The Need for Fairy Tales

This thought has been banging around in my head for a while, but it seems like it was waiting for today to come out. The writing prompt over at the writing community today is to reflect on this quote:

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist,
but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – G.K. Chesterton

Myths are Important

You may not be the type of person who’s into “fairy tales” or “crazy make ’em ups” as comedian Howard Kremer refers to them, but they’re really important. Have you noticed that real life can be kind of terrible? There has been another shooting by a police officer on video. I barely have popped my head up from the job hunt to write much less pay attention to world events, so I have no comment on the facts of what happened. All I know is that every time I hear these stories, I’m sick of the world we live in and the seeming continuous lack of justice.

So, here’s the thing, if I wanted to sit down and tell you what was in my heart about this incident or all of these incidents, I would have a hard time overcoming barriers we all have preset in our minds. If I tell you the story of the police officer and the young African-American man, you have a file ready to load that will fit that narrative. You’ve already chosen a default-setting and although you may change it, you probably won’t.

Instead I’ll tell you the story of a group of knights, charged with the protection of a certain village, and how one act of madness revealed the character of a knight, who chose to try and cover up a misdeed rather than turn himself in. If I tell you that story, you don’t immediately think “all knights are terrible!” because you’ve never met a knight. You also don’t prejudge the villager for being where he was, or looking the way he did, because he’s just a villager. He looks like the other villagers (like people the knights should protect).

But in this myth, an errant knight can be brought to justice and you can believe that things will be made right. I believe this is true, but when I’m faced with the “facts” of the world in front of me, I’m a little skeptical that justice will really happen, and I’m also almost never sure what “justice” should actually look like. Much easier in the story of the knight to decide what is honor and what is true.


So that’s not a great example, but you get my point. We need one step outside of the world as we know it so we can deal with terrible things in a safe context. Our entire entertainment industry is built on this need and leverages it for billions of dollars a year. I’m not saying they’re wrong to do that, just pointing out that there is something primal within us that needs to be told those stories.

I bring up the entertainment industry because that is our current manufacturing plant for new myths, and I think there is a new brand of myth they’ve developed we should be a little wary of. It’s easy to see that these are myths:

supernatural_wallpaper_by_justromanova-d5m3xpj Into-The-Woods-00670_R-1-970x545

And you can probably be convinced that even these are myths:

sherlock1 Criminal-Minds-criminal-minds-6939922-1259-699

BUT, you have to recognize that these are myths, too:

real-housewives-of-atlanta Duck-Dynasty

All of these are skillfully crafted stories to tell you tales of morality and deceit and in many cases how the underdog can achieve great things against enormous odds. Only one set of these stories calls itself “reality,” though, and that’s a little troubling to me. I actually like Duck Dynasty because I think they try to at least be tongue in cheek about how many odd things seem to happen that somehow all relate together during the same half-hour segment.

So, that’s all I got. Myths are important, they’re literally everywhere, and we should be really careful about which ones we choose to believe. If they make you believe something greater is possible, either a better version of you or the world, I’d say that’s a pretty good myth. If they tell you that something greater is possible, if only you could acquire this car/house/clothes/money/person, you may need to be a little wary — and you definitely need to remind yourself it’s a fairy tale!