‘Fairytales are more than true— not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.’
That quote has been one of my absolute favorites for several years now. If ever my love for fantasy has come close to being perfectly summed up in one sentence, it’s in that quote.
I mean, look at it. Read it again. How is that not perfect?
The speculative genre as a whole has often been written off as escapism, wish-fulfillment, and ‘just fairytales’— a genre for children and young adults, while a more ‘mature’ audience will seek out more ‘realistic’ reading material.
Wow. I feel bad for them.
I mean, sure, they have their reasons. After all, what does a tired young mother of twenty five want reading about wizards and elves and shiny bewitched jewelry? Wouldn’t her time be better spent on a book on child-raising, or maybe honoring her husband?
Well… I’m not convinced. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with picking up a book like that, couldn’t a good old-fashioned fairytale do the trick just as well? For instance, the story of a young queen who finds her own emotional needs ignored by her husband as he battles to save their kingdom from legions of venom-spitting, flying serpents?
The venom-spitting, flying serpents (however cool) are not what our tired young mother will remember about this story. It will be the beauty of the queen’s journey to selfless sacrifice as she puts herself aside, steps up beside her husband, and gives him all of herself without asking for anything in return.
Fairytales are simply a different setting for the same priceless gems of wisdom.
And that’s the thing about them that critics always seem to miss. It’s not about the elves. It’s not about the goblins or portals or enchanted rings. It’s not even about dragons. It’s about learning that the dragons can be beaten.
We all have our dragons, after all, don’t we? The Dragon Jealousy, that lurks in the works of other great artists and bites our fingers, crippling our sense of purpose and fulfillment until we lose all love for our calling. Or maybe the Dragon Doubt, hunched on our shoulder and whispering ‘go back’ as we face the twin dragons of Impossible and Not-Good-Enough in the dark forests of life.
What does it matter that they aren’t really dragons with scales, claws, and wings? The antidote is the same. We still need courage to bring them down.
In a way, fantasy is both a mirror and a magnifying glass. A reflection of ‘real life’ with all the common things that make real life seem homely stripped away, so the most important things in life can shine out new in unfamiliar settings.
That, I believe, is a fairytale’s true purpose. To teach us to see old things with new eyes, so we can learn their timeless lessons all over again.
And I think we could all use a bit of that, whether we’re seven or seventy five.