When the word is mentioned today, one’s mind is immediately brought to the old stories of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans; the tales of the Norse, the Germans, Persians and Chinese, perhaps even some of the stories from the American Indian tribes. The one element which all these stories from different times and cultures share, we are told, is that they are all false, all make-believe. But that is looking at things backward. Myths and mythological figures are not false but real. Mythology, as G.K. Chesterton put it in his book, The Everlasting Man, is poetical truth; it is the striving of the imagination to the true, good, and beautiful. It very often does not encompass the whole truth but it snatches up some of it. Chesterton even used Father Christmas himself as an example of this, saying that Father Christmas was more than just fallen snow and holly and cheer; he is bigger and warmer than all that.
J.R.R. Tolkien said much the same thing in his lecture, “On Fairy Stories” at one point in which he argued that while Arthur was more than likely a real man, he had been so stewed in the “cauldron of story” that he was now far bigger and more real than he was in the few mentions he had in the history books. Far realer things were to be found in stories, said Tolkien, than were to be found in the real world because they stood for real things. An ogre’s castle, in this case, was more real than a lamppost because it was an incarnation of real evil. It was because of this essence of myth that C.S. Lewis could say, as brilliantly as ever, that Christianity was a myth like Greek and Roman myths; what set it apart from all the others was the fact that it had actually happened, the myth had come down and touched the earth. Saying that Santa Claus is a myth, therefore, is acknowledging his reality that resides on a much bigger plane than what we are usually accustomed.
Read the whole thing.
(Yes I took two paragraphs– carefully chose the ones where he is paraphrasing Chesterton, Tolkien and Lewis!)