C.S. Lewis on Stealing Past “Watchful Dragons”

How exactly do you communicate the message of the gospel to a hostile audience?

For children who have heard about Jesus since they were born, how can they possible maintain the same emotional connection to something that can become, despite our best effort, commonplace?

As someone who is a writer, one seeking to communicate ideas through the written word, and has a degree in apologetics, the theological discipline concerned with presenting a rational defense of Christianity, this topic is important to me.

As a father to four inquisitive, questioning children, this topic is extremely important to me.

I want to know the best way to communicate my faith to others, particularly my church-cultured kids.

One of the foremost Christian apologists of the 20th century also happened to be one of the most successful fantasy writers.

In his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said” (from On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature), C.S. Lewis spoke about how he came to write The Chronicles of Narnia and what that means for those of us looking to communicate the faith today.

Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out “allegories” to embody them. This is pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images: a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.

Then came the Form. As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e., became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale. And the moment I thought of that I fell in love with the Form itself: its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and “gas.” I was no enamoured of it. Its very limitations of vocabulary became an attraction; as the hardness of the stone pleases the sculptor or the difficulty of the sonnet delights the sonneteer.

On that side (as Author) I wrote fairy tales because Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say.

Then of course the Man in me began to have his turn. I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.

What must be kept in mind is something Lewis wrote earlier in the essay about the two motivations for writing—an artistic, imaginative reason and a didactic, instructing reason. “If only one of these is present, then, so far as I am concerned, the book will not be written,” he writes. “If the first is lacking, it can’t; if the second is lacking, it shouldn’t.”

Christians need to be aware of both aspects.

We cannot merely tell a story purely for teaching purposes. More than likely, it will be quite obvious to the reader. There will be no stealing past any dragons, watchful or not, with a thinly guised story stretched over a heavy handed lesson. People spot propaganda easily.

But on the other hand, it serves no one if we produce stories that have artistic merit, but never speaks to anything of substance or significance. There is no reason to sneak past the dragons, if you are not delivering anything of value that would be rejected otherwise.

We have good news to share, but frequently others are resistant or at least hesitant to hear a message about Christianity, when they feel as if they know all about it from the broader culture. They’re on guard to dismiss the truth you are trying to communicate.

You don’t have to be C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien and write a fantasy series to tell someone else about Jesus. Every follower of Jesus has a story. In Christian circles, we often call it our testimony. We can share that story better than anyone else because it’s our story.

Look for ways to use stories to communicate the gospel. Good stories that reflect the great Story fail to alarm those dragon biases in our listeners. Stories fail to raise the alarm despite carrying dangerous ideas, the most dangerous in fact—the gospel.

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