The Need for Fairytale

August 1, 2010

My children asked me about what happens when we die. It’s easy to just say, “We go to heaven.” and be done with it, but even in orthodox Christianity, that’s a simplification that practically rises to the point of being a lie.

I tried to unpack what death means to my children, how the body is alive at one point, and then it is not, and how our consciousness continues to live. They didn’t like what they heard. I could tell by the kinds of follow up questions they ask afterwards, “Will I still be me?” and “Will we all still be together?” that their minds were opened to greater and greater horror as they examined the end of life. It became an act of unkindness to bluntly speak of something so unpleasant as death, especially to children. Besides, their questions about death were really questions about life, meaning, man’s purpose and God’s reward or punishment for the good and evil He allows.

My four kids were aged six and under so though they were intelligent enough to ask these kinds of questions, they weren’t prepared to grasp the end of life answers. I know some adults who are the same way. Like all truths, the ones that are good enough for kids are usually good enough for adults, too. Stories forgotten or left unlearned by children don’t go away, they still need to be learned at some point, by someone, no matter what age. I have friends who lost their children to death in their early years, so it’s not as if it’s not a topic some kids will never have to deal with.

In some parts of the world and even at times in our recent past, it was commonplace for kids to deal with death in youth. I respect the innocence of my children, but I don’t shelter them from the truth. There’s a difference, and often the ones who preach the most about secularizing our youth in the name of not sheltering them, hide the hardest truest truths one can grasp. Thus, condoms in schools with no Bibles. Your average secularist knows not only how dangerous some fairy-tales are but also know how maturing the repercussions of one’s youthful sexual appetites can be. They long to shelter children from the normal life teaching of both.

When I think about how to raise my children, I don’t consult modern parenting authors, and I rarely consult Baby Boomers for answers. Those are great sources for what not to do. Instead, I go to the past. There’s this rule I coined, called “The 5,000 Years of Parenting Rule”. It’s where I ask what kinds of solutions would work for a father in 300BC and I learn from it. For surely God intended good fathers to be able to be a good parent without the benefit of a parenting pop-self-help author in the year 2010.

I took one of those birthing classes where the father learns how to help the mother breathe during birth. Perhaps the stupidest thing any chump ever came up with. Fathers are truly worthless in the birthing room, and while I did all of the things my wife asked me to do, we all knew I contributed exactly zero to the birthing process by encouraging her breathing. Come on, folks, I’m telling her how to breathe! You know what makes a lot more sense? When Fred Flintstone sat in the Dad’s waiting room smoking cigarettes with Barney. That’s where a father belongs, outside of the birthing cave. Mom just needs to know that if a saber-tooth tiger decides to attack during birth, that father is waiting at the mouth of the cave with a spear to skewer the great cat, ritually eat its still-beating heart, then string his fangs over his son’s crib as a mobile.

Fathers of the past were great story tellers. They passed on tribal stories, morality tales and parables. In recent history, came the Fairytale, which helped guide the wisest generations we’ve known. Shakespeare wasn’t raised on academic parenting techniques, he was raised on the wisdom of the ages. You don’t get a Dante from Dr. Spock’s parenting books… you get the generation that invented MTV.

It was this need for fairy tail that began my story telling about the afterlife. My three oldest kids read the book and were exposed to the ideas of death, regrets in life, heroism and destiny using a language they can understand. It is also told in what is defiantly not Modernist, or Post Modernist style. For Modernism kills the fairy while Post Modernism makes the fairy a God.

I’ll get into more of this later, but I’m announcing it now. We could use a little more fairytale these days.


15 Responses to “The Need for Fairytale”

  1. Anwyn Says:

    Maybe I missed it, but which book did the kids read? One of yours?

  2. Scott D. Says:

    Or as Chesterton said: Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

    I think that is why the Harry Potter books work so well. They are nothing more than fairytale. Powerful fairytales. And Rowling tackled those big issues: death, heroism, sacrifice, friendship, etc…

    Thank you,


  3. Have you ever read GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy? He has some fantastic thoughts on fairy tales in regards to modernism. Thanks for sharing.

  4. bluejohn Says:

    The title is very “Chesterton”

  5. chris Says:

    ummm, i want to bring my kids over for story time, pretty please!

  6. Grethe Says:

    hahaha when kids asks things like that, I think they are pretty smart knowing that there is something going on. I´ve myself been asked this alot when I grew up with 14 cousins.

    this is Grethe from facebook btw. sorry for not staying too much in contact. job and school have taken some of my attention these days.

    But I love to read your kids are doing fine and asking alot :) I hope you all are enjoying life and summer~

  7. bkoepp Says:

    I was about to comment that you might be interested in certain authors for further reading, but seeing as three previous commenters beat me to the punch… and I think I remember you mentioning Chesterton in a prior post, so I’m sure you’ve already read that pertinent material. If not, Tolkien also wrote some essays on the subject that should still be in print, and I think CS Lewis was an implicit believer in the importance of the fairy story in conveying important truths. So you’re in good company, Mr. tennapel.

  8. bkoepp Says:

    …I guess if I had Twitter I would have noticed you’re reading his book on Thomas Aquinas right now. I haven’t read that one yet myself. Maybe I should. Happy reading…

  9. Syz Says:

    Wow, that just makes a RiDICULOUS amount of sense.

  10. SKoch Says:

    Rock on. There’s no school like the old school, and there’s no school older than that of the creator of everything.

    I drive a classic truck; I respect US history, and I hate MTV. Also, I’m 24. Take courage–there’s some of us out here.


  11. Derek Says:

    “Will we all still be together?”

    This really gets to me. You have some great kids.

  12. Sven Says:

    Maybe you should be reading some Richard Dawkins books instead..

  13. Howard Says:

    So now you have me wondering, Doug: Is it possible that none of us is prepared for the plain facts about things to come? Is it possible that no matter how old we grow, we see but through a glass darkly; and that we will not see clearly until we experience this thing of growing horror? Is it possible that what we think we do know about this unknown is a sort of “faerie tale” crafted by the Master Author to help us see a glimpse into these realities? (btw – It is very unusual to me to experience your theology in the written word).

  14. Angenieta Says:

    Hi, I came accross your art and webside by accident as i am a lover of the story told in pictures. I read your comments and was touched by your refreshing and logical thinking! A lot of what you say make so much sense to me, as I struggle with the modern approach to child rearing, which to me creates a lot of princes and princesses.I too have always believed in leading and walking along your child, instead of don’t touch, don’t listen and don’t watch. my kids have broken little, because they were aloud to hold. We discuss any subject or issue they want to explore and are open about our feelings and short commings. We have 2 very independant thinkings boys and girl in our family with many interrests. Thanks for sharing your life vision on the internet and talking about dead in a refreshing way instead of putting it in the too hard basket. Kind Regards, Angenieta

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