn’t so illogical. He argues against the idea that Christianity is ‘escapist’. Instead he argues that all fantasy and fairy stories somehow point to the good news that there is a real and true redemption, that these stories have some ‘underlying reality’, that evil can be defeated once and for all.
I learned a new word – one that J.R.R. Tolkien used, ‘eucatastrophe’. This is what he meant by it
(T)he joy of the happy ending…is not essentially ‘escapist’ nor ‘fugitive’… It does not deny the exsitence of dyscatastophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance (eucatastrophe); it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat… giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief… When the sudden ‘turn’ comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.¹
I know that feeling of joy when everything comes right in a story, when the quest is won or the lovers unite at the end, whatever it may be. I’ve often thought how good it would be to bottle that feeling. It’s a temporary lift though, followed soon after by a slam back down to reality. There the difference lies. The gospel makes a real, eternal difference.
The gospel is the ultimate story that shows victory coming out of defeat, strength coming out of weakness, life coming out of death, rescue from abandonment.²
So read Tim Keller’s book, what I’ve written here will then make much more sense. If you have questions about God and the christian faith it will answer many of them and introduce you to the amazing true story of the love of Jesus. If you already believe then it will do you good. The message it contains may even make you jump up and down for joy.
¹ Timothy Keller, King’s Cross (Redeemer CityNet and Timothy Keller, 2011) p227, a quote by J.R.R Tolkien, Tree and Leaf and The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), pp.68-70
²Timothy Keller, King’s Cross (Redeemer CityNet and Timothy Keller, 2011), p230.