Note: I wrote this review over a year ago, so please excuse any consequential grammatical mistakes or the such.
According to Angelina Stanford, 150 million copies of the Lord of the Rings have been sold, as well as 120 million copies of the Chronicles of Narnia. Not only is fantasy very popular, but it has existed since the ancient world. Sadly, many people view fantasy as pure entertainment. I would like to argue that fantasy has a direct impact on our daily lives for three reasons: Fantasy calms our fears of sin, allows us to escape, and increases the beauty of virtue.
The first reason is that fantasy calms our fears of sin. Sin is a very real thing, and it has been at work since the fall. It corrupts every human’s thoughts, feelings, words, actions and lives. Also, fear is a consequence of sin, and an emotion nearly everyone experiences. Fantasy is not intended to instill fear, but to fight it! G. K. Chesterton explains, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist, children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” Although evil may be overwhelming, what is good and true will prevail. This is the Christian’s hope. Tolkien provides an excellent quote, “…the true form of fantasy is the… sudden joyous turn, it’s a sudden and miraculous grace, it is the denial of universal final defeat, it gives us a fleeting glimpse of joy,joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief, and therefore, these stories are not escapist, they are the ultimate reality…” And so, fantasy shines a light of hope in this world of the dark fear and sin on the “ultimate reality” of the truth of the gospel.
The second reason is that fantasy provides a means of escape. In the modern world, we are surrounded by the beeps, rings, alerts, and other various sounds of technology. Additionally, as I already mentioned the world is sinful and often stressful. To escape into a world such as Middle Earth or Narnia brings a break from these distractions and discouragements. Tolkien adds his insight, “I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”
The third reason is that fantasy increases the beauty of virtue. What is virtue? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, virtue is defined as morally good behavior or character. In Latin, “virtus” could be translated as either virtue or courage. We find a lot of both in fantasy, especially the classics, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings. Douglas Wilson summarizes this beautifully, “If our sons are to be prepared to encounter the world God made, then their imaginations must be fed and nourished by the stories of the Red Cross Knight, Sam carrying Frodo, Beouwulf tearing off Grendel’s arms, and Trumpkin fighting for Aslan while still not believing in him. Fairy stories make virtue not just right, but lovely.” Surely this does not only apply to our sons, but to everyone! Although we may never be asked to fight in battles against the Telmarines, carry a magic ring to Mount Doom, or fight dragons for stolen treasure, we are called to be virtious everyday, and thereby give God the glory! Similar to virtue, is integrity. C.S. Lewis says, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” This is an especially powerful quote when I consider that I usually struggle with the question, “How does this relate to me?”, more often after watching these movies, than after reading these books. I think this is partly because the actors in these movies have cameras following them, and they know that many people will view the movies. Whereas, the characters in fantasy did not know that books would be written about them, much less movies! Sam, from Lord of the Rings, did speak of the stories that would be told about Frodo, but Frodo had to add the part about Samwise the stouthearted, because Sam was to humble too mention it himself. (I’m very sorry if you have not read this, it is in the second book)
To conclude, fantasy relates to us for three reasons, it calms our fears of sin , allows us to escape, and increases the beauty of virtue. If you are interested in reading more fantasy, I recommend The Chronicles of Narnia, Beowulf, The Chronicles of Prydain, The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings. And if you are interested in learning more about the power of fantasy, I recommend Angelina Stanford’s talk. A great deal of my material and inspiration is from her talk.
“I am [in your world].’ said Aslan. ‘But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” – C.S. Lewis, from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader