If Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien agree on something it’s probably a good idea to take a close look at it. It doesn’t mean they’re right, but when three brilliant minds like that agree it deserves our attention. And that’s not even touching on people like Flannery O’Connor and others who believed the same thing.
So what do these great minds agree on? Andrew Peterson, a singer-songwriter, says it well in his song “All Things New”: “Hold on to the promise/the stories are true.”
What does that mean that, “the stories are true”? What stories is Peterson talking about? Given what I know of Andrew Peterson, I think the answer is quite simple. The stories are fairy tales, fiction like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia. But that answer only leads to another, perhaps more perplexing question: how can we say that these stories are true? The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy–in fact, all of those stories are.
They never really happened, so how can they be true?
Of course, that argument assumes that the fantasies are really just that–fantasy. I want to ask how fantasy stories can be true, and attempt an answer based off what I know of Andrew Peterson, as well as the trio of Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien. The question, however, I want to approach in a somewhat odd manner. The assumption is that those stories can’t be true because they are fantasy. I want to ask, “are they really fantasy?”
What’s the basic plot of these stories? In fact, let’s limit it even further and examine some things that are even more fantastical. Let’s just look at classic fairy-tales like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella. So, what’s the basic plot there?
Those three examples, at least, are based around one central plot: the princess is waiting to be rescued by her prince. She’s trapped, overcome by some evil enchantment that she–at least in some of the stories–walks into of her own accord. Those fairytales tell a story of waiting for rescue, waiting for the prince to break the spell.
The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 3, writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The stories are true, not just in the sense that they say true things. I, for one, thought that was what Peterson meant for a long time.
I thought Sleeping Beauty is true because it tells us that good triumphs. Cinderella and Snow White condemn evil. I thought that when we say, “the stories are true” all we meant was that they convey true things. I made the mistake that Leland Ryken has written a good bit about–looking for propositional truth claims in literature, rather than looking at stories as stories. For sure, Sleeping Beauty tells us that good triumphs over evil, and that most certainly is true. What I failed to realize is, if that’s all Peterson was trying to convey he would have said something like, “the stories tell the truth.”
The stories do tell the truth, but the stories themselves are also true. The princess, us, is waiting for her Prince. That’s what Paul says, plain and simple. Just like Snow White awaits a prince from somewhere beyond herself to save her, we await a Savior from heaven. We are waiting for someone to take us to our true home, and to rescue us from the evil enchantment. And now, around Christmas time, is one of the best times to remember this. Christmas time is when we remember the story of Christ’s birth–a story of a Savior from heaven coming to earth, facing the serpent, and ultimately triumphing. And isn’t that what all these stories are?
The stories are true. Sleeping Beauty has fallen asleep and is waiting to be woken up. Cinderella is trapped by the evil all around, and is waiting for someone to come looking for her. The princess has eaten the evil fruit, and she awaits a Prince to undue that damage.