If I were to write a story about a faerie wood like George Macdonald did, I think I’d have my young Anodos travel to a section of the wood where the forest itself, like a great sylvan phoenix, would seem to catch fire at the end of every year, leaving only bones and ash. And, like the phoenix, it would rise again from its own remains at the beginning of the next year, clothed in green plumage once more.
But that’s because I have no imagination. I can’t invent new things; I can only
describe what I see. And this year the woods of Northwestern Pennsylvania are burning particularly brightly: red and yellow, purple and orange, green and brown. They’re blazing with a glory which would look horribly tacky if we tried to recreate it in the color scheme of a living room, but I suppose that’s because we are very small, and like all small children, our imitations of our Father are incomplete and immature at best.
I love fantasy stories. I love the surprise and the wonder and the strangeness I find when I read them. I love how familiar and how alien they are all at once. But I think what I love most about fantasy stories is that their unfamiliar settings remind me so much of the world in which I live. That is, in fact, the role of really good fantasy. It reminds me that this world is a fantasy world, if by fantasy we mean that which provokes us to marvel and wonder; that which is fantastic. There is in our world a moon which changes its face, and which drives men mad (just ask school teachers and nurses). If you doubt that we live in a fantasy world by the definition I’ve proposed above, just watch Planet Earth, or contemplate the phenomenon which is the Scottish bagpipe, or search for “fun chemistry experiments” on Youtube. The reality of it is that this world is a fantasy world; when I walk through these Pennsylvania forests, I’m walking through a faerie wood. Chesterton said it this way:
The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, “charm,” “spell,” “enchantment.” They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a MAGIC tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched.
I deny altogether that this is fantastic or even mystical.
If, as the Psalmist has said, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2), then I want to regain a holy delight in the world that God has made. I want to see the world as wonderful and terrible and strange and downright odd. And I deny, with Chesterton, that this is anything other than seeing the world as it truly is.
Perhaps Gerard Manley Hopkins said it best:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil…
It’s a magical world.