Yesterday, I quoted John Updike’s marvelous put-down of Paul Tillich’s theology from his book review in Assorted Prose. Also valuable in that collection is Updike’s review of Karl Barth’s Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum and of Denis de Rougemont’s Love in the Western World and Love Declared. His lengthy essay on parody is helpful, too. But here’s something else that stood out, though I’m not done turning it over in my mind yet, let alone express agreement. I present it here for your consideration. It’s from Updike’s “Foreword for Young Readers,” introducing three fairy tales by Oscar Wilde:
These are called fairy stories. Why? The word “fairy” comes from the Latin word fata, which means “one of the Fates.” The Fates were the supreme gods of the Roman world whose architecture survives in post offices and railroad stations, whose language lingers in mottos, and whose soldiers and officials may be glimpsed in the background of the New Testament. In fact, fairies and all such spirits and tiny forest presences are what is left of the gods who were worshipped before Christ.
Imagine a forest, and imagine the forest overswept by an ocean. The forest is drowned; but along the shore twigs and sticks, dwindled and worn and soaked with salty water, are washed up. These bits are fairy stories, and the ocean is the Christian faith that in a thousand years swept over Europe, and the forest is that world of pagan belief that existed before it. So, when you pick up a fairy story, the substance is pagan wood, but the taste and glisten is Christian salt (Assorted Prose, 300-301).