June 3, 2011

The Truth of a Fairytale

Several days ago Liz on Awake posted her thoughts on the "knight in shining armor" versus the underdog antihero, and it got me thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know) about the concept of the true-hearted knight in fairytales. The knight on the white charger was a recurring character in the stories of the Western world for centuries - the Knights of the Round Table, the Lone Ranger, and the heroes of the old Disney princess movies, to name a few. Nowadays they are not so popular in literature; writers focus more on the psychological and spiritual aspect of their heroes in order to make them true to life. The structure of a story has developed so that the main character must now have a clear character arc and must change throughout the course of the novel, until the climax shows him to be a hero at last. And, to steal one of Liz's examples, it is certainly true that a character like Rick from Casablanca demands more empathy than a Prince Charming or one of King Arthur's knights. The reader or movie-viewer feels a sense of growth as a Rick Blaine walks off into the fog at the end of Casablanca that cannot be felt while Prince Philip cuts through the thorns to the enchanted castle and kisses Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.

And yet I think perhaps we have lost sight of the truth behind a simple fairytale like Sleeping Beauty. It has become so cliche that we look at it as nothing more than a story for children who have not yet learned How the World Really Is, who still view things in stark black and white. They aren't stories that fit with our perception of the world, and so they aren't considered "real" or "accurate" or "true." At the risk of sounding too allegorical, however, the parallels that can be drawn between these childhood tales and the Greatest Story argue that perhaps these fairytales are more True than even the most intricate Dickens novel - or, rather, True on a higher level.

"Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." (G.K. Chesterton)

The basic plot of the classic fairytale mirrors - in a small and necessarily incomplete way - God's redemptive history. Take, for instance, the tale of Saint George and the Dragon, in which you find all the components: the dragon, the damsel, the knight. The venomous dragon lived in a lake outside a city and was given presents of great worth by the townspeople in order to placate him and keep him from destroying them all; then the people began also to give the dragon their own children for it to devour. In time the king's daughter was chosen to be sacrificed, and she was taken out to the lake and left there for the dragon. At this time, of course, Saint George was riding past the lake and, on seeing the maiden, stopped to see what the matter was. He fought the dragon and eventually killed it, rescuing the maid from being eaten.

This is hardly the first legend involving the slaying of a dragon. The Greeks had the story of Perseus rescuing Andromeda, which has obvious parallels to the legend of Saint George, and there were many similar myths in the Middle Eastern empires. This common thread suggests that it is a story based on fact, though I cannot say whether it flows from the history of a man killing some legendary beast or from a spiritual truth.

Regardless, it does bear a striking resemblance to the history of God's people that can hardly be missed. The dragon, Satan, has held Mankind in captivity since the Fall, while Man blindly and willingly serves him out of the depravity of his own heart. Such has been the state of Man and such it would continue to be but for Christ. It is He who comes to rescue His chosen Bride, and He alone who could do so. It is all there - the dragon, the maiden, the knight. A fairytale paints in muted colors the glory of redemption and of the work of Christ. It is otherworldly, and that is why it is so different from what we experience day to day. It looks to what lies beyond; it looks to the Truth behind it all.

"You're watching how the story finds a way.
And you've seen it all before, but still you love to see the hero save the day.
It's a window in the world, a little glimpse of all the goodness getting through.
And all along the way the days are made of little moments of truth."
(Andrew Peterson - Windows in the World)


  1. Agree. So very much agree. Fairy tales have so much depth, so much Right inside of them. I don't mind the tortured, confused hero...but I have nothing but cheers for the heroes on white horses. Because that is the painting of the Truest Story that is written on our hearts. :)

  2. Exactly. I like the tortured and confused hero, too, because that reflects another truth - the truth that we live in a fallen world - and is applicable to life. But fairytales go above and beyond that, and so I never think of them as cliche or fake. I love both a fairytale and a "realistic" story (for lack of a better term), but for different reasons and in different ways.

  3. Yes. ^.^

    You scribbled the truth too well for me to say much else. But yes. Yes, indeed.

  4. Exactly!
    And now you can see why I have always loved fairytales, and will always love fairytales. They shall always be the (fictional) literature I hold closest to my heart...my first literary love. ^.^ They show the best truth of all. ^.^

  5. This was wonderful and it really gave me a new, deeper appreciation for the classic hero. I do love St. George and Prince Philip and King Arthur and all the classic heroes, and I believe you are very right - there is so much inspiration to be gleaned from their stories. Thanks for an awesome post, Abigail!
    (And I love the indirect Beauty & the Beast quote in the beginning "a dangerous pastime..." lol, that's the best line of the entire musical!)

    Love in Christ,
    ~ Liz

  6. Rose - I haven't read enough modern fairytales to comment on them, but I think it's amazing how much depth some of the old children's stories had compared with what we feed them now. We no longer give children the story of the knight killing the dragon; now the dragon is "misunderstood"! A sad reflection of where our culture is now.

    Liz - You're getting featured way too much around here, girl! But I must say 'thank you' for inspiring me with blog posts; recently I've been a little starved of ideas, and reading your blog helps my creative juices. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. ^.^ (And I was wondering how many people would catch that Beauty and the Beast reference! Wonderful movie, that.)

  7. This was lovely and thought provoking! I wish I could think of something interesting to say about it, but mind is really drawing a blank right now. :) Thank you so much for sharing it, though!

  8. Thanks, Eyebright! I'm glad you enjoyed this jaunt through my thoughts.


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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