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I am an escapist. I spend my time thinking about other worlds, dreaming about impossible things, and playing make-believe with my friends.
But it’s hard to admit that I enjoy escaping. It only takes checking my Facebook feed to see all the pain and devastation in the real world. Just when I finished absorbing the details about the truck attack in New York City, I heard about the church shooting in Texas, and my heart breaks for everyone involved. I feel guilty setting those events aside for fantasy. If I really cared, shouldn’t I live in reality? As a Christian, shouldn’t I be focusing on how to make a difference?
But one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century was an escapist too. C.S. Lewis wrote a children’s fantasy series, an adult science fiction trilogy, and several other speculative fiction works. The main characters in The Silver Chair, a later volume in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (I’m still waiting for the movie), are forced to believe in a reality that stifled imagination.
English children Jill and Eustace have been sent by Aslan to find Prince Rillian, who was kidnapped years ago. Aslan gives them instructions and sends them on their quest, but they miss and ignore the signs they’re supposed to follow.
Their thoughts wander even more when they slide down a tunnel to the underworld and are taken by gnomes through cavern after cavern, down farther and farther until Lewis writes, “And the worst thing about it was that you began to feel as if you had always lived . . . in that darkness, and to wonder whether sun and blue skies and wind and birds had not been only a dream.”
They find the prince and free him, and all seems to be going well. But the witch shows up, and, instead of fighting them, she throws a magical powder on the fire and strums a mandolin, weaving a forgetfulness spell.
The group tries to combat her mesmerizing chants of “There was never any world but mine” by arguing for the existence of the sun and of Aslan, but their muddled minds can only think to compare them to a lamp and a cat.
The witch rips their memories apart quickly.
“You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You’ve seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to be called a lion. Well, ’tis a pretty make-believe . . . And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play.”
“Father Time” by the-tinidril.
But finally, Puddleglum, the children’s froglike and dour companion from Narnia, doesn’t attempt to use logic. He stamps out the fire with his bare foot and makes an appeal to the imagination.
“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. . . In that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. . . That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. . . We’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
My world is more than dull. It can be dangerous, hurtful, tragic, and suffocating. I try to make it a better place, but half the time I end up contributing to its problems. If nothing in this life lasts, I might be justified for simply escaping into otherworldly kingdoms like Narnia or Middle-earth, places that are more enjoyable than the realities around me.
But maybe life does extend beyond my current existence. Maybe stories like Lewis’s provide a glimpse into something new and fantastic. God setting “eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) makes sense to me, because I long to explore what lies beyond Earth. Author and Pastor Skye Jethani says that, no matter who we’re with, where we travel, or how long we set down roots, we’ll never feel perfectly content in this life. And C.S. Lewis writes, “Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it.”
Until I reach my future perfect place, I can both engage with the world’s troubles and dream of a better future. Fantastic tales can give me a taste of what a better world might look like; fiction points me towards God’s truth. As C.S. Lewis put it, “The story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”
So I dream about life more epic. I read, watch, and make up stories about creatures I’ve never seen, places I’ll never visit, and powers I’ll never have, because someday I will experience new places, beings, and abilities. I don’t need to feel guilty about “escaping,” because I know these stories are reflections of reality. In entering them, the goal isn’t escaping, but reminding myself of the wonders that await me. And maybe I can reflect the real sun, the real lion, and demonstrate that there’s more than the struggle and suffering I see now.
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