Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Monsters and Knights

When the BBC show “Doctor Who” began in 1963, it was marketed as a children’s show, but the amount of nightmare fuel it contains may led some parents to question that rating. Some of the most terrifying episodes take childhood fears (“something under the bed,” “something where you aren’t looking” and “something in the dark”) and mold them into physical beings.
While some of this may be accounted for by the show’s widespread popularity, even the 2007 spin-off “Sarah Jane Adventures” is on the heavier side for youth programming. Instead of dancing teddy bears or thinly veiled vocabulary lessons, it features a band of teens fighting aliens and saving the earth from rhino-headed policemen, body snatchers, and a wedding.*
C.S. Lewis once said that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then. Does that apply to other forms of media too? I believe so. Children can understand more than we give them credit for. I first read the Chronicles of Narnia at nine or ten, and Don Quixote at fourteen. Even though I didn’t understand everything, it was still more profitable than Hannah Montana or Power Rangers.
Some adults would question the suitable of such stories for young ears. Wouldn’t they cause nightmares or phobias? But C.S. Lewis’ essay ‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children,’ warns of the dangers of trying to sanitize children’s stories.

You would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St. George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of police.

Anyone can see that there’s danger in the world, whether on a global scale or merely the problems of daily life. Sometimes those dangers can seem overwhelming. But in stories, we can find the heroes who confront the monsters. In the Doctor Who episode ‘The Girl in the Fireplace,’ the Doctor attempts to comfortable a little girl when clockwork monsters invade her bedroom by saying, “Everyone has nightmares. Even monsters under the bed have nightmares, don't you, monster?”
Reinette replies, “What do monsters have nightmares about?
“Me!” the Doctor boasts. Later, when the clockwork monsters return, Reinette stares it down, saying, “You are merely the nightmare of my childhood. The monster from under my bed. And if my nightmare can return to plague me then, rest assured, so will yours.”
We all face monsters—and the greatest of them all is sin. We can’t defeat it on our own. That’s why Jesus came. He conquered our sin nature and freed us from our enemy. Nightmares aren’t greater than the Light.

*yes, I did say a wedding. Season 3’s “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” is one of my favorite episodes.

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