C. S. Lewis wrote about how the writing of George MacDonald “baptized his imagination” for later receipt of the gospel of Jesus. The writing of Lewis himself did this for me. I consumed the Narnia stories in elementary school, the Space Trilogy in junior high, and most of Lewis’s non-fiction in high school. My experience is not rare, I know. For many Christians, the writing of C. S. Lewis serves as a gateway to both intellectual and imaginative Christianity. This is why he is the greatest Christian writer of the 20th century and one of the greatest of all time.
A burgeoning storyteller myself, I had an overactive imagination that spilled over into my sense of self and my understanding of the world around me. Childhood was magical because I wished it so. Everything in my environment seemed ripe with splendor and meaning. I was an odd kid. But I didn’t just enjoy Lewis’s Narnia—I felt it. I knew instinctively he had tapped into something truer and better about fairy tales and fantasy and also about the ordinary world that seemed on sabbatical from wonder, much less from the prevalent miracles of the Bible. But I didn’t know what.
When I graduated from high school in 1994, my Grammy gave me a paperback copy of C.S. Lewis’s “God in the Dock” and Other Essays. I devoured it. And when I came to my absolute favorite piece in the book, a little treatise on the importance of mythology called “Myth Became Fact,” the effect was similar to putting on corrective lenses for the first time. Clarity of vision descended. I am speaking of page 67 in my edition, specifically, where Lewis writes this: “We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology.” He has been explaining why the ancient myths continue to be so resonant; namely, because “myth transcends thought” (66). These stories are received on a deeper frequency than other transmissions.
I like theology and its systems. I like to think rationally and logically. (So did Lewis!) But there is an inscrutable logic in a statement like this:
“We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic . . . shall we refuse to be mythopathic?” (67)
Lewis’s point is this: Myths resonate because there is a residue of truth in them—not historic facts of course, but truth about reality. (In his novel Perelandra he writes that myth is “gleams of celestial beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.”) And in the biblical story of Jesus and his gospel we find the convergence of the radiance of the mythopoeic with the glorious radiance of fact! Finally the one true “myth,” the myth that is not fiction. Lewis writes:
For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher (67).