Fantasy and moral development

by Kay Cummins

I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Holmes’ and Justine Schmiesing’s essays on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. I tend to agree with the more feminine perspective that the world as it is (without aliens) is complete and that the Jealous Lover wants us all for Himself, with no interloper possible. Dr. Holmes’ view is naturally masculine: objective and looking beyond himself, and the earth. With either perspective looking at the theological and philosophical ramifications is fascinating. Thank you for delightful reading.

I did feel for Dr. Holmes and the fundamentalist attitude towards science fiction which he sometimes faces in class. I can easily imagine students, in a uninformed Christian zeal, rejecting “the world” and “all that is not pure” without engaging life and truth and faith at a deeper intellectual level in the arts and sciences.

Actually the case is that fantasy, science fiction and fairy tales are necessary for the development of the moral imagination, from childhood on up. This is an important foundation and prerequisite for faith. Seeing evil forces, good forces, battles, heroes, and victories, all relate to the “real” world of angels, demons, good and evil forces battling for our souls and within ourselves on the Christian journey of life. Because I have two children, this fascinates me, and I know how much fantasy, including C. S. Lewis’ writings (The Chronicals of Narnia as a child and the Out of the Silent Planet series as an adult), Madeleine L’Engle’s and my favorite Frank Oz’s series on the Land of Oz, influenced me. These were all an important part of my childhood.

Two essays which explore fantasy and its relationship to our Christian faith are Chesterton’s “The Ethics of Elfland” and Tolkien’s “Tree and Leaf.” They both explore their interest in science fiction and its effect on their Christian faith. I particularly enjoyed Tolkien’s distinction between reality and fantasy for the child. The child longs for truth, both supernatural and natural. It gives them a structure to define their existence by and helps them develop an identity and direction in the world. A child wants to know where snow comes from and who made the world. Tolkien points out that it is good not to confuse fantasy and reality for the child. Satisfy his or her natural curiosity with a natural explanation and facts. It is degrading to the dignity of the child to answer the question “Where does snow come from?” with a fairy tale about Jack Frost.

That this world considers as fantasy (hell, angels, devils) what is reality, points to the importance of the moral imagination in our daily bearings. People easily become lost in the mundane practical aspects of life and lose the grander perspective that shapes our moral vision and thus our actions. March on Bilbo Baggins!

Kay (O’Meara) Cummins, Class of ‘88

Kay and her family live in Irving, TX.