On Fairy Tales and Christianity
The times I snuggled on the couch with my kids when they were little, reading fairy tales and re-telling those stories are sweet memories. Watching my kids re-enact them, through plays or with puppets, was even better. It wasn’t an accident that they heard a lot of fairy tales. It was an intentional part of their Waldorf-inspired environment at home.
I recently wrote, here, about some questions a dear reader had for me, regarding Waldorf and Christianity. A large part of that concern had to do with the emphasis on fairy tales in Waldorf education. I wrote that, at the time, when my kids were little, I didn’t have any concerns about fairy tales and Christianity. I also said I would do some research, pray, and think more, before responding in more depth. The following post is my response.
There seem to be some common objections from those who would say that fairy tales do no have a place in a Christian home. They are:
1. Fairy tales take away from the glory of God and/or may be more appealing than the stories in the Bible.
2. Fairy tales contain magic
3. Fairy tales are too scary and violent for young children
4. It can be confusing for children to discern between the truth of the Bible and the fiction of a fairy tale.
I’ve thought carefully about these objections, and I’m still, very much, an advocate for fairy tales. Here’s why:
Nothing can ever take away from the glory of God- and God’s Word is powerful. The Bible accomplishes its purpose because it’s God’s very own Word. It’s not dependent on us. Ultimately, how someone does (or doesn’t) receive the truth of God’s Word has more to do with the work of the Holy Spirit than it does with us.
Yes, we can (and should) do our best to present Bible stories to children in a way that’s age appropriate and winsome, asking God to help us in this endeavor- but how it’s received is not up to us. All glory goes to God.
“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11 (ESV)
The common magic in fairy tales is not the kind of magic that is prohibited in scripture. What’s prohibited in scripture is necromancy and fortune telling. The Bible condemns Saul’s consort with evil spirits in the first book of Samuel, when Saul goes to the witch to call forth Samuel’s spirit from the dead. The fanciful magic of fairy tales such as pumpkins turning into coaches and giant bean plants is different. There’s a lot in this life that’s unexplained (I couldn't tell you how an airplane stays in the sky) but a little mystery (or call it magic) is okay with me.
Yes, some fairy tales are quite scary! Here is where you have to know your own child and use your own discretion. My kids often surprised me in the type of literature they were drawn towards. They didn’t shy away from the scary stuff. The world is often scary, even for kids, and stories often help us make sense of it. I appreciate that fairy tales show that there’s good and evil. That’s real life.
As a young mom, I remember feeling anxiety about the whole Santa Clause thing. What should we tell our kids? But it turned out that all my worry was for nothing. We told stories about Santa Clause in the same way we told other fictional stories. Neither one of my kids were very old before they asked if Santa was real. That was when I told them about the real Saint Nicholas, who lived a long time ago. Then I told them that Santa isn’t real, but he’s part of a fun story, based off of the real story of St. Nick (and that we don’t want to ruin the fun story for other kids by going around saying he’s not real).
When I told my kids stories from the Bible, however, I always told them that these stories are special- because they’re true.
In addition to fairy tales, we read the Greek and Norse myths. It didn’t take long for my kids to see some parallels between these myths and the many of the stories in the Bible. This was good! These stories opened up some deep conversations and allowed my kids to ask questions. We talked a lot about how people didn’t always have the Bible, but maybe they had parts of the truth, so they made up stories to explain how the world worked.
Now that I’ve explained my thinking in why I don’t have a problem with fairy tales as a Christian parent, I will leave you with one last quote, which shows a benefit of fairy tales,
Stories give us a frame of reference to point to why we are here and what life is all about. @@God’s story, the gospel, is a story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration@@; we see echoes of these same ideas throughout many of the great fairy tales.
I used to read my kids fairy tales because we liked them and they were fun. I didn’t think about anything much deeper than that. Now that I’ve done some digging, I see even more reason to believe that fairy tales are a good thing.