On Fairytales

I love being a liberal arts student.  Also I love it when random thoughts come to me in the shower...I now understand Archimedes and that whole "Eureka"-in-the-bath moment!

This evening, my parents, a dear college friend who is visiting for a few days, and I were watching Tangled.  My parents had not seen the movie before, and frequently commented on the ridiculous, improbable things that happened throughout the movie.  As I was watching their reactions, I started thinking about the phrase that literature teachers will use, "willful suspension of disbelief."  This "suspension of disbelief" is essential for reading or watching a fairy tale, because that level of improbability is exactly what makes a story a fairy tale.  Without the fantastic and the amazing, a story is just a use of words or images to play with the reality we already know and experience day by day.

We know that it is possible to suspend our disbelief in the fantastic, that it is possible to grasp just for a moment the possibility of occurences far beyond our normal experience.  Our natural skepticism can be throttled and turned to a naive, innocent ability to believe in the amazing.  It is possible.  But why do we indulge in this "suspension of disbelief"?

Literature teachers do not just call it "suspension of disbelief."  It is willful suspension.  The ability to ignore reality comes from an act of the will.  Our minds are made to search for truth, for reality.  The desire for truth as the highest good of the mind is built into our humanity.   It is this desire for truth, and the ability to grasp it, that makes us human.   As humans, we always, always act according to our nature.  Why then would we do something so completely outside of nature as to make an act of the will to stifle our desire for truth?  Why would we want to believe that a flower blooming from a drop of sunlight could have the power to grant life and health?

Man cannot act contrary to human nature.  It simply cannot happen!  To do so would be to deny everything that makes man what he is.  Therefore, this willful suspension of disbelief, this denial of reality for the sake of the fantastic, must somehow fit into the framework of reason.

Fairy tales and man's willful suspension of disbelief are a sign that the experience and knowledge of man cannot be all there is to reality.  If everything that were true could be bounded by the mind, then it would be pointless to torment a man's reason by presenting images of what can never be true.  There would be no way for a person to enjoy reading illogical, yet strangely beautiful stories.  But without necessarily acknowledging it to himself, every man wants to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; he wants to know there is more to reality than he can grasp.  We are constantly seeking the highest truth; we subdue the lesser truth to get a glimpse of a greater one.  If fairies and enchanted castles can be true, then angels and miracles could also be real.

The man who cannot will to suspend his disbelief cannot seek for the sublime.  The man who can read a fairy tale and love it can read Scripture and believe it.