In Defense of Swordplay

When I was yet single but had friends who were married with kids, I accepted their common opinion that playing with toy swords and guns was a bad thing, that it encouraged violence.

Well, Someone whom we’ll call grandma — because she’s Hans’ grandma Betty — got Hans a toy sword. And he loves the thing. Carries it everywhere, even likes to sleep with it.

He plays with it, too, slaying the dragons that lay threat all round us. And although he needed a little coaching, he’s pretty good about distinguishing between a fire-breathing, man-roasting-and-eating, damsel-in-distress-threatening dragon, and his little sister Miriam.

I’m finding I have little problem with this, at all. For two reasons.

First, Kari and I read an essay somewhere that imaginative swordplay inculcates the development of virtue, particularly a sense of justice. There is Good and Evil, Justice and Injustice, and goodness and justice must be defended. Obviously it’s not that simple; we all know how such terms can be perverted and misused with horrible results. (Paging Dr. Kristeva…) But I’d rather have my son develop a rudimentary sense of justice now, and we’ll worry about how concepts can be warped in service of power later.

Second, I think it’s good that my son cultivate his imagination, for all the obvious reasons people might state, but also because imagination is a gateway to faith. For C. S. Lewis, for example, his love of Norse mythology led to his love of Christ:

If my religion is erroneous then occurrences of similar motifs in pagan stories are, of course, instances of the same, or a similar error. But if my religion is true, then these stories may well be a preparatio evangelica, a divine hinting in poetic and ritual form at the same central truth which was later focused and (so to speak) historicised in the Incarnation. To me, who first approached Christianity from a delighted interest in, and reverence for, the best pagan imagination, who loved Balder before Christ and Plato before St. Augustine, the anthropological argument against Christianity has never been formidable. On the contrary, I could not believe Christianity if I were forced to say that there were a thousand religions in the world of which 999 were pure nonsense and the thousandth (fortunately) true. My conversion, very largely, depended on recognizing Christianity as the completion, the actualization, the entelechy, of something that had never been wholly absent from the mind of man.

If the mythology involved in swordplay cultivates Hans’ imagination so that one day he can more truly see Christ, the Myth Become Fact, then slay those dragons, I say.

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