This site began in reality. Our readers enjoy Christian speculative stories and want to talk about them. That’s developed into what is, for our readers, mostly online-only discussion. On other sites, people seem to assume we already know why we love these stories, and have moved on to over-limited conversation about Speculative Writing Tips and Tricks.
With this series I want to pull back a bit. Go back to basics. Back to the simple fantasies that most of us discovered, as children or children at heart. Back to the over-discussed but still vital role of C.S. Lewis. Back to Narnia. And of course, back to the famous Wardrobe.
I hope to do this over the summer, in this new eight- to nine-part series. And unlike other series, this one, in this world, will correspond roughly to the passage of time in my world.
At my church, I’m hosting the first (to my knowledge) Speculative Faith Reading Group.
You may have heard what to avoid in stories. But how can we discern and enjoy fantasy novels to the glory of our own Author?
Anyone who loves to read and discuss stories is welcome to join this new Speculative Faith Reading Group. It begins at this church (in Lexington, Ky.) this Saturday, June 2, at 3:30 pm.
This class will actually be nine weeks long, until July 28. All group sessions will be based on “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. We’ll enjoy reading two chapters of the classic fantasy per week. (If absolutely necessary, you can recall it from memory, but reading along is strongly encouraged.) We’ll also discuss how Christians can discern and enjoy stories for God’s glory.
Though I wish all Speculative Faith readers could join us, you’ll likely not be able to attend reading-group sessions. That’s all right. My plan for this series is to post each series of class notes two days in advance of that Saturday, every Thursday. Inside: snippets of thoughts, discussion-starters, questions, perhaps excerpts from the books themselves to read aloud.
Thus, if Aslan is with us, this virtual reading group will somewhat parallel the real-world reading group. One can inform the other. And each set will, perhaps, be able to interact.
Before each set of notes, I may summarize the real-world discussion of the previous week.
I hope you enjoy it. Yet I also need something from readers — your intense prayers. This is an activity I’ve hoped to arrange for a long time, and now more than ever I recall that these stories aren’t simply about moral entertainment. We’re discussing worship. New ways to enjoy God, new “songs” to “sing” for Him, or new understandings of old “songs.” We’re also aiming for truly Biblical enjoyment and discernment, versus “it’s just entertainment” or “if it even appears to be bad, avoid it” notions that are hidden deep inside all of us. And our own sin-shrapnel, jabbed by the Devil, surely rebels against Taking Things So Seriously.
Yet as Lewis himself wrote, in The Last Battle: “There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious.” And in this “seriousness,” based on the worship of God, is true joy.
Now, as the old read-along cassettes (after the chimes rang!) used to say, “Let’s begin now.”
Class 1: Lucy Looks Into a Wardrobe / What Lucy Found There
- First question: Why are we here? What are your hopes for this reading group?
- Second big question: Why should we read stories anyway?
- Summary of the Beauty and Truth series’ mention of the possibly greatest challenge to enjoying stories. Don’t we have better things to do? Aren’t Christians supposed to do missionary work and proclaim the Gospel, not sit around enjoying fun fiction?
- The Gospel is greater than only “we get saved to get other people saved.” It touches on every life area, including what we eat, how we work, how we spend our time.
- All that we do should be worship. (Romans 12: 1-2; Col. 3:23.)
- God isn’t only silent on stories. He shows and tells why stories uniquely honor Him.
- Third big question: What is the purpose of story?
- How would you answer? Some would say “To be entertained.” Or “To spend time if there’s nothing else to do.” Or “To teach good morals in a memorable way.” Some Christians also say, while noting apparent legalism of others who seem to shun all fiction (or secular fiction), “We read stories to understand and engage our culture.”
- All these are good reasons, but not the reason to enjoy a story.
- The Westminster Shorter Catechism says:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
- Man is not the only being who gives glory to God. Nature honors Him (the Psalms). Even fallen creation points to Him, enough to make people guilty and “without excuse” for ignoring it, even if they haven’t read the Bible (Romans 1). Creative art honors Him (Exodus 31-28). Even unsaved people, by punishing evil (Romans 11) or giving good gifts to their children (Matt. 7:11) show God’s common grace.
- With this in mind, we can say about stories:
Story’s chief end is to glorify God, and to help us enjoy Him forever.
- So story is not only to entertain, or to be moral, but to reflect God. More evidence:
- The Gospel is first and foremost a Story. It is supported by truthful statements (often analyzed by books of doctrine and theology). It tells how Christ begins His Gospel (the Hero and plot or quest), to fight and/or redeem His enemies (supporting characters and villains) in a fantastic world (our reality). (More on this, later.)
- Throughout the Epic Story’s “smaller” stories — Moses, King David, Daniel, etc. — we see God approving the creative works of man. God inspired whole collections of literature that aren’t “systematic,” but weave works of truth and beauty.
- Of course, Jesus told parables, stories about His Kingdom. He told different kinds of stories, not only allegories, and not only about how to practice good behavior.
- We’ll discuss this more in coming weeks. But enough telling. Let’s experience it.
Stepping into the Wardrobe
- How did you first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Or is this your first time?
- If you have read it before, what were your impressions then?
- By contrast, how and why do you like the book now? How have your experiences (in real life or with other stories) changed your views?
- In your view, what kind of story is this? a) allegory, b) child’s fantasy, c) morality tale, d) memorable reminder of the Gospel? (Answer: all of the above?)
- To know, we’d need to understand the author — just as we should do with the Bible. Otherwise, we may be reading the story in a way that he didn’t mean it to be read. So as we read, we’ll also discuss C.S. Lewis and what he has said about his intentions — and what he might not have said, but which seems clear and consistent with his worldview.
- A definition to keep in mind: Christian speculative stories are fantastic tales that are written, or otherwise shown, clearly yet naturally from a Christian worldview.
- The hero and plot reflects Christ and the Gospel.
- Characters reflect real people.
- The story-world and style reflect reality and God’s truth, beauties, and creativity.
- The author is a Christian and isn’t ignoring that for his story. (Non-Christian authors may write stories that include Christian truth, but by “accident,” as common grace.)
Chapter 1: Lucy Looks Into a Wardrobe
(Break to read excerpts from the first chapter.)
- Leaving out for the moment what the movie helped fill in — much of which was helpful — do you know the historical setting? Lewis barely mentions it. How come? How do we apply the same methods we use to read the Bible (keeping in mind its original audience and seeking the author’s intent) helpful as we picture what Lewis does and doesn’t say?
- Some people have said the four Pevensies of LWW are shallow. (They’re not trying to be critical, because they also praise the later Chronicles as having better characters.) Even if true, is that bad? Do good books maybe start “slow” and help us grow into them?
- Page 4: What do we first hear the children say? What do they say about them? Which child do you like or identify with most? (Note also the animals they mention on page 5.)
- Do you think Lewis did this by design? It helps to know that by this time, Lewis had already written a lot of fiction, such as the Ransom Trilogy of high fantasy/science fiction for adults. He knew how to write characters well and use dialogue to show what people are like. So it’s not like he didn’t know how to do this, and only learned later.
- How do you feel when you go “exploring” with the Pevensie children? Do you remember your own childhood, exploring someplace new, maybe even an old house? How can these enjoyment of that real experience and this story’s experience, glorify God?
- Here Lewis incidentally shows us what any good book does: invites us to explore a new world. But note how Peter says “Nothing there!” (p. 6) and leads them off. How might this remind us how we think of “ordinary” things like an old wardrobe in a spare room? Or like books that people think are “just stories,” but have fantastic wonders inside?
- How do you feel, going along with Lucy into the wardrobe? How does the author, without saying what’s inside (and even though we already know!) heighten our anticipation for what fantastic place lies beyond? How does this feeling honor God?
- For later: how do you feel about imagining “magic” that is not only in Narnia, but extends into “our” world to find the children? Is this really our world?
(Note as of Sunday, June 3: A previous version of this column went on to include discussion questions for Chapter 2, “What Lucy Found There.” Because in the group we actually ended discussion before exploring that chapter, I’ve since removed those questions. Next week’s column will offer an expanded version of them.)