I was once told that “your life is better than fiction because it’s real.”
I go to the kind of university where “C.S. Lewis” is used as a cheer at basketball games.
Yes, we call that a “small Christian liberal arts college.” You thought that was a stereotype? Think again.
The point is, I’m not unaccustomed to having profound quotes thrown at me on a daily basis.
But that one caught my attention. It stopped me so fully, in fact, that I made a note of it on my phone (that’s when you know it’s real, right?)
Fantasy Makes our Own World More Real
I’ve spent a good chunk of my life immersed in fiction. In fact, in an earlier post on this blog I described how I may have sunk into my own fantasy world entirely by now if I didn’t have something holding me down in reality.
For most of my life, there’s been nothing better than fiction. As a kid I cried at the end of each Narnia book when the children had to return home. My least favorite of these departures was the one at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Here the lion Aslan informs Lucy and Edmund Pevensie that they will never return to Narnia.
“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”
Ten-year-old Kenzi responded to that with “screw our own world, Narnia is where it’s AT.”
But I think C.S. Lewis was trying to make an important point in these pages. It’s the same one J.R.R. Tolkien makes in his essay “On Fairy Stories.” The point of alternate realities is to draw us closer to our own. Fantasy, backward as it may seem, serves to make reality more real.
We wouldn’t be able to understand a Pegasus if we hadn’t first experienced a horse. Having been introduced to such a magnificent winged beast, we may now treat the every-day ponies in our pastures with more respect. After living in the world for a while, everything begins to look the same. A Pegasus helps us look at a horse with new eyes. Through fantasy we appreciate reality in a way we couldn’t before.
Far from being escapist, I think good fiction writing is an indication of just how firmly based in reality a person is. After all, if we didn’t understand reality, we wouldn’t be able to create things different from it.
The best stories are training manuals. Through the adventures of some idealized hero, we’re taught to face our day-to-day disasters. This is especially important for kids. I’d like to share an excerpt with you from C.S. Lewis’ book On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature.
“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage…let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel.”
The world’s a tangled, messy place. And personally, I don’t think our tubs of hand sanitizer, dirt-free playgrounds, and meticulously drawn food pyramids (I’m sorry, it’s the “healthy eating plate” now, isn’t it?) are teaching our children that.
On a warm day a few weeks ago, I walked out of the library to find a boy of about eight dueling invisible enemies in the ditch. He was holding a stick, but my imagination filled in the sword.
There is a child who will be well-prepared for life.
I ate dirt as a kid (gasp!) and I didn’t die. I also read books where monstrous villains were defeated and the world was set right again.
Kids need to learn how to face reality. We can’t shield them from it by deciding that a story is “too scary.” Life might be too scary, also. You still gotta live it.
My point is this. Stories give us new eyes with which to see reality, and they teach our children how to face it.
Actually, that’s important for adults, too.
Guess you’ll have to read part three…