So of course, Craig and I got talking and wonderfully, we feel pretty much the same way. I love it when that happens! But there were some areas where I knew what my standards were but still had trouble articulating why which wasn't good, especially since I'm about to start using a preschool program that focuses on fairies. But even putting that aside, I'm never really satisfied that I know myself when I can't explain it, I just have to keep working an idea in my mind until I can express it. So I did - and having written it all down. But consider this a "writing/thinking it out" type post, not a "you should do what I do" type post.
I do understand why Christians can be hesitant to embrace fairy tales and "magic" at first glance. We don't want to gloss over something the Bible calls evil just because the world thinks it is benign. And yet, I don't have issues with fairy tales - in fact, I encourage my children to read them. I separate magic into two categories. And I don't mean I think there is good/white magic and bad/black magic, I don't fall for that trap. Just that our English word "magic" can refer to two things, just like "kid" can mean baby people and baby goat.
If by magic you mean sorcery or divination - trying to predict the future using mysticism or mediums, control future events, communicate with the dead or otherwise attempting to delve into a very real world of spiritual beings for our own purposes, I want to stay away. According to the Bible, these things are clearly evil. The only talking to spirits we should be doing is using Christ's name to tell them to leave us alone. No Ouija boards, Tarot cards, or horoscopes for us. And no books glorifying those things or making them seem fun, lighthearted or otherwise interesting. I know many people think they are harmless fun or amusement but the Bible says otherwise and in my limited experience with these areas, those who have dabbled in them for fun have caused major problems for themselves.
But in most fairy tales, either the classic Grimm's and traditional folk tales or the more modern fairy tale-style books like Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit and perhaps even Harry Potter, magic isn't something done by channeling evil spirits to predict or determine who will win a battle. It's a literary device used to create another world and most often works like a superhero's "powers;" one doesn't gain them by calling demons up any more than one changes one's hair color by doing so. The abilities are inherent in the world the author has created, not derived from any spirit. These I am fine with these. I don't consider a "magical" story to be any less biblical than a story about wild things or talking animals would be, although it would perhaps be nice if our language had a different word for magic so that they could be distinguished imaginative magic from sorcery magic from each other the way I believe that God would.
I'm having trouble thinking of a specific example but I suppose there could also be instances where the biblical type magic is in the story but portrayed negatively and not glamorized. I'm not opposed to evil things being in stories as long as they are age appropriate and shown to be evil so I wouldn't consider an (evil) witch in a story to be much different from an (evil) murderer - but I draw the line at good witches (witch in this case meaning person who calls on spirits not "old lady") and good murderers.
But why even bother? If it's even questionable to some, why wouldn't I just avoid it? Better to be safe than sorry, right? Why am I, as I said about, seeking them out as choice literature for my very impressionable small children? It's not just that I think they are often fine works with great literary value (which I do) or that they provide common knowledge that is important for understanding many other literary works (which I do) but its because I actually think that fairy tales are an ideal and important way to impart real spiritual knowledge and understanding of God's world to them.
Modern science tries to convince us that everything is knowable, nothing is a mystery. We are all physical bodies and that's it. Now those of you who have been around here for a while know that I am a scientist and love exploring God's creation because knowledge of science can teach us much about God. But it can't tell us everything. Fairy tales and "magic" in the classical sense of the world teach us to rejoice in the mystery of the world, they bring out that awe of the world that children naturally have and renew it in me as an adult.
Reading a truly imaginative story, a fairy tale, is like looking at a newborn. I know the science of how babies come to be, the genetics, the development. It's successfully happened billions of times on our planet and can hardly be called a rare occurrence. I know it and would never try and convince anyone those facts are not true - but they aren't the whole truth. No, when you see a newborn baby, like I did at church this week, you don't think about those things, you look at their toes and their little fingers and smile at their little yawns and you know, that's a miracle right there. A human being that didn't exist 10 months ago is now right there in front of you full of potential. It's magical! It's the same with our whole word. In a fairy tale, a tree can grow candy but our trees on earth only grow what they grow because God was imaginative enough to speak them into existence and determine they should do that. It wasn't inevitable. And just as other worlds can be magical, when looked at with unjaded eyes, our world truly is a "magical" place too.
Fairy tales not only teach us the right way to view the world, not only in terms of wonder but also in wisdom. One of my most important tasks as a parent is to instill in my children the there is right and world in this world. Good and evil. That truth exists - but so do lies. This is tricky because my children are also innocent and I want to keep them sheltered to a certain degree. I don't let them watch the news, bad language, or the violence of the real world. There is time for that later on in their life. Fairy tales provide a filter of sorts. A way to teach the truths in a safe world of literature and imagination. Fairy tales have evil in them, but so does the Bible. I'm okay with reading both to my children as long as its done with the right context and age appropriateness.
Yet our job doesn't end at exposing our children to the idea of good and evil, we need to equip our children with the ability to distinguish between the two. Real life provides examples as kids get older but at a young age, my kids are around a lot more naughtiness than true evil (again, I proudly admit it, I shelter them!). There is also the issue of little children and their natural tendency to become little pharisees and tattle tales and I don't really want to encourage them to analyze the actions and motives of those around them on a daily basis. So how do we teach this skill? Literature. Non-fiction and more true life stories can do this but they tend to have more grey areas than the sharp black and white world of fairy tales. And, in the case of bad books, have more obnoxious preachy moral tendencies. Have you ever picked up a book and known just the situation/parent it was written for? As in, "Oh Timmy doesn't want to share so let's read him a book about other kids that don't want to share but eventually learn to share." Blech.
But fairy tales sharpen a child's sword. In them, children see good and evil. They know who's who and what side they want to be on. The decisions the heroes and heroines have to make might not be easy, but they are typically clear. While a child might sympathize with Edmund and his desire for more Turkish delight (while still probably wondering what the heck Turkish delights are, or was that just me as a child?), they are also screaming on the inside "Don't do it! It's wrong!" They know it but more than that, they know Edmund should know it. They know the princess is wrong for refusing the frog even if they also know that they probably wouldn't want a frog on their pillow either. Those are the skills they are going to need for the future and fairy tales develop them.
To summarize those last six paragraphs, I believe they not only are they not wrong but that they actually glorify God and thus have a place in our home and our imaginations.
But I'll end by saying this I believe this to be a Romans 14 issue. We all need to search the word of God and then our own convictions. If you feel that no type of magic deserves a place in your household, I will not be the one to encourage you otherwise. I heard a sermon about Romans 14 once that really stuck with me because the pastor mentioned that when we read that chapter and apply it to a situation in our lives, we almost always assume we are the stronger and our brother is the weaker. How true! I won't speak for you but I can say that I have never once read that passage and thought "Oh, I'm so glad that my stronger brothers are willing to grant me grace in this area." In reality, we don't always know which side we are on. So if you think I'm the weaker Christian in this area, be patient and understanding with me and in return, I'll do the same so together we can "not destroy the work of God for the sake of
Lots more on this subject:
Christians, Charlotte Mason and Fairy Tales
G.K. Chesterton on Fairy Tales
A Fairy Tale on Fairy Tales
Fairy Lore: A Screen and a Shelter
Ambleside Online on Fairy Tales (Note: While AO thinks fairy tales are beneficial, they also recognize that not all families are comfortable with them so they have listed alternatives. That's just to say - don't discount AO if you think it otherwise might be a good fit for your family)
An excellent thread on the Ambleside Online with various viewpoints. I love the AO forum and the participant's ability for thoughtful and kind discussions.
The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing - Haven't read this but it was recommended to me and I want to.
Orthodoxy by G.K. - Free for kindle! I'm only half way through this but it's good. It took all my self control not to skip right to his chapters on the Ethics of Elfland though.