I have been reading through the very excellent (and highly recommended!) Wingfeather Saga of children’s books written by singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson. I’m doing this partly because I’ve been told that they are simply good and epic books, along the lines of a children’s version of The Lord of the Rings. But I’m also doing this to get a sense of them before starting to read to my children.
One of the aspects that I appreciate most about Peterson’s writing is how he deals with real life situations in an honest manner. Much of children’s literature seems to go to one extreme or another: either everything is great and wonderful and could never be bad or the world is a dark and scary place with only a little bit of good in it (usually accompanied by some sort of self-esteem “but you can make it better!” message). Peterson does neither. Writing from a Christian worldview, Peterson writes with humor and wonder and adventure, but he also deals with the occasional difficult-yet-real topic as well.
In the second book, North! or be Eaten, we find the Igiby children’s beloved dog dying as a result of defending them from their wicked enemies (called the Fangs). What I find most impactful about this chapter is how it so plainly and clearly shows an understanding of sadness and evil in the world and yet, for those who trust in the Lord, that sadness and grief is not without hope:
“Janner remembered the day at the cottage when she thought the Fangs had killed Nugget. She had cried little and soon grown silent. That had been far more worrisome to him than the way Leeli now wept. She seemed older, no longer shocked that such a thing could happen in the world but heartbroken because it had. Her tears struck Janner as the right kind of tears.” -North! or Be Eaten, Andrew Peterson, p.65
And, indeed, that is the difference. This is why we cry when somebody dies. Not because we can’t believe that death would ever occur, but because such a terrible thing did occur.
It reminds me of the first time a toy of my daughter’s broke. It was some sort of cheap battery-operated thing that we’d gotten somewhere and it worked for all of a few minutes. At the time, she didn’t have a lot of words, but was clearly trying to express her frustration, and then sadness, as she kept trying to get it to work. She then took it to her mom to fix, but it couldn’t be fixed, for it was broken. Then my daughter brought it to me, knowing that “daddy fix?” so often is all that is needed to get something working again. Alas, I was unable to fix it as well. The tears that came to my daughter’s eyes that day were tears of shock as much as sadness: she had no idea a toy – something which should give her such happiness – could break and leave her without that same happiness.
Now my daughter is older, and one of the most heart-wrenching yet necessary things to see is that she understands that there are things like death and pain and meanness in the world. She still cries when something bad happens, but her tears are no longer tears of shock and betrayal at a world she thought was only good. Now she cries because she knows that there are such pains in the world. And we praise God together that she knows and believes that Jesus will someday take away all of the pain and the horrors and the tears.
So shall it be for all who trust Christ. When we look at the world, we must not approach it either naively nor fatalistically. Instead, we must approach it realistically: we understand that there is great sin now and that should grieve us. But we must always remember that sin will not reign forever. Someday it will be destroyed by our Glorious King. And so, amidst tears and sorrows, we hold fast to hope. To Christ. To salvation. And to the Kingdom which He is bringing with Him.