Have you been to that country with the soaring spires,
And majestic old forests that creak with age?
Have you ever felt summoned to distant realms
By the wandering ink on the page of a book?
Have you looked into the diamond-bright eyes of a child
And discovered the world that lies within?
Have you ever gone searching for that hidden country?
I recently posted a poem entitled “That Hidden Country.” It’s my attempt to poetically capture my fascination with the realms of the imagination; a fascination that I believe has a hidden place deep within each and every one of us. No matter how dry a person may seem, there lies within us all a powerful draw toward the fantastical and magical worlds where childhood resides. The road to that hidden country may be overgrown with the tangled vines of cold reality, but to those who know where to look, it is always waiting to be rediscovered.
I have always loved fantasy. Epic tales of knights and dragons and courageous heroes have always inspired me. My favorite books growing up were always The Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, and The Bridge to Terabithia. In fact, I’ve always been rather disappointed with the real world, because it doesn’t seem to live up to the stories. It can seem pretty dreary a lot of the time. I’ve always wanted to step through the wardrobe and discover a world where I can be the hero of an incredible story.
As a child, fantasy was an escape from reality. In the pages of a book, there was no homework, no chores, no bedtime. In the realm of my imagination, I was not a skinny nerdy redhead; I was a flame-haired hero who fought for justice and conquered the forces of darkness. My imagination was so powerful that I created an enchanted world for myself. I called it “Tobia.” I drew a map and hung it on the wall of my bedroom. I wrote pages of stories about the majestic land of Tobia, ruled by the honorable and courageous King Benjamin. I had wings in Tobia. I was more than I thought I could ever be in the real world. When reality brought only pain, Tobia was a place of freedom. In my imagination, there were no limits to the scope of my adventures.
I am not a child anymore. The map of Tobia has long since been removed from my wall. But my love for the imagination has not faded. I remain a writer and a poet at heart. Fantasy is still my favorite genre. I watched The Bridge to Terabithia yesterday and it still makes me cry. But stories are something different to me now; something greater. As we grow older, we too often allow ourselves to let go of childhood fantasies, considering them childish and unnecessary. But that is not the way it is meant to be.
As we grow older, we come to understand that we cannot, and should not, escape from reality. We have a responsibility to play a role in this world. Fantasy should no longer draw us away from the real world. But that does not mean fantasy ceases to have a role in our lives. Fairy-tales and dreams are not only for children. They are even more important for us as adults.
I wrote a post about childhood a while back that centered on the lessons we have to learn from children. I wrote that the innocence and joy and wonder of the young is something that we should never allow ourselves to let go of. In the same way, the imagination of childhood, and the love for fantastical stories, should remain a part of us forever. They simply grow to fulfill a different purpose.
When we are young, fantasy is an escape from reality. Bedtime stories help us to forget about the scary monsters under the bed. But as adults, stories become so much more. They need not be an escape from reality. Instead, they teach us about reality. They help us to understand who we are. They show us that the real world is actually an epic place in and of itself. We all have monsters to slay and battles to fight. We are all on great and terrible quests. We are all part of our own stories. We all have times when we need to be rescued, and times when we need to be the rescuer.
Stories have a special kind of power that can stay with us our entire lives. As we grow up, our stories do as well. When we are young, stories are an escape. When we grow older, stories begin to teach us about reality. Eventually, we come to discover that reality itself is a story. It may not be filled with damsels and dragons and majestic castles. But it is epic. Real life is a story of flesh and blood and life and death and war and peace. It’s a tale that we are living each and every day, composed by the Author who set every story in motion. Today is a page in your story. It’s up to you to make it a good one. What will this chapter of your life be about? What kind of hero will you be?
As we grow older, it’s easy to be jaded by the ugliness of the real world. The pain and heartache that surrounds us seeks to extinguish the song within us. But that is only a part of your story. When the hero is surrounded on all sides by a seemingly insurmountable foe, does he merely surrender to his fate? Or does he fight for what is good and true and noble no matter the odds? It is in those moments that we define ourselves. The hero of the story is shaped by the decisions he makes. We are defined by our actions each and every day.
So we see, fantasy is not childish. It need not be a flimsy shelter from the hardships of life. The road to that hidden country does not lead away from reality. It leads within. Only when that country collides with our own reality can they both truly become what they are meant to be. Life is a story, and stories are all about life. It is up to us to live like that. Make the story of your life a story worthy of the fantasies of your childhood. We are broken. We are not perfect storybook heroes. But we have been adopted as Sons and Daughters of the King of Kings. Our story matters to God. That alone is reason to make yours a good one. Where the world of the imagination collides with your reality, you can become who you were created to be; for the glory of the One who composed every story. Real life is lived where those worlds collide.