Posts Tagged With: Chronicles of Narnia

Imagination and the Doorway to Reality

Writers often draw us into the worlds and characters that burst from their imaginations.  These “made-up” worlds are reason for some to shun this or that genre because they are imaginary. The truth, though, is that authors aren’t writing imaginary stories. Alister McGrath, in his biography of C.S. Lewis, explains:

Narnia is imaginative, not an imaginary, world. Lewis was quite clear that a distinction had to be drawn between those ideas. The “imaginary” is something that has been falsely imagined, having no counterpart in reality. Lewis regards such an invented reality as opening the way to delusion. The “imaginative” is something produced by the human mind as it tries to respond to something greater than itself…to “communicate more Reality to us.”

Lewis would use his imaginative world to explore serious themes like “origins of evil, nature of faith, and the human desire for God” — not unlike most writers have grand ideas of deep thoughts woven through their narrative.

Quite often their starting point to accomplish this is surprisingly very simple. Narnia started with “an image of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels through a snowy wood.” Tolkien scrawled on a paper, “In a hole in he ground there lived a hobbit,” after the idea popped in his head and he “did not know why” it had. From these humble origins, grand tales came to life.

What lives in your imagination, ready to inspire, entertain and challenge?

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Will Readers “Misunderstand” Your Book?

I wonder how much authors worry about how readers misunderstanding what their book is about. Its meanings, themes and intentions. Some authors might overcompensate by entering the story and explaining too much. This “author intrusion” often makes a character sound out of character or exposition sound like a lecture. Authors should realize not every reader is going to get, or like, everything you have written and that’s okay. A mature reader isn’t going throw down your book if he or she doesn’t agree with every sentence you write. They might do so if your book isn’t entertaining or is unreadable.

I mentioned in an earlier post on how modern readers like to reinterpret older books (in that case Dracula) through modern eyes. When an author is still living, or wrote about their books, it’s always best to default to their explanations. After all, they wrote the book. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is brimming with themes and meaning, but it was no allegory. The author wrote:

There is no ‘symbolism’ or conscious allegory in my story…To ask if the Orcs ‘are’ communists is to me as sensible as asking if Communists are Orcs.

Devin Brown continues by asking, “Don’t they share a number of similarities? [along with Sauron/Hitler, etc.] Of course they do.” But he adds what Tolkien explained, “I think many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory.'”

Of course, “everyone knows” C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was an allegory. Everyone forgot to tell C.S. Lewis. He said he never intended to write an allegory, the story unfolded as it did. He also wrote:

As we know, almost anything can be read into any book if you are determined enough…[the author] will find reviewers, both favorable and hostile, reading into his stories all manner of allegories which he never intended. (Some of the allegories thus imposed on my own books have been so ingenious and interesting that I often wish I has thought of them myself.)

So focus on writing your story. Understand not everyone will like it or get all the wonderful things you are trying to get across. Nor should you attempt to appease everyone or your story will most likely end up not being very interesting. Make your tale organic and entertaining. Use the tools you have to improve your craft.

Because ultimately the mythos you create is yours and someone out there wants to enter it.

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C.S. Lewis, Accidental Genius

My collection of books by and about J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis has been missing a good bio on Lewis. I have remedied that with expansive new Lewis study by Alister McGrath entitled C.S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet.

Released last year in time for the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ death, it is a very readable and insightful look at this influential writer-scholar who never set out to be famous. McGrath has scoured all of Lewis’ writings and letters and pieced together the Narnian’s life story from beginning to end. We see Lewis as the intelligent child trying to fit in, the soldier in WWI, the ardent atheist, the scholar who reasons to belief in God, the everyman champion of Christianity and the writer of subtle, yet complex novels. Many love his simple intellectual approach to belief (as in Mere Christianity), others can’t stand that the theology of this non-theologian wasn’t perfect (as if theirs is) or that he loved to smoke and drink. Ultimately, as this detailed biography shows, Lewis was, like us all, a very complex individual who didn’t claim perfection (or that Christianity made one so).

McGrath’s book is a study of Lewis, not his books, but through those writings McGrath looks into the mind of one of the few writers remembered decades after they have passed. His influences were many and together they left quite the legacies. For some, it was his creation of Narnia that has inspired many others (even those who didn’t like his mythos). There was his lesser known Space Trilogy (or the Ransom Trilogy, as McGrath suggests it should be known as) that showed us the dangers of scientisim and other irrational thought. His books that explored issues we all face, regardless of our beliefs, such as A Grief Observed or The Problem of Pain. Through Lewis’ many books and letters, and those who knew him, his life can be reconstructed in a way that can be accomplished for very few writers.

Indeed, it was his life that made him a writer that will be long remembered.

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