Saturday, June 18, 2011

The value of reading fantasy literature

Abbot Andrew of St. Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, MI recently wrote a great piece expounding the value of reading fantasy literature.

The following is the beginning of it:

Baptizing the Imagination

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes his chance encounter with a book he found in a book stall in a train station that played an important role in his conversion to Christianity. Its title was Phantastes and its author, George MacDonald. With hindsight, Lewis realized that, through the novel’s enchanted landscape, his “imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized.” Here, Lewis uses the term “baptized” in a sub-Christian sense to show how the vision of George MacDonald led him to Christianity. At the time he first read the book, he was overwhelmed, drenched, by the enchantment of MacDonald’s writing. Only later was Lewis overwhelmed by the grace of his baptism when he returned to the faith of his youth, at which time he also appreciated how deeply MacDonald was inspired by the Gospel.

In Phantastes, Lewis “saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow” of MacDonald’s novel. The same can be said of any good fantasy story. It is impossible to see trees the same way after meeting the Ents in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Every fresh snowfall is more enchanting after having read of Will Stanton’s first journey through a time warp to a wintry landscape in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. The unicorn in Madeleine L’Engle’s The Swiftly Tilting Planet is so luminous that it casts a spell on everything for ever after. (Isn’t that what unicorns are for?)

Much of the enchantment of fantasy stories is that they draw us into a world different from the world we normally live in....

The full article can be downloaded as a 'pdf' file until fall 2011 at the link for current issue.
Otherwise it can be found via the archives of the Abbey Letter: Issue 246. It is the main article in the journal.

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