On a recent interview for BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme (29th Oct), the children’s author Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy) discussed his latest book, a retelling of 50 of his favourite Brothers Grimm fairy tales to mark the bicentennial of their first publication. He was joined by Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Coraline, Doctor Who) who explained that these dark and scary stories were important as they warn us through fantasy that there are monsters out there that we need to be wary of.
This discussion highlighted one reason why sharing stories is so important. One of the major roles of stories is that they help us to explore with issues that we may face in life, to work through what they might involve and how we can respond to them, in a safe way – similar to children playing ‘let’s pretend’ in order to make sense of the world around them.
Some authors recognise this power in stories and so deliberately set out to harness the power of story to shape our thinking. C.S. Lewis is a prominent example, his Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series being a ‘fantasy’ retelling of his understanding of the Christian gospel. Pullman is another, some might describe him as ‘the anti-Lewis’, an atheist using fantasy to warn of the danger of organised religion.
I am aware that there are many Christians who would ‘boycott’ his books because of this, avoiding them because they are dangerous. I can appreciate why they have this stance. Although I disagree with the portrayal of God within them, there is a ‘prophetic’ aspect to them if we can see past the ‘shock value’ to what he has to say about religion and ask ourselves if his criticisms have any weight to them.
Because of his stance, it might be seen as surprising that during the interview he claimed that there are three books that every child should read, ‘There’s Grimm, there’s The Arabian Nights and there’s The Bible and I think those are the three great repositories of stories that everybody ought to know about. It’s a great shame if someone reaches adulthood or puberty without knowing those stories, without having read those stories at least once.’
I am not surprised. Whatever your view of faith, you can’t get away from the fact that the Bible contains a collection of fantastic stories from the political machinations and prophetic visions of the Old Testament to the parables of the master story-teller Jesus himself – not to forget his own story. There’s also a wealth of good common sense wisdom stored in within; whatever our world-view, we can all gain from reading it. But the Bible is, of course, more than just a depository of thrilling yarns and wise sayings, it is one of the main ways in which God himself reveals himself today – he too knows the power of a good story. He is the Good Story.
As the Bible Soceity commented on their website, ‘We’ve been saying it for a while, but it’s great to have Pullman, a self-declared agnostic atheist, saying that we should all read the Bible as a formative experience. We couldn’t agree more.’ Nor could I!
You can listen to the BBC interview again here: http://bbc.in/SI1njo.
Church Newsletter Article 11.11.12