Learning in Fantasy Land


“Be glad that You have made blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise.”   Rich Mullins

This blog may be more a confession of nerdiness rather than great reading material, but here goes.

I think every reader of fantasy fiction has secretly longed to inhabit, at least for a time, the lands they are reading about.  Who hasn’t wanted to fight alongside Aslan in Narnia, trek the sinister Misty Mountain’s with Frodo and Gandalf, or attend the first year’s feast with Harry at Hogwarts?  Something about the wonder and magic of Middle Earth and Narnia calls out to our sense of adventure…places where trees walk and talk and live thousands of years;  worlds in which animals, dryads, and nymphs all converse with us boring humans.  We are able to escape the tedium of modern existence into ones that inspire bravery, heroism, and love.  They are places where evil always loses and where the valiant rule with truth and goodness.  What delight to live in, or at least pretend to live in such a world of magic and wonder.  Everyone aspires to this… look no further than the interminable lines at Disney World.

This escapism can lead to something akin to discontent about our own sort of “humdrum” world, but the more I contemplate our existence on this planet, the more I realize the wonders we daily take for granted.  If we can just quiet our hurried lives for a moment we will quickly realize this world is unbelievably bizarre, fantastic, and filled with more wonders than the combined fantasy lands of Tolkien, Lewis, and J.K. Rowling.

A world of wonder

I’m not a science teacher, so I claim ignorance on any factual errors, but if we just take a cursory look around this planet we call home, we’ll see it is filled with splendor.  Right now we are on a big ball that is spinning over a thousand miles per hours and revolving around a star at around 65,000 miles per hour.  Just today I explained this concept to one of my middle school classes, and they looked at me in what can only be considered disbelief.  “How come we can’t tell, Mr. Riley?”  “Why don’t we fall off, Mr. Riley?”  “Why aren’t we getting sick, Mr. Riley?”    Oh, that’s easy I said…gravity.  Gravity holds us down, so it looks like were actually staying still.  To be honest, the answer didn’t help much – they still looked at me in complete disbelief.  I finally said magic…it is all magic.  We don’t get sick or fall off because God magically made it to be so.  What’s odd is my answer kind of relieved some of the tension.

Take another example.  How about the human heart?  It runs for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for an average of 75 years.  It even grows with its recipient and heals itself.  Are you kidding me?  If that isn’t magic I don’t know what is, and that’s just one organ.  The modern man, in all his sophistication, will explain it away with as much ease as Sherlock said “elementary” to Watson.  The entire financial, material, and intellectual resources in the world couldn’t make a human finger nail to such specifications let alone a human heart, and I’m supposed to believe this all happened by dumb luck?

I’m sure scientists know how seeds become great live oaks, but they have yet to produce one.  How about an egg that becomes a chicken?  How does that oily orange liquid in that small white egg start walking around and clucking?  Just because it’s the norm and happens millions of times per day ought to make it more fantastic and even less explainable.

We live in a world in which Frodo, Harry, and Aslan would be infinitely jealous. We may need to stop for a moment and maybe open our eyes a bit more.  Every time we open a biology textbook we ought to realize we are studying the deep, hidden, and yes even magical things of God’s creative handiwork.   The daily challenge for teachers is actually convincing our students of this truth.  Pardon one more reference to my nerdy obsession with fantasy fiction, but only an Orc could travel Middle Earth and not be fascinated; likewise, only a fool can travel around our own world and not cease to wonder and worship its Maker.

Bill Riley teaches secondary math at Lakeland Christian School. You can contact him at briley@lcsonline.org

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