English, Department of


Truth, Fantasy, and Paradox: The Fairy Tales of George Macdonald, G.K.Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis

Jennifer R. Overkamp, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Document Type Article

A DISSERTATION Presented to the faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree Doctor of Philosophy. Major: English. Under the Supervision of Professor Laura White
Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Jennifer R. Overkamp.


In this project I examine the defenses of fairy tales written by George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, and C. S. Lewis within the context of the long-standing debate among Christians about the moral value of fiction and fantasy. Starting with Tertullian, Jerome, and Augustine, and concluding with the modern debate over magic in children’s literature, I discuss the seven typical attacks on fiction and the seven often-used defenses of it. While each of these writers offers ideas which go beyond the typical arguments by which Christians have historically defended fiction, the one thing they have in common is that they champion the paradoxical idea that in imagining the untrue writers offer unique access to truth. This idea is a significant contribution to the on-going Christian debate over fiction.

I examine how these authors’ ideas about fantasy fiction form a paradigm that considers the relationship of truth and fiction, and that can be used as a kind of literary criticism. Having determined the authors’ ideas about what fairy tales are supposed to do and how they should be read, I then turn to the fairy tales written by the authors themselves. I consider George MacDonald’s Adela Cathcart in light of the author’s theories about the spiritually healing aspects of fantasy. G. K. Chesterton’s obsession with fairy tales is examined next, particularly how he claimed the fairy tale motif as a source and summit of much of his philosophy. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis are examined in light of Lewis’s ideas about fairy tale pleasures and violence, as well as his standards for literary criticism as outlined in An Experiment in Criticism, which place a high value on form and structure.