I admit it: I love Dungeons & Dragons! Phew… I’m glad I got that off my nerdy chest. This fantasy game from 1974 is surprisingly fun and easy to play in its present form. Set in a Lord-of-the-Rings-style universe filled with magic, monsters and, of course, dragons, players use their collective imagination to tell stories wherein hearts are changed, lessons are learned and the bad guys are defeated. Pretty cool, right? Though it might not be for everyone and it’s certainly not perfect, I would have never guessed how much this fantasy game has forced me to think about reality.
Stories—especially good ones—are powerfully influential. They invite us to think, move us to feel and compel us to act. Fantasy stories in particular reveal in us a longing for something greater—something eternal—that God has intentionally placed in our hearts (Eccles. 3:11). C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The world we long for is one freed from sin, death and Satan by the powerful love of a King. This may sound like fantasy, but it is actually our approaching reality. Good fantasy stories help us glimpse and live inside that reality, even if they include dungeons and dragons.
All great stories, no matter how fictional, are rooted in reality. For Lewis and his fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien, no tale of fantasy was senseless fancy. Their works are intentionally saturated with gospel imagery and allegory, and their central themes are “derived from reality… flowing back into it,” as Tolkien writes in his essay, “On Fairy Stories.” They draw from real life because they want to impact real lives. Whether they eat, drink or write fantasy novels, they do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
Narnia and Middle Earth are covered with darkness but long with hope for a promised salvation, like our own world. Their protagonists are externally rescued by sudden and miraculous graces, like we were by Christ. Their kings finally reign in kingdoms filled with peace, rejecting the acceptance of universal defeat, like our King Jesus will when He returns. Within these stories of fantasy, biblical truths about redemptive history and the human experience abound. Through the hope and sadness of the setting, we see reality; through the conflict and the choices of the characters, we see ourselves.
We are made to learn from stories because the God who created us speaks through stories. It’s no accident that Jesus taught in parables—fictional stories that prove a point about reality. Through the lives of fictional characters, we not only see the consequences of their actions, but also of our own, and we engage with the rightness or wrongness of those actions at a heart level. We see ourselves in their mistakes and find hope in their successes. Jesus tells us the hard truth we need to hear with both creativity and gentleness: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Mark 4:9).
When it comes to such important truths of the gospel, there’s a time and place to be overtly plain; however, the indirectness of the parables is intentional. They invite listeners to place themselves in the story, to think about who they are and what they care about. Finding the moral of the story and discovering its lessons are part of the adventure.
The true power of a story is measured by its effect.
The divine Word of God is meant to be mined for meaning, which requires time, discussion and a lot of grace. 43 percent of the Bible can be classified as narrative literature. God primarily reveals Himself through genealogies, histories and biographical accounts—in other words, through stories. Noticing this pattern, Ray Lubeck writes in his book, Read the Bible for a Change, “Our brains are hardwired for narratives. When children ask to hear a story it’s not simply a biological craving for amusement or a demand for attention. It arises out of a genuine human need to make sense of the disparate experiences of our lives and that need is addressed in storytelling.” He goes on to say, “Through stories we learn how to see patterns, we learn about cause and effect, we learn how to discover the consequences of our choices, our sense of right and wrong, and of what is most important or least valuable in life. All of these are shaped for us by the stories we hear and then live.”
The true power of a story is measured by its effect, and intentional storytellers keep this in view. What does the story inspire and stir its listeners to do? In Luke 10, a lawyer looking to justify himself asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). In response, Jesus tells a story that’s come to be known as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” After narrating the responses of three different men who see someone injured on the side of a road, Jesus asks the lawyer which one acted as a neighbor. The lawyer, having empathized with the fallen man and approving of the Samaritan’s kindness, replies, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then, Jesus charges, “Go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).
In light of this story, the lawyer must now live differently. No longer can he claim to love God or neighbor without caring for those in need. And the same is true for us, when we read the story today. It teaches us to display the glory of God by showing others, even our enemies, a generous and costly love like Jesus does on the cross.
In and through the Bible, God uses stories like this one to change lives. Made in the image of this storytelling God, mankind also has the ability to influence and inspire others with all kinds of stories. When considered from this perspective, fantasy games and stories are not as far removed from reality as one may think. They can force us to find the real, eternal longings God places deep within our souls, ask us to cast ourselves honestly amongst their characters and compel us to live for His glory—depending on their author or your Dungeon Master, of course.