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C. S. Lewis, Narnia, and mythic truth: “Stories are mirrors that show us our soul”


From a splendid essay by young adult novelist Zu Vincent and creative writing teacher Kiara Koenig, published in Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (2010), about the exquisite philosophical-spiritual value of finding solace, solitude, and authentic meaning in fictional stories amid our contemporary culture of scientistic disenchantment and digital distraction:

We don’t live in a reader-friendly world. There are few quiet corners in which to curl up and open a good book. Even fewer moments when we can just be alone and think. It’s often easier to not think too deeply, to instead watch a movie, play a video game, or surf the net. And it’s hard to hear the voices of stories, which are softer than the rustle of pages, over the ring tones of incoming text messages.

Or maybe you have someone nagging you to “get your nose out of that book” and do something. As if reading were something we needed to outgrow along with naps, stuffed animals, and imaginary friends.

But a story, unlike cell phone minutes, is never ending. Because they are more than the sum of their plot, stories don’t lose their ability to make us laugh once we know the punch line or to spark our curiosity even after we know “whodunit.” Like the best dessert in the world, the more you have, the more you want. But unlike the Witch’s enchanted Turkish Delight, stories nourish us as we read.

They’re gateways, and the further up and further in we go, the richer the tale, the realer the world, the more intense the experience. Stories ask us to come inside and do half the work of making them come alive if we want to feel their full magic. A magic that takes us deep into the core of what makes us human.

. . . To see clearly, story takes us back to a time when the whole world spoke to us. When the constellations were our palm readers and even the stones could warn us of the coming of our fate. Today’s science describes the stars as novas, supernovas, and galaxies, and locates them by their relative distance from our solar system. But this practical information brings us only so close to true understanding.

“In our world . . . a star is a huge ball of flaming gas,” Eustace tells the “retired star” Ramandu in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Ramandu replies, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

Stories do not just describe the world, they teach us what it really is. And, like Lucy and Susan, what we’re really made of.

. . . In the end, the world is more than an objective description of its continents, weather patterns, and animal populations, just as each of us is more than our height, weight, and hair color. If we get distracted by the surface, we can forget this truth.

. . . So the next time someone tells you to put down that book, remind him that, as Lewis points out, it’s our own humanity we rediscover, our tendency toward “good and evil, our endless perils, our anguish, and our joys.” Stories are mirrors that show us our soul.

FULL ESSAY: “Mind the Gap(Available until August 14, 2013)