There’s nothing quite like curling up in a recliner or in the warmth of your bed with a great book that, in a way, draws you in through the cover into the pages and transforms you into something like an invisible observer of the plot — think Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. A good story, J.R.R. Tolkien would say, births desirability. This is a desire to be a part of the journey and the adventure. It is almost an ironic balance – the reader is pleased to be in the comfort of his or her home, safe from dungeons and dragons, but as Tolkien writes in “On Fairy Stories,” there is a part of us that wishes we could enter the dangerous unknown world. After all, as Tolkien says, the heart is harder and stronger than the body.
I love this quote,
“Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them [characters from fairy stories] in the neighbourhood, intruding into my relatively safe world, in which it was, for instance, possible to read stories in peace of mind, free from fear. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril. The dweller in the quiet and fertile plains may hear of the tormented hills and the unharvested sea and long for them in his heart. For the heart is hard though the body be soft,” J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories.”
I think in many of us, there is a thirst to be involved in something that has risk and danger and adventure. We want to be the Frodo who is involved in a grand adventure to say Middle Earth. The fantastic thing about fairy stories is the Eucatastrophe – a phrase Tolkien coined that describes when, right at peril’s edge, there is a sudden change of events that keeps the protagonist from ultimate peril. We imagine this scenario, the eucatastrophe, carrying out in our lives too. And, really, it has. Jesus’ birth is the eucatastrophe to man’s history. The resurrection was the eucatastrophe to the incarnation.
Myths and fairy tales have a power to move and inspire.
“Fairy tales are like that; they’re like the songs we hear that break out hearts with joy, the sunsets that make us cry happy tears, the mountains and canyons that fill us with wonder,” Charlie W. Starr writes.
Even more so, the Gospel is like that. The story of Christ’s sacrifice hits to the core—that God would die for man is a concept not many can comprehend. That the entire narrative of the Bible is God’s redemption of man causes happy tears. The beauty of creation leaves us in wonder of the God who created everything for His glory.
In reading myths like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, we are reminded of the truths that unite us, the truths that we find in the Bible. We see them in different characters than in the Bible, but these characters could be the very reader who reads them. Reepicheep, who “seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” should be everyone one of us. Edmund is the human, who Christ died for. In reading about Sarumon, we see how good was corrupted. In Gollum, we find that even the most sinful creature can find forgiveness. In Frodo, we see a tainted character who is obedient to a higher calling.
In these stories, we are reminded of Adam, or Eve, of Lucifer, of Paul. We are reminded of who we are, who we could be and who we should not be. The ultimate myth, the original myth, is the Bible, and nothing else compares. We can all find similarities with the characters in the Bible.
I know I personally feel the conflicting desire to be safe in the warmth of my own home, but at the same time I have the yearning to go out into “the tormented hills and the unharvested sea.” I think it is the desire to be a part of something that is bigger than your self and be a part of something that matters.
And, we readily accept that there may be danger involved, because if there wasn’t, could it really be considered an adventure and sacrifice?