There are those among us who consider the reading of fiction to be a supreme waste of time, at best pure escapism.
I am not among them.
I will be the first to admit there is a lot of literature that deserves the dust it gathers. Yet reading fiction for me has never been about escaping the real world, but rather using it to spark the imagination, inspire the soul and better understand the reality around me. At the very least, reading good fiction provides insight into the human situation and serves to sharpen my thinking and observation skills.
No fictional author has done that better than C.S. Lewis. The author of The Chronicles of Narnia used his series of seven fantasy novels to not only entertain but convey profound truths to both children and adults.
The primary protagonist of all seven novels is the lion, Aslan. A Christ-figure, this talking lion exhibits a kingly persona who is a wise, compassionate, benevolent, albeit mysterious authority. In essence, Aslan is the Christ that might have appeared in an alternative universe. More about that later.
While I always appreciated the power and influence of good writing, I never fully anticipated how it would one day help me grasp an eternal truth. At least, not until 2011. Who would have thought that reading these fictional fantasies would help an old codger like me gain a better understanding of God’s presence during a time of grief?
Allow me to explain.
Soon after losing my wife of 38 years to cancer I found myself staring out windows, sitting for extended periods, unable to focus, my thoughts drifting over time. The most charitable description of my face was “downcast.” As a Christian, I will confess to times when my heart was filled with the unanswerable question, “Why?” And, for a brief moment, God seemed to be far away — and deaf.
Finding solace in the Psalms, I came across Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Since I qualified on both counts — broken and crushed — I realized that though I didn’t “feel” God’s presence, my faith sensed it. Finally, lifting my eyes up, I saw what I should have known all along. I had what I later called “my Digory moment.”
What is a “Digory moment?”
In the first book of the C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, The Magician’s Nephew, young Digory Kirke, has caused problems in the newly created world of Narnia. Now standing before Aslan, overwhelmed with tears both for what he has done as well as for his dying mother, he beseeches Aslan:
“But please, please — won’t you — can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. (1)
“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.” (2)
Like Digory, I finally looked up and realized that the tears of the Lord were larger than my own. Only He could be “near the brokenhearted.” Only He could “save those crushed in spirit.” Only He could fully understand and give my heart the peace it so desperately needed. C.S. Lewis’ story about a fictional Lion, King of Narnia, helped me grasp the compassionate reality of a non-fictional Lord of Creation. Feelings may come and go, but eternal truths are, well, forever. And good storytelling, like the Parables of Jesus, can reveal Truth in ways that can be relationally comprehended and remembered.
Funny thing. The more I read Scripture, and the more I read good literature, whether fiction or non-fiction, the more “Digory Moments” I seem to have.
And that is time well spent!
Note to Readers:
For those of you familiar with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, book #2 in The Chronicles of Narnia, the Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Edmund, & Lucy) evacuate London during the Blitz and come to live with “The Professor” who has a large estate and a rather remarkable wardrobe. The professor’s name? Professor Digory Kirke.
(1) C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew (New York: Harper Collins, 1983), pg 154