Superheroes, Jesus and the Original Fairy Tale

This guest post was written by Marli Renee. She regularly blogs at Cause for Joy.

Once upon a time, Darkness covered the land. Men quaked under an evil hand, and wickedness felt no restraint. When all seemed black, a young hero emerged to fight. The darkness was destroyed, but at a great price – victory paid for with the life of the lionheart… A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. 

Once upon a time, Darkness covered the land. Men quaked under an evil hand, and wickedness felt no restraint. When all seemed black, a young hero emerged to fight. The darkness was destroyed, but at a great price – victory paid for with the life of the lionheart… A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. 

The same story lurks behind every hero, breaks through the fluffiest children’s books and darkest yarns. It’s a story that every culture tells and every human heart knows. A story stretching into eternity.

We need a hero…

A hero came. He sacrificed everything he had. He vanquished evil. Forever. 

That’s the heart of the fairy tale, the deeply rooted reason why people crave superheroes. But why is a desire for these stories so closely tied to being human? We were created with a yearning for Christ, and all true stories, all great stories, point us towards him.

How? To keep it simple:

  1. Fairy-tales point us to the Gospel.
  2. Superheroes are modern fairy-tales.
  3. Everything goes back to Jesus.

1. Fairy-tales point us to the Gospel.

If life were random chance, it would seem strange that every culture would have evolved with a fairly equal propensity to love a hero. To know that good and evil were engaged in an epic battle. To feel that their land is covered in darkness, and that they are not capable of rescuing themselves – that they must call on a higher power to rescue them.

Good thing it wasn’t random chance.

The world’s love of the fairy tale is a beautiful case for the existence of God. There’s this cord bound around our hearts, wrapped around His, and we feel it. We want everything bad to come undone. And so we wait for him, but in waiting, we ease the pain of our separation by telling each other stories. Our dark seems less black when we talk of another land plunged into woe, then saved by a hero. Of a fair lady in danger who was saved. Of an evil dragon that was slain. Of hope in a coming king. The once and the future king. Someone who came and is coming again.

Do you see it? Whether we mean it to be there or not, behind every hero, there is a greater hero. Each tale is a shadow of things to come – a foreshadowing.

Tolkien loved this idea, and wrote about it in his essay, “On Fairy Stories”,

In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through… I would venture to say that approaching the Christian story from this perspective, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. …and among its marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.

By eucatastrophe, Tolkien means the triumph of good and the undoing of evil. In a sense, the Gospel is the greatest fairy tale, because it is the only true fairy tale. The original story, scribed on the hearts of all men.

If you’re interested in exploring this further, G.K. Chesterton discusses it in his book Orthodoxy. Fairy tales, he writes, shock us into remembering how wonderful the original story is. Chesterton believed we write about apples of gold and rivers of wine, to remind us how excited we were as young children when we first knew apples were red, and rivers ran with water. So also, we talk of the hero to remind us the wild delight of knowing Christ is our hero.

2. Superheroes are modern fairy tales

The days of court minstrels spinning fairy tales, and tribal folk stories are long behind the Western World. Instead, we gather our tribes and sit in front of a screen for two and half hours, allowing it to tell us our stories.

Nothing except the medium has changed. We still long for Christ. We still need the fairy tales. And the comic film industry know this.

Last year, Stan Lee, co-creator of Spiderman, Iron Man, the X-Men discussed Superhero films,

 My theory about why people like superheroes is that when we were kids, we all loved to read fairy tales… Fairy tales are all about things bigger than life… Then you get a little bit older and you stop reading fairy tales, but you don’t ever outgrow your love of them. Superhero movies are like fairy tales for older people.

Yet I think we could have deduced this on our own. Superhero’s fall under the exact same story pattern. We all need a hero, and until that hero comes to rule the earth forever, we will not stop making stories about Him.

Now, I want to make an important note. Simply because superhero movies point to Christ, that does not mean they are holy, entirely beneficial or innately helpful to watch. I’m saying as long as we create stories, we can’t help but put Christ in, even subconsciously. We want him so badly, even when don’t recognize it. But many of the modern superhero films are filled with dark, twisted ideas. Some flaunt sex, still more are filled with profanity, others worship the dark as much as the light. This is not of the Lord.

The main idea is to show why our culture loves the superhero. Not, we should all watch superhero films because they are about Christ.  

3. Everything goes back to Jesus.

Yes. Do you see it now? Christ is our true hero.

Once upon a time, Darkness covered the earth. Men quaked under an evil hand, and wickedness felt no restraint. When all seemed black, a young Jewish man emerged to fight. The darkness was destroyed, victory paid with the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ … A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Questions, Comments, Thoughts? 

Artwork, left to right:

1: St. George and the Dragon, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, King Arthur

2. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Captain America

3. Christ by Carvaggio, Christ by Akiane, Christ in ‘The Passion’, Christ by Dore

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2 thoughts on “Superheroes, Jesus and the Original Fairy Tale

  1. Pingback: Guest Post on Emily’s Windowpane «

  2. Pingback: Why we Love Superhero Stories « Christian Development

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