Bernice and I went to see Rise of the Guardians (2012) a few evenings ago. A DreamWorks animated adventure movie, Rise of the Guardians
is an epic adventure that tells the story of a group of heroes — each with extraordinary abilities. When an evil spirit known as Pitch lays down the gauntlet to take over the world, the immortal Guardians must join forces for the first time to protect the hopes, beliefs and imagination of children all over the world. —© Official Site
Based on William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood book series, the movie is an Avengers for children. Santa Claus, Sandman, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny make up the Guardians. Directed by The Man in the Moon, they recruit Jack Frost to join the team. Together they fight the Boogeyman, Pitch, to stop him from destroying childrens’ capacity for wonder and hope, with fear and nightmares.
We enjoyed the movie and liked its message. Shouldn’t followers of Jesus want children to know the truth? Yes they should. Shouldn’t children be freed from believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? Not prematurely. (And I suspect kids are more capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality than we give them credit for.) And not if it means that they stop believing in myths altogether. If they stop believing in myths altogether, they might end up not believing in the “true myth.”
It was C. S Lewis who came up with the term “true myth.” To understand what he meant, we must first understand what myth means.
The word myth, in its academic definition, means a story with deep power and symbolic meaning. When studied in the academic sense, it’s that meaning that is important, not whether the story actually happened or not. Thus ancient ‘myths’ like the founding of Rome, or the stories of Hercules were important (to their societies) for what they said and the effect they had on those societies rather than because of their historicity.
Many of those myths turn out not to be actually true (like Hercules). That doesn’t necessarily rob them of their power. The existence of the story can still shape a nation and a culture. But given that they mostly aren’t historical, the word ‘myth’ in common parlance has come to mean ‘something that isn’t true’ (giving rise to ‘Mythbusters’ for example). (https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/6700/what-does-cs-lewis-mean-by-true-myth)
However, if there is one God who created all of humankind, it would be reasonable to discover traces of the divine and the divine story, in all cultures and their myths, as Lewis came to believe. Scott R. Burson & Jerry L. Walls report:
With the help of colleagues J.R.R Tolkien and Hugo Dyson a few nights prior to his conversion, Lewis came to see the overarching hand of God in not only the history of Christianity but other belief systems as well. The myth of dying and rising corn gods in pagan religions did not nullify the claim that Jesus Christ died and rose again. On the contrary these pagan myths unwittingly worked to reinforce the truth of the Christian account. According to Tolkien and Dyson, a loving God had been working diligently to prepare each and every culture for the gospel of his son. In so doing, mythical stories have been given to anticipate or preconfigure a factual, historical outworking. (C. S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998, 30.)
(Spoiler ahead.) The myth that one has to die and rise again before one can be qualified to save others is a particularly prevalent theme even in modern myths. Think of Neo in The Matrix (1999) and Jack Frost in Rise of the Guardians (2012). They point towards the myth of Jesus dying and rising again in order to be able to be the saviour of the world. Only one key difference. Jesus’s death and resurrection actually took place. In Lewis’s words:
. . . the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened. (C. S. Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, New York, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1988, 288.)
We watched Rise of the Guardians on Friday night (14th December). We woke up the next morning to read about the killings in Connecticut. 26 dead, 20 children. There is real evil in the world destroying hope and destroying lives. There are many more places in the world where children are dying. Think of the hundreds of children who have already perished in the Syrian civil war, a war that is still raging. There are lights going out in many places on the globe.
Still, this Advent Season, we echo the angels in Luke 2, and we announce and sing:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:10–14 NIV)
Peace? Do not be afraid? Are the Christmas stories just stories to help get us by, stories with no historical basis? Not according to Luke.
With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3–4 NIV)
And Paul tells us:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:3–6 NIV)
Jesus did rise again from the dead. Death and evil have been defeated. History will have a happy ending. Therefore we can take courage even when faced with the horrors of senseless evil. A fairy tale? Yes. A true one.