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Some time ago, after I was given a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales, I asked my 8-year-old niece if she wanted to read one with me.
Lilly said no, she doesn’t like fairy tales: “They have the worst endings. ‘And they all lived happily ever after.’ Stories shouldn’t end that way because that’s not what happens in real life.”
She has a point: That isn’t at all what happens in Real Life. Stories about Real Life are stories about alarm clocks and rush-hour downpours and staining the back deck; stories, in the words of another author, about “exports and imports and governments and drains.” Worse, these are stories of sorrow and loss. There are also moments of beauty and wonder and love, to be sure, but every story about Real Life eventually ends in death—guaranteed. Real Life kills off its characters with less restraint than even George R.R. Martin.
It’s not that those stories about exports and drains are bad or unnecessary, but that they aren’t real enough. They’re incomplete; the curtain closes before the final act is done. This world presents us with a kind of relentless, creeping materialism that crowds out the possibility of a deeper reality. In contrast, the best stories peel back the curtain on our world—which masquerades as the only life there is—to show us that Aslan’s deeper magic is more real than we ever thought.
This is why it’s so important to give our children an ending that’s truer than Real Life.
By telling stories in which our heroes and heroines and repentant villains live happily ever after, we can create in our children an expectation that this is how good stories should end. True, these stories will leave them profoundly dissatisfied with Real Life. And when they confront the fact that the world doesn’t really work that way, we can show them how their disappointment points to a better story, a deeper reality. Happy endings create a holy longing for the kingdom come. That hunger is a kind of grace that we must feed, even as we point to its satisfaction in Christ.
In truth, the world will have a happy ending. Our stories resolve with a feast and a wedding, where we will share the buffet line with such fairy tale characters as soldiers turned tillers and a lion that eats straw like an ox. On the final page, the bear and the cow sit down together for a cup of tea. At the restoration of all things, we will find that the knight has slain the dragon and has made the fair maiden his bride. These are the true endings.
Let’s give our children something more beautiful than the dross that Real Life has to offer. Let’s give them this:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
To my ears, that sounds exactly like happily ever after.
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Image by Paul Boekell