Alasdair MacIntyre:

It is through hearing stories about wicked stepmothers, lost children, good but misguided kings, wolves that suckle twin boys, youngest sons who receive no inheritance but must make their own way in the world and eldest sons who waste their inheritance on riotous living and go into exile to live with the swine that children learn or mislearn both what a child and what a parent is, what the cast of characters may be in the drama into which they have been born and what the ways of the world are. Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words.

—Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3d ed. (University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), p. 216.

G. K. Chesterton:

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
—G. K. Chesteron, “The Red Angel” (1909)

C. S. Lewis:

The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infinitely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations.

. . . Do fairy tales teach children to retreat into a world of wish-fulfillment—’fantasy’ in the technical psychological sense of the word—instead of facing the problems of the real world? Now it is here that the problem becomes subtle. Let us again lay the fairy tale side by side with the school story or any other story which is labeled a ‘Boy’s Book’ or a ‘Girl’s Book’, as distinct from a ‘Children’s Book’. There is no doubt that both arouse, and imaginatively satisfy, wishes. We long to go through the looking glass, to reach fairy land. We also long to be the immensely popular and successful schoolboy or schoolgirl, or the lucky boy or girl who discovers the spy’s plot or rides the horse that none of the cowboys can manage.

But the two longings are very different.

The second, especially when directed on something so close as school life, is ravenous and deadly serious. Its fulfillment on the level of imagination is in very truth compensatory: we run to it from the disappointments and humiliations of the real world: it sends us back to the real world undividedly discontented. For it is all flattery to the ego. The pleasure consists in picturing oneself the object of admiration.

The other longing, that for fairy land, is very different. In a sense a child does not long for fairy land as a boy longs to be the hero of the first eleven. Does anyone suppose that he really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale?—really wants dragons in contemporary England? It is not so. It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new ‘dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. This is a special kind of longing. The boy reading the school story of the type I have in mind desires success and is unhappy (once the book is over) because he can’t get it: the boy reading the fairy tale desires and is happy in the very fact of desiring. For his mind has not been concentrated on himself, as it often is in the more realistic story.

—C. S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (1946)

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12 thoughts on “What Happens When You Deprive Children of Scary Stories”

  1. The only problem I see with the fairy tale is the perpetuation of the “romantic love” ideology that came into vogue in the twelfth century and distorts our idea of God’s true love revealed in the Bible.

    1. Kathy Moore says:

      Yes, that “fairy tale” regarding unrealistic love stories is of the “real world” sort that C.S. Lewis, I think, is talking about that is detrimental. Enchanted forests, talking rabbits, lion kings, ice queens – these are fantasies that are not real world based and don’t focus the child [so much] on his own ego and accomplishments that cannot be fulfilled in the real world and thus are not disappointing. The “why can’t I be like that boy/girl in the book” issue. However, I am not sure there is as bright a line as is being drawn when fairy tales involve princes/princesses, etc., that set unrealistic “ideals” that also cannot be met in the real world. Something to think about for sure.

    2. I agree, Jim. God’s design is that marriage is a lifelong commitment and not “looking for Prince Charming.”

  2. Sheryl Root says:

    For those of you who commented on fairy tales giving an unrealistic view of romantic love (and I understand that concern), I’d encourage you to read an article just posted in the July issue of Good News. It’s by Dr. Warren Gage, Professor of OT at Knox Seminary titled ‘Between “Once Upon a Time” & “Happily Ever.’ Here’s the link: http://goodnewsfl.org/life-between-once-upon-a-time-happily-ever/

    I had never considered some of the parallels he makes in the article between the universality of these stories & their tie to the greater love story of our Bridegroom for His Bride, so I found it quite interesting.

    Thank you Justin for these quotes!

    1. Sheryl,
      I’m glad you understand the concern. The article that you referenced has some problems. I won’t go into detail, but simply point out a couple of things.

      First, Dr. Gage makes an observation that is limited to our experience today when he writes, “One of the most striking features about folk tales is their universality.” This he uses as a foundational premise for the remainder of his article.

      Second, Dr. Gage equates today’s fairy tales with folk tales. What we know as fairy tales are not typical of ancient folk tales. Even the popular Cinderella varies in like and kind dramatically from the ancient sources we have of it to the variety of accounts we have since the 12th century.

      Dr. Gage makes the common error of taking our modern romatic ideology and applying it inappropriately to the Biblical text where the human authors of the Bible did not have so prevelant an idea that emotional love was the highest ideal. Granted that Song of Solomon is a clear indication that emotional love existed. However, we know that marriage based on emotional love was not typical at that time and was even largely considered a liability, especially on the battlefield. In many societies soldiers were not allowed to wed and where they were found pining, they were sent home with dishonor or killed outright by their fellow soldiers. This is why it would have been understood by the ancient writers and their readers how dishonorable David was and how honorable Uriah was for not seeing his wife when David sent for him. Today’s readers usually find it curious that Uriah didn’t go to see Bathsheba when he had the chance. That’s just one of many examples of how this impacts our understanding of the Biblical text.

      Most importantly, we get the mistaken idea that God must have some kind of perpetual emotion toward us that we are supposed to emulate. When we don’t feel the emotion, we don’t feel close to God. When we don’t feel emotions, we don’t feel secure in our relationships with each other. When we don’t get emotional at church, we seek a church where we can feel emotional and call it a church that is more alive and not dead like the last one. when we don’t feel the emotion toward our spouse, we dump them and seek someone where we think we can have an emotion that we can sustain until we die. I can’t tell you how utterly unbiblical that is.

  3. want2bmoreholy says:

    I probably would have agreed with this post last week, but I ran across a verse in Isaiah the other day that has made me rethink what we should expose ourselves to, especially our children.
    “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
    who despises the gain of oppressions,
    who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe,
    who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed
    and shuts his eyes from looking on evil,
    16 he will dwell on the heights;
    his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks;
    his bread will be given him; his water will be sure.”

    I am not saying that Cinderella is evil or other fairy stories are evil. I would say that at the end of the day, constant consumption of these things will only further to distract us from good, deep digestion of God’s own written word and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. I have tried many, many times to get into reading more fiction, but it has only caused a bigger distraction from God himself, or God’s written word. The biggest problem with fairy stories in particular are that they are devoid of God himself (i.e. LOTR, even LWW). There are ways to justify it by saying that we all indulge in certain fictional, fantasy, sci-fi movies. The difference in my mind is that there is a big difference between putting down 2 hours to watch a movie and days, weeks, months, even years trying to hammer away at a good fantasy book series or even just a single novel.

    We all should be readers no doubt, but I know for myself that whenever I become engrossed in a fictional book, it is hard to put down and God’s word is pushed aside. Maybe a little devotional here and there just to make me feel better. Prayer is pushed aside. Maybe a little here or there to make me feel better too. We are the ones losing out by having divided interests. I suspect that there are many out there who feel the same way, but might be afraid to say it or do so. For fear that they will be missing out on so much that great writers have produced. I am tempted to feel the same way. But really, God is worth so much more. God help us all! Anyway, I know that may not be what this post was really about but it seemed to steer somewhat in that direction. I hope this resonates with some. Peace be to all.

    1. Kathleen Moore says:

      Want2: I really appreciated the verses provided and your perspective. It is, as you say, not an issue of “evil” per se, but more an issue of what should we be letting into our minds, our hearts. . . are we allowing ourselves to be entertained by first showing evil, hate or violence, and then bringing in a prince charming that overcomes it. Prevailing over evil is good – but we have to permit unclean or unholy thoughts/characters into our thoughts first . . . which is something we should be avoiding, not seeking for entertainment regardless if evil is foiled by the end of the story. I think this is what you are saying . . . and I agree that time spent in fictional books is time taken away from being in the Word and meaningful devotional. I would also caution on too much time spent in Biblical writings of “scholars” that begin to take the place of being in the Word instead of spending an inordinate amount of time reading someone else’s interpretation and/or application of the Word to their daily lives. Those are nice reading and helpful for perspective in small doses, but not in place of time in the Word, fellowship and discipleship with your fellow believers and elders, and prayer for understanding through the Holy Spirit.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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