God and imagination

The greatest Christian writers of the last century — C.S. Lewis [Chronicles of Narnia], G.K. Chesterton [The Ethics of Elfland, a chapter in Orthodoxy], and J.R.R. Tolkien [Lord of the Rings] — loved fairy tales. The reason is that those types of stories are better able to convey the mystery of a world created by God.

C.S. Lewis quotes

  • Enemy-occupied territory–that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.
  • Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

G.K. Chesterton quotes

  • The trumpet of imagination, like the trumpet of the Resurrection, calls the dead out of their graves.
  • The function of imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange; not so much to make wonders facts as to make facts wonders.
  • [On his path to faith] I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician.
  • I found the whole modern world talking scientific fatalism; saying that everything is as it always must have been, being unfolded from the beginning. The leaf on the tree is green because it could never have been anything else. Now the fairy-tale philosopher is glad that the leaf is green precisely because it might have been scarlet. He feels as if it had turned green an instant before he looked at it. … According to scientific fatalism, nothing ever really had happened since the beginning of the world. Nothing ever had happened since existence had happened; and even about the date of that they were not sure.

J.R.R. Tolkien quotes

  • The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.
  • At its best, the fairy story or fantasy is far from being a flight from reality; it is, rather, a flight to reality.
  • Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific veracity. On the contrary. The keener and clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured.

Recently Stephen Hawking took a shot at people of faith by branding heaven a “fairy story” for people afraid of the dark. Poor Hawking, he’s on the right road, but he just got off on a bad ramp.

For a more coherent view, read Fr Valle’s perspective on how Scripture needs to be understood as allegorical, not literal.

Additional reference material

  • Article on Chesterton and the use of the imagination by Dale Ahlquist from the American Chesterton Society.
  • Article on Chesterton and fairy tales by Travis Prinzi.
  • Article on why Christian apologists embrace fairy tales by Tony Woodlief in the WSJ.
  • Defense of fairy stories by J.R.R. Tolkien on a web site dedicated to his work.
  • Discussion of Tolkien’s work on Tolkien-Online web site.
  • Article on the use of fairy tales in Christian classics by Daniel McInerny.
  • Focus on the Family Radio Theatre production of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.
  • Complete online C.S. Lewis book Mere Christianity.

About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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