Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…


Doug Phillips, whom I admire as a faithful and godly man, has posted a criticism of Harry Potter here. This is nothing new, as Doug Phillips has always had a beef with Harry Potter (for all the wrong reasons). However the thing about this article that bothered me was the suggestion that the "right" type of books for kids to read are history, theology, and biography. The "wrong" type of books for kids to read are fantasy novels. He thinks it's shame that folks like Tolkien and Lewis have created a taste among Christians for this sort of stuff which is at best literary junk food and at worst a slow poison destroying our children's Christian worldviews. I think this betrays a skewed perspective on what reality is, and so in response I'm posting an article that I wrote for our church's newsletter, Intoxication Quarterly.

Jim was a simple man who had never been to the big city before. So when he wandered into the huge bookstore, he was somewhat overwhelmed at the sheer size of it all. He timidly approached the man at the cash register.

“I’m looking for a book,” he began.

“We’ll, you’ve come to the right place,” said the man at the counter. “We’ve got two floors of books.”

“Well, actually I’ve come for a specific book.”

“Well,” said the clerk, “if you tell me about it, I might be able to help you. What type of book is it?”

“Hmm,” started Jim, thinking very carefully, “it’s a very realistic book.”

“Oh,” said the man, “follow me. I think we can fix you right up.”

He led Jim to a series of long shelves labeled FICTION: (Alphabetical by Author). The man pulled a book from the shelf by Gustave Flaubert.

“See if this looks like what you’re after,” he said, handing the volume to Jim.

Jim opened it and flipped through, reading a couple of short passages. He grimaced. “No, this isn’t it at all. I’m looking for a realistic book.” Stephen Crane, Henry James, Frank Norris, and Émile Zola each gave Jim the same visceral reaction. He turned disgusted to the clerk. “No, no, no! The book I’m looking for is realistic.”

“You mean it’s a true story?” asked the man.

“Yes!” said Jim. “It’s a true story.”

“Oh, well why didn’t you say so.”

The man led Jim a few rows further on into the store, where they stopped in front of a shelf labeled NONFICTION/BIOGRAPHY. “Here,” said the man, pleased, “is where you’ll find the book you’re looking for.”

But alas, try as he might, Jim still did not find the book he was looking for. He was growing impatient with the clerk. “None of these books are realistic!” he said exasperated.

“Of course they are,” said the man. “These books are all nonfiction, and the fiction books I showed you earlier represent the best that the school of realism has to offer. Here are the books that will show you life exactly as it is, stripped bare of all pretense and fancy.”

“Then where are the dragons?” inquired Jim sharply.

“I beg your pardon?” said the clerk.

“These books are realistic like a black and white photo is realistic,” he continued. “I guess they show things that really are, but there’s something missing. They don’t look exactly like they do in real life. The color is gone. There is so much more that’s just not there.”

The man eyed Jim queerly, and then said in an exaggerated voice, “Well why don’t you tell me about this book you’re looking for, so that I (an English major in college mind you!) can understand what realism is.”

“Well,” said Jim, “It begins with a man and a woman, who are placed a beautiful land by their king, and are told that they can live there happily ever after. But then a dragon comes and dupes them into eating cursed food, and so their kingdom is taken from them and a curse is put on the land and everyone in it.”

The cashier rolled his eyes, but Jim continued unabashed.

“Well, then the king promises that a prince will be born someday who will kill the dragon and lift the curse. In the next part, the people are held captive away from their land by a wicked king. Then the true king brings a savior, and he and his brother have a magical battle to prove if the true king’s magic is stronger than the wicked king’s magic. Then the Creator plagues the evil king and his people, and brings His people out of the land, and the sea swallows up the evil king. And the people are led through the desert , and they get attacked by fire breathing dragons. There are so many stories in the book. There’s a boy who kills a giant, and marries a princess, and wins a kingdom. There are old wise men who do amazing things like call on bears, and ride flaming chariots, and raise the dead. There are epic battles with hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Fortresses magically fall to the ground when trumpets are blown. The sun stands still in the sky. Evil cities are destroyed by fire from heaven. Oh, it’s a wonderful story. It’s got dragons, and unicorns, and cockatrices, and giants, and devils, and all sorts of strange creatures with multiple heads and animal bodies and human faces. And then when the prince comes, it turns out that he’s really the king. He heals people, raises the dead, turns water into wine, makes food appear from nowhere. But only a few of his people recognize him. Then, it’s revealed that the only way for the curse to be broken is for the prince to take it on himself. And so, the prince is cursed and dies. But the book has a surprise ending, because the prince is raised from the dead, and kills the dragon. And at the end, he sends his people out to take back the kingdom!”

The cashier at this time was biting his cheek to hold back his laughter. “Follow me buddy,” he said, “I think we’ve got your book.”

Jim nodded and followed the clerk past the BESTSELLERS, left through the CLASSICS and past the yuppie coffee bar, then up the stairs, and past the ROMANCE. Finally, they came to a stop in the back corner of the store under a sign that read FANTASY. The cashier stomped away, making twirling motions near his head with his finger.
Jim eyed the shelf for a moment, his head cocked to one side. There he saw Lloyd Alexander’s Black Cauldron series and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. He looked on a lower shelf and saw J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books sitting next to The Lord of the Rings. There were Piers Anthony, and Peter S. Beagle, George MacDonald and T. H. White. He looked through these books for some time. He didn’t find the exact book he was looking for on that shelf, but he did find an armload of realistic books, that described the world exactly as it really is, and left the store with them happily in tow.


My daughter is almost thirty now but I still remember the night her father was reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to her. She must have been around six or seven at the time.

I heard her respond to Aslan coming back to life by saying, "Jesus, they are talking about Jesus!".

Out of the mouth of babes.

(Having just re-read three of L'Engle's Time books, fantasy can be a wonderful way to communicate reality.)
Erica said…
How dare people read fiction?

Somehow I can compare this to the big thing about reading novels back in the 1800's :D