Friday, December 09, 2005

"Into the Wonder"

Wheaton English Professor Alan Jacobs pens a delightful essay--adapted from his new book--on C.S. Lewis and his world of imagination.

Here are a few quotes from the article:

I want to suggest that Lewis's willingness to be enchanted held together the various strands of his life: his delight in laughter, his willingness to accept a world made by a good and loving God, and his willingness to submit to the charms of a wonderful story. What is "secretly present in what he said about anything" is an openness to delight, to the sense that there's more to the world than meets the jaundiced eye, to the possibility that anything could happen to someone who's ready to meet anything.

For someone with eyes to see and the courage to explore, even an old wardrobe full of musty coats could become the doorway to another world.

* * *

What made him write this way, and why it is such a good thing that he did—these are hard topics to talk about without seeming sentimental. Yet they are necessary topics. In most children, but in relatively few adults, we see a willingness to be delighted to the point of self-abandonment. This free and full gift of oneself to a story is what produces the state of enchantment. Why do we lose the ability to give ourselves in this way? Perhaps adolescence introduces the fear of being deceived, the fear of being caught believing in what others have ceased to believe. To be naive, to be gullible—these are the great humiliations of adolescence.

Lewis never seems to have been fully possessed by this fear, though he felt it at times. "When I was 10, I read fairy stories in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am 50, I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

* * *

Surely Lewis would have said that when we can no longer be "wide open to the glory," we have lost not just our childlikeness, but also something near the core of our humanity. Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self-forgetfulness there can be no delight, and this is a great and grievous loss.

Often, when we talk about receptiveness to stories, we contrast an imaginative mindset to one governed by reason. We talk about freeing ourselves from the shackles of the rational mind. But no belief was more central to Lewis than the conviction that it is eminently and fully rational to be responsive to the enchanting power of stories. Lewis passionately believed that education is not about providing information so much as it is about cultivating habits of the heart—producing "men with chests," as he puts it, people who not only think as they should, but also respond as they should, instinctively and emotionally, to the challenges and blessings the world offers them.

* * *

He was not one for whom scholarship was an end in itself. At the heart of his impulse to write—even to write scholarly works of literary criticism—was his warm and passionate response to literature as an "imaginative man."