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Why I read my children stories

illustration by Pauline Baynes

I stood under my favourite oak trees today and stared upwards, heavy dark branches and deep green leaves reaching into the blue of the sky. For a moment I was far from here, in the Enchanted Wood or Narnia or Middle Earth.1

It was a windy morning. I closed my eyes and listened to the “Wisha-wisha-wisha” of the leaves and almost, for a second, convinced myself that when I opened them I’d see or hear … Something. A white glimmer as Moonface peered around a branch. A faun tripping between the trunks, umbrella raised and arms full of parcels. A lantern’s glow and the far-off singing of the Elves.

I opened my eyes and smiled. Nothing. And yet, everything: the touch of enchantment lingering in the air, the hint of another world, the leaves repeating words on the edge of hearing. I know what they whisper – they speak of the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-6) – and a childhood filled with story helped me to hear it.

That’s the beauty of stories. They hold the promise that there is something deeper. A wardrobe is not just a wardrobe, but the door to another place. Trees are not just trees, but the outliers of a land we belong to but have never seen. The sound of wind in the trees is not just an accident of air currents moving against the ear drums, but the signature of the King who rules this country.

That’s why I give my children stories. I want their imaginations to grow tough and strong. I want them to long for another place. I want them to sense the beauty of hope and sacrifice. I want them to taste the flavour of God in this world. I want them to aspire to the love that risks all for a friend, the courage to confront dragons, and the perseverance to see this hard journey through to the end.

My children don’t just read the stories I read as a child. This is a new age and it has new stories – ones that I enjoy discovering with my children. But as long as I can read them the good old stories, as long as their own stories speak to them of courage and love and sacrifice, and as long as they know the One True Story, I am glad. I hope that one day, like me, they’ll be grateful for a mother who gave them stories.

  1. This is a reference to Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree series, CS Lewis’ Narnia, and JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, for those of you who didn’t grow up with stories.

6 thoughts on “Why I read my children stories

  1. Pingback: Why I Read to my Children | shadowsandsubstance

  2. We let our selves be carried off in the wonder of a story, all the while being subconsciously groomed that somehow a wizard is good and righteous – as portrayed in Lord of the rings. Do your children know that witchcraft (aka satanism) is evil in God’s eyes? Are we encouraging our children to follow biblical wisdom to be “on our guard” and “test everything”?

    Quote: “That’s why I give my children stories. I want their imaginations to grow tough and strong.”

    Imagination is good, only when we train our minds to think along Godly paths.

    Please exercise wisdom in this area.
    Here is what the bible says…

    2 Corinthians 10:5
    “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

    We are making a big mistake if we think that satan is not going to attempt to play with our minds in order to reduce our faith through “harmless” stories that portray lies.

    When you view some of these stories through a biblical lens, it can be quite shocking when one finds the ungodly messages hidden within.

    At least Narnia stories portray witchcraft as evil – which is in line with the biblical view of such. Lord of the rings, however, is very different. Harry Potter is directly at odds with biblical values.
    Please nobody reply with the excuse that there are worthwhile themes like good vs evil, kindness and friendship within the storyline. These “good” things are presented alongside the ridiculous notion that there is “good” evil and “bad” evil.

    We are in a spiritual battle. Please be obedient to our gracious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by exercising the wisdom he has given to us in His Word!!

    May I suggest a new article entitled “Why I am selective on the stories I read to my children”?

    In Christ,
    Matt

  3. Well, Matt, the Evangelist Matthew would fall foul of your witch hunt, since he mentions the Magi favourably in his Gospel, without any condemnation of their Zoroastrian ritualism. In the ancient Graeco-Roman context, the terms magos and mageia were bywords for exotic occultism. To Matthew’s audience, Magi were sorcerors par excellence. Even so, their characteristic practice of astral divination is implicitly endorsed as a path to the Messiah. If the God who inspired the Gospels is willing to redeem the esoteric practices of ancient occultists, then perhaps there is a place for Gandalf at Christ’s table after all. The Spirit blows where it will.

    The attitude to wizardry and magic in the Narnia stories is more subtle than your censorious comments allow. C S Lewis is not averse to employing the evocative power of the term ‘Magic’ (there’s those Magi again) to represent the salvific work of the Christian God. Clearly, the White Witch makes wicked use of the ‘Deep Magic’ authored by the Emperor Beyond The Sea (=God), yet Aslan subverts her malefic power with the ‘Deeper Magic’. And then there’s the case of the fallen star Coriakin in the Voyage Of The Dawn Treader. This classic wizard uses magical enchantments on his subjects the Duffers with beneficent intent – a sort of tough love to teach wisdom to the intractably stubborn. Coriakin carries out his strange project under the lordship of Aslan, who is also teaching Coriakin a lesson for his own misdeeds. A positive depiction of a wizard? I suppose that means even C S Lewis must fall under your holy axe, ground to such a sharp edge!

    Mind that it does not cut those standing near you, on the upswing.

    • Grant, to be accurate, the book of Matthew mentions that the Magi came, consulted Herod, gave gifts to the Newborn King and had a dream to leave by different way than they came. It does not speak favorably of their religion. It is just mentioned who they are.

      The term Magi means that they were “followers of the stars” as Zoroastrians are reported to do.

      If they arrived as Zoroastrians and left a Christ followers, it is very likely that they changed their opinion in regard to their Zoroastrianism and let it go.

      From: http://www.farvardyn.com/shelagh.php
      “It is very likely that the magi who converted to Christianity were those of Ephraimite descent. Certainly the magian establishment in Persia remained Zoroastrian, and did not approve of them”

      Therefore, unlike the conclusion you seem to have come to, I would be hesitant to conclude that the Bible is saying that Zoroastrianism is an alternate way to salvation. Rather it would seem that they are among the very first converts to Christ who most likely repented of their Zoroastrianism.

      Gandalf at Christ’s table? If he repented of his occultist practices and accepted Christ, then yes indeed! Unfortunately the story that encases Gandalf twists the Biblical explanation of sin and suggests that witchcraft can somehow be a good sin that the Lord approves of. This quandary seems to completely elude those Christians who have dropped their guard.

      On the point of Narnia, I stand corrected and thank you for explaining CS Lewis’ parables. It appears that I have not looked close enough at the content of the stories. I therefore would have to conclude that Mr Lewis, although through good intention, has possibly gone down the same uneasy road as J.R.R Tolkien, albeit the Gospel message is much clearer than Tolkien. I am sure despite this error, God has used Narnia to bring people to salvation, however I am also just as sure that many children have taken away the message that there is both “good” witchcraft and “bad” witchcraft. This is an idea that is not Biblically based, in fact teaches something very different than the Bible.

      Ephesians 5:11
      And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

      I am asked by the Lord to reprove and this is what I am doing.

      Dear Grant please trust God’s Word. It is Trustworthy and True

      Proverbs 3:5
      Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

  4. Hi Matt,
    You make, I believe, some good and valid points. I’m wondering, though, how you then live out your life practically. Do you ever watch or read anything other than the Bible, or some other Christian literature? If you have kids, how do you regulate what they see and watch? I’m genuinely interested to see how you live out your convictions.

    I seem to think that there are probably “evil” elements in all things not associated with Jesus. That is part of the dilemma of being “in the world” but “not of the world”. Every book, every movie, every story, will suffer from such defects. So how do we move forward? How do we live in the world?
    I’m not suggesting, therefore, that since nothing is perfect, we should therefore consume everything. But I am wondering how you decide to draw the line on these things. Will it be different for every believer? Should it be? Please share your thoughts if you get the chance.

    In Christ,
    Mark Topping

  5. Thought I should very briefly add my thoughts here. I know that different parents have different approaches to this issue. I’m happy to see this as an issue of Christian freedom – like eating meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8.

    I don’t allow my children to read anything and everything, but I’m less concerned about wizards and magic, and more with the “message” of the book e.g. the idolatry of romantic love, disrespect for siblings and parents, the sexualisation of young people.

    It seems to me (as others have said) that there are certain “acceptable” books in Christian circles – e.g. Narnia, with its magic – and others that aren’t. The reasons aren’t always clear.

    I discuss the issues raised with my children e.g. the very real danger of witchcraft. We distinguish story from truth. And I’d rather watch/read something a bit dubious, then discuss it, rather than issue a ban – although my husband and I do this too on occasion. We hope to equip our children to respond to the world.

    There are always complicated issues about what children should and should not be able to watch and read. We’ll all draw the line at different points – and I hope we do this with love, wisdom and thoughtfulness, keeping in mind the different natures of our children, as we seek to honour God in the decisions we make as parents.

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