The Wolf of Tebron ~ On Being a Mystic

In the fairy tale, The Wolf of Tebron, Ruyah the wolf quotes G. K. Chesterton from his 1908 book Orthodoxy: “The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid.” In my study question in the back of the book, I ask, “If one allows for mystery in God, how does belief make everything in the world lucid?”

I realize this ventures into deep thinking, and two reviewers took offense at the idea that I was encouraging people to become “mystics” in the manner Chesterton is speaking of. And there’s the key: to understand what Chesterton means by this statement. We have one modern-day interpretation of the word, at least one meaning of the word mystic that strays into esoteric knowledge and spiritism. Of course, Chesterton would not, even a century ago, be encouraging Christians to follow that line of belief. So what was he talking about?

Chesterton has a terrific chapter in his book called “The Maniac,” where he explores what he feels truly defines someone sane as opposed to someone mad. “Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery, you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in the earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand… The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid. The Christian permits free will to remain a sacred mystery . . . He puts the seed of dogma in a central darkness, but it branches forth in all directions with abounding natural health.”

I also love what he says further about the difference between the symbols of a circle (the Moon=lunacy) and the cross: “As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal; it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature, but it is fixed forever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox at its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.”

Chesterton ends the chapter with words Ruyah quotes: “The moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name.”

These are deep forays into symbolism, but I am intrigued by them. I love the image of the cross extending in four cardinal directions and enwrapping the earth until all four arms return to the paradoxical center of collision and unity. I love Chesteron’s urging of us to become mystics (which Webster’s defines as “inducing a feeling of awe or wonder”). Why? In another place (and one of the themes of Wolf) he says “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the mysteries of man.” By allowing mystery in God, our not understanding everything about him but trusting in his sovereignty and majesty, we become lucid. By the light of Christ, we can see everything, understand everything. Not in the sense that we have every answer to every question. But since Jesus IS the answer to every important, mysterious question, we can all be mystics and allow that hazy reality be our clairty. We see through a glass darkly right now, only knowing in part, so the Bible says. But one day we will see all clearly as it will be revealed to us. Chesterton’s encouragement, then, for us is to embrace the mystery, to revel in it, knowing that God, through the cross, has enwrapped and embraced us in the mystery of Christ, and that–that alone–is what makes us sane and keeps all things lucid.

The Wolf of Tebron ~ Conditional Joy

What really got me started on writing fairy tales–specifically, not fantasy, but fairy tales–was reading what G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy. He says that fairy tales stand out from other genres and even fantasy in general due to what he calls “The doctrine of conditional joy.” Fairy tales always present a nearly incomprehensible happiness that rests on a difficult and often impossible condition or task that must be accomplished or avoided. Oftentimes the task makes no sense–like you can win the princess’s hand if you do not say the word onion. Or if you pluck a chicken feather on a full moon, you will lose the kingdom. Many fairy tales begin with a quest. Either a young adult sets out on a journey or mission, then encounters many trials and tests to reveal their character. Often the one thought of as stupid or incompetent, but who has a good heart, wins out over the sibling that has smarts and courage but no integrity.

Fairy tales are often full of moral admonition, sometimes obvious, sometimes not. In The Wolf of Tebron, Joran sets out to find his wife, who has disappeared in a whisk of magic. He must solve riddles, endure hardships, and look deep within to find truth. He is told that if he seeks specifically for happiness, he will not find it. But if he seeks truth, he just might find happiness in doing so. This is what C. S. Lewis speaks about in Mere Christianity. By faithfully doing what must be done, he succeeds in his quest, even though the things asked of him seem impossible, and he truly believes happiness in incomprehensible and unattainable.

“We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment…Here I am only trying to describe the enormous emotions which cannot be described. And the strongest emotion was that life was as precious as it was puzzling. It was an ecstasy because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an opportunity…it was good to be in a fairy tale… Well, I left fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since.”
G.K. Chesterton

The Wolf of Tebron ~ Dreaming

Now that the first book in The Gates of Heaven series has been released, I’ve been asked many questions about the themes, quatoations, and allegory contained within The Wolf of Tebron. As with all my novels, I start with theme, and this book lent itself in plot and storyline to the theme of dreaming. Why dreaming? I drifted into this idea on many levels. Mostly, I needed a vehicle by which Joran would have to tackle his quest–the rescue of his wife. I’m not sure exactly how the concept of dreaming filtered into my subconscious, but I have often thought of how our lives resemble a dream. How we sleepwalk through this life unaware of our true life in Christ, the real life God has planned for us from the beginning of time. We have been dreamed up, as Ruyah the wolf tells Joran in the book, by the One who creates all things by way of his dreaming. God imagines–and things come into existence.

Joran’s wife, Charris, is trapped in a dream that is manifested and upheld by Joran’s anger. Joran is unaware that he is responsible for his wife’s captivity, and the only way he can save her is by entering his dream to rescue her from the clutches of the Moon, who has her trapped in a sand castle overhanging the sea. Joran, though, cannot enter this place of rescue–his dream–until he has mastered his anger. He has to accomplish other things as well, but I don’t want to spoil the story here. As I researched famous quotes by poets and thinkers, I came across one stark and powerful line from the psychologist Carl Jung: “Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” This tied in nicely with the key phrase of Chesterton’s that spurred me on: “The center of man’s existence is a dream.”

We are not only dreamed up by our Creator, but we are also filled with dreams. Not just the dreams we randomly experience at night but the big dreams of our soul–the dreams God puts in us–or as our pastor so aptly put–God doesn’t give us a dream; he puts us inside HIS dream. He calls us in to share and fulfill the dream he already has for us. We are part of his larger dream for all mankind. In this way, Chesterton’s words ring out to me. As Joran reflected–not just the center of his existence felt a dream–every bit of his life did as well. It was only, in the end, when he stopped looking outside for direction, answers, and clarity did he finally “awaken.” He looked “inside” and faced the truth of who he was in relation to the truth of his existence. We, too, “wake up” when God opens our eyes to truth and shows us who we are in him. It is like being shaken awake. And often it is more like having a bucket of cold water dumped on our heads. We learn through Joran’s journey that we can be both the dreamer and the dreamed. And that is our true path in life–to recognize this fact and embrace it. Joran does, and he finds the true happiness he sought–happiness that can only come when one is awakened on the inside.

Gems from Traditional Fairy Tales~Part 1

There are thousands of fairy tales from around the world. Recently I’ve been going through the “color” fairy books of my youth: The Red Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book, etc. I chuckled the other day when reading Andrew Lang’s introduction to The Green Fairy Book–the third in the series. In it he writes, “This is the third, and probably the last of the Fairy Books of many colours . . .” Of course, there are so many that followed after that collection, I imagined he only stopped because he couldn’t think of any more names for colors!

And I came across this terrific, profound remark: “There are not many people now, perhaps there are none, who can write really good fairy tales, because they do not believe enough in their own stories, and because they want to be wittier than it has pleased heaven to make them.”

That greatly touched my heart, as I hear the truth in those statements. I believe in my tales with all my heart. In fact, I pour my heart and soul so much into my tales that it took me by surprise, when I finished The Map across Time, to realize I had written my characters to reflect the two deeply integral sides of my soul. What Lang is saying here is a good tale (be it fairy or otherwise) really needs to be a tale the writer believes in. We bring our passion, our emotions, our dreams, and our fears to our stories. The best stories capture those sparks and set aflame a wood blaze. You can always tell when a writer has done that, and when they haven’t. As the famous line from Rich and Famous goes: “If your writing doesn’t keep you up nights, it won’t keep anyone else up either.”

At first I was enthralled and surpirsed by the call to write fairy tales. Not fantasy, but quite specifically, fairy tales. The more I read them, the more I see so many layers. Most were written to impart morals. Many reflect faith, belief in heaven’s watchcare and guidance. Some are a little over the top with extreme punishments, no doubt meant to serve as a scary warning to badly behaved children.

Lang claims many turn away from writing tales because they want to be “wittier” than a fairy tale will allow them to be. But, the sky’s the limit for wit and cleverness in fairy tales–perhaps even more so than in most other genres. Here’s a hilarious passage out of one tale in The Green Fairy Book that describes a king grieving the recent death of his queen:

“He shut himself up in a little room and knocked his head against the walls for grief, until his courtiers were really afraid that he would hurt himself. So they hung feather beds between the tapestry and the walls, and then he could go on knocking his head as long as it was any consolation to him without coming to much harm.”

If that is not witty, what is?

Stranger in a Strange Land

“The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being,” Chesterton writes. “almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth.” This morning I felt like pondering on the universal loneliness we all feel. We’ve heard the expression, “no man is an island,” yet we do feel like islands. I heard a sermon the other day where the pastor said there are more people now living on the earth than have ever lived in all of history, and you would think because there are so many people out there, one would never be lonely. Yet, loneliness and feelings of isolation plague humanity more than ever before.

Here’s how Chesterton describes it, in his book The Everlasting Man: “Man has much more of the external appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of a mere growth of this one. He cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own instincts. He is at once a creator moving miraculous hands and fingers and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called clothes; he is propped on artificial crutches called furniture. . . . Alone among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter, as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of the universe hidden from the universe itself. . . . It is not natural to see man as a natural product.”

This feeling we experience has no place in the theory of evolution. For, if humans developed naturally out of the natural world, there would be no strange sense of alienation. But God created us to know him, long for him, and to need him. He put a God-shaped hole in our hearts that nothing will plug except the intimacy gained with him. One of my favorite scriptures is in the book of Acts, chapter seventeen, where Paul tell the Athenians that God made out of one man all humans. And that He fixed both the length of years that they should live as well as the boundaries they would roam in–to what end? So that they should seek God and actually grope for Him, so that they would find Him–although He is not far off from each of us.

That is the source of our apparent loneliness. We are meant to be lonely without God, so we will grope for him. I love that word–so rich in image. As a blind man gropes for a wall or a table to hold onto. We are fumbling around in the dark, our hands outstretched, feeling the edges of a confusing, blurry world, longing for something solid and trustworthy to lean on. To rest in.

When I finished writing my sixth novel, Someone to Blame, I found myself returning over and over in the book to the theme of safety, and our striving to feel safe in a turbulent life that offers no protection from pain and suffering. How grateful I am to know God is holding me in His everlasting arms and that no matter what cliffs I fall off of in this life, He is there to catch me–faithful, true, loving, gentle, kind, merciful, forgiving. We will run out of words to describe Him long before He runs out of amazing qualities!

Nature: “An Excited Repetition”

On to Chesterton, Part II: In Orthodoxy, Chesterton poses something I had never thought of before (imagine that!). He looks at the repetition inherent in nature and says, “the mere repetition made the things to me rather more weird than more rational. It was as if, having seen a curiously shaped nose in the street and dismissed it as an accident, I had then seen six other noses of the same astonishing shape . . . . So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot.” He goes on to say that nature seemed to be an excited repetition, “like that of an angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again.” Aplot indeed.

He felt as if God were trying to drill some understanding into his head. One of my favorite lines (which my lunatic Moon quotes in The Wolf of Tebron) is, “The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation.” He says the fingers of grass, the crowded stars, and the sun were clamoring to be noticed by way of repetition.

Now here’s what I find interesting: Some people, he states, suppose repetition signifies something dead, like a piece of mindless clockwork. “People feel that if the universe was personal, it would vary,” he says. But variation is due to dying and breaking down, losing strength, fatigue. Poetically, he states, “The sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.” He compares this to children with abundant energy, kicking their legs in rhythm because of their excess of life. I love this:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again,’ and the grownup person does it again and again until he is nearly dead. For grownup people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.”

Do we get this? What a concept! Listen: “But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God say every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun, and every evening, ‘Do it again,’ to the moon . . . . It may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” In summation, “The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”

How many times have we watched a spectacular sunset and oohed and aahed as if it were the first one we’d ever seen? Earlier this week I saw a double rainbow in the sky, after a heavy rain, with the mountains and lake majestic behind it. I was awed to tears, even though I had seen rainbows like this a dozen times before. “Do it again,” I whispered. “Do it again and again.”

Fairy Tales and G. K. Chesterton

After many years away from writing fiction, I knew it was time to return. I had writen three commercial novels that went everywhere and landed nowhere, and I felt quite discouraged. All my agents had promised me great success; they gushed about my unique writing style and voice. They were puzzled as to why they had failed to get a publisher to sign me up as the next best thing since chocolate. I tired of writing about flawed humans and their angst. I gave up.

Living without writing grows into an illness that seems to permeate every corner of life. My creativity and enthusiasm dwindled away and I ran on empty. In my heart, I knew I was called to write, that it is a gift that I was squandering, but I could not face the thought of laboring and giving birth to yet another weighty novel, only to be rejected once more.

I prayed. I did not pray for motivation to write another novel. I prayed to God to show me what to do with this gift and how to use it to recover my floundering life. I was drifting in a sea of hopelessness and depression, after having gone through some terrible tragedies in my life. I needed rescuing. So God sent me a life raft, in the form of a little book by G. K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.

How could this slim book written in 1906 about Chesterton’s discovery and embracing of Christianity possibly change my writing life (and the rest of my life, for that matter)? It is due to one chapter he entitles, “The Ethics of Elfland.”

I had always loved fantasy books; I read them voraciously and have since I was a child. Reading Ray Bradbury inspired me to start writing my own fantasy short stories when I was about nine. I had always wanted to write a fantasy book, but felt it would be an indulgence, a waste of time. For what good were they? Nice, silly escapist books that could not contain the power and truths I so very much yearned to express in my writing. Boy, was I blind! If I had just taken the time to see how fantasy had molded my life, my dreams, my code of honor, my values, I would never accuse fantasy of being so impotent.

So, after months of intense prayer, asking God to help me write again, show me what to write, I found Chesterton’s book and–lo and behold–he had written this mind-blowing chapter on the importance of fantasy.

I will just mention a few things in this post, but here are some of the words that spoke to my heart and changed my life:

“We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment . . . .Here I am trying to describe the enorous emotions which cannot be described. And the strongest emotion was that life was as precious as it was puzzling. It was an ecstacy because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an opportunity . . . . It was good to be in a fairy tale.”

Chesterton shows how, when he was young, the world contained magic, and that somehow, that magic implied a magician–someone who conjured up all the wonder in the world and gave that wonder meaning. He speaks of how we lose that wonder, how we forget we are living in this magical, awesome world, and what fairy tales do for us is return us to that wonder we have lost. When I read that, I was like a woman dying of thirst, only just realizing that thirst was there. When I had finished reading the chapter, I knew God had spoken to my heart. He said, “write fairy tales. Tell the world about me in the wonder you see and feel and touch. For in doing so, you will rediscover your own wonder and find healing for your soul.”

I cannot state enough how true those words have been, how this writing journey of the last two years has not only healed my heart and made my spirit soar, but has brought me to know God more closely than I could have ever imagined.

I will end for now with this beautiful statement by Chesterton: “Life is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege.” I try to live with that awareness in my heart each day, and response properly–with appreciation to the great conjurer of the universe.

Upcoming Release–The Wolf of Tebron


For those who haven’t heard of my Christian fairy tale called “The Wolf of Tebron,” (and that is many of you!), I would like to introduce you to “Sweetie,” the basic inspiration for my fantasy novel who just passed away last month. I am especially fond of dogs, and I don’t have to say anything more to you dog-lovers out there. Some of you don’t know the deep joy that comes from having a furry, loyal companion who always cheers you up just by existing. That’s an amazing gift, and I believe God intended it that way. Do you really think it is a coincidence that “dog” is “god” backwards? Well, at least in English…

What motivated me to write this novel was this: I love the idea of using fantasy as a vehicle to tell the redemption story of Christ. C.S. Lewis did it well for children in the Chronicles of Narnia, but I had a problem with Aslan, the lion. A big problem.

OK, we know he’s not a tame lion, but he also rarely shows up in all the books of the series. He makes an occasional appearance, and yes, he does give his mortal life to save humanity. That’s powerful. that’s essential. But I felt it lacking, for the God I know isn’t like that. He is, well, more like my dog, but better. I saw God as someone who stayed right by my side–through trials and joys, through fears and confusion. Watching over my while I sleep, keeping me fed and warm, and teaching me all along the way the things I need to know, even things I really don’t want to know about myself. So that is Ruyah, my wolf. A timeless wizard accompanying Joran on his quest to rescue his wife from the clutches of the Moon. At first Joran doesn’t want to trust him or even be around him. But as the story progresses, Joran becomes quite attached and falls in love with this ponderous, funny, exasperating wolf who refuses to abandon Joran, even when ordered to. And in the end, the only way for Joran to survive the chaos at the shore of his dreams is for Ruyah to sacrifice his life. And not only that–Joran must kill him with his own hands.

I think, for me, that became so much more powerful a story. Because God is and does all those things for us. And there is some poignancy, if I could call it that, in imagining we wield the hammer and the nails to put Christ on the cross, that we have to strike a deliberate blow and claim responsibility for his death and embrace that pain in our own arms in order to welcome him into our hearts. The book has a happy ending, as do all fairy tales (or I should say most), but I won’t do a spoiler here.

Well, now that you want to read the book, you’ll have to wait until I can get it published. It is scheduled to release in August, but you can read the prologue on this Web site! And you can pre-order the book.

Here’s one last cute image. When Lee and I were ready to pray thanks over dinner one evening by the TV, we bowed our heads and grabbed hands. And then we felt a paw rest on top of our grasp. There was Sweetie, head bowed, still and respectful while we said our prayer. I think her prayer was a little different and went something like this, “Wow, that chicken sure looks good and I really am so cute. Look at my thumping tail and soft, brown eyes. Surely there is a piece on your plates for me.” The Bible does say that ALL creatures know their maker (Job 12:7-9). Is it possible that we humans are the only ones who haven’t a clue?

I asked Sweetie and she said : “duh!”

Why Fairy Tales–Part 2

My introductory post discussed the power of fairy tales and the way fairy tale structure is different from other fantasy subgenres. (If you’re new to this concept, read the blog entry before this.) The key point is that the traditional fairy tale structure mirrors the reality of our existence–the tale centers around an impossible happiness that is contingent upon a simple but often inexplicable requirement.

And that’s what is so fantastic—that the same rule applies to restoration. Just as our first parents’ happiness rested on an incomprehensible condition (you must not eat of the fruit…), our eternal happiness rests on one simple condition: Whoever believes in the Son of God will be saved. God doesn’t make things complicated—we do. He gave Adam and Eve a simple, clear condition. Had they obeyed, they wouldn’t have lost God.

So, we see in true fairy tales, the hero or heroine off on a journey where they have to make a choice. There is always a choice, always free will. The choice will involve some incomprehensible reward of happiness, yet will rest on some incomprehensible condition. When we read, for example, how Frodo must enter into Mordor against all odds and destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, it is an incomprehensible task. It is a simple one, but nearly impossible. Yet, all the happiness of Middle Earth depends on his accomplishing this task.

Fairy tales are filled with impossible tasks, yet it is the celebration of the human spirit—of dignity, honor, resolve, love, and often sacrifice—that sends the hero out on a journey to tackle that task head on. This is our history. The story of God becoming man and setting out on a difficult journey to fix what was wrong. It cost him pain, humiliation, sorrow, suffering—facing a seemingly impossible task, but he did it and declared, “It is finished.” The huge, long, epic fairy tale that began in the garden of Eden finished at the cross. Everything once scattered and lost was now gathered and found.

This is what inspired and fired me up to write these fairy tales. I wanted to take traditional fairy tale elements that are deeply ingrained in our memories and hearts and weave them into new tales for all ages. Tales that deal with high concept, with epic themes, not just be entertaining stories. The characters in these books struggle internally as well as externally. They question their place in the world, their dreams, their hopes. Well, they are a lot like us. And they have to overcome their fear and human frailty, trusting in some inner strength and help from heaven to succeed in the end.

What I love most about writing fairy tales is being able to use metaphor and imagery. In The Wolf of Tebron, the themes of waking and dreaming are explored from all angles. Joran, in his search for his wife, held captive by the Moon, realizes he is a dream in the mind of the One who dreams all existence into being. And that he learns he can live his dream while wide awake. In The Map across Time, the kingdom is under a curse that makes men do evil. If this curse isn’t counteracted, hope is lost. This is the metaphor for our lives under sin’s curse. And blood is used heavily as a symbol in this book to tie in with redemptive and saving power. In The Land of Darkness, the symbols of light and darkness are explored. People wander lost in the Land of Darkness, but they don’t know they are lost. And they don’t know they are in the dark. A perfect metaphor for our existence. Only by crossing an invisible bridge—one that can only be seen with eyes of faith—can our heroes get out of the Land of Darkness. I won’t give any spoilers here—you will just have to read the book to learn what the bridge really is.

I am presently writing the fourth fairy tale—The Unraveling of Wentwater. I got the idea from Chesterton, in that line in Orthodoxy where he says “a word is forgotten and cities perish.” In this tale, an entire village unravels one word at a time, as every word in existence begins to disappear and, along with it, the objects they give meaning to. The theme of Wentwater has to do with mercy versus justice, and explores the futile pursuit of knowledge that leaves mercy behind. “The wisdom of the wise perishes” –literally!

The title of the series relates to the seven “gates of heaven” that are set up in different locales in this fantasy world. Heaven places these stone structures on earth to prevent evil from getting a stronghold into the world of men. Keepers were assigned to watch over the sites, but over time, the sites have been either abandoned or torn down or destroyed. Evil, then, had free rein into the world. Each book of the proposed seven-book series features a different “gate” in a different locale, where the story interweaves with this structure. Just picture Stonehenge and you’ll have an idea of what these look like.

I’m excited to continue the tradition of C. S. Lewis and Narnia. I feel there is a void left in his wake, with so many yearning to read fairy tales that give hope and inspire and work on many levels of symbolism. Hopefully, The Gates of Heaven collection of tales will fill that void and brighten the hearts of readers for a long time!

Welcome to a new fairy tale fantasy series~

Allegorical fantasy is a powerful way to convey themes using symbolism and metaphor. Many people scoff at fantasy and find no interest in it. But as a culture, as a world of people, we only have to look at most of the top-selling novels in all of history. Nearly all of them—from Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan to The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter—are fantasy. Why is fantasy such a powerful medium, and why does it have such staying power?

My answer may surprise you. Many have heard of Joseph Campbell’s study on the power of myth. Myth is deeply entrenched in our culture, in our psyche, in our past. And it’s our past that intrigues me. Because of the mythic elements that make up our past, our true history is hardwired into who we are and casts shadows on our place in the universe.

What compelled me to write fantasy was not just my love for the genre (and I have been reading fairy tales and fantasy books since grade school). It was because I came across a small book written in the late 1800s by the famous G. K. Chesterton called Orthodoxy. Chesterton devotes an entire chapter to the merits of fantasy and particularly fairy tales. He calls this chapter “The Ethics of Elfland.” There are many types of fantasy styles and genres, but only the fairy tale follows specific rules that mirror our true existence in this world. And this is why I believe fairy tales resonate to the deepest part of our souls.

One benefit to fairy tales, according to Chesterton, is their ability to wake us up and make us look at the magic and splendor that is our own existence. He says the strongest emotion fairy tales induced in him was “that life was as precious as it was puzzling. It was ecstasy because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an opportunity. It was good to be in a fairy tale. The test of all happiness is gratitude. And I felt grateful, though I hardly knew to whom.”

Here’s the point that really opened my eyes. He spoke of the great principle of fairy philosophy: “I will call it ‘The Doctrine of Conditional Joy.’ The note of the fairy utterance always is, ‘You may live in a palace of gold, if you do not say the word cow.’ Or ‘You may live happily ever after with the King’s daughter, if you do not show her an onion.’ The vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon ONE thing that is forbidden….In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten and cities perish. A lamp is lit and love flies away…and . . .” (This is the kicker!) “…An apple is eaten and the hope of God is gone.”

Of course, we know Adam and Eve didn’t eat an apple, but they did eat a piece of forbidden fruit. Do we really get his point? Our entire existence, our purpose in life, the reason we are here, now, in this world, which is in this mess, is all because of this doctrine of conditional joy—a doctrine God invented and imposed upon us. This is why fairy tales are so powerful. Our lives are all wrapped around this one truth—that a condition was given, and when it was overstepped, we lost God. And now we are spending our lives trying to gain back what has been lost. We have been created to search for God, to look for what has been lost, and to discover what the one condition is that will restore all things to perfect balance.
(will be continued in next post)