Fairy tales and trigger warnings

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already.  Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey.  What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.  The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination.  What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.  Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.

—G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1909), XVII: “The Red Angel”

I thought of this quote as I read N. D. Wilson’s recent essay “Why I Write Scary Stories for Children.”  Wilson has much the same message, except that in his case, it comes as a product of his own experience as a parent.

I write violent stories. I write dark stories. I write them for my own children, and I write them for yours. And when the topic comes up with a radio host or a mom or a teacher in a hallway, the explanation is simple. Every kid in every classroom, every kid in a bunk bed frantically reading by flashlight, every latchkey kid and every helicoptered kid, every single mortal child is growing into a life story in a world full of dangers and beauties. Every one will have struggles and ultimately, every one will face death and loss.

There is absolutely a time and a place for The Pokey Little Puppy and Barnyard Dance, just like there’s a time and a place for footie pajamas. But as children grow, fear and danger and terror grow with them, courtesy of the world in which we live and the very real existence of shadows. The stories on which their imaginations feed should empower a courage and bravery stronger than whatever they are facing. And if what they are facing is truly and horribly awful (as is the case for too many kids), then fearless sacrificial friends walking their own fantastical (or realistic) dark roads to victory can be a very real inspiration and help. . . .

Overwhelmingly, in my own family and far beyond, the stories that land with the greatest impact are those where darkness, loss, and danger (emotional or physical) is a reality. But the goal isn’t to steer kids into stories of darkness and violence because those are the stories that grip readers. The goal is to put the darkness in its place.

Read more

Darth Vader and the ratchet effect

Doctor Zero over at Hot Air has done a brilliant job of capturing the essential falsity of government programs:

Even discounting the sewer system of underhanded deals and bribes needed to push ObamaCare through Congress, distorting it beyond any semblance of a carefully-designed plan, it’s foolish to accept it as a “solution” to health care “problems.” No government program is a solution to anything. I’m not referring to their inefficiency or cost. I’m talking about their very nature.

A government program is not a carefully-designed system, or even an enduring commitment. It is a promise. Systems require discipline. For example, the operation of an aircraft carrier is a very complex system, which relies upon many individuals to perform carefully-defined duties. Failure to perform these duties results in punishment or dismissal. All of the crew members understand this, so the system is reliable. When the captain orders a fighter to launch, he knows the deck crew and pilot will quickly obey. The crew and pilot, in turn, know that the captain would not order a launch for no good reason. Everything happens with speed, efficiency, and precision, because the system is illuminated by trust.

Government social programs don’t work that way. They can’t. Today’s Congress cannot bind future sessions with discipline. They can only saddle their successors with obligations. The national debt has grown to staggering proportions because debt is the only thing each new Administration and Congress inherit from those who went before.

When Barack Obama tries to convince you to accept a government takeover of the health-care industry, he is making a promise he won’t be around to keep. ObamaCare’s job-killing taxes are front-loaded, but in order to fool the Congressional Budget Office into giving it a respectable deficit score, its benefits are delayed for years. Even if Obama wins re-election, he would complete his second term long before the program was completely phased in . . . and no external authority exists to compel either Obama, or his successors, to honor the promises he’s been making. . . .

It would also be foolish to place such faith in Republicans, or anyone else. Today’s Democrats are not unique in their corruption, a cancer that can be driven into remission with electoral chemotherapy in 2010 and 2012. Massive government breeds massive corruption through its very nature—it is the predictable behavior of people who are no less greedy, ambitious, or deceitful that the most rapacious robber baron. They hide their avarice behind masks of finely chiseled sanctimony, but as the final maneuvers toward the passage of ObamaCare illustrate, they’re just as quick to bend rules and perpetrate fraud as any white-collar criminal.

It would be a horrible mistake to accept a deal with the creators of history’s most staggering natonal debt, based on assurances they will place your interests ahead of theirs, for decades to come. As Darth Vader memorably explained to Lando Calrissian, the State can always alter the terms of the deal, and your only recourse will be praying they don’t alter it any further.

Government is Darth Vader, and we’re Lando. Read the whole thing—it’s unmatched.

Found on the Internet

years ago, in someone’s sig file:

“Bother,” said Pooh. “Eeyore, ready two photon torpedoes and lock phasers on the Heffalump. Piglet, meet me in transporter room three. Christopher Robin, you have the bridge.”

Embracing the wildness of faith

Bill over at The Thinklings put up a post yesterday quoting Chesterton at length (something almost always well worth doing) on the value of fairy tales for children, and concluding with some additional thoughts of his own:

This really resonates with me, because from a young age I rode like a squire through the Arthurian legends, crouched quietly in the belly of the horse with Odysseus, galloped alongside Centaurs in Lewis’ Narnia, and went into the dreadful dark of Moria with Frodo and Sam. These led me one day to open up a Bible and begin reading what Lewis would call the “true myth” of the ultimate, and fully historical, defeat of the dragon.

As parents we should, of course, protect our kids. But I think Chesterton makes a compelling case here for not limiting them with politically correct, neutered fiction that contains no dragons. How will they ever know that the dragon can be killed?

I think Bill’s absolutely right about that. As Chesterton says in the essay he quotes,

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

This is much the same point Russell Moore makes in the post I quoted Monday, and so it’s no surprise that Bill follows up today by quoting Moore as well. He also adds an extended quote from Danielle at Count the Days on the absurdity that passes for “Christian education” in so many places. It’s a great post:

The other day, in my Religious Education class, this question was posed to us:

“What do you want to teach a child by the time they are 12?”

During class we were supposed to get in groups and discuss what we thought kids need to know by that stage in their lives, and honestly, I was kind of appalled by the answers I heard. . . .

One girl had the audacity to call me “harsh” because I said that they need to know that they are sinners. How can anyone have an appreciation or understanding of salvation without first knowing what sin is and that they are a sinner? I understand that the average child cannot comprehend the intricacies of theology, but what Jesus-loving Children’s Minister can look at the kids in their ministry and knowingly keep the whole Truth from them? Bible stories are great and important in building a foundation for these kids, but knowing who Zaccheus was, or being able to sing the books of the Bible in order isn’t going to get anyone any closer to Heaven. Just sayin’.

I guess the reason it frustrated me so much was because I was thinking of my own (future/potential) children. I don’t want my ten/eleven/twelve year old thinking that “being a good person” or being “obedient” means anything without having a personal, intimate relationship with Christ. I mean sure, I want obedient children ;), but in the grand scheme of things that would not be on the top of my list.

And then perhaps the most important point she makes is this:

Children can be taught all kinds of things as long as they are taught in love and kindness. Give kids the opportunity to understand, instead of withholding Truth from them. Offer them the whole Gospel, not just cartoons or cut-and-dry facts. I know I probably sound like some hardcore beat-truth-into-them type of lady, but I hate the thought of kids wasting what can be the most influential years of growth on pointless trivia or partial Truth.

Amen. This is something of a soapbox of my own, and has been for a while—I don’t post on it a great deal, just on occasion, but it’s something I care quite a bit about in my congregation, and with my own kids—that so much of what we call “Christian education” in the church is just awful, trivial, milk-and-water stuff aimed at teaching kids to be nice, dutiful little serfs rather than at raising them up as followers of Jesus Christ.

The problem is, I think, that too many adults—and not just adults in the church, either—have lost touch with the wildness of the world, and the wildness of their own hearts. Part of it, as N. D. Wilson says, is that our rationalistic and rationalized, scientific and scientistic, we-are-civilized-and-we-can-control-everything culture tends to teach us to see all things wild and perilous as evil; we have tamed immense swaths of our world, made it comfortable and predictable, orderly and obedient, and so we see these as good things, and anything that threatens them as bad.

This logically leads us to lose sight of the wildness of evil, both within us and outside us. Hannah Arendt had an important insight when she wrote of “the banality of evil” (an insight which I believe is much less understood than quoted), but it’s equally important for us to understand that while evil is indeed dreary and banal, uncreative and far less attractive than it likes to pretend, it is not thereby tame and predictable and contained. We get reminders of this when things like 9/11 happen, but if we can convince ourselves that such things are outside our own experience—that their lesson doesn’t apply to us—then we do so as quickly as possible, convincing ourselves that our own lives are still safe and tame and under our control.

The consequence of this domesticated worldview for the church is that too often, we’ve tamed our faith. We have trimmed it to fit what this world calls reality instead of letting our faith expand our souls to fit God’s view of reality, and we have ended up with a domesticated faith in a domesticated God. After all, if we don’t see our world as a big, wild, uncontrollable world that threatens us and makes us uncomfortable, we don’t need a big, wild, uncontrollable God who makes us uncomfortable and calls us to fear him as well as love him; a god sized to fit the tame little problems we’ll admit to having will do nicely.

There are various antidotes to that, but one of them is, to bring this back around to Bill’s post, to Chesterton, and also to Tolkien, a keen acquaintance with the world of faerie. We need stories that do not only show us the wildness of evil somewhere else (for many of our movies and books do that much), but that show us the wildness of evil in our own hearts, and also the wildness of good. We need stories that powerfully communicate, not only rationally but also viscerally, the truth that (to borrow a line from Michael Card) there is a wonder and wildness to life, that true goodness is a high and perilous thing, and that the life of goodness is an adventure. We need to learn to hear the call to faith as the call expressed so well by Andrew Peterson in his song “Little Boy Heart Alive”:

Feel the beat of a distant thunder—
It’s the sound of an ancient song.
This is the Kingdom calling;
Come now and tread the dawn.

Come to the Father;
Come to the deeper well.
Drink of the water
And come to live a tale to tell . . .

Take a ride on the mighty Lion;
Take a hold of the golden mane.
This is the love of Jesus—
So good but He is not tame.


Photo © 2008 by Wikimedia user Corinata.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. 

Sarah Palin and the Kobayashi Maru

This was posted on Big Hollywood over a month ago now, and I have no idea how I missed it; this is just too fun. A tip of the hat to Leigh Scott for coming up with this:

Sarah Palin is Captain Kirk. Why? Because she just passed the Kobayashi Maru.

For those of you who don’t know what the Kobayashi Maru is, let me explain. In the Star Trek universe it is an unwinnable test. It’s creator, Mr. Spock, designed it to test how Starfleet captains deal with failure and death. There is no right way to successfully navigate through it.

But cadet James Tiberius Kirk found a way to beat it. He rigged the computer simulation to allow him to complete the mission without killing his crew. Starfleet accused him of cheating, but Kirk’s response was simple, eloquent, and very revealing. “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario. I don’t like to lose.” Kirk didn’t change the strategy. He changed the rules. . . .

Palin was faced with her own Kobayashi Maru. How could she effectively govern the state of Alaska while facing ridiculous ethics charges and the scrutiny of the national media? How could she increase her exposure in the lower 48 while staying true to the people in Alaska who elected her? Perhaps if the wingnuts in Alaska didn’t stalk her with silly lawsuits she would have simply put her larger ambitions on the back burner and continued to do her job as governor. But it wasn’t meant to be. She was perfectly set up to fail. Her popularity in Alaska would decline. The national media would point to it as an indicator of her overall effectiveness. The Klingons . . . I mean the left, would have won.

But Palin defied them. She changed not her strategy, but the very rules. She resigned her position, turning the state over to her loyal Lieutenant Governor to continue the plans and policies she put into motion. Like any good story, it was an unexpected twist, yet when viewed in retrospect it was the only way it could play out.

That’s an interesting analogy. You might not like the comparison between Sarah Palin and James T. Kirk in general, but as an analysis of what exactly Gov. Palin did with her resignation, I think it’s a good one.


“That limitless horizon”

Last week, I posted the video of Neil Gaiman reading his wonderful poem “Instructions,” noting inter alia that the poem will before long become a picture book (an event I await with happy anticipation). Last night, I linked to Eric Ortlund’s blog to cite his excellent post on the necessity of grace, and the fatal thing that is moral exhortation apart from the gospel message. As such, I cannot fail to note the linkage of the two: Dr. Ortlund has also posted Gaiman’s video, and along with it some comments on Gaiman which, quite frankly, say it better than I ever have.

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors because . . . well, aside from his knowledge of ancient religion, reading him feels like I’m dreaming. There is a surfeit of meaning in his books; he’s able to evoke that limitless horizon against which we all live, and the deep, deep ocean (miles deep, dark, impenetrable) over which we walk. He makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, although I can never quite say why. Something opens in the back of my mind, and something big starts to hum back there. Don’t know how else to say it.

Beautifully put.

(Follow the link for some of Dr. Ortlund’s recommendations; and bear in mind that Gaiman has a very broad range. If you like urban fantasy, read Neverwhere; if you love fairytales, it’s hard to beat Stardust; the sequel to American Gods, Anansi Boys, is also excellent; and of course his latest, The Graveyard Book, won a well-deserved Newbery.)