On Fiction: Family, Wonder, and Glory

May 12, 2023 at 12:04 PM

     “Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth.”[1] Those are the words of Gandalf the White standing on the edge of the sea at the Grey Havens. This scene closes out Tolkien’s epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings. And while our own series has not been nearly so epic as Frodo and Gandalf’s adventure, I feel something of the same sort of thing. Here at last, on the verge of the summer, our series on fiction comes to an end.

     We have, periodically over the Spring, examined whether fiction is worth our time (part 1 and part 2), what it is we should read, how we can judge a book by its cover, and how we have a balanced fiction diet. In sum, we have said that fiction is worth your time, for God made us creative, Christ taught using fiction, and we should develop our moral imaginations. We should use discernment in our reading, being sure we don’t put stumbling blocks before ourselves. One way we practically exercise discernment is through looking at a book’s cover before we read it, because the cover tells us a lot about book and author alike. Finally, and most recently, we said that our reading diet should be balanced among different types of books, fiction and non-fiction.

     This article, we close with a word about families and fiction as well as the glory of God in fiction.


Reading Fiction as a Family

     I would argue that reading fiction is of great value to families.[2] These days, “Family time” can often be dominated by technology. Video games, movies, computers, and things like these have not replaced family time for everyone, but certainly invaded it for many. And these things aren’t bad, per se. I admit, for example, that one of my favourite family activities is watching good movies together. Yet, in all the technology, we have perhaps lost some great family activities of old.[3]

     Reading stories as a family, I would argue, is a fabulous use of family time. It is through family story time that I was first exposed to some of the greatest fictitious works, in my opinion: Pinocchio, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. It’s quite simple. Rather than sitting down in front of a screen, families can sit down and read together. Parents can, of course, read at a higher level than their kids (until their kids mature). Kids who could not stomach foraging through Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days can, all of a sudden, be exposed to the enjoyable story through their parents. Parents, you thus have the chance to read great books and learn of these stories as well, without taking away time out of your “busy” schedule. Now, it can be integrated as family time (which has a place on every schedule, I hope).

     The benefits of doing this can be much larger than one may think. Though lengthy, consider this impressive story from Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies:


“Despite the demands of her job teaching at the university, Kamila made time to read to her children for two to three hours daily. … More than any other novel, though, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was a cornerstone of her family’s collective imagination.

            Why Tolkien? I ask.

            “Because we knew Mordor was real. We felt that their story” – that of the hobbits and others resisting the evil Sauron – “was our story too. Tolkien’s dragons are more realistic than a lot of things we have in this world.”

            “Mom read The Lord of the Rings to us maybe six times,” recalls Philip Benda. “It’s about the East versus the West. The elves on one side and the goblins on the other. And when you know the book, you see that you first need to fight the evil empire, but that’s not the end of the war. Afterward, you have to solve the problems at home, within the Shire.”

            This is how Tolkien prepared the Benda children to resist communism, and also to resist the idea that the fall of communism was the end of their quest for the Good and the True. After communism’s collapse, they found was to contribute to the moral reconstruction of their nation.

            Patrik says the key is to expose children to stories that help them know the different between truth and falsehood, and teach them how to discern this in real life.

            “What my mom always encouraged in us and supported was our imagination, through the reading of books or playing with figures,” he says. “She also taught us that the imagination was something that was wholly ours, that could not be stolen from us. Which was also something that differentiated us from others.”[4]


     Lord of the Rings fortifying against communism? Perhaps. Who knows what family story time can do! In an increasingly hostile world, perhaps reading good books with your spouse and your children will do wonders.


Wonder and Glory

     I want to close our consideration of fiction with a final word about wonder and glory. A bit ago, the Wordsmiths released an article entitled “Don’t Lose Your Sense of Wonder.” It argued that we ought to never lose our sense of wonder at the Gospel of Christ – we are far too prone to let it become mundane and normal. Actually, we are far too prone to let everything become mundane and normal. Wonder and amazement are reserved for kids. After about grade 3, kids are weaned off their imaginations to become “adults.” But this is not the way it should be. We should not lose our sense of wonder at the Gospel, nor at the created world, nor at God’s work in that world! Let us cultivate imaginative hearts of wonder and awe, and let us do so by reading good stories. It is one of the best ways. Don’t stifle your wonder. Be mature of course, but let your heart skip a beat and your jaw drop at the stories of heroism and the plots of epic scale which you read about. Through story, be amazed at the character and work of God.

     I believe that, when we are in awe of God, and especially when that awe produces great, marvelous thoughts of God and thanksgiving to Him, God is glorified. Christ has died for us; Christ has redeemed the whole of us. We are not saved only in part. We are wholly Christ’s. Even our bodies will one day be renewed! Thus, let us honour Christ as Lord, giving God the glory, in all areas of life – including reading fiction. Let us do that through wonder and amazement, through awe and “great thoughts.” May our thanksgiving be enriched, and our worship enhanced, through the reading of good stories. Let us delight ourselves in God, and delight then in the stories that tell us something of Him. In these things is God glorified. In the right reading of fiction is God glorified. So come, reader, and join in glorifying your Saviour through reading fiction.

     Here is one of my more favourite passages of fiction to close. You may be familiar with it; you may not be. In light of our series, I’d encourage you to read it, think about it, and be in wonder. Give thanks to God and delight in Him. May you be edified by reading it and relating it to the real world; may He be glorified through your reading and relating!


“It’s no good, Son of Adam,” said Mr Beaver, “no good your trying, of all people. But now that Aslan is on the move-”

“Oh, yes! Tell us about Aslan!” said several voices at once; for once again that strange feeling — like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them.

“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.

“Aslan?” said Mr Beaver. “Why, don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my father’s time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. He’ll settle the White Queen all right. It is he, not you, that will save Mr Tumnus.”

“She won’t turn him into stone too?” said Edmund.

“Lord love you, Son of Adam, what a simple thing to say!” answered Mr Beaver with a great laugh. “Turn him into stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it’ll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her. No, no. He’ll put all to rights as it says in an old rhyme in these parts: Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again. You’ll understand when you see him.”

“But shall we see him?” asked Susan.

“Why, Daughter of Eve, that’s what I brought you here for. I’m to lead you where you shall meet him,” said Mr Beaver.

“Is-is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

“I’m longing to see him,” said Peter, “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.”

“That’s right, Son of Adam,” said Mr Beaver, bringing his paw down on the table with a crash that made all the cups and saucers rattle. “And so you shall.”[5]



[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, page number.

[2] I would also include couples in this discussion. If you’re single, well, I hope you can still derive something of value from this brief discussion!

[3] I would argue that three activities stand out: Family Bible, Family Music, and Family Stories. Family Bible is absolutely essential, though there is not time for a defense or explanation here. Family music need not be complex; even singing a hymn or two together would suffice! Again, time does not permit us to delve deep here. Family story time will, of course, receive most of the air time.

[4] Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, 137-139.

[5] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 85-87.