Some of the smartest people around dismiss reading fantasy as a crazy waste of time. At the same time, many of the most brilliant people I know love nothing more than passing from their mundane lives through a magical wardrobe into a land of wonder.
On a recent episode of the television series Castle, the eponymous Richard Castle,* a best-selling author and private eye, has a great line. Castle is defending his hyperactive imagination (which frequently leads to the solving of the crime of the week).
A suspect calls him “reality-challenged.”
To which he responds, “I prefer fantasy-augmented.”
Now, there’s a description that would fit most readers of Mere Inkling. We’re “fantasy-augmented.”
It would also fit most of the Oxford Inklings. Not all of them, of course. Some of them, like C.S. Lewis’ brother Warnie, were more oriented towards factual, historical literature.
The fantasists among their ranks were not lacking as writers of nonfiction either.
However, it was the fact that they were “fantasy-augmented” that has led to the inclusion of several of their members in the first ranks of twentieth century writers.
Narnia and Middle Earth are as real to many people today as Ogre, Latvia, Humpty Do, Australia, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales, and Frankenstein, Missouri. (Perhaps more real!)
In 1936, C.S. Lewis wrote a letter to Charles Williams, praising his recent novel.**
A book sometimes crosses ones path which is so like the sound of ones native language in a strange country that it feels almost uncivil not to wave some kind of flag in answer.
I have just read your Place of the Lion and it is to me one of the major literary events of my life–comparable to my first discovery of George Macdonald, G. K. Chesterton, or Wm. Morris.
The following day, Williams wrote a letter of his own to C.S. Lewis. It began:
My dear Mr Lewis, If you had delayed writing another 24 hours our letters would have crossed. It has never before happened to me to be admiring an author of a book while he at the same time was admiring me. My admiration for the staff work of the Omnipotence rises every day. To be exact, I finished on Saturday looking—too hastily—at proofs of your Allegorical Love Poem.
William’s reference to coincidence is poetic. He doesn’t rely on the timeworn “divine Providence,” which is so prevalent in literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Returning to Lewis’ missive, we learn exactly how Williams’ fantasy so deeply impressed him.
A book sometimes crosses ones path which is so like the sound of ones native language in a strange country that it feels almost uncivil not to wave some kind of flag in answer. I have just read your Place of the Lion and it is to me one of the major literary events of my life—comparable to my first discovery of George Macdonald, G.K. Chesterton, or Wm. Morris.
There are layers and layers—first the pleasure that any good fantasy gives me: then, what is rarely (tho’ not so very rarely) combined with this, the pleasure of a real philosophical and theological stimulus: thirdly, characters: fourthly, what I neither expected nor desired, substantial edification.
It’s unlikely that any of us should ever author a work that would equally impress C.S. Lewis. Still, what a grand goal for any fantasy-augmented writer to strive for!
* Castle is played by Nathan Fillion, who captained the spacecraft “Serenity,” in a delightful series entitled Firefly.
** You can download The Place of the Lion in a variety of formats at ManyBooks.
The illustration above is used with the permission of its creator, Charis Tsevis.
13 thoughts on “Is Fantasy Foolish?”
“I prefer fantasy-augmented.” XD Oh, man, I love that. I am going to have to use that some time.
And their fellow, Tolkien on the scorn for fantasy as escapism: “Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailors and prison-walls?”
Yes, what a camaraderie they enjoyed in their prison break!
One of the many things that continues to inspire about Lewis: he was never stingy in his praise but it never diminished his own stature, just made him even more accessible to those of us who can’t praise him enough (and who thank God for his influence on each new generation of readers!)
That generosity of character is even more precious in our day. Lifting up others never damages the reputation of the “servant.”
Well, I suppose it depends on the motivation… if you are serving others so that people will think more highly of you (I’ve witnessed that more than I care to recall)… in those cases it has the opposite effect.
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Of course fantasy is foolish. Name something beautiful, or worthwhile, or enduring, that is not also foolish. Also, foolishness is in the mind’s eye. Remember that Paul said, in First Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And in First Corinthians 1:27: “…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,”
Your point is well made. Foolishness does not equate to some decrease in value or veracity. On the contrary, the reverse is frequently true.
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Hi. I see you visited my site and I’m enjoying your’s. Do you know the Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite? He always enthuses about the ‘Inklings’. His utube series of lectures on them has been an inspiration to me. I also liked Rowan William’s book ‘The Lion’s World’. I must refer to some of this material in my own blog sometime. At present I’m reading Malcolm’s own book ‘Faith,Hope and Poetry – the theology of the Imagination’. It is Inspiring material.
I’m not familiar with Guite… but I’m heading over to check him out right now.
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