Once upon a time, there was a story. Year after year, decade after decade, this little story was told to children, passing on her great wisdom from generation to generation. This story gave riches and honor, comfort, and life to all who heard it. Her words weaved into the lives of those who understood, and so her family grew beyond measure.
But slowly, quietly, the adults who had once cherished this beloved story began to forget. As the daily matters became more important, the little story slipped away from their thoughts. As the bills and worries of the world grew, the story was abandoned for more glorious and successful tales. In the hearts and minds of a serious generation, the little story was pressed into the childhood memories of the past.
The young children asked, but their parents had forgotten the story. Generations out of practice, they couldn’t even remember how the story began. They searched for any story to take her place, but it wasn’t quite the same. The once loved and well-known story was missing from the bedtime routine, and kitchen table conversation. So all children grew up not remembering anything about this life-changing little story. In fact, all stories came to be regarded as trivial and untrue. No life, no honor, no wisdom: a story was for simple childish entertainment. Unknowingly by omission, they silenced the little story.
Fuzzy television screens, monotone narrative, people experienced a world without hearing the beautiful assurance that the story told. Measured righteousness, unforgiving friends, people lived in a reality without understanding the steadfast mercy that the story told. Everywhere one turned, it looked as if the story was lost. If by chance someone remembered her, she was spit upon and mocked. If someone defended her, she was ripped apart at the seams. The little story only tried to offer comfort, but those who had forgotten hated her more with every passing word.
Yet she is still there for the children.
Even when the young ones no longer heard the tales of that beautiful little story, she did not waver. Even when it seemed like the whole world told stories that humiliated her ancient foundations, she didn’t worry one bit. She’s kept a secret that assures her words will always live on in the ears of the next generation.
Hidden deep in the great stories that the world creates, hidden beyond the things human beings love to tell, there she is. Pieces of truth and shadows of righteousness glimmer in the fantastical stories that still grab every person’s heart and mind. Reflections of reality and blessings beyond measure are buried between the lines of the stories that still have been portrayed, even just in silly children’s movies. Instead of becoming irrelevant when they no longer could bear the magnitude of her story, she resounds in every tiny tale that produces hope, mercy, and love. She had been there from the beginning and has given birth to every meaningful story that exists.
So our fairy tales and Disney movies speak a small piece of her epic story. Our fables and romantic comedies hint at her beauty. Our dramatic worlds and imaginary kingdoms inspire hope towards her happy ending. But each and every “eucatastrophe,” a good catastrophe, points to the story she has always told. Other character plots and situations drag us down a dusty road of sorrow and pain, a calamity that we can sympathize with, even to the depths of death. But out of nowhere, the happy turn appears. Good breaks through the darkness. From the depths of lost hope, a savior rides in on a white horse to save the day. And that is the story we always want to hear.
So even if the story is not told as plainly as it once was, her veiled words still rouse response. Even though the story is not spoken as loudly as she would like, her message still resonates in young hearts. The eucatastrophe awakens a primal need for her wisdom, honor, and life. The great reversal, even in a fairy tale, revives a desire for mercy and restitution.
When cultivated, this immature fascination with the story can bloom into a recognition of the greatest story ever told. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, descending on the earth to shepherd God’s chosen people. But a terrible catastrophe overtakes this hero. He suffers, he dies, he leaves behind mothers and brothers who wail at the injustice done to their friend. For three days, all is silent, and all hope is lost. The great story of victory proved to be weak and disappointing. But suddenly, a turn. Life: the one who has finally defeated death! No longer is there eternal sadness. No longer does the power of evil overcome the good! Everything we hope comes true. This Savior accomplished a happily ever after, not for Himself, but a happily ever after for you.
So this story lives on in the visions of those who listen to the great stories: even if heroes and villains spark it; even if princesses and dragons kindle it; especially if it’s fueled by a eucatastrophe which plants seeds of hope in our hopeless world.
This is why I love to explore fairy tales with my children. Here in their fantastical worlds of bedtime stories, they hear about the righteous and good, the foolish and evil. They cheer for the hero even when the wicked stepmother has already claimed victory. They dream of the keys to the kingdom, even as a poor miserable beggar. The world of fairy stories defies the world who has forgotten the greatest story ever told. And my children love to hear it.
If only more of us could be brave enough to tell this lost, true, and beautiful story. If only wise adults were confident enough to admit the simplicity of evil and the security of a happily ever after. If only my generation would love her forgotten story, it might not remain hidden beneath castles and mermaids.
So we have these conversations with our children, the ones that really matter, the ones hidden amid pirates and treasure. Boldly, we proclaim mercy. Proudly, we uncover sacrifice. We tell the little story of the Gospel because our great stories ultimately reflect Christ.
Check out Cindy’s third season of Family Style Theology. Across six episodes, she sits down with her children to discuss classic and modern fairytales. This particular series is influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien's essay, “On Fairy Stories.” Family Style theology is about having meaningful conversations with your children, and this season is helpful as it not only engages the mind but the imagination.