Alana George, Campus Carrier Asst. Arts & Living Editor
The illustrious C.S. Lewis dedicated the second book of his “Chronicles of Narnia” series, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, to his goddaughter Lucy Barfield. In the dedication, he laments that when he started to write the book, she was a child, and he “had not realized that girls grow quicker than books.” He continues, “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.” The fairy tales in question, Lewis’ world-famous Narnia books, are my all-time favorites.
When I was very young, my aunt bought me all seven books bound in leather with gold-leaf lettering on the covers. Maybe that is part of the reason why I read them in the first place. Narnia was the first series I ever read all the way through as a child, and the only series I have ever re-read more than once (I’m on my fourth time through, if I remember correctly). Those books never fail to show me something new, whether it’s a characteristic of God (Aslan) that I had never known before, or a new issue presented that I had never considered to ponder. Along with this element of newness, there is always a sense of comfort present when I open one of those leather-bound covers. It always feels like coming home.
When children become preteens and teens, they tend to shun anything their peers might consider baby-ish or childish. They want and need to prove to their peer group that they are excited to grow up and make an impact in the world. Whether it’s a good intention or a bad one at that age is still up for debate. No matter what the intention, the levity and imagination of childhood seems to vanish in this trying time of life.
Play moves from the backyard or playroom to the game console, teens never grab a sticker at the doctor’s office, and they always search for ways to prove their parents wrong while severely testing the patience of said parents. This is also the age when a bad friend group or “cool” new trend can lead innocent kids off the deep end; these transitioning caterpillars in cocoons just want to fit in, and they will do whatever is necessary to accomplish that goal.
Once this transitional stage is over, around age 17 or 18, most high school seniors and college freshmen start to mellow out. They have tried all the rebellious things and found them to not be worthwhile. This is the point at which they start to search for something solid, something familiar they can cling to now that they have tried everything else. Ironically enough, this is exactly what happened to a young atheist named C.S. Lewis. As an egotistical young scholar, he tried every single world religion you can think of in a fruitless search for truth, until he finally found what his soul was longing for in the pages of the Bible. In the same way, growing kids desperately search for something to fill their souls, going through different phases and falling in love with a different boy band every week, never finding rest.
This is where the fairy tales come in. Whether they are a true story (like the Christian story) or not, fairy tales give us a sense of order in our world. They are fairly predictable: good fights evil, and the good always triumphs.
Even if these stories don’t challenge us intellectually, they can still make us feel good inside when we need a dose of happiness in our day. That’s why I love the Narnia series. It appeals to the child in me with the predictable good-defeats-evil storyline, but the stories are based on Christian truths, and I can study them as a Christian and find things that I maybe had never thought of before. If that sort of thing does not appeal to you, any of the Grimm brothers’ tales or anything by Hans Christian Andersen would serve the same purpose.
I think this is what C.S. Lewis meant when he said that we will all be old enough to read fairy tales again: we need to separate from childish habits as we learn to be adults in the real world, but the stories will always be there to welcome us home.