Found in the Myths of Time: Have you ever wondered why so many cultures have the same myths—stories about a brave hero slaying a monster and saving a damsel in distress?
• St. George and the Dragon
• Beowulf and Grendel
• Perseus and Andromeda
• Sleeping Beauty
• The Swan Princess
Those are just a few that you probably know. It’s because they’re true.
We’re uncomfortable with the word myth. In our modern age, we take it as meaning made up or a false belief or idea. But the original definition is a story of the supernatural, something that explains or reveals the truth. In our disenchanted age, we have made tales of the supernatural synonymous with falsehood. It should not be so. Every myth is a shadow cast by the light of truth.
Myths Tell Us God’s Story
The reason that the dragonslayer stories are common and cross-cultural is because they point to a deeper truth: the true story of how Jesus Christ, the serpent crusher, came to free us from Satan and bring us back to God. Because, as Joe Rigney says, you can sum up Jesus’s story and why he came in six words: Kill the Dragon. Get the girl.
That is why Jesus came, and because he is the hero of the story, that is the plot of the whole Bible and all of world history. Jesus came to crush Satan and save his bride, the church.
But we need to be clear about this relationship. It is not that Jesus is just another dragonslayer myth. It is that every dragonslayer myth is just another Jesus—another stumbling attempt to get at the truth of what he has done for us.
As Lewis put it in Myth Became Fact:
God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology.
And this Christological narrative arc of the universe helps us to see our own stories more clearly.
Myths Tell Us Our Story
“Why do you write? Because you are written.”
—N. D. Wilson, School of Fantastical Wordcraft
Our world is made of words. God’s words. He spoke, and it came into being. Not only that, but he has scripted every moment of our lives. Every detail, every interaction, every bit of dialogue. All are written by his fatherly hand.
The power of myths is that they reveal glimpses of that story. They tell tales that resonate because they’re true to our experience in this world.
There is evil; there is good. There is tension and struggle. There are stakes and consequences.
But more important than reflecting on our day-to-day lives, myths and stories help us set it in context. There is a reason that Ephesians 6 immediately follows Ephesians 5. Your relationships as a Christian are a battlefield between darkness and light. There is a cosmic war between evil and sound, and your daily struggles are part of it.
When a husband struggles to love his wife, when a wife struggles to submit to her husband, when fathers provoke children to wrath, and when children do not honor their parents in the Lord, we do not struggle against flesh and blood. We struggle against the powers of hell and darkness that want to tear our relationships apart. Satan knows we need each other, and he delights in separating what God has joined.
We need myths to remind us of our story. These stories of battle with darkness, defeating dragons, and saving the world from evil are not a distraction from daily life but a revelation of what that life really represents.
But we hide from this truth because war is a frightening thing. Unless you know you’re going to win.
Myths Tell Us Spoilers
“Oh, is this the one where . . .” is a sentence that has ended friendships. Nobody likes having a story spoiled. But that is because we can put the book down and walk away. The spoiler removes the tension.
In our real lives, spoilers are a blessing because, as characters in the story, we need to know how the story ends.
As Boromir lay dying, he must have wondered if he had messed it up. Was that it? Was there a future for his people? When the Pevensies landed in Narnia for the first time, it would have been a great comfort to know the Witch would be defeated.
One of the reasons that God gives us myths (especially true myths) is to show us how the story ends.
As Chesterton said:
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.
The myths God has given us are not there to teach us that dragons exist but that the Dragon will one day meet his end. Children, especially, need that comfort and hope.
We do not know all the twists and turns that God has written into the story. There will still be cliffhangers, tension, and real stakes. There are still moments and seasons of weeping on the way. But we know how the story ends, which is the greatest of all comforts.
Weep no more, for the Lion of the tribe of Judah, has conquered —Revelation 5:5
A Story that Signifies
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. —Macbeth
Well, Shakespeare almost got it right.
Tomorrow does creep, and death does come. Our lives are but brief candles, and we are but players with a short turn on the world’s stage. But ours is a tale told by the master storyteller —a tale of Jesus and of redemption. A tale of a dragon slain and a bride won.
And it signifies everything.
All other myths are but a pale shadow cast by the glorious gospel ray; but like a shadow, they reveal the shapes of truth.
Author: James Shrimpton is the author of The King and the Dragon. James W. Shrimpton (MSc, University of Dundee) is a chartered accountant and hymn writer. He lives in Aberdeen, Scotland, with his wife and children, who are members of Trinity Church Aberdeen.