“My dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C.S. Lewis.”
Thus did that World War I vet, former atheist, and giant of the faith dedicate The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield. As a child effectively raised in Narnia, I could not for the life of me fathom what he meant by growing old enough to read fairy tales “again.” Life was, after all, divided firmly – if not evenly – in two, wasn’t it? Childhood, the realm of imagination, adventure, and simple beauty was to be followed inexorably by adulthood, where “real life” awaited. This black and white dichotomy (itself indicative of my childish thinking) was not a paradigm that admitted of growing back into fairy tales.
So I shrugged and kept reading.
Of course, I grew up and life happened. Real life. But somewhere along the way I stopped asking what was meant by “real.” I no longer read Lewis and Tolkien and Montgomery and L’Engle for fun. I moved on to harder, more mature things. “Real” things. My bank account is real. War is real. Betrayal is real. Addiction is real. Death is real. Loss is real.
And so they are. But I made the mistake of considering all these “grown-up” things more real than, say, the beauty of the first snowfall. Or the sudden scent of honeysuckle on a spring breeze. Or the dancing of a candle flame on a crisp fall evening. I bought whole-heartedly into the pervasive lie that maturity and adulthood are synonyms for despair and cynicism. Far too often have I cast my eyes down, taken another drink, and tried to force myself to accept that the acute emptiness was reality… that the love, loyalty, beauty, and courage of my younger self’s dreams were innocent folly at best and more likely a malevolent hoax.
But recently, a little free time and a need to detox from stress, politics, and upheaval drove me to the bookshelf where my now-falling-apart childhood paperbacks have sat neglected for so long. I picked one of my dog-eared favorites, curled up on the sofa and began to read. I was immediately transported to a place I had not visited in twenty-five years. It was unchanged and as warm and welcoming as it had always been. I felt I was home. For the next weeks I devoured book after book like a person who has been starving herself for too long.
And as I read I realized an obvious fact that had escaped me in childhood and maturity alike: these authors did not write about beauty and truth because they lived in simpler times or themselves led lives of ease and comfort. Quite the opposite; these men and women suffered through a great deal more than I have. In fact, they wrote these books because they were painfully familiar with the darkness and were pushing it back with all their might. My thinking myself “grown up” and “wise” in the ways of the world was nothing more than devastating arrogance that gave the darkness a foothold.
None of this is to say, of course, that I will read only kid-lit for the rest of my life or will give up worrying entirely about money, politics, and suffering. I hope, however, that I will keep those things in better perspective, because – thank God – I am finally old enough to start reading fairy tales again.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. I Cor. 1:27-30