The Responsibility of a Sub-Creator

Bibliophilist Society, C.S. Lewis, Commentary

Rebecca Reese

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” Genesis 1:1. This is the beginning of the most popular story of mankind: Creation. God created everything that we see, and He used terms which humans would be able to understand so that they would know their origin story. The Bible is the oldest story around, and it tells us about humanity, sin, and redemption. Later in Genesis, God created man, and He made him in His image. Now being made in God’s image does not necessarily mean that we look physically like Him, because who can put a face on God? It means more so that we are to be a physical representation of God, and we are supposed to help others to understand God through our lives and actions. Since God used words and stories to explain His story of creation, the fall of man, and his redemption, this same talent has been instilled in humans. Stories are an important part of society and life in general. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton both have written on the idea of story telling and the depths that it can reach.

Lewis is probably most famously known for his series The Chronicles of Narnia in which he personified Christ and his life into fairy story style. In Lewis’ essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” Lewis explained how he found his inspiration for the story. He says that every writer has to find the balance between the Author and Man. The Author imagines the material for the new work: the storyline, the form, etc. But then the Man comes along and scrutinizes the Author: he asks if the story will be good enough, if the work will be worth the effort put in, etc. However, Lewis clearly states that both of these must be present and heard for the writer to create an adequate work. He then applies this idea to his series The Chronicles of Narnia.

Let me now apply this to my own fairy tales. Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collect information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.

He then goes on to say that he chose the form of fairy tale because of the way that it seemed to challenge him: “its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections, and ‘gas.’ I was now enamoured of it. Its very limitations of vocabulary became an attraction; as the hardness of the stone pleases the sculptor or the difficulty of the sonnet delights the sonneteer.” The form of the fairy tale also made it easier to add in the Christian content, because it did not force people into thinking about their feelings about God. “An obligation to feel can freeze feelings,” as Lewis said. The way that he told the story was easy for everyone to understand, and it gave a new light to the story of Christ. However, Lewis pointed out that he refers to it as a fairy tale instead of a “children’s story” because he did not write the story in an attempt to make it below adult attention; instead, he merely took out the parts which children would not understand or like. Lewis explains that fairy stories are not meant to be only for children either.

At all ages, if it is well used by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.

Lewis was able to take the form of fairy tale and mold it to match his Author’s and Man’s ideas in a way which told the story of Christ beautifully.

Another form of storytelling, I believe, is dreaming. In G.K. Chesterton’s essay “The Meaning of Dreams,” he tries to explain some of the riddles of dreams. When we go to sleep, we have these amazing, fantastic visions about random, crazy places and people.

The greatest act of faith that a man can perform is the act that we perform every night. We abandon our identity, we turn our soul and body into chaos and old night. We uncreate ourselves as if at the end of the world: for all practical purposes we become dead men, in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection…In this sudden and astonishing trance which we call sleep we are carried away without our choice or will and shown prodigious landscapes, sensational incidents, and the fragments of half-decipherable stories…We find marvelous things in dreamland—things often more precious and splendid than anything that is made under the sun.

Chesterton believes that dreams are “functions of the human soul,” which means that we are not able to tangibly study them. Our dreams are our souls way of expressing itself: that’s why everything is so topsy-turvy. We are not able to fully understand the human soul; therefore, how could we fully understand dreams? “Dreams are, if I may so express it, like life only more so,” Chesterton says. Just like in stories, dreams usually express things that are not imaginable in real life: talking animals, fiery dragons, and giant castles. But sometimes dreams are also like horror stories: murder mysteries, scary clowns, and mass destruction. Since storytelling is imbedded in humans as the imago Dei, it is no surprise that even in our sleep we are creating magical and terrifying stories.

An important role that humans have been given is the title of sub-creators. Since God created us in His image and He used stories to create the world and humans, we have been given the right to create our own worlds through stories. Lewis says in his essay “On Stories:” “Good stories often introduce the marvelous or supernatural.” It is our right and duty as the image of God to use the gift that we were given to further the Kingdom of God.