Coming Home to Elfland

Some of us are turned off by the word magic and anything related to it. Our minds are drawn to witchcraft, games of poor repute in the Christian community such as Dungeons and Dragons, or books at which some Christians snub their noses, such as the Harry Potter series. It is ironic, then, that at least one classic Christian author, G.K. Chesterton, wrote fondly of magic in a chapter from his book Orthodoxy (1908). His argument is quite different than one that a modern-day witch might use, and his point is sound: mankind needs to get itself back to the magic of Christ, the mystery of God and his supernatural power, and in doing so, recover the joy of being of Christian.

Chesterton begins with our lives in the world. He talks about the businessman who rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, saying “Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.” With this statement, Chesterton sets one of the central themes of the chapter. When we are young, we are full of mystery, be it the young philanthropist who thinks he can save the world, or the child who looks for the elves who keep taking their binkies. To the young, the world is full of wonder, possibility, and ideals. There is nothing that cannot be fixed, nothing that cannot be overcome. Even death to my three year old is “going to see God.” What could be better than that?

Then we get on with our lives. We are forced to leave behind the youthful wonder of the world and accept “reality.” In this world, people are forced to move from the idealism of their youth to the “reality” of being a grown up. Such a difficult thing to bestow upon young people! Teaching young idealists that they will NOT change the world, telling our children that magic and elves and fairies don’t exist, are heart breaking affairs. The world squashes out of us any sense of hope outside of rationale, and any dreams beyond “the possible.” What a sad day it is when we damn ourselves to an understanding of life that includes only birth, work, what little we can achieve on earth, and then death – passing on what we have acquired to our children. Yet this is rational, this is being a grown up. Chesterton claims that “we have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.”

Chesterton reminds us that this drudgery need not be our final understanding. We can come back to a youthful world of magic, wonder, and ideals, a place that Chesterton called “Elfland.” He claimed that he learned the spirit of its laws before he could speak, and he would retain them when he was too old to write. It was, to him, a certain way of looking at life, “which was created…by the fairy tales.” In Elfland, the impossible is possible, mystery still exists, wonder fills the world, and we can once again believe in magic.

Not the kind of magic, of course, practiced in dark rooms with a pentagram and candles and such. Rather the kind of magic that helps us understand our place in a big and scary world, one that gives us hope even in the darkest hour. It is this magic that makes us realize that everything is going to be okay. A magic that slowly but undeniably changes us into better men and women, helping us to learn to love and serve in defiance of our selfishness. A magic that takes care of our families — regardless of financial or political turbulence. A magic that allows us to reach heights of accomplishment far outside of the realm of ordinary possibility. It is magical to know I have Someone to talk to when I am lonely and scared, Someone to look to when I don’t know what course of action to take. And it is magic to know that at the end of all times, everything is going to be exactly as it should be, and everything that happens until then is just details.

I used to dream of being a white knight and fighting evil dragons to save those in need, a super hero who defends the weak against a super-villain. At some point I “grew up” and forgot that dream. Who was I to make a difference? But now, through knowledge gained by faith, I know that the ancient war against evil is reality, and I join the fight on the side of all that is good and pure to rescue those who truly need help .

When we recover this magic and mystery, we no longer have to live by rational thinking and our puny understanding of possibility. We can understand our lives in light of the Creator behind the creation, the Christ behind our existence. Chesterton says, “In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.” We are children who have been adopted and made Holy, or separated for a purpose in this world. We are a people who did everything wrong, who have been picked up, cleaned off, and have been made right. We can kneel and thank God, for we know that we are more than an organism on a rock, more than a person born of chance and human will. We can overflow with thankfulness for everything that has been given, for we see the world as it truly is: full of wonder and magic.

In this time of crisis and war, life pressures and church politics, it is hard to dig our heels in and remember who God is, who we are, and what we are supposed to be doing. It seems that the gateway to Elfland is blocked by a flaming sword, and we are stuck out in the cold of harsh reality of life. I, for one, need to remember the magic of my childhood – playing with elves and fighting dragons – for this is why I was called.


  1. Hannah Love Yoon

    Thanks for writing this Tuf :)
    I’m reminded of Matthew 18:1-9. Jesus says in verse 3 “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
    As I studied John 1 this past week, the verse about God giving us the right to become children of God, born of God really struck me. When we are born again with Christ, we have that right to be free from our worries, our fears, our sins. We can be like children and trust God. We can be free like children and not be controlled by our worries. We can be pure and innocent of all darkness. He’s given us that right and its such a blessing.
    Unfortunately as we grow up we depend more on our rational thinking, our instincts and reality.
    I think God wants us to let go a little and let His ‘magic’ work in our lives.

    • Thanks Hannah, I think of that verse in Matthew too. Maybe I should have included it.

      And I am so thankful to be one of His children.
      Good to hear from you!

  2. david bychkov

    Thanks for nice article, Tuf! It is really great to grow our children in this way and to restore such attitude in our students.

    • And David, isn’t great to know we can teach our children the mystery and magic of Christ! They don’t need to forget this part of life, just learn it according to God’s plan.

  3. jespinola

    In my Bible reading with my older son, we have been reading about Elijah and now Elisha. The lives of these two prophets have undoubtedly been one of power and magic in the sense that God’s supernatural presence was strongly revealed through them. I realize that i’ve lost some sense of wonder and excitement in approaching God as my awesome and mighty God. Thanks for the post, Tuf. I, too, need to become less practical and more dependent on God’s grace and power in my life.

  4. FishEater

    Great Article Tuf!
    Now that I have a closer relationship with Christ, I definitely feel less of the magic I did when I was kid. I would like to have both. You would think that believing in a supernatural Father would give me more of a sense of magic. I think reading Daniel really helps open my eyes to the supernatural reality that there is a war going on all around us. That God, sent his one and only Son, to conquer death and free me from the bondage of sin.
    Chesterton has always been my favorite writer and the Ethics of Elfland has always been my favorite chapter. Have you ever read the Ball and the Cross?

  5. Really nice post Tuf. In fact it reminds me of something Ravi Zacharias said about the essentials of human life: wonder, truth, love, and security. Since he says it oh so much better than I ever could, I’ll quote a short passage from an excerpt of his book “Can Man Live Without God” (

    “Atheism is really antitheism. It fails the test of logic on the philosophical level, the test of meaning set forth by the arts, and the test of practical application. The human penchant for meaning cannot be met by antitheism, neither can it be ignored. A child’s sense of wonder and a young adult’s search for truth and love need
    fulfillment. A mature person’s experience with suffering demands answers. Only Christ, the God-man, brings truth to satisfy the intellect, love to restore the soul, and grace to heal the brokenness of suffering.”

    “While some would attempt to distill meaning down to love alone,
    as great as love is, it fails to fulfill the search. This search manifests itself differently in people of different ages and can be divided into four stages: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and maturity. The child seeks meaning through wonder. The world of children’s fairy tales sums up the crucial elements that engender wonder in the mind of a child. First, each tale has a moral principle encapsulated in it. Secondly, each tale has a set of conditions defined by the world of fairyland that are unalterable. Thirdly, the conditions are unquestionable. They are imparted by the tale’s author and add to not only the structure but mystery of the story. Cinderella never asks why her curfew is midnight,nor should the reader. Sadly, a thirst for knowledge often destroys a sense of wonder. People refuse to believe that there are and should be limitations to human knowledge, that mystery is a legitimate and even sacred part of life. Instead, they seek to understand the intricacies of all facets of the universe, touting any mystery as temporary until technology can catch up. A loss of wonder results in three tragedies: the reduction of the universe to its chemical components, the disappearance of gratitude, and an inevitable slide into meaninglessness.”

    “As a child grows into adolescence, fantasy gives way to a search for
    truth. Suppression of truth is pandemic in politics, in advertising, and even in the classroom. Past generations stood behind causes they believed in and sought security they considered obtainable. The present generation speaks a language of cynicism, having found no truth in causes and no fulfillment in monetary security. Young people today seek only someone with integrity, a relationship based on truth. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what Jesus offers, Himself as the embodiment of truth. While many of Christ’s followers have sullied His reputation by living contradictory to the values of the gospel, Christ’s own goodness should not be rejected on these grounds. Investigating the claims of Christ will yield a more accurate picture of who He is, and a relationship with Him
    will reward the search for truth. Love, then, is the quarry of the young adult. In both Eastern and Western cultures, love is the test that the truthfulness of the heart must pass. Love requires both sacrifice and utter vulnerability, for it leaves the heart open to rejection. It requires courage to be willing to take the risk.
    In Christianity, love is not mere sentimentality but a relationship that entails personal cost. This is why the cross of Christ sums up love more eloquently than any other event in history. For the love of the unlovable and undeserving, God who is love, surrenders even to death. “He becomes the consummate expression of love, and in knowing Him we find that love which brings meaning.” The fourth stage of meaning, that of the mature adult, centers on security.
    As a life draws to a close, only the expectation of something more
    offers purpose. It is the promise of resurrection and life beyond the grave that takes all four elements of meaning – wonder, truth, love, and security – and binds them into a perfect hope. This hope is found in the person of Christ.”

    This piece on wonder is really beautiful. It rings so true in my own experience. Since reading this a year or so ago, I have begun to rediscover the wonder of life, the thrilling mystery of the unknown. It exhibits itself in strange ways – lately, I really enjoy traveling at night (in Korean we say ‘pam-kil’, or ‘night road’). Wow… so mysterious, so full of something unknown, something so exciting yet unknown! Chris Kelly and I took a walk in the woods at night a few weeks ago – and it was so wonderfully mysterious! We did not really know where the path went, or where we would end up, but the sense of mystery and wonder was overpowering. Ravi is right in that our western conception of science – our idolization of science as god – has removed one of the most precious components of human life – mystery and wonder. Blessed be the God of all wonders!!! Praise God!!! :)

    • Can Man Live Without God is one of my favorite books!

      I never thought I could find an author I liked as much as Lewis, but I did.

      Thanks for the excerpt.

    • Gerardo R

      Hi Dr. Bill,
      I have heard of Ravi Zacharia’s talk on this many times myself. I must say, I am a big fan of Ravi’s work but he totally plagiarized G.K. Chesterton. I was actually a bit upset that he didnt give him more credit for his ideas. C.S. Lewis also plagiarized G.K. Chesterton on his Liar, Lunatic or Lord argument.

      Oh well, atleast they spread his ideas through their works. I am sure Chesterton would be quite flattered. =)

  6. Nice article Tuf! I am not sure whether the miracles in the Bible can be called magic, but I think both are supernatural. What I am realizing over a period of time is my Christian walk is supposed to be full of wonders and miracles and exciting works of God, but somehow it has been reduced to cerebral christianity devoid of feelings and experiences. I write and listens to messages on “love” but it seems even the messages of love are targeting not heart (feelings and experiences) but mind (intellectual agreement).
    I live with the impression that when I am supposed to obey the Great Commission, I am only supposed to teach the Bible and raise disciples and not desire and not even think about the signs and wonder and miracles Jesus promised would accompany the proclamation of the gospel to validate the message. It looks like for some time now, the scope of miracles are limited only to agreement to the message of the gospel by someone who previously either lived in disagreement or in ignorance. Speaking in tongues is reduced to learning new language(s) and the biblical speaking of tongue is strange acts. I am pained by how people get disturbed if we interpret the drinking of living water in Jn 4 to receiving the Holy Spirit from Jesus.
    I understand that it is much easier to execute and follow set programs than to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit because more often the works and manifestation of the presence of God results in strange and chaotic conduct beyond the set programs. But if God is the Creator, His manifestation is surely not going to be repetitive of the fixed format but very creative (or so to say strange!)
    Anyway, thanks for your article. I enjoyed it, and it sparked in me to think about something deeper.

    • I often feel this way too, that is why I wrote this piece. To be reminded of the magic I had when I was first a Christian.

      Not that I want the unbridled and somewhat naive giddyness of early Christianity back, but the joylessness of a “spiritual grind” really saps the depth and the joy of Christ out of life.

      Anyway, I know He is present and I look forward to better days of basking in His love again.

      Thanks, and I am glad you enjoyed it.

    • Tuf, thanks for the wonderful article! i think it is very interesting that the word “magic” is used in this setting. Whereas i think i do understand what Chesterton meant when he used this word i also understand why many Christians, including myself, would probably never use this word in a Christian context…
      Do you think that the term “spiritual reality” might also be appropriate? In one of his messages on John’s gospel, Tim Keller mentioned the great difference between believers and unbelievers: people who reject the lordship of Christ must try to neglect and ignore the reality in order to find some comfort in difficult times. But for Christians it is the opposite: it is meditating of the reality of Christ that provides comfort and rest for our souls. It is Truth that provides peace and amazement and wonder and…

  7. Gerardo R

    I think this Christian “magic” is what drew me back into the Catholic church. When I took a second look at the Catholic church from an outsiders perspective, I was baffled how such an enormousness intellect like Thomas Aquinas could practice such a seemingly superstitious form of prayer as the rosary. I remembered my catechism class teaching me about how the saints pray to Jesus for me. Listen to all this made my mind fill with awe and wonder.

    I would pass by the store and see candles with an image of Saint Michael slaying the devil. Hear of a local priest that had to perform an exercism to free a child from the shackles of satan. Or read stories of people who were saved from horrendous car accidents and claimed that their guardian angel helped them.

    I read books like the flowers of Saint Francis which told of how Saint Frances sparked a deal with Brother Wolf so that he could stop attacking the local villages. Watched movies like “Our Lady of Fatima” which retell the story of the Miracle of the sun and the prophesies of our Lady.

    I have listen to nun’s talk about their marriage to Jesus, heard priest consecrate a host so that it may become the body and blood of Christ, been sprayed with holy water and celebrated many a Mass with the smell of incense in the air and the chant, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of Power and Might! Heaven and Earth are full of your Glory.”

    In short, part of what called me back to the Catholic church was the magic with Chesterton described in the book which parallels his own journal to Rome. I feel like I am telling you my testimony here =)
    I guess I am just trying to say that I have been spiritually rejuvenated so many times by meditating on the “magic” of the Catholic Church and my fellowship with My Father in Heaven, my Savior Jesus Christ, my brothers the Saints and immaculate mother.

    Tuf, could you tell us more about the magic you experience in your daily walk with Christ? Thank you again for writing this wonderful article.

  8. Hello, Tuf! Nice Article. I love it! I’ve read it just recently. Honestly, I couldn’t agree more. Most Christians over criticized almost all the fantasy novels especially Harry Potter.If only they’ve read the whole series they’ll see how J.K. Rowling shows 1 Corinthians 3:1-10, especially verse 7 which says “Love never gives up,never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” As you see, the novel end up with a great conclusion and a lesson which I hope all the fans would realize.

    • GerardoR

      I once read an interesting article that argued that Christians should critesize fantasy novels where magic is used to elevate man to selfish means and to subdue the elements as opposed to novels where magic is used to battle evil. I think under this criteria, harry potter would walk the line whereas LOTR would not.

  9. I never understood fairy stories/tales. But I heard Tim Keller explain CS Lewis and Tolkien, and I preached one of his sermons from Genesis, where God said to barren Sarah, “Is anything too hard (wonderful) for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14):

    I struggled to read Elfland, because of the old English. I learned that no one, Christian or not, can have joy without wonder. When I lose the wonder of Christ in my soul, Christian life become habitual and torturous. It is even more torturous when I know I should have love, joy and peace (Gal 5:22), if I don’t experience it deeply.

    I finally forced myself to watch my first Harry Potter movie, Hallows Pt 1. Surprisingly I liked it mainly because of the Elf’s sacrifice to save Harry and his friends. In reading reviews it seemed that a prominent theme of Rowling is the sacrifice of Harry’s mom, Harry’s teacher, and finally even Harry himself, for the sake of others. What a central Christian theme!

    Countless people love the Potter movies (8 Billion in ticket sales and counting!). But outside of the wonder of a relationship with Christ, the “feeling of wonder” will fade. Thus, the ongoing continuing craving for more wonders in alternate forms, especially in entertainment, the arts and sports.