Saturday, April 16, 2011

In Defense of Fairy Tales

In Defense of Fairy Tales

This is something that’s been on my mind for some time, something of an issue of philosophy and the nature of fiction.  

I like to read websites, blogs and whatnot that deal with topics like theology and opinions on spiritual matters. While I’ve found that arguing with people on these topics is futile and just leaves everyone involved hurt and/or angry, I still find such topics and even the often contentious commentary that goes with them interesting reads.  There is something that comes up consistently that really bothers me, however. It is the ascertation that some people have that they “don’t read fairy tales” or think people are stupid and silly for “believing in fairy tales.” 

Strangely enough, this doesn’t bother me in the way you’d think it would bother a theist – well, not overly much, anyway (having people whine that things dear to your heart and things stuck in your brain that you cannot snap your fingers and get rid of just to please them are lies that you’re dumb-as-bricks for holding them will always be annoying, but the idea/position of “right back atcha!” keeps it from being too much of a concern). No, the thing that bothers me the most when people make such ascertations is this:

The disrespect for fairy tales.

I’m serious.  For one thing, I think that anyone who truly has *no* appreciation for myth and fiction of any kind must have really boring bookshelves and nearly empty DVD racks.    Such people are rare.  From my experience, most of the people who whine about “fairy tales” whenever confronted with any idea of a spiritual nature (and mind you, such people are usually the ones who seek out articles on religion, spirituality and philosophy just to get their $0.02 in) probably don’t really believe what they imply – that is, that fiction is worthless or lacking in power.  Several of these kinds of people? I’ve seen them using avatars of anime characters or usernames gleaned from characters in Lord of the Rings.  I remember reading a news/opinion article that addressed questions of the afterlife and among the commentators on it was someone (who made it clear that they didn’t believe in an afterlife) speaking of how the “Circle of Life” philosophy from The Lion King spoke to them as a truer idea than anything anyone religious ever said to them. 

Not a problem, really, except that I recall this person and the scads of people agreeing with them condemning the writer of the original article and other people on the thread who did believe in/hope for an afterlife for “believing in fairy tales.”  - Indeed, I found it very weird for people to condemn something for being “fiction” while proudly admitting they’ve taken a bit of life-philosophy from a known fiction.  It all makes me think that people don’t really have a problem with people “believing in fairy tales,” the only problem they have is when people happen to take philosophy from fairy tales that they don’t personally like.

What I’m getting at is this: Fiction has power.  Fiction has a power that most people don’t realize.  People are quick to call an ideology they don’t like “fiction” as a way to diminish its power and are easy to see anything “fictional” as having little to no power compared to that which is “real.”  At the same time, I think most of us take more of our personal philosophies and ideas for everyday life from fiction than we realize and that our society has been revolutionized by fiction in ways most of us don’t stop to think about too often. 

I’ve found, as both a creator and a consumer of fiction (a reader, watcher, gamer), that putting deep thoughts, serious issues and even potential powder-kegs into the setting of a fictional world and with fictional characters is a great way to deliver a message and to ease people into accepting (or at least just listening to) said message much better than if it was told “realistically” and straight-away.  Personally, I find the wildest of science fiction and fantasy (yes, fairy tale!) settings some of the best way to do this.  People can really change the world with this stuff. 

Think, for instance, upon Star Trek.  I never got into The Original Series (though my beloved is a bit of a Trekkie)… I was there for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.  However, I do know something about the cultural impact TOS had.  The first interracial kiss in a TV show… someone who was both Black and a woman as a mission-officer, and, of course, all the “interracial” stuff regarding humans encountering aliens.  Subsequent series continued along those lines, telling stories that wouldn’t have been accepted if told straight-away or even in a “realistic” show, but could be gotten away with being told with aliens in a far-future setting.  Beyond that, there were lots of fictional gadgets and doodads in that show that set geek-imaginations spinning so hard that said geeks tried to replicate them in real life – the result: innovations such as cell phones. (At least, that’s how it went down according to a History Channel special I saw). 

I’m sure my life has been saved by fiction at various points.  I can think, in particular, about how the anime series Haibane Renmei helped me work through some issues regarding depression and came to me at just the right time.

Heck, if all religion-of-any-kind disappeared tomorrow (and I mean all spirituality – all beliefs in transcendent things immediately gone from people’s hearts)… I wouldn’t “stop believing in fairy tales.” On the contrary. I can easily see myself starting a quasi-religion based upon a known fictional property just for the heck of it.  Knowing me, it would probably be “Vashism” after Vash the Stampede, the main character in the anime series Trigun because I love, with complete honesty, his philosophy of “Love and Peace” combined with practical pacifism.  Barring that, I might go with a “faith in the Three” form the video game series The Legend of Zelda, as the idea of Power, Wisdom and Courage in perfect balance appeals to me. Such things might not qualify as true religion (since I’d find it hard to build transcendent hope on known fictions), but it’d be close enough to make some people angry because I’d do the governance-of-life philosophy-bits of those fictions hard. I’m sure I’d not be the only one, either.  Actually, I’d ask people in the non-hypothetical here-and-now world  to rent them some Trigun and try out the Vashism right now – if everyone practiced it, the world would be a better place. (And donuts would be sacrament).    

There are people out there who will not listen to the words and writings of history’s great philosophers, but who can quote Gandalf the Grey and take his words to heart.  There are probably more people who can quote Gandalf, in fact. Fairy tales, indeed.

So, if you ever find yourself wanting to dismiss something or to diminish its power or “threat” by proclaiming it “fiction” or a “fairy tale,” think about what you are saying for a moment.  Do you really want to give the thing that you hate that much power? 


  1. This is a really great article, Shadsie! Love it!

  2. I’ve found, as both a creator and a consumer of fiction (a reader, watcher, gamer), that putting deep thoughts, serious issues and even potential powder-kegs into the setting of a fictional world and with fictional characters is a great way to deliver a message and to ease people into accepting (or at least just listening to) said message much better than if it was told “realistically” and straight-away.

    If you haven't already, I'd highly recommend you check out Theofantastique as using SF and fantasy (mostly in cinema and television, mind you) as a way of exploring different ideas and, most notably, theology, is a prevalent theme.