In Defense of Fantasy

By pintswaquinas January 13, 2023

Do you love magical elves, fire-breathing dragons, and dwarves in their halls of stone? Or do you think that’s all a waste of time?

Not everyone has a taste for the fantastical. C.S. Lewis laments how neither of his parents ever listened for the horns of elfland. And that’s okay.

It’s one thing to prefer other genres of literature, but it’s another to accuse fantasy of being worthless, as some people do.

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Good fantasy can shape our everyday lives in profound ways. Here are some to consider.

1. It helps us see the world as we should see it
We are blind creatures. Beauty surrounds us, yet in the hustle and bustle of life, we miss a lot: the dance of sunlight on the forest floor, the music of the birds, the smile of a child passing us on the street.

Subpar fantasy offers an escape from our world, but it doesn’t prepare us to reenter it. In contrast, good fantasy offers a retreat and sends us back to our world seeing it as we should have all along — transfigured in beauty and goodness.

After reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” some people said they have a heightened appreciation for a simple, hearty meal and a stroll through the woods. Fantasy removes the veil and reveals the richness — and dare we say “magic” — of real life.

It also whets our appetite for heaven. It awakens a longing in our souls for something beyond the veil of this world, preventing us from getting too cozy here or falling for sterile materialism.

2. It reveals the image of God stamped on our souls
God made us in His image. We show this in many ways, especially by being “creators.” We can’t create from nothing like God can. But we can take what He has made and produce new things. Tolkien referred to this as “sub-creation.”

When you invent an imaginary world, you become a humble image of God the creator. You reveal even more of His glory. God is found wherever beauty and goodness reside — even in imaginary worlds.

3. It contains moral and metaphysical truths
Although the world, characters, and plot of a fantasy story may not be literally true, this doesn’t mean there is no truth in fantasy. Fantasy sometimes does a better job of communicating moral and metaphysical truths than a textbook or lecture.

“The Lord of the Rings” is once again a great example. Who has read that great work and not been touched by the powerful messages? Here are a few classic lines:

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened. Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
Haldir: The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

Sam: It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. . . . Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. . . . There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

God created us for this world. And we can’t shirk our calling here. We need fantasy, but not to escape from reality. We need it as a reminder that hidden beneath the cloak of this world — with its noisy traffic, endless wars, and heart-wrenching suffering — there is a hidden magic.

That magic is the glory of God, who will one day transform everything in His redeeming love and bring His faithful ones to their ultimate happy ending in heaven.

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