Introduction by Derrick Peterson
[Jump here if you want to skip the introduction, and head straight to David Congdon's fantastic essay.]
Because of a stark contrast with the mundane, fairy tales and monsters can offer us a great escape from daily doldrums. But more than just flights of fancy or imagination, they speak to us of the mysteries of life--those forces which linger on the edges of the seen and the ordinary--indeed which cast a trembling question mark on that very line itself--and which can both enchant and horrify in turn. Monsters and faerie stand on the crossroads of life and myth, of metaphor and reality. "The definition of fairy-story ... does not, then, depend on any [particular] account of elf or fairy," writes J.R.R. Tolkien in his wonderful essay "On Fairy-Stories." Rather, such accounts rely upon "the nature of Faerie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. ... Faerie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible. It has many ingredients, but analysis will not necessarily discover the secret of the whole."
Such fantastic things do not merely populate the imagination and nightmare of children. The shape our monsters take often tell us about ourselves: by falling outside the ordinary, they define the borders of our own identities in a negative way (or, at least those we wish to exist), and reveal the ever present worry that far from being "out there" in the perilous realm, the perilous realm is already here, "inside" our walls. The magical and the monstrous are not merely to give shape to the "other" but often their forms bloom within us, limiting or opening possibilities within the world as we find it. In a wonderful piece of historical investigation, for example, when attempting to explain to us what Medieval life was like, famed historian Jacques Le Goff does not merely detail daily activities, or major figures, or brutal wars. He does this, to be sure. But at a wonderful turn he frames what he calls the "medieval imagination" of the world by conjuring the image of the Forest as a Tolkien-esque perilous realm. The forest "was full of ... imaginary or real dangers," says Le Goff. "It formed the disquieting horizon of the medieval world. The forest encircled the medieval world, isolated it, and restricted it." As such, he notes in passing (and in tune with our thoughts here), "it was easy for the medieval imagination, drawing on an immemorial folklore, to turn ... devouring wolves into monsters" for example.
We moderns do not escape this. Here with this introduction, it is with great pleasure that we invite you to view an essay on just such a topic by David Congdon, Ph.D., written for our journal Cultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture in 2010 entitled "'A Beautiful Anarchy:'" Religion, Fascism, and Violence in the Theopolitical Imagination of Guillermo Del Toro." Click the title to follow the link over to view his excellent essay in which he presents the case that the cinematic fairy tales of Guillermo Del Toro are used by Del Toro to "disrupt and reorder our vision" of the current political world. These fairy tales "subvert the established stories that dominate our lives in the modern world," argues Congdon. So please head over and enjoy his wonderful inter-disciplinary essay!
David W. Congdon (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is associate editor at IVP Academic. His research focuses on dialectical and intercultural theology, with an emphasis on the relationship of Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann. He is the author of The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology and Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology. He lives in Downers Grove, Illinois. If you are interested in seeing more and would like a year subscription to Cultural Encounters, please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.