Magic & Muggles: Why We Yearn for Fantasy

I am embarking on a massive but exciting project. I cannot share the details with you at this time, but I may not have much time to write new posts for my blog for awhile, so please forgive me if I start sharing previous things I have written (but not shared!). I want the blog to remain constant and updated on a regular basis, and the vast majority of the material will be new to my readers, so — enjoy! Now and again I will post something brand new but in the meantime, delve into some of my earlier writing projects. This one I wrote eight or so years ago, and hosted it for awhile on Angels & Elves, my Lord of the Rings website.


There is nothing quite so pleasant as curling up with a book on a winter’s night, and settling in for a long read. I find that as each year passes, this becomes increasingly more and more difficult. Frank Peretti, my favorite modern author, only turns out a volume once every several years. Most of the modern novels I find are too easy to read, not nearly flowing enough writing-wise, and have no moral value, even Christian fiction. The answer, of course, is to return to the classics. On our family shelf at home sits a collection of dusty classics, ranging from Dickens and Lord Byron to Shakespeare. Among them is a creased volume of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and other German authors.

Upon opening the volume, familiar stories read in my childhood leap out at me. Hanzel and Gretle, Rapunzel and the evil enchantress, the story of the bratty princess and her golden ball, even a tale about a fisherman who was granted numerous wishes by an enchanted prince. With each wish demanded by the man’s wife, they were given greater things, until the woman demanded too high a price and they were restored back to their leaky hovel because she was never satisfied. Each and every story has a moral, sometimes cleverly hidden, at other times obvious. Some are simplistic: that greed leads to ruin, good faith must not be abused, and beauty is only skin deep. Others are more profound. Most of them are surprisingly bloodthirsty, and then we realize—they were not written for the delight of children, but rather then enjoyment of adults.
We used to have a massive collection of hardbound fairy tales that I readily devoured. Everything from Esop’s fables through the Brothers Grimm and beyond. I loved them. Out of that devotion and many hours spent in magical places with tree dryads, princesses spinning straw to gold, and nasty little goblins, my love of fantasy grew, and my imagination developed. I moved on to The Chronicles of Narnia, and eventually The Lord of the Rings. As I read these delightful tales, I developed something important—a strong sense of right and wrong, respect for courage and ingenuity, and a realization that all evil deeds lead to destruction. These stories with their cleverly coined messages stuck with me, and influenced my choice of reading material in later years.

Sadly, my long history with fairy tales is not the norm. The art of mythology disappeared from the public eye for many years. Children read Goosebumps and Sweet Valley Twins instead. Instead of gleaning from the wisdom of older religious fairy tales, they glean what the modern publishing industry decides to teach them, which isn’t much. And parents wonder why Harry Potter, however controversial, is so popular? I’ll tell you why—because it’s a fairy tale! While children and teens indulge themselves in the mysterious and magical world of Hogwarts, they are also picking up some valuable lessons about honesty, friendship, courage, equality, and fighting for good against evil, no matter what the cost.

“It is our choices, Harry Potter, which determine who we are, not our abilities,” Dumbledore informs the reader in The Chamber of Secrets. Not bad advice for a generation who is being brought up under peer pressure, is it?

The Lord of the Rings phenomena took the world by storm. The books which remained so many years on dusty library shelves are now being voraciously read by thousands of people worldwide because of the interest sparked by the films. The three part novel Tolkien penned sixty years ago has made a comeback. In Middle-earth, readers will find a variety of spiritual symbolism and dramatic portrayals of moral value, courage, and self sacrifice.

Why do we yearn for fairy tales? Why has this recent explosion of interest been so dynamic? Because we’ve been deprived of them for so long. Fairy tales are not just for children, although I can readily admit to adoring them as an eager ten year old. I firmly believe that our society has allowed something valuable to be temporarily lost. Fairy tales are a way of entwining imagination with spirituality. It is, in a sense, medieval mythology, a way of teaching spiritual and moral value through make believe characters and situations.

The majority of early fairy tales were written by authors with a spiritual leaning. In the works by the Brothers Grimm, you’ll find references to Christianity, faith, and God despite the fact that they involve talking animals, evil enchantresses, and the occasional evil witch. Lewis and Tolkien wrote their fantasy volumes with distinctly spiritual viewpoints. Lewis’ Narnia books are clever allegories; Tolkien’s are self admitted “Christian symbolism.” But even if you do not have a spiritual leaning, the moral remains the same. Every story always honors virtue—it is the good who are rewarded, and the bad which are punished. Naughtiness, selfishness, greed and other vices are never applauded. Honesty, compassion, integrity, and self-sacrifice are always honored.

In our fast-paced world where the media controls much of our lives through television and movies, this aspect is sadly lacking. Children are fed slapstick comedies like Home Alone, or faced with mature content on television. Their peers influence them to be rebellious and selfish. The reason Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings have become so well known and cherished in the last few years is because we have been deprived of them for so long. Our society is starving for stories with good values which challenge the reader to become a better person.

If it takes Hogwarts, Frodo Baggins, or Rapunzel to do it, so be it.

7 thoughts on “Magic & Muggles: Why We Yearn for Fantasy

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  1. Like you, I devoured fairy tales growing up, and still love reading them. I have a set of books my mom passed down to me full of them, and I look forward to the day I can get them out of the basement and up here so my children can enjoy them as much as I did.

  2. So true, Jeyna! I am one of the biggest “fairy-tale fans” – I just love those happily-ever-afters. =)

    Looking forward to that new “project,” Charity – can’t wait to read all about it. =)

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