Posts Tagged ‘C S Lewis’

Chloë: "Fairytales help me function in the real world"

Chloë: “Fairytales help me function in the real world”

Experts tell me my blogs are too long. They insist you don’t have the time (or intelligence?) to take in detail.
I think experts cater for the average – and that’s not what I’m working with, here.
I think you read with cuppa to hand and brain provoked into firing off your own ideas. That’s what blogging is about, isn’t it? But today I experiment: the long blog has been split into 2 parts. You tell me what you think – add your comment or use the Contact Form below.

When I perform as the Dragon Whisperer, every audience includes one child who asks, “Are dragons real?”

To the child whose voice quavers with anxiety I answer, “I am a storyteller. It’s my job to make things up. What do you think?”

To the grinning, streetwise brat as well as to the gravely enquiring child I respond with a straight look and “Dragons are real to me. You’ll have to make up your own mind.”

I believe these responses empower children to sort out their own thinking; and that’s the point, really.

A few young people find fiction an irritating turn off. Was Richard Dawkins, disparager of fairytales, one of those? Many reluctant readers need facts – wild truths, outrageous reality, biographies and encyclopedias. Fiction phobes relish real life stories about how their heroes overcame disadvantage and setbacks. Engage their imaginations with how the real world is constructed, from weird sea creatures to the craziest twists of history: because truth is, of course, stranger and more wonderful than fiction. Every day.

Relief in fantasy

It’s quite disturbing to hear an eight-year-old claiming that fantasy stories help her ‘escape’. I have to hope she was repeating what she’d heard adults say.

But fantasy / fairytale as escapism for teens and adults is also valuable.

BBC Radio 4 intelligentsia might fret about teen boys immured in bedrooms playing internet wargames and watching endless films; I suggest this is still feeding imagination – and diverting the rogue waves of testosterone. Better films and fantasy than rampaging down the road with an Uzi. (Yes, this is a whole different subject, for another day.)

Put it another way: if your life is dull or difficult, if physical or mental health is on the blink, then fantasy can provide significant relief.

More adaptable

For more than 30 years I’ve been pummelled by phases of depression, some more derailing than others. Millions of people face the same mood management challenges that I do, and likewise refuse to resort to alcohol or other substances.

I can’t change my world: only my response to it. For me, that means a short trip into fantasy – dragons, space ships and all; sometimes in a book or film, sometimes at a live action roleplay game. Thus refreshed, I face my real world tasks in a stronger and more adaptable frame of mind.

In my mid 50s, I still NEED fairytales in order to function.

I hazard the guess that Richard Dawkins loathes Narnia author C S Lewis, whose work was as much Christian allegory as children’s entertainment. I read the whole series repeatedly between the ages of eight and twelve and took no interest whatsoever in the Christian connections. The stories were just rattling good reads. So I’ll give today’s last word to the creator of Aslan, so thrillingly “not a tame lion”.

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” – C S Lewis 

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Blog revised (divided to make shorter pieces!) after expert advice that you can’t cope with long articles…
Tell you what, you tell me: comments below. And anyway, you’ve probably seen Part 2 of this already, thanks to blog layout. Hey ho.

The hero who faces the dragon can inspire or warn many generations

“…Let them [children] at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage”

PART 1:   Richard Dawkins won his headline coverage at the 2014 Cheltenham Science Festival by belittling fairytales and suggesting that childish fantasies should be dropped in favour of “a spirit of scepticism”.

Dawkins has a string of letters after his name. My late father, the entomologist Professor A D (Tony) Lees, had only BSc, PhD and FRS [Fellow of the Royal Society, Britain’s top club for scientists. You don’t get many of them to the pound]. From my earliest years, my father read to me and encouraged me to love stories.

In his own boyhood, my father was partly inspired to follow the way of the naturalist by reading the children’s fantasy series Dr Dolittle.

Before that story was razzamatazzed by Hollywood, Hugh Lofting’s stories about the little portly doctor from Puddleby-on-the-Marsh nudged young readers to consider very serious subjects indeed. The Dolittle books explore friendship, family, multi culturalism, moral dilemmas, money management, cruelty, ignorance, courage and the stultifying effect of narrow thinking – including academic snobbery… Lofting himself was a WW1 veteran and international civil engineer.

Relief from logic

My father – and his colleagues – sent me exploring Narnia, Middle Earth, Japanese poetry and mythology, Jules Verne proto steampunk science fiction and of course the spoof scientific methods of Sherlock Holmes. For these very serious scientists such fiction provided relief from the business of hard logic – as well as springboard moments of ‘What if..?”

Several models of mobile phone, medical diagnostic devices and even the latest space ship design derive directly from the enduringly popular TV science fiction series Star Trek.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales,” Albert Einstein is alleged to have said.

The author Beth Webb says “Fiction inspires scientists to imagine the impossible.” All my life I’ve seen how the arts and science mutually nourish each other. I’ve observed author Sir Terry Pratchett deep in discussion with performers and scientists as he developed more of his glitteringly successful, magi-technical Discworld. Good fantasy writers start from real science in order to create plausible fiction.

And yes, bad fantasists distort science to con the less well informed. Look at almost any so-called UFO website; it’s very nearly impossible to find genuine information.

But the professors from around the world who dined at my father’s table, talking shop until my mother and I crept away in exhausted incomprehension, valued creativity from fine art to fine words. Very serious scientists love fantasy.

Great beards in the sky

Dawkins complains that fairytales indoctrinate children in “supernaturalism”. An ardent atheist, he worries that fables put young minds at risk of being caught in the webs of religion.

But isn’t it exactly the other way around? I suggest that young people experienced in the difference between fantasy and reality are far LESS likely to be taken in by claims of resurrection, virgins in heaven, tablets of stone, divinities with animal heads, guided thunderbolts or any of the great beards in the sky that rulers have invented to control the general population.

The woodcutter takes charge of the dragons, tricking them out of their treasure

Legendary hero Stan Bolovan wins wealth and happiness by keeping his nerve: a lesson for children? (Illustration from ‘Dragon Games’ story in DRAGON TALES CD and e-book by Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers)

I can’t have been the only child who was disappointed to discover that her toy magic wand didn’t work, and that no amount of burrowing to the back of wardrobes led to a snowy lamplit land. Privately, without fuss, I confirmed the difference between make-believe and the real world.

Dawkins fails to credit children with their natural bloody-minded common sense. We know in our bones – I revert to eight years old here – that frogs can’t turn into anything (except interesting corpses…), that superheroes don’t fly to the rescue and that dragons don’t light up our skies. And we see pretty soon that prayer can ease fear but it doesn’t stop earthquakes or save loved ones.

The uses of metaphor

As it happens I deal in make-believe on a daily basis. For the purpose of children’s entertainment I have constructed the fantasy world of Agent Green the Dragon Whisperer – lead draconics expert and field operative for DCHQ, Dragon Conservation Headquarters.

In costume and character I tell stories about dragons, plus traditional folktales and legends from many cultures around the world. I must be doing something right because it’s no trouble to keep a couple of hundred primary school pupils completely spellbound. Even teen and adult fantasy fans – especially Tolkien/LOTR enthusiasts – enjoy my Masterclass in the Care & Training of Dragons.

But what is actually the point of fairy stories and folktales? (As the very teutonic academic demanded at the end of my Tolkien Society presentation in 2012).

Beth Webb (also on Facebook) writes elegant fantasy fiction that is adored by an extraordinary range of children and teens. She also works with the UK’s most gifted and talented young people – frankly, the great thinkers and top boffins of our future – in writing courses bubbling with joyously outside-the-box creativity. Most of her students won’t become professional writers but they do go on to communicate more effectively with the rest of their world. They never forget the critical and constructive thinking skills – yes, the ‘spirit of scepticism’ – and the creative freedom opened up for them under Beth’s guidance.

Educationalists around the world assert

  • For children transitioning from concrete thinking to abstract thinking, the structure, phrasing and imagery of fairytales/folktales demonstrate the uses of metaphor.
  • Fairytales accustom children to narrative structure and develop their vocabulary. Children who grow up hearing, telling and reading stories move more easily into written work at school.
  • Fairytales allow children to experience fear and danger at a safe remove. Children observe how wit, courage, creative thinking and co-operation solve problems.

I would also say that fairytales and folklore help connect young people to their cultural roots. Equally, stories from different cultures give children insight into other ways of life and different values. In a world where belief systems are clashing with ever bloodier violence, and the great beards of temple, church and mosque are prescribing and proscribing with ferocious zeal, stories become a last chance to broaden cultural horizons.

Very definitely fairytales promote scepticism: think of all the mocked and unloved third sons or daughters of storyworld who shine as role models, defying convention and authority to save their families. Consider Dawkins’ improbable frog prince, and the Beast in his rose garden: apparently impossible partners for a human – yet their gentleness and delightful good company invite us to take the difficult step of looking beyond appearances, beyond prejudices.

And now refill your glasses for Part 2: scroll up to the next blog post title ‘Fairytale: A Great Escape’

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If you’d like to be entertained by live Story Cabaret (spoken word fantasy for audiences of adults) or would like workshops to inspire your own creativity, as well as for secondary schools Year 7 – Sixth Form, please check out my work

I also supply storytelling for primary and junior schools and family events as Agent Green the Dragon Whisperer

If you’re really keen, Dragon Tales the e-book for Kindle is available for a teensy tithe of treasure – only GBP£2.56 – including more illustrations