Fairy Tales and The Gospel

How every story echoes the ultimate story.

Fairy Tales

Jesus is the underling reality to which all stories point, breaking into our world. – Tim Keller

The reason Frozen was such a good story is that it had the elements good stories do. If a story is missing one of the following features, it usually loses the audience, and they don’t even know why.

  1. An inciting action. This means open the story with some event that sets the characters and action in motion.  Get my attention in the beginning and give me a reason why I am going to care about the people and the story going forward.
  2. Conflict. There needs to be some challenge to overcome or some quest or mystery. The character or characters need to have some type of struggle.
  3. Resolution. Make sure the conflict gets resolved by the end of the book and don’t come up with some crazy way to solve the matter. One thing I have noticed about authors’ books that get close to being requested, but often get a pass is the resolution to their story doesn’t make sense. They set up the conflict, make the characters interesting and then resolve it with something that comes out of the blue. In their efforts to be creative, they end up making the ending implausible and that hurts the story.
  4. Protagonist. Give me a character I want to care about and can understand. Help me understand why they do what they do. Sounds simple, but it is very challenging.
  5. Antagonist. Life is often about struggle and opposition and so great stories present those challenges as well. Many times it takes the form of a person. As with the protagonist, make the antagonist interesting. Help me understand why he or she presents the opposition. (By Keith Ogoreck)

One of the things I find most often is that most good fairy tales find their truth and resonate to the degree they reflect the greatest story ever told. There is something in the heart of humanity that is searching for redemption. We understand that there is evil we also realize that we are powerless to save ourselves, so we turn to people or things to save us only to be disappointed. Romans tells us that when we put our hope in God, we will never be disappointed. Revelation tells us of a God who makes all things new. The Gospels portray the ultimate sacrifice and unearthly love of a God/Man come to earth to rescue a corrupt race that could never save itself no matter how hard they try.

Below are a couple of paragraphs from J.R.R. Tolken on Fairy Tales.

Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it. If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: “inner consistency of reality,” it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality. The peculiar quality of the ”joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?” The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater — it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter. It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite.

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath. Every fairy tale we tell has at it’s root a core element of the ultimate story but the thing which makes the gospel so compelling is that it like a fairy tale sounds too good to be true but unlike a fairy tale is true.

“It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.”

Lastly, a message from Tim Keller talking about the Gospel being a story. Such a powerful message I urge you to watch the whole thing if you want to hear him talk about fairy tales and the gospel go to 25:02 in the video.




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4 thoughts on “Fairy Tales and The Gospel

  1. This is really good Sam. I would need to reflect more to say something thoughtful. However, one of our pastors at Sojourn, Mike Cosper, has written a book (foreward by Keller) that unpacks how echoes of the gospel are seen in TV and the stories of culture. It comes out in August, and you can pre-order on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1433537087/?tag=agaskarcom-20+Cosper

    I trust his reflections for people who would want to reflect more.