Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dragons Can Be Beaten

Apparently, it is Neil Gaiman who said in Coraline:
“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”
On the Federalist blog, this is listed specifically as a quote that is frequently mis-attributed to G.K. Chesterton.  They set forth a passage from Chesterton's "Red Angel" to support Gaiman's assertion that "The sentiment is his, the phrasing mine."  This seems to be the heart of it:
Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. 
But I had also thought, vaguely, that Lewis and/or Tolkien had said something similar as well.

So here's what I found in Lewis's "On Three Ways of Writing for Children":
Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book.  [. . .] And I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St George, or any bright champion in armor, is a better comfort than the idea of the police.
Surprisingly, a quick perusal of Tolkien's "On Fairy-stories" does not immediately turn up a similar sentiment.  Perhaps the closest is this line:
I desired dragons with a profound desire.  Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood...

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