How Fiction Helps Us Battle Life's Dragons
- Ryan Duncan
- 2016 29 Jul
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” - G.K. Chesterton
Christians know the world has always been a broken place, but lately it feels as though everything has just gotten much, much worse. To quote a friend, “The news cycle has practically lapped itself - it can't get out of its own way before there's something else. We don't even get enough time to mourn, mark, or digest.” With so much anger and hate storming around outside, I’ve found myself turning to my bookshelf for comfort. Old stories that I haven’t read in years are suddenly taking up my weekends, while poetry and prose have replaced my evening Netflix binges. Some might accuse me of trying to escape, of ignoring the outside problems by diving into fantasy, but I believe the truth goes a little deeper.
When Jesus needed to instruct or encourage his disciples, he would always use stories. The parable of the Good Samaritan taught listeners to love their neighbor (Luke 10:25-37), while the Pearl of Great Price reminded them where wealth truly resided (Matthew 13:45-46). In the same way, fiction and fantasy show us how evil can always be overcome. In the latest feature for Christ & Pop Culture, Amanda Wortham reflected how Christians could use fiction to help navigate these troubled times. She writes,
“We often say that those fictitious places are portals into other worlds—worlds that ostensibly operate in more compact and logical frameworks than the one we actually inhabit. Exchanging our current reality for the simplified imaginings of a bygone artist may seem like a weakness—but fiction is not, at best, an escapist’s modus operandi. Fiction does not allow us to ignore reality; rather, it is a tool for the wise, the desperate, and the bewildered. It gives us a frame of reference beyond what we see directly in front of us, and allows us to connect, to explore solutions safely and hypothetically.”
“Consider reading’s effects on empathy, for example. Empathy is a way of overcoming barriers; it represents our ability to consider other people, to live their lives for awhile. It’s a disciplined engagement of the imagination. Fiction strengthens our emotional and moral imaginations. Although reading fiction may sometimes seem like a means of escape from our current reality, the truth is that reading focuses our vision, helping us to truly see. It’s a way to reach out—not forward or behind us, but to the side—and collaborate with the greatest minds in human history.”
Think back to The Chronicles of Narnia where, when all hope seemed lost, it’s revealed Aslan was in control the whole time. Consider stories like The Fellowship of the Ring or A Wrinkle in Time, where the enemy is not defeated by brute strength, but by courage, loyalty, and selflessness. Even comic books have something to offer, as they depict people from all backgrounds stepping up to fight for justice. These are virtues the Enemy does not understand, yet they contain a power beyond reckoning. For Christians, fiction and fantasy aren’t merely a pastime, they’re a necessity.
There are a lot of bad things happening in the world today, and there will likely be many more in the days to come, but we can’t get discouraged. Remember,
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” - John 1:5
Curses can be broken, dragons can be slain, and happy endings are still possible.