Mythology, Fairy Tales, and Fantasy |

Originally posted at the Classical Christian Education Support Loop, January 2003. Christine’s ongoing research into the biblical principles for choosing worthy literature is posted in the on good books series. Christine is overhauling the 1000 Good Books List to reflect these principles.

We have included mythology, fairy tales, and fantasy in our 1000 Good Books List, and our children read this genre of literature in our homes. Learning the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Norse myths is a part of learning the history and culture of those civilizations that have influenced Western Civilization. We are not afraid that our children will begin believing these pagan stories to be true, as they have learned the history of the Old Testament and know the Word of God to be true long before they ever are exposed to mythology. Furthermore, carefully chosen mythology that has stood the test of time, such as Charles Kingsley’s wonderful Heroes, or Bulfinch’s The Age of Fable, exemplifies all of the qualities of good literature, having its own intrinsic value in our children’s education. Please also read the excellent article How to Handle Mythology by Rob and Cyndy Shearer of Greenleaf Press, for a more thorough treatment of this subject. [The article by the Shearers is no longer available. Christine has tackled this subject using biblical principles in her on good books series, in particular on fantasy and the test of true, and on mythology and the test of true.]

Concerning fairy tales, we agree with this excerpt taken from Honey For a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt:

Bruno Bettelheim, one of the world’s leading child psychologists, contends that fairy tales provide children with an invaluable education in good and evil. He believes that every child has a rich supply of personal fantasies filled with fears and anxieties and that fairy tales reassure him and offer solutions. He learns how to deal constructively with his fears. Happy endings tell him that solutions and hope are real and model the kind of happy life the child wants to find. ‘Like all great art, fairy tales both delight and instruct; their special genius is that they do so in terms which speak directly to children.’ Fairy tales, says Bettelheim, help children answer such questions as: What is the world really like? How am I to live my life in it? How can I be myself?

Some of the greatest Christian literature is in the form of fantasy. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is just such a book. The Chronicles of Narniaby C. S. Lewis, rich in spiritual truth, is another example. Gladys Hunt, again in Honey for a Child’s Heart (which we highly recommend to any parent or educator) says about fantasy:

A good fantasy is not a thinly disguised moral message: it asks profound questions that develop out of the plot and the characters of the story. The word fantasy comes from the Greek and literally translated means a making visible. A proper story makes visible certain basic realities; it demonstrates options in handling life’s situations. … I am convinced that fantasies quicken the ability to extract and apply principles in life as readers learn to make a transfer of ideas from allegory to reality. Good literature should always make life larger.

It is important to note two things: first of all, not every fairy tale or fantasy ever written for children or adults is what we would consider “good.” We believe we have been careful in choosing those fairy tales, fantasy, and mythology in our 1000 Good Books List that we do consider to be exceptional. Secondly, mythology, fairy tales and fantasy do not comprise the lion’s share of our children’s literature, but it is included along with fiction, historical fiction, biography, poetry, histories, and non-fiction. The balance of all these genres of literature helps our children develop into well-rounded persons, with keen and inquisitive minds and rich imaginations.

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