Robin Rendle quoting Neil Gaiman, who is quoting G.K. Chesterton:
Fairy tales, as G.K. Chesterton once said, are more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated.
I read somewhere that he based the Gilbert character from The Sandman on Chesterton, so it’s no surprise to find Gaiman quoting Chesterton in Smoke and Mirrors.
Wanting to find the work in which the quote first appeared, I did a little research only to discover that G.K. Chesterton never actually wrote it. According to E.M. Goldsmith1, Gaiman’s is a rework of the following original quote:
Fairy Tales then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him to a series of clear pictures of the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. –Tremendous Trifles (1909), XVII: “The Red Angel”2
An excellently simplified, actualized and de-Christianized rework, I’d say. On the subject of fairy tales, E.M. Goldsmith has another quote that is worth sharing:
When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.” –Heretics, CW, I, p.143 G.K. Chesterton.
What great of a writer Chesterton was. No wonder Jorge Luis Borges and J.R.R. Tolkien were some of his great estimators. On Chesterton, Borges supposedly3 said: “Literature is one of the forms of happiness; perhaps no writer has given me as many happy hours as Chesterton.”
- Along with many others on the Internet, E.M. Goldsmith attributes the simplified quote to the popular TV show Criminal Minds. It’d be interesting to find who quoted who here. [return]
- Further digging unearthed The Red Angel original text. [return]
- G.K. Chesterton’s page on the Italian edition of Wikipedia; suspiciously flagged with a citation-needed note. [return]