Thursday, June 23, 2011

On Fairy Stories and Innocence

We live in a world where fairy stories are thought to be for children only. We exist in a culture that thinks innocence in adults is impossible, unusual, or even detrimental. To be a 'grown up' one must be concerned with the weather, with bills, career, keeping up the yard, and the list goes on interminably.

It is thought to be quite childish to read fairy stories, to delight in rainy days (or sunny days), to find cheer in smelling the flowers blooming along the path of one's morning walk, to stop and watch a funny little animal in its daily habits, or some other equally small pleasure. Folks call you 'Pollyanna' if you are too cheery about how nice the day is, what lovely flowers grace the out-of-doors, how magnificent a tree or mountain are, how enchanting the stars are, and so on. They believe you to be insincere or out of touch with reality.

What if all of those so-called 'adults' are wrong? Perhaps you possess innocence and they have been lured away by the sensuality of worldly cares. It would seem that becoming an 'adult' is a dull and dreary affair filled with woes and cares. A 'grown up' does not remember how to imagine, or how to really play with children, nor do they know how to appreciate fairy stories.

Our culture takes fairy tales and flips them upon their heads, making the female character the heroine and emasculating the male rĂ´le. Innocent stories are supplanted with sexual undertones, and in many cases, sexual overtones, too. Heroes of tales today are rebellious, belligerent, arrogant, and haughty; replacing the valour, nobility, maturity, and selflessness of past heroes.

The worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth are stories about men of valour, obedience, sacrifice for the greater good, ordinary and extraordinary men, and every day responsibilities and duties - all without even a rumour of sensuality. In these stories no one is even fighting for a girl, but for the good of the world. Not that fighting for a girl is bad, but it is not the end goal.

Yet it is these types of classic stories that awaken the warrior within us. These tales birth the desire to serve humbly alongside dwarves, elves, talking beasts, ancient kings, worthy rangers, and Gandalf or Aslan himself. When we close the book we are inspired to be better than we were when we opened it. We are ready to accept life's adventures and its daily happenings; to discover how big the world truly is; to do right even though it is costly; to be a true and loyal friend; to seek peace at our own expense and to fight when it is necessary.

For these reasons fairy stories ought to be read and re-read by adults to remind them of the things that are more real, more glorious or weighty than the airy matters of offices, bills, and parties. Real fairy stories (not the sort dispensed by Disney) have protagonists who are real, fallen men who are stretched to become better than they were.

True adults know that they are not the most important person in their sphere or the world. They take time to enjoy small pleasures, they seek innocence and self-sacrifice over sensuality and arrogance. They know the reality of hardship, sorrow, and loss, yet they do not focus on those things. They remember their armchair and kettle just beginning to sing on the hearth, as Bilbo did in The Hobbit; and it is the simple joys of life that give them the courage and strength to pursue right at any cost. These are the true grown ups, everyone else is just play acting.

~ Johanna

Post Script: This entry has been a few years in the processing. I have been labelled Pollyanna for being too optimistic and cheerful. I have been called immature for being more innocent than my peers. At first I was offended and felt somewhat immature and unrealistic... Perhaps I am. However, I have come to the conclusion that greatness must be tempered by humility; hustle and work must be balanced with enjoyment of small pleasures; and the stress of hard things in life must be brought hope through fairy stories. Stories show us reality better than 'real life' does sometimes.

Post, Post Script: You may notice that, unlike my usual entries, I said nothing of God by name in this one. Surely heroism, valour, self-sacrifice, and every good, true, excellent, and beautiful thing stems from God Himself. Of course, but I figured my readers already knew that to be true and knew that to be my belief. I think the character of God is very latent in this whole piece.


  1. So... I love that there's a Post, Post Script. :) I think one of the many reasons I also love you is that you embody more than a little bit of that innocence you describe here in such a sweet way. It's engaging and passionate, and I think in its best form that's what innocence should be: a desire to engage with the world and its issues without being jaded by it or persuaded to ignore the sunshine. ;)

  2. Jody, I feel very blessed to know you at all. Your words and your walk with the Lord and the attitude that He continues to shape in you on what life is REALLY about gives me great encouragement. I have always felt much younger than I actually am, and my pleasures tend to be very different than most my age. Lately, I've felt discouraged by adulthood, thinking that the dying off of any spirit or truth in me must be inevitable...

    But then I know it is a lie, because the Spirit of Truth, the Lord God Himself, is not that way. He is constant. He is perfect. His love for us is deeper than we may ever fathom. And HE is the way, the truth, and the life.

    When you serve a King who not only loves you into being more like Himself as only He can but who also is guaranteed to win out against all evil in the end, how can you not be drawn to the beauty and the good in His creation? How can you not strive to please Him and to lift up those around you in the midst of the black mud? He is the first storyteller, and His is the first and the true fairytale. And we get to take part in it!

    For those who have no hope or have not realized it, I think perhaps one of the only things they know to do is to call the incorruptible hope to be had in Jesus "foolish," because they simply do not understand it. More than anything else, I find that to be very sad...

    I am glad that you know Him, and that He knows you, Jody.

  3. It is certainly true that worldly (and unavoidable, since we live in the world) adulthood is full of dull, necessary things like bills and such. That being the case, there's no reason for us to surrender to that completely and then name it the rite into that phase of life just because it's the common human response. The common human response to almost everything is the same: grumbling and complaining.

    I wonder... is it true that "adults" cannot appreciate fairie stories? Or is it just that they've never been given a capacity for them? What adult with free hours wouldn't spend them on a favorite leisure? Is it a matter of not loving the right things or just having different tastes in leisure?

    I walked through the whole of my childhood without fairie stories. It's only when I read them did I find out what I had been missing.

  4. Ladies,

    Thank you for your comments (sorry about my delay in writing back)!

    Lyndi, you are sweet - but of course, I knew that already. I do think it is important that Christians especially need to engage the world in a way that is wise as a serpent, yet innocent as a dove (Matt. 10.18). Innocent need not mean 'stupid' or blind to reality. ;)

    Danielle, well said, my friend! (Ha, and I am so thankful to know you! Now to live closer together...) I definitely understand feeling young - I still do. But I am finding that innocence does not need to fade as you grow up, it's just that others almost seem to try to kill it off so they are not ridiculed by their "more grown-up" peers.

    I loved the line that you wrote, "He is the first storyteller, and His is the first and the true fairytale. And we get to take part in it!" Oh my goodness, YES! God's word is THE story, with all the elements of a classic story: plot (creation, fall, redemption), hero (the seed of the woman - Jesus!), villain (satan), damsel in distress (the Church), crisis (sin and death), climax (the cross), and a conclusion that is still to come. We live in the pages of the story between the climax and the conclusion!

    Noelle, good points. I think that the playacting adults don't appreciate fairy stories because they have been told that is childish, rather than it being child-like (there is a difference). Perhaps to some degree their ability to appreciate fairy tales (the good sort that value honour, bravery, valour, self-sacrifice and the rest) has been warped by other sorts of stories that vie for attention. I certainly think anyone can be redeemed from dull life to life with colour, life with heroes, life with valour, honour, and self-sacrifice if they are given the ears to hear. ;)

    Under the Mercy,
    ~ Jody