It Never Does to Leave a Dragon Out of One’s Literary Considerations…

“Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.”  ~ CS Lewis (Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Since I have just moved to Scotland (Yay me, right?) for the superior purposes of obtaining a degree in Celtic studies while also pursuing dragons, I decided to post the above quote to my Facebook wall.  I liked it at first glance because it so perfectly expresses Lewis’s witty style of writing and gives a shout out for learning more about dragons (seriously, how much do you people know about dragons and doesn’t it keep you up at night when you think about the things you don’t know?  It still does me…).

But as I thought about it, I realized that this quote has quite a bit more to offer, also typical of Lewis.  He can say something in a simple, effective manner, funny and light, and get across something really important.

The fantastic meets the real in a little courtyard in Edinburgh. See how Narnia is just sort of magically emerging?

I think the issue today that Lewis gets at very well here is the utter and obsessive focus on realism in what we read.  Students must focus on reading books (fiction as well as non-fiction) that portray the realness of real reality. It must be visible and tangible, something that happened, is happening, or could happen to show us what the world is really like. Otherwise, what’s the point?  Fiction that focuses on reality, however, can sometimes miss it entirely.  By focusing on only what we can easily and instantly see and know, on the way the world appears to be, we miss the things that require a little bit of faith and imagination.

This is a huge issue and I don’t really want to pursue it much more here.  I fully recognize that I am making quite a sweeping statement, and this certainly isn’t true of everyone or all books that are considered to portray realism.  It does sadden me, though, that in order to write “real” fiction, the world asks us to give up dragons.  Perhaps we should take a page from the books of the old Anglo-Saxon or Norse writers who told stories of dragons like they were history – not to lie, but in recognition of a different aspect of reality, one where a dragon could exist to show men who they really are.  The essence of reality comes in all sorts of oddly shaped packages, and leaving dragons out of the picture doesn’t do anyone any favors, as Eustace found out rather profoundly.

So, that’s just what I was thinking about today.  And now I have dragons to hunt in Edinburgh.  Camera at the ready!


4 thoughts on “It Never Does to Leave a Dragon Out of One’s Literary Considerations…

  1. What though every cranny of the earth we filled
    With elves and goblins? Though we dared to build
    Gods and their dwellings out of dark and light
    And sowed the seeds of Dragons–’twas our right!
    Used or misused, that right has not decayed:
    We make still by the law in which we’re made. — J. R. R. Tolkien

    Or, to put it a bit more simply: Amen.

  2. From one who is hopelessly stuck in reality I applaud your attitude and realization. I agree that we need an external view to see ourselves clearly. This is the task of the fantasy writer, the SF writer, and all who explore the human condition. It is also the view we can find by understanding Scripture.

    1. Indeed, sometimes it’s hard to see why something is immediately “useful” and so it is cast off as “useless.” The problem with people who look at a fantasy book or even a book on Christianity, particularly the Book itself, and ask “what is the USE of this?” is that they are missing an essential element of reading. Usefulness is not always a matter of how the words on the page can be immediately applied to hands on experience in some money-making, visibly constructive endeavor. I can’t tell you how tired I am of people looking at me quizzically and asking me how what the USE is of a Celtic studies degree. I know it is a valid question, but I feel like they are missing the intrinsic worth in favor of searching for an obvious, outside value.

  3. I wonder how anybody who reads can fail to understand this. My youngest son is an engineer and understands it. Anyone who reads fiction, biographys, history, or most other studies will understand it. I am currently reading a new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Bonhoeffer Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. I’m only about a third of the way through it and already see not only a much better understanding of his writing but also the likely challenge to the Church today or soon coming. Application? Not immediately other than a warning to prepare.

    A good read, by the way.

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