Finding inexpressible joy within the pages of faerie story

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy stories again.”

~C. S. Lewis

“The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”

~JRR Tolkien

“Story is the language of the heart. Our souls speak not in the naked facts of mathematics or the abstract propositions of systematic theology; they speak the images and emotions of story.”

~Brent Curtis & John Eldredge

The last few days have been spent both struggling with the pain caused by my cancer medication and getting ready to head out on a week long camping trip.  Since we’re going to the beach, I need to bring some reading material; a task which has proven to be an exercise in frustration.  Currently, I have been attempting to work through Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs.  I was so excited to get this book because I feel a kinship of sorts with Mr. Jobs and I was hoping to glean some secrets on living with incurable neuroendocrine cancer; however, the writing is, in my opinion, rather juvenile and it has been difficult to remain awake for any extended reading.  I have flirted with reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but I’m not too sure that I really need another sappy romance; it just is not where I am in life right now.

I had to ask myself, “Do you really need another gothic tale to add fuel to your overactive imagination of gothic entrapment in relation this stupid cancer?” The answer to that question is a resounding no.

I’ve also picked up Seth Graham-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and I had to ask myself, “Do you really need another gothic tale to add fuel to your overactive imagination of gothic entrapment in relation this stupid cancer?” The answer to that question is a resounding no. Going on vacation, especially to the beach, should be a time of fun and fancy, which rules out almost immediately any dark and serious reading.  So what on earth do I choose? Well, I allowed CS Lewis to whisper his suggestion in my ear; what about a good old fashioned fairy story!

There is just something incredibly magical about a fairy tale. In these stories, evil’s day in the sun is only temporary because there is a force so much stronger that rushes in, slays the evil, rescues the princess, and spirits her off into a happily ever after.  Good is always good. Evil is always evil.  There is never any doubt that the evil will be overcome and all the pains will be put to rights.  Happiness is a given and there is no amount of evil plotting that can counter the inevitable victory of Prince Charming.  In their book, The Scared Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God, Brent Curtis and John Eldredge write the following in regard to the draw of fairy tales:

“Before skepticism takes over (what we mistakenly call maturity), children intuit the true Story as fairy tale.  If you’ll remember, the best fairy tales are not romantic in the poor sense of the word. They are realistic, only more so.  There are ogres and evil sorcerers and wicked stepmothers, to be sure. But they are neither the whole story nor even the heart of it.  There are genuine heroes and heroines and a cause to live for that is worth dying for. There is a quest or a journey strewn with danger and the stakes could never be higher” (44).

There is something not so safe about fairy stories; evil is a given and it is expected that the protagonist will suffer from evil of some form.  The threat of imprisonment hangs in the air as a penalty for being overcome by the resident evil. In light of the vulnerability of the princess, it is a sure thing that she will, at some point in the tale, be overtaken by the forces that are determined to destroy her.  These stories speak of everything that terrifies, yet, they could not feel more safe. pexels-photo (6)

One of our homeschooling years was dedicated to a unit study based on CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. I had never read these stories as a child and I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about my own personal enjoyment; however, as a dutiful homeschool mom I wanted to make sure that I had read the stories so I could engage my children in productive discussion.  I have to admit that I was extremely humbled as I read these “children’s” stories, the theology Lewis presented was beyond anything I could have ever expected.  Of all of the stories in the series, The Voyage of the Dawntreader, became the dearest to my heart and one that I return to again and again.  It is in his story of Eustace Clarence Scrubb that Lewis shares with his readers the importance of exposing children to fairy stories.  Eustace finds himself in mortal peril because he had “read none of the right books” and did not know what to do when confronted with a dragon (Lewis 84).  Lewis writes:

“Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books.  They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons” (87).

This is to become Eustace’s downfall as he finds his heart filled with the thoughts of dragons and soon he becomes one.  While this may seem like a horrible ending to a rather horrid individual, Lewis uses it as the beginning of an amazing transformation as Eustace comes face to face with Aslan.  This is the part of the story that gets me every time and I never tire of reading it.  Aslan offered Eustace a chance to shed his dragon skin and let him try several times, only to meet without success.  This, now this, is where the story gets good; Aslan offers to help him remove his dragon skin, an experience Eustace testifies to as something both extremely painful but strangely euphoric at the same time:

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.  You know- if you’ve ever picked a scab off a sore place.  It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away” (Lewis 109).

This simple story hits to the core of my journey with Christ.  I had tried so many times to remove my own sin only to find myself falling deeper into despair; then Jesus comes into my life…he rips and tears and peels away with excruciating pain, yet the end result of the pain is joy beyond all imagination.

So, as I enjoy a vacation with my husband, two daughters and their significant others, and my dear, sweet son, I am going to revisit this classic tale and savor all the memories of our homeschool, marvel at how my son has beaten the diagnosis of autism, and, just maybe, glean some much needed magic to help me endure my own personal battles.

Right now, more than ever, I need to find joy, not pain and sorrow, in the books I am reading.  That is why I have finally decided to bring Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows on vacation as my beach reading.  I have such treasured memories of reading this story to my son while we were homeschooling.  You see, my son was moderately autistic and hated, I mean HATED, books and would have nothing to do with reading.  He would grab books from my hand and throw them, rip them apart when I was not looking, and hide some of our school books he had a special distaste for.  But this book…this book reached in and touched his soul.  He could not wait for story time and he soaked in the adventures of Mole, Badger, Rat, and, his absolute favorite, Mr. Toad.  So, as I enjoy a vacation with my husband, two daughters and their significant others, and my dear, sweet son, I am going to revisit this classic tale and savor all the memories of our homeschool, marvel at how my son has beaten the diagnosis of autism, and, just maybe, glean some much needed magic to help me endure my own personal battles.

Works Cited

Curtis, Brent and John Eldredge. The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God. Nashville: Nelson. 1997. Print.

Lewis, Clive Staples. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawntreader.  New York: Scholastic. 1995. Print.

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