Last week we looked at C. S. Lewis’ thoughts on what makes a good reader and what makes a good book. Today I want to close off that series by examining Lewis’ thoughts on fiction.
I don’t believe it’s too much to say that Lewis found fiction indispensible to his spiritual life. Think of how seriously (in the proper sense of the word) he took his Narnia series. For Lewis, fiction was an important part of enjoying and exploring the world in which God placed us.
I’m going to let Lewis do the talking here:
“What then is the good of—what is even the defence for—occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person? Or of fixing our inner eye earnestly on things that can never exist…? …The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by natures sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself…We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.”
The bookstore offers an unbelievable opportunity: Here are thousands of perspectives on this world. Here are a host of experiences, carefully shaped and transmitted for a variety of reasons. Crack the cover and you can enter another world, you can see with another’s eyes, you can revisit your past or lean into your future. Why wouldn’t we be readers?
“The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented…
“Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality…in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself…Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”
All of the arts give us this opportunity. A chance to see the world as we’ve never seen it before—a promise of transfiguration. Cornelius Plantinga explains that “the educated Christian has more to be Christian with.” So it is with the literary Christian.
This world of unfathomable diversity and beauty lies all around us. Some of it can be experienced outside our front doors. Other parts lie just beyond the horizon. Some of it is experienced through conversation. Still other parts of our world can be explored only by turning pages. But it’s all there, like a gift waiting to be unwrapped and enjoyed.
C. S. Lewis knew well the joys of reading. And I am beyond thankful for the books he left us to read, including the advice he gave us for reading well.