Fairy Stories Give Us the Hearts of Little Children
Fairy stories are for all human beings, not just the little ones.
Our modern adult life does not lend itself to Christ’s teaching to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven, but it is a call we should not ignore.
Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. (Mark 10:14-15)
It is clear that we are not to be like children in their uncontrolled passions, for example their sobbing fits and temper tantrums. But we are to look at their complete dependence, their simple love and trust, the humility of needing someone else, and, mostly, the way they come to Jesus with wonder.
Most days I have a full, busy schedule: managing my children’s home schooling, feeding everyone three times a day (at least), extracurricular activities, keeping the house in order, writing work, editing work, and the basics of my own self-care. It is easy to feel that it all depends upon me instead of depending on God. I don’t often approach to-do list with simple love and trust of God and am so often caught up in my worries and the practical details of the day.
But I want to propose that the reading of fairy stories can help us as adults and help our children have the simple love and trust of God. They can help our children grow into adulthood never losing it. This simple love and trust are grounded in wonder, wonder we can develop through reading fairy stories.
J.R.R. Tolkien explained in his essay “On Fairy Stories” that fairy stories are for all human beings, not just the little ones. They teach us beautiful truths and point us to God. He argues, “If fairy-story as a kind is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults. They will, of course put more in and get more out than children can.”
Tolkien openly rejects the idea that fairy stories are meant only for the very young, children or the very old. In talking about an essay Andrew Lang, a 19th-century children’s author, compiled 12 volumes of fairy stories, Tolkien explained:
I do not deny that there is truth in Andrew Lang’s words […]: ‘He who would enter the Kingdom of Faerie should have the heart of a little child.’ For that possession is necessary to all high adventure, into kingdoms both less and far greater than Faerie.
The coining of the word kingdom is important. Tolkien is not just talking about imaginary kingdoms. He is evoking Christ’s words in the Gospel.
To enter both the Kingdom of God and the “Kingdom of Faerie” we must have the heart of a little child. We need a heart humble with wonder. A heart ready to believe. A heart that knows that God can do wonders. A heart that believes in what seems impossible. Reading fairy stories, suspending our belief in what seems to be reality, and witnessing good overpowering what seems to be insurmountable evil, believing that the goodwill when even when all hope seems lost, this is how we receive the kingdom of God like a child. This is how we have a stance of wonder toward God and the beauty of the created world.
When we spend time in the world of fairies, it is not so hard to believe that God became a Man, performed miracles, died a horrible death, and then rose again.
Tolkien talks about how fairy stories help children understand the real world, not the real world of stressful adulthood, nor they irresponsible second childhood many adults try to live in.
Children are meant to grow up, and not to become Peter Pans. Not to lose innocence and wonder, but to proceed on the appointed journey: that journey upon which it is certainly not better to travel hopefully than to arrive, though we must travel hopefully if we are to arrive.
We are all called to our own journey, one where we have innocence and wonder toward God, and we were all once children with innocence and wonder. Fairy stories can bring us back to those places of innocence and wonder, and give us the heart of little children again, little children who have grown up and are already on our journey. We are nothing more than grown up children who are still children of God, still little lost lambs being sought by the Good Shepherd. Innocence and wonder make us ready to be found by Him, make us ready to receive Him like a little child.
What better way to recall the innocence and wonder then to delve into the world of fairy? Perhaps, try the 12 Fairy Books by Andrew Lang, pick up a novel or short story by Tolkien, read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or his Space Trilogy. Let yourself enter into the wonder — bring the wonder to your life.