What if this world was full of dragons? The question opens important windows into reality, even for those who care nothing for dragons.
I first asked the question while watching The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings again (after who knows many times). As my mind wandered to more exciting worlds than my own, Would I be happier, I asked myself, if God wrote orcs and hobbits and rings of power and dwarves and dragons into the pages of history? Would an earth filled with fantastic creatures — with talking trees, singing elves, grumbling dwarves, and firedrakes flying overhead — finally satisfy? I often answered, yes.
In this new world, normal life wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t spend as much time on my phone. Life, I thought in honest moments, would be more thrilling, more heroic, more throbbing with that elusive something I had taught myself not to expect anymore. There — if there was ever possible — I would find what I had been searching for.
As I wondered about better worlds than God had made, and a more fulfilling life than God had given, the temptation of dissatisfied wishfulness came upon me. And this wishfulness comes to us all, for every human heart is prone to create its own make-believe worlds. On one planet, the perfect wife is found. On another, the doctor confirmed you were pregnant. And still another, the voice which has rested silently for years again calls your name. Each one beckoning like that ancient planet where man first ate in hopes of becoming like God.
We all have fantasies tempting us away from life as God has authored it, to some other life we think would satisfy. In those worlds, our restless longing for more (we imagine) would go quiet for good.
In a World Full of Dragons
In considering worlds where dragons roam, we come to observe a shared fiction: somewhere else seems to be the place of true happiness.
“We all have fantasies tempting us away from life as God has authored it.”
What perpetuates this lie for so many? Our imagined realities so rarely come true. We spend a lifetime pursuing a shadow of which we never see the face. If we actually found that perfect spouse, if our doctor had confirmed our pregnancy, if we had heard that lost loved one calling out affectionately to us, we might be happier, but not decisively happy. Even if our dreams came true, we would still ask, “Is there more?”
C.S. Lewis marks this after his own temptation to wishfulness. Apparently, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) claimed to have photographed a fairy. Considering that fairies had invaded earth, he says,
Once grant your fairy, your enchanted forest, your satyr, faun, wood-nymph, and well of immortality real, and amidst all the scientific, social, and practical interest which the discovery would awake, the Sweet Desire would have disappeared, would have shifted its ground, like the cuckoo’s voice or the rainbow’s end, and be now calling us from beyond a further hill. (Preface to Pilgrim’s Regress, 236)
Sweet Desire hides just beyond the horizon. When the hoped-for is found, the sweet (and haunting) desire would not satisfy, but shift. It would find another hill to call from. Eventually, we would set out again for another hill, in another world, somewhere else.
Test man’s heart with new and wondrous pleasures, make the imagined real, and he will need more. God has written a message above all the real (and imagined) wells of this life, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again” (John 4:13).
Men Who’ve Seen Elves
This is confirmed by the few who have lived to secure what they chased after. They have the supermodel spouse, the acclaim and celebrity, the money and career, and yet they come to say with Tom Brady, “There has got to be more than this.”
Or, they say the same with the Prince of Pleasures, King Solomon, who after sampling each golden challis as we sample foods at Costco, found them all wanting.
Solomon tested his heart with the rare pleasures most spend their lives pursuing (Ecclesiastes 2:1). He tested his heart with abundant laughter (verse 2), wine and folly (verse 3), amazing careers (4), the beauty of nature (verses 5–7), servants to meet every need (verse 7). Anything he desired, he possessed (verse 10). He filled treasure rooms of silver and gold, hired singers to follow him with song, and filled his palace with beautiful women and sexual satisfaction (verse 8). As the resplendent king, he “kept [his] heart from no pleasure” (verse 10).
Solomon traveled to the rainbow’s end, tried earth’s choicest goods, but nothing satisfied his heart. He leaves us with a whole book summarized in three haunting words describing every well under the sun: “All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He remarks that all was but a striving after the wind, nothing to be gained but vanity and vexation. Everything, that is, but a life lived for God (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).
What we love and long for apart from God will leave us unsatisfied in the end. God has fashioned the human heart this way: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). What we love will fail us as our hope. “Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
No Other Streams
We began with a question: What if this world was filled with dragons? Or, in other words, would our alternate realities — a world of fairies, elves, and granted wishes — bring us to that cool stream of ultimate satisfaction?
They would not. Even in a world of dragons, the human heart would grow cold and yawn and wonder, Is this all?
“Man will never find enduring happiness apart from his Lord.”
Christianity alone explains why our best imaginings after satisfaction inevitably fail: Man is too high a creature for even his greatest imaginings. He is made for communion with something greater than giant talking trees; made for greater dominion than taming dragons. He is made for God (Colossians 1:16), and remade and forgiven through Christ to enjoy relationship with God. Redeemed man is destined to rule with Christ into eternity (Revelation 5:10). Man will never find enduring happiness apart from his Lord. Branches exist to be united to vines; Jesus is the true Vine (John 15:1). All branches detached from him wither, die, and burn (John 15:6).
Or, to finish with Lewis in the realm of imagination, consider yourself before the Lion beside his eternal stream of life and satisfaction, as he warns you about every other stream:
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion. (The Silver Chair, 22–23)