The Inescapable Reality of Fantasy

In case you hadn’t noticed, our modern culture is fascinated–some would say obsessed–with the fantastic. Vampires, magic wands, and mystical worlds pervade popular media, and in some instances have created a zombie-like kind of following. There are a number of different images that pop into a person’s head when he or she hears the word “fantasy.” For the young, fantasy may represent unicorns, and leprechauns, and pink and purple Care Bears. For the older audiences, fantasy may conquer thoughts of magic, and werewolves, and zombies (both the Walking Dead and Shawn of the Dead varieties). With broad understanding like these, it is easy to dismiss fantasy as just a pop cultural way to escape from reality. Tolkien addresses this issue when he writes: ”

“I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”On Fairy-Stories

C.S. Lewis address this same issue when he talks about how finding wonder in a tree in fantasy actually helps us see more wonder and beauty in a real tree. John Piper address this notion of beauty in Lewis when he writes:

“The created world is not an end in itself. It finds its meaning when people, created in God’s image, use it with a mind that knows God, and a heart that believes in and thanks God. …

I’m suggesting, along with Lewis, that of all the possible ways that God could have revealed the fullness and diversity of the supreme value of his being, he concluded that a physical world would be the best. The material creation was not God’s way of saying to humankind: “I am not enough for you.” It was his way of saying: “Here is the best garden where more of what I am can be revealed to finite creatures. The juiciness of a peach and the sweetness of honey are a communication of myself.”  “What God Made Is Good — And Must Be Sanctified: C.S. Lewis and St. Paul on the Use of Creation”

As cultish as some of the following of fantasy can be, fantasy does fill a craving to understand that there is more to this world than we can see. The symbolic nature of fantasy often points to universal truths about the depth of humanity, creation, and God, and these symbols can guide readers to see that the world as a mysterious and wondrous.

Like the parables of Jesus, fantasy can be harnessed to communicate deep truths about life in a way that is both griping and enjoyable. These stories have the potential of revealing a greater purpose for our lives by giving us a more cosmic view of the world. In essence, fantasy is not only a vehicle for good storytelling; it can also be used as an effective conduit of spiritual truths–a tool to foster spiritual wonder. Sadly, this is often not the case in much of fantasy.

By allowing ourselves to explore the fantastic, we are more prone to discover the wonders of this world. When we seek the symbolic truths of this wonder, we are exposed to God’s creative impressions on everyone and everything. When we experience these impressions, we are more likely to be personally changed, and more likely to communicate that genuine change to others. This is indeed the Gospel (the “good spell”) that is capable of enchanting us all.