Or are they?
J. R. R. Tolkien in his essay “On Fairy Stories” built an argument that challenged the usual assumptions.
First, he believed that fairy stories had significance beyond entertainment.
But when we have done all that research — collection and comparison of the tales of many lands — can do; when we have explained many of the elements commonly found embedded in fairy-stories (such as step-mothers, enchanted bears and bulls, cannibal witches, taboos on names, and the like) as relics of ancient customs once practised in daily life, or of beliefs once held as beliefs and not as “fancies” — there remains still a point too often forgotten: that is the effect produced now by these old things in the stories as they are. (pp. 10-11 – emphasis mine)
Whether invented or re-created, every new particle added to a story, nevertheless, retained elements that the teller (or writer) wanted to communicate.
The things that are there must often have been retained (or inserted) because the oral narrators, instinctively or consciously, felt their literary “significance.” Even where a prohibition in a fairy-story is guessed to be derived from some taboo once practised long ago, it has probably been preserved in the later stages of the tale’s history because of the great mythical significance of prohibition. A sense of that significance may indeed have lain behind some of the taboos themselves. Thou shalt not — or else thou shall depart beggared into endless regret. (p.11)
In that regard, fairy stories accomplish something grand:
Such stories have now a mythical or total (unanalysable) effect . . . they open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself, maybe.
Because of this idea, that stories passed down from generation to generation communicated things of importance and take readers to places beyond themselves, Tolkien did not believe Faerie was the exclusive realm of children. In fact he felt adults were more suited to it and grew to understand fairy stories more as they aged.
Children as a class — except in a common lack of experience they are not one — neither like fairy-stories more, nor understand them better than adults do; and no more than they like many other things. . . But in fact only some children, and some adults, have any special taste for them; and when they have it, it is not exclusive, nor even necessarily dominant. It is a taste, too, that would not appear, I think, very early in childhood without artificial stimulus; it is certainly one that does not decrease but increases with age, if it is innate.
So I wonder, is Tolkien right that only some individuals “have a special taste” for fairy tales? Is it true that only some individuals have a desire for “Faerie,” that world of wonder and magic where the incredible is normal?
I’ve long thought that there is something in the human heart that desires heaven, or perhaps, more accurately, desires God. He is the one who makes possible the heart’s dearest longings. In fact He is the satisfaction of that poignant joy that strikes the heart at the sight of a rainbow or a mountain meadow or an autumn forest. Those beauties hint at a greater beauty and stir a longing to live within that beauty, to capture it and hold it, to retain that moment of desire fulfilled.
Equally so, I’ve come to believe that Faerie, as Tolkien believed, is the man-made world that mirrors the beauty and wonder of God, however imperfectly.
An essential power of Faerie is thus the power of making immediately effective by the will the visions of “fantasy.” Not all are beautiful or even wholesome, not at any rate the fantasies of fallen Man. And he has stained the elves who have this power (in verity or fable) with his own stain. (p. 8 – emphasis mine)
My question then is, why would a person hungry for God not be drawn to the world of Faerie? I suppose I’m asking the wrong audience because my guess is most people who visit Spec Faith are indeed drawn to Faerie. But I know a few people who definitely have no desire to live in the land of magic. They read biographies and histories and see no value in “make believe.” Yet they revel in the wonder of God.
Where, then, is the disconnect? Is Tolkien right — the love of Faerie is innate? And am I wrong that the love of Faerie is the same love and longing we have for God?