Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: J.R.R. Tolkien

The abolition of sin in children’s literature

Nowadays the lead character in a highly acclaimed book for children is apt to be a lesbian who is a practicing Wiccan. Parents have been banished from children’s books for many years, but are making a comeback in situations where a child has two mothers or two fathers. But any mention of God, Christianity or morality makes a book far too dangerous for young children.

Perhaps this started in a small way many years ago. The fairy tales of Charles Perrault, from the 18th century, were morality tales. When Little Red Riding Hood got into bed with the wolf, that was the end of her. Perrault made it clear at the end that he was thinking of wolves of the two-legged, smooth talking kind. In Cinderella, the heroine forgave her two stepsisters and found good husbands for them. Perrault’s point was that true beauty is not on the outside, but inside, in the heart. Those moral teachings disappeared in the versions of the Grimm brothers that appeared 100 years later. Little Red Riding Hood was miraculously rescued and Cinderella was well rid of her mean stepsisters.

Children’s books that depicted the value of moral purity and respect for parents went out of fashion years ago. Modern books are teaching a whole different sense of values.

On the other side are the type of conservative Christian children’s books where sin and evil have become unmentionable. Tender and sensitive children must be protected from such awful things. Many parents who think like that would be appalled to see what their children read a few years later.

Even Bible story books are getting the makeover to supposedly make themn less scary to children. David doesn’t kill Goliath, he just defeats him. The Bible says that David didn’t stop with stunning the giant with a stone from his sling, he cut his head off. That is not just gratuitous blood and gore, David did not want to see the giant get up from the ground and seek revenge. He wanted to be sure that he was well and truly dead. We need to do the same with the things that tempt us.

By either denying that anything is sinful or pretending that sin is something about which little children should have no knowledge, neither extreme prepares children to navigate the dangers and temptations of life. Children realize from quite a young age that the world is a scary place. How do we explain the dangers in the world in a way that helps them know to avoid evil and trust in the good?

C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and others have endeavoured to answer this question by creating a genre of Christian fantasy for children. As fantasies they portray dangers in a way that is not explicit, but shows that there are dangerous unseen forces in the world. Children can relate to that. Even more importantly, these books always show that evil can be overcome. The good guys in these fantasies never use the methods of the bad guys in order to win, in itself a very important lesson that is not characteristic of books like Harry Potter.

Another book in the genre is Hari & Rudi in the Land of Fruit, by English author Andrew Ratcliffe. It was published earlier this year and is available from Amazon.

 

What shall our children read?

What books are safe for children to read? Some Christian parents provide only  books about nice people who do nice things and everything turns out nicely for them. How realistic is that? Children know that there is evil in the world. There are scary things out there, things happen that they do not understand.

Other Christian parents believe that any book that turns out well in the end is sound reading material for their children. Even books where sorcery and witchcraft are used to attain that happy ending. The end justifies the means – or does it?

The Bible only promises a happy ending for people who use Christian means. Evil can only be overcome by good; in that sense the means are the end. We cannot live an overcoming Christian life by using the tools and methods of the enemy. Books that underline that principle can help to develop spiritual understanding.

In 17th century France, Jean de La Fontaine took ancient fables, many of them from Aesop, and rendered them into charming verses with a touch of humour and a clear moral teaching woven in. The fables of La Fontaine were once part of the school curriculum in all French-speaking countries. I’m afraid their moral teaching is now considered old fashioned.

In the same era, Charles Perrault collected and rewrote old folk tales and created others, all having a clear moral teaching. Almost 120 years later the brothers Grimm included some of these tales in their books of fairy tales, leaving out the moral teachings.

Perrault’s tale, La Belle au Bois Dormant, is much more gruesome than the Sleeping Beauty that I read as a child. In the end the innocent children are rescued by the return of their father and the evil woman who wanted to consume them comes to a horrible end. There is nothing here to lull children to overlook evil with the idea that the poor woman was just misunderstood. She was out and out evil and their father was pure and good.

One of Perrault’s stories does not have a happy ending. In Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, when the young lady gets into bed with the wolf that is the end of her. Perrault wrote: “There is one kind [of wolf] with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!” That lesson is lost when Little Red Riding Hood is allowed to escape unharmed from the wolf. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a copy of Perrault’s tales that has not been Disneyfied, even in French. Don’t expect clear moral teachings from that source.

In the 20th Century British writers created several series of Christian fantasy novels.  I am thinking specifically of the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald’s Princess and Curdie books and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I know Christian parents who will not let their children read such books because they describe fantasy worlds, fantastic creatures and fantastic events. Yet in these books evil is always evil and the good people do not use evil means to accomplish good. I am of the opinion that it is better for children to read books where evil exists and is overcome by good than to read books where evil does not appear to exist at all. Isn’t that a more dangerous fantasy?

 

 

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