One of my favorite parts of G.K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy is the fact that this normal, dignified British guy thought we should all view the world through the lens of fairy tales.
One theme of the book is that sometimes talking about the world in terms of magic instead of scientific laws helps us have a more complete and beautiful description of reality, especially spiritual reality.
Don’t buy it? Don’t understand what I’m talking about? Well, you should probably just read the book yourself, since any complex line of thinking is difficult to summarize in one sentence.
Here’s a quote from Orthodoxy that gives a few examples of how fairy tales help us make sense of reality. Since Chesterton was a Christian, he’s specifically describing where fairy tales parallel deep truths of his faith.
There is the lesson of ‘Cinderella,’ which is the same as that of the Magnificat—exaltavit humiles [the humble will be exalted].
Why do we find rags-to-riches stories so fascinating? Why do we cheer for the underdog? Why does the counter-cultural message of the Beatitudes still ring true, even when we don’t always see it playing out in real life?
Because humility is better than arrogance. People who know their true place in relation to God and others, who don’t try to grasp at power and control, are doing things right. Those are truths built into the moral fabric of our universe, and they come out in stories.
There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast’; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable.
In the Bible, we see a God who dies, not for his friends, but for his enemies—a story with even more power than a beautiful woman loving the monster.
The order of the story is important. God loves us first, and in response to that love, we obey, we do what is right, we create, we live the way we were supposed to from the beginning. We love because he first loved us. And that love transforms us.
The reverse—working hard to be good in order to earn God’s approval—doesn’t make a very good story, the same way that we wouldn’t be impressed if Belle decided she loved the Beast only after he was transformed into a handsome prince.
There is the terrible allegory of the ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep.
Oh, the blessings and birthday gifts are still here—half-forgotten memories from the earth’s infancy. Common grace, we call it: the fact that flowers smell and food tastes good and children are born and laugh and stare at butterflies in fascination.
But we feel the curse more deeply. We know that time is running out and our fate is inevitable, and although we try to fight it, our days are either too long or too short and our burdens are heavy and we are just. Too. Tired.
But death isn’t the end. That’s why New Testament authors talked about believers who died as “those who have fallen asleep.” Someday, we’ll wake up again, and the whole kingdom with cheer.
It’s funny that princess stories are considered the simplest of tales, the kind we expect young children will understand and adults won’t be interested in.
But our stories tell things about us. What we value, what we fear, what we consider a happy ending. And sometimes, those fairy tales remind us of the deepest truths in life.
What’s your favorite fairy tale (Disney or otherwise)?