“Is this written for children?” Authors of fantasy, myself included, often hear this question.
The answer is, well, no. Yes. Maybe.
Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out that although fairy tales and myths have in our culture been relegated to “children’s literature,” for most of human history, they were the vehicles for teaching spiritual and moral precepts to every age. At their best, fantasies are tales of the spiritual journey, part myth, part fairy tale, that invite us to set aside our preoccupation with material phenomena as the only reality.
“Faerie” (as Tolkien called it) and myth take us to alternate worlds similar to ours but permeated by a numinous quality, a kind of mystery. They touch us in a way that the “real” world of everyday cannot. While the protagonists may seem familiar and homespun like us, they inhabit worlds that are intriguingly fuller and richer than our own. Entering these worlds through story opens up in us our natural human longing for the numinous in our daily lives. We sense that there is a transcendent world that interpenetrates our own and gives us a deepened joy in life and all it means.
The longing for, and awareness of, the numinous around us are what Lewis called “the religious imagination.” It is our “faith-muscle,” the faculty in us that allows us to apprehend transcendent reality. It seems to me, as both Lewis and Tolkien worried, that we who live within a materialist worldview are losing our ability to appreciate such stories. In fact, they feared that this worldview is eroding our ability to recognize transcendence, and that as a result we are losing our awareness of spiritual realities, and even the ability to believe in God.
So – are such stories for children?
Well, no. And yes. They are written for the child in us, to remind us that, yes, we do live in an enchanted, as well as material, world. That world is all around us, and it is within us, always waiting to be explored.
Key Words: fantasy, transcendence, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, story, materialist worldview, numinous, myth, fairy tale