Tolkien writes in his essay “On Fairie Stories”:
The Gospels contain a fairystory, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
You may ask: “why bother with engaging with culture?” Or, “Isn’t it over-stretching to look for gospel truth in our culture or in our stories“?
My guess, is that if you are coming from more of an academic background of de-constructing literature or film in a particular way, then looking for Gospel Truth or Christ-like heroes or indeed shadows of things that need redemption may cause your inner academic to die. You may think that those who look for these things are reading too much into it and perhaps its a little dangerous?
But the more I have looked into it and read around the subject of how stories are made and how they capture our hearts, I am more inclined to engage with them in this way. The reason being, is one that Tolkien (and C.S. Lewis) write about: The Gospel is a story of a larger kind which “embraces all the essence of fairy-stories”. C.S. Lewis calls the gospel a “true myth”.
The Gospel story is one above all stories and so all other stories must echo a part of the gospel story – no matter how small! There is always an echo, a shadow, a glimpse of truth in the stories we tell, however, they are also in need of redemption and they are in need of pointing to the true gospel story.
Our culture and our stories are screaming out a message. Some messages are good and echo that goodness, but some messages are not and they need gospel truth to turn them around. Christians have an amazing opportunity to do this, to learn where the echoes of the Gospel are, so that they might point them out and affirm them with the view of sharing the full story of the Gospel. They also need to learn where the gospel is lacking, where the fallen hero messes up, where people are yearning for something more but never find it – we can point those things out and introduce people to Jesus.
The world exists on stories. We love them. But what people don’t realise is that they are just echoes, drops in the ocean and there is a better story out there. One that will truly satisfy, one with a hero who really does win and doesn’t mess up, one with true salvation and true redemption.
That’s why I am so passionate about engaging with culture and the stories we tell – it’s an opportunity to point people to the real and true story and show them Jesus. My hope is that you will be able to do the same as you show films to your children or watch them with your friends.
Look for the echoes. Look for the truth and the lies. Look for the light and dark. Look for the hero.