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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 Vl: FANTASY AND REALISM

One reason Lewis's ideal reader must be imaginative and receptive is that the genre of romance demands it. "Myth," writes Lewis, "is always, in one sense of that word, `fantastic'. It deals with impossibilities and preternaturals" (An Experiment in Criticism 44). The Chronicles of Narnia are fantasy; this accounts for much of their delight.

But Lewis was a self-proclaimed rationalist. So how could he enjoy fantasy? Does fantasy not conflict with reason? According to Tolkien, it does not. "Fantasy is a natural human activity," writes Tolkien. "It certainly does not destroy reason or even insult reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make" ("On Fairy-stories" 72). Tolkien goes on to say that reason is indispensable to both the creation and enjoyment of fantasy: "If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen" (72).

Both Tolkien and Lewis wrote fantasy in a day when many social critics were discouraging it. According to Lewis,

There are earnest people who recommend realistic reading for everyone because, they say it prepares us for real life, and who would, if they could, forbid fairy-tales for children and romances for adults because these `give a false picture of life'--in other words, deceive the reader. (An Experiment in Criticism 67)

Lewis believed readers are far more likely to be deceived by works that appear realistic (what he calls "realism of content") yet depart from reality in more subtle ways. In Lewis's opinion, "The unblushing romantic has far less power to deceive than the apparently realistic. Admitted fantasy is precisely the kind of literature which never deceives at all" (67). Lewis's view makes good sense: "No one can deceive you unless he makes you think he is telling the truth" (67).

Lewis divided literary realism into two categories: realism of content and realism of presentation. He writes, "A fiction is realistic in content when it is probable or `true to life,'" (59). On the other hand, realism of presentation is "the art of bringing something close to us, making it palpable and vivid, by sharply observed or sharply imagined detail" (57). One can have realism of content without realism of presentation and realism of presentation without realism of content. The former would probably make for a boring and somewhat stilted docudrama; the latter could make a good fairy tale. All fantasy by definition lacks at least some realism of content, but the good ones include copious examples of realism of presentation.

Tolkien referred to authors of fairy-stories who succeeded at realism of presentation as "successful subcreators" ("On Fairy-stories" 60). According to Tolkien this story-maker

makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is `true': it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. (60)

Tolkien believed that the author who could create in his reader this "secondary belief" in his "secondary world" must possess "a special skill, a kind of elvish craft" (68). Certainly Tolkien himself showed such "elvish craft" in the Rings Trilogy, and certainly elf-blood ran freely in his friend Lewis's veins as he composed the Chronicles of Narnia.

In The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" the modern and unimaginative boy Eustace (his full name was Eustace Clarence Scrubb and "he almost deserved it" [1]) has to recognize his own selfishness and his need for transformation at the hand of Aslan. As in most of the stories, the change is a painful one involving some difficult trials. The pivotal moment in Eustace's change comes on Dragon Island when Eustace, through his own irresponsibility and greed, is turned into a dragon. Now, since a dragon is involved, the reader knows immediately that realism of content is not the goal. But what of realism of presentation? Can the author prove a successful subcreator and make the reader see and feel as one must see and feel if one were experiencing such an event in that world?

Eustace has just waked from sleeping in a cave and noticed that he is encompassed by dragon paws, one on each side, and dragon steam is as close as his own nostrils. Every time he moves, the dragon seems to move. Every time he breathes, the dragon hisses:

Two dragons, one on each side, mimicking whatever he did! His nerve broke and he simply made a bolt for it.

There was such a clatter and rasping, and clinking of gold, and grinding of stones, as he rushed out of the cave that he thought they were both following him. He daren't look back. He rushed to the pool. . . . His idea was to get into the water.

But just as he reached the edge of the pool two things happened. First of all it came over him like a thunderclap that he had been running on all fours--and why on earth had he been doing that? And secondly, as he bent towards the water, he thought for a second that yet another dragon was staring up at him out of the pool. But in an instant he realized the truth. That dragon face in the pool was his own reflection. There was no doubt of it. It moved as he moved: it opened and shut its mouth as he opened and shut his.

He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. Sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself. (74-75)

Certainly one will never see a boy turned into a dragon in this world. But if one did witness the event in another world, certainly it would appear just as Lewis pictures it. What the story lacks in realistic content it makes up in realistic presentation. This is the art of good fairy tales, and this is the joy of the Chronicles of Narnia.

To chapter 7

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