“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” – J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” – G.K. Chesterton
“Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons- ’twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we’re made.
Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien on Fairy-stories
I am openly and unashamedly a fan of fantasy, science fiction, cosplay, online gaming, etc. But, I have long known that my reason for being a fan is not merely entertainment. No, there is nothing wrong with entertainment. I am not one of the Christians who assumes that a dour life is somehow a Christian life. No, I could not be Orthodox and think so. Our cycle of feasts and fasts reminds us of what it says in Ecclesiastes:
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh; …
The passage goes on for a while. But, it speaks to us that there is a time for different actions. Sometimes we mourn; sometimes we celebrate. And, sometimes we imagine. Sometimes we imitate our Creator and imagine whole new worlds. But, there is a difference. When our God created worlds, he truly created them. When we create a world, it is only in our imagination, in our writings, in our drawings, in our paintings, in our sculptures, in our poetry, and so on.
More than one Christian author has commented that we imitate our Creator when we engage in art, in writing, in sculpture, in painting, etc. Yes, I admit that, because we are sinners, there is corrupt art, writing, sculpture, painting, etc. Yet, even in the corruption, the creativity of humans is a testimony to the imago dei, the image of God, that is within us. The Orthodox would say that we need to grow into his likeness, but that we still have his image in us. Art demonstrates that.
And, oddly enough, so does imaginative game playing. I am a fan of role-playing online games. I unapologetically enjoy it. I am also a fan of cosplay. I have only been able to attend one con and have only been able to cosplay a couple of times. And, yet, the creativity that must be expressed is again a testimony to God’s image in us. Yes, I do understand that some people get over-involved in those games. I understand that some cosplay is inappropriate.
But, here is the problem that I have with critics of every activity that is not directly related to the Church, as they perceive it. They often spend time finding fault, and they will find it. They will find it because we are all imperfect. So, inevitably every art form will be corrupted by our imperfection. To go even farther, every human activity will, sooner or later, be corrupted by human imperfection. But, by seeing only our imperfection, all too many critics miss the image of God in us.
The image of God needs to be expressed in all its wondrous ways. We should never express it in ways that violate the clear teaching of Scripture and the Church. Nevertheless, we must also resist those who try to insist that a dour Christianity is the only available way to express the image of God. And yet, we must resist those who use sophistry to say that any art is acceptable simply because someone says it is art.
Which brings us to children’s tales. Children’s tales are some of the most basic form of creativity, and a form that can be used to encourage creativity in our children. Children’s tales can be prosaic, repetitive, and boring. At the same time, children’s tales, especially some of the dark and frightening fairly tales can awaken our creativity. As G.K. Chesterton said, “Children already know that dragons exit.” But, the best of children’s and young adult fantasy writing tell children that dragons can be killed. They also teach the child that self-sacrifice and perseverance are important virtues.
A child’s fantasy tale can become the opportunity for an adult to introduce the child to the evil realities that exist in our world. The best of the fantasy tales expose our children to the need for virtues such as perseverance, commitment, true love, etc. They also expose our children to a world in which evil truly hurts and causes pain. Yet they do so in such a way that the child thinks of it gleefully as a fantasy tale. What the child does not realize is that inner foundations are being built, foundations of thought that will support a later, balanced, adult understanding of the way that the world truly works.
So, I commend you to read fantasy, science fiction, and engage in cosplay and online gaming. Utilize control so that you do not devote your life simply to those pursuits. Express the image of God in painting, drawing, sculpture, play-writing, etc.. Enjoy cosplay. At the same time, maintain balance in your life and serve your family, serve the Church, serve the Kingdom of God. Then you will see the fruits of the Kingdom in a new way.