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A Celebration of Joy: Christian Romanticism in the Chronicles of Narnia, by Mike Bellah
Abstract and Table of Contents
Introduction
Definitions
Myth and Imagination
Children's Stories
The Ideal Reader
Fantasy and Realism
Friendships: Love in Narnia
Quest and Adventure
The Eucatastrophe
Romanticism in the Chronicles
The Failure of Romanticism
The Triumph of Chrisitian Romanticism
The Baptized Imagination
Works Cited
 

CHAPTER XIII: THE BAPTIZED IMAGINATION

In An Experiment in Criticism Lewis presents a revolutionary idea. Why not evaluate literature on the basis of how it is read? Good literature will be that "which permits, invites, or even compels good reading; and bad . . . that which does the same for bad reading" (104).

What are the marks of good reading? First, good reading is done repetitively: "Those who read great works . . . will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life" (2). Second, good reading is voluntary and passionate, not something to be done only when there are no alternatives. Third, good reading will be remembered and reflected upon often. And fourth, good reading is a momentous experience, so much so

that only experiences of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison. Their [good readers] whole consciousness is changed. They have become what they were not before. (3)

The most compelling arguments for the success of The Chronicles of Narnia flow from Lewis's view of good reading. Narnian fans read repetitively and passionately. If one finds a copy of The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" in a home where several children have grown up reading it, one discovers a tattered and worn book. No one reads the Chronicles just once. And Narnian readers remember and reflect upon the tales. Enthusiasts will talk for hours about favorite characters and passages. But, most importantly, few readers emerge from the land of Narnia the same people who entered it.

Lewis's tales seem to have the same effect on his readers that George MacDonald's stories had on Lewis himself. One's imagination is baptized in Narnia. Lewis has succeeded in doing what myth does best. His words "get under our skin, hit us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions" (qtd. in Lindskoog 124).

Through romance and romanticism Lewis presents a compelling vision, compelling because of what Christian romanticism offers--a theology of joy itself, and compelling because of the nature of imagination itself. For imagination is indeed the key to one's volition, his ultimate values, loyalties, and choices in life.

While one does not actually do everything he imagines, certainly he never purposely does what has not been imagined. On the contrary, the heroes of one's imagination, including one's own idealized self, are the most compelling models for one's behavior. And the adventures and quests of the imagination often become, with some transposition, the self-fulfilling prophecies of life.

Ultimately a changed reader is the best proof for the success of the Chronicles of Narnia--a transformation brought about by the baptized imagination, a transformation that results in a celebration of joy, a transformation experienced first-hand by this writer.

Respond to my thesis. I'd like to hear from you.