Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Can our stories form a better future?

A writer of fantasy, fairy tale, or myth must inevitably discover that he is not writing out of his own knowledge or experience, but out of something both deeper and wider. I think that fantasy must possess the author and simply use him. I know that this is true of A Wrinkle in Time. 

- from Madeleine L'Engle's Newbery Medal acceptance speech

I was reading A Wrinkle In Time to my daughter Analisa around the time of the Orlando attacks. It was one of her birthday books from her dad and me.

And now Istanbul, Dallas and Nice have followed Orlando.

The themes in Madeleine L'Engle's series strike me as appropriate as I continue to ponder with sadness and discouragement all these accumulating acts of terrible violence, and it occurred to me: how many great imaginative tales do we have from authors through the centuries that, in their own fanciful and yet startlingly clear-sighted way, encourage us as children and young adults to chase the best idea of ourselves, one that is strengthened by loyalty, hope, courage in the face of fear, and by choosing love and respect when hate is so easy, highly contagious and incredibly near, breathing down our necks in fact?

What might happen if we returned with renewed vigor to great stories and storytellers with their eternal themes of redemption, sacrifice, and love? Distracting, pointless apps, insipid cartoons and reality TV shows, and incendiary internet chatter cannot compete with what these stories offer us.

How much better could we be, I wonder, if we read these entertaining but necessary tales of good versus evil more frequently to our children - where the good, if narrowly, defeats evil precisely with the tools evil cannot comprehend or espouse: love, compassion, community, fortitude, friendship and selflessness, these lofty implements of right so contrary to the easy by-products of our own fear, ignorance and dejection.

(Survival of the kindest instead of survival of the strongest is an idea Dr. Amit Sood discusses in his book The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living as he explores the way our brains get trapped by fear, by our amygdala, in its own black holes and open files, sapping our love and contentment and forcing us always to threat assess like our prehistoric ancestors did. This undoubtedly leads to miscommunication, harsh judgments and violence, I think.)

I happen to feel that our imaginations are an incredible gift imparted to our race, and that they help us see truths about our universe that our common, impaired senses and faulty brains (just read the above mentioned work by Dr. Sood) cannot examine or elucidate fully. Some of these truths, I feel passionately, are best communicated through the epic works of fantasy such as The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling and contemporary series like Kelven's Riddle by Daniel Hylton, my dad. I argue that these tales are meant to be told; they must be told for our good. And what a great and humbling thing it is to have such a story choose you as its storyteller!

How many nuggets of wisdom and beauty have I paused and marveled over while reading them? For instance, there is a beautiful part in the second book of L'Engle's series, A Wind in the Door, in which the cherubim character Proginoskes discusses with Meg, a teenage human girl, Namers and un-Naming and what they mean for the fate of the universe and particularly of her brother Charles Wallace:

"All I want to do," he was murmuring to himself, "is go some place quiet and recite the names of the stars..."

"Progo! You said we were Namers. I still don't know: what is a Namer?"

I've told you. A Namer has to know who people are and who they are meant to be. I don't know why I should have been shocked at finding Echthroi on your planet."

"Why are they here?"

"Echthroi are always about when there's war. They start all war."

And then later, explaining Echthroi further:

"I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming - making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn't need to hate. That's why we still need Namers..."

Un-Namers are a real thing in this world, it occurs to me, and we as a race need far more people who will Name others through acts of love, faith and encouragement. We need to name people Beloved, Worthy, Found, Redeemed, Part of God's Great Glory, United, Connected, Seen, Respected. Having Dignity and Talent. A Contributor. Teammate. 


We need more stories that model for us how to and why we must do so.

And please, please God...

...may there be an ever growing abundance of Peacemakers.


  1. Oh my goodness, this is excellent! May I link it to my blog and facebook? This needs to be read by many...

  2. I agree! I know that the stories I read in childhood and young adulthood formed me and I want my children to have the same wonderful foundation!

    1. Stories are vital. I'm biased as a writer, but I believe the stories we see in print or on a screen do indeed form us. Thanks for commenting!

  3. This took me back to my childhood!! I read A Wrinkle in Time in elementary school and the Chronicles of Narnia in middle school! Both are great!! This article was spot on and I'm praying with you! Loved the Peacemakers part too!!

    1. Ah, thanks! I do not believe they are mere stories. I think their impact on our lives and society runs deeper. At least I truly hope so.

      Blessed are the peacemakers!

  4. Oh my goodness, for sure reading certain books can mold childrens' perspectives on life! I know they certainly did for me, and as a teacher now, I want to pass down my love of reading to my students. I want them to learn and grow as I did from them!

    1. Thank you for what you do! May God bless all the teachers out there who help to form and inform our children. Yes, a love of reading is truly a great gift when one can find and appreciate and learn from stories such as these.


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