Tag Archives: Fairy tale

Session #26 (May 26th) report. Sessions 27 and 28

Yesterday’s session (#26) was the last one on C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. At the end of the session, I proposed our next book: C.S. Lewis’ science fiction story for adults, “Out of the Silent Planet”. This is not a long book, but it is more challenging.

At the end of yesterday’s session, we received a visit from a number of interested people. Perhaps some of them will join us for the next session.

If you did not attend recent sessions of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, you are warmly welcome to re-join us for the new book (if this book does not interest you, why not send me an email with your requests). It is quite ok to “drop out” when we are reading a book you are not interested in, and to “drop back in” later.

There is no homework for the next session. We will begin reading the book in the next session. After that, I will follow the same pattern as before: homework will be reading a few chapters, and in the sessions we will discuss the meaning, ask questions, and talk about what interests us about the book.

The next sessions in June will be:

June 9th,

June 23rd.

We had an interesting discussion about fairy-stories compared with myths and traditional tales. Thank you very much to all of you who attended.

I mentioned a seminal essay by Lewis’ close friend and fellow-Oxford don, J.R.R. Tolkien, titled On Fairy Stories. Yoko Okuda told me the Japanese title, and using Google I found this Japanese article about it. If you are interested and have time to read it, please give me your opinion. I’m looking for online resources related to C.S. Lewis and fairy-tales to suggest to my students as secondary reading materials. Is this suitable/interesting/useful for university students (English majors), do you think?

(It includes several links for further reading, all in Japanese)

Here is Lewis talking about the fairy-tale. He is writing about some fairy-tales that he had read (written by George MacDonald), but I think he is also describing an effect he wished to create in the readers of his own stories:

“It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and “possessed joys not promised to our birth.”  It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake that we are for most of our lives.”

Now that you have finished the book, how about taking an online quiz, to test your knowledge!

Here is a quiz I found:


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Allegory, myths, fairytales and fantasies

The Chronicles of Narnia
Image via Wikipedia

In session #22, we discussed allegory. Perhaps I gave the impression that I think the Narnia stories are allegories.  However, after reading chapter 1 of Reading with the Heart: the Way into Narnia by Peter J. Schakel, I have changed  my mind.

Lewis himself called them [the Narnia Chronicles] fairy tales and, more specifically, the type of fairy tales known as fantasies.

What are fairy tales?

Fairy tales, by definition, are short stories, involving supernatural events and characters such as elves, fairy godmothers, and witches, set in whole or in part in a never-never land. Lewis’s friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, whose ideas influenced Lewis greatly, defines a “fairy-story” as “one which touches on or uses Faërie, whatever its own main purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy.” “Faërie itself,” Tolkien goes on to say, “may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power,” the power of Enchantment.

As fairy tales, then, the Chronicles, will be characterized by strangeness and wonder, usually produced by magic, but at the same time, as fantasies, they must be believable and have internal consistency. Such believability is attained, in fairy tales which are also fantasies, by creation of a separate, “enchanted” world into which characters and readers are taken.

What is a fantasy?

A fantasy, in literary terms, is “a work which takes place in a non-existent and unreal world, such as fairy-land.” [Holman, A Handbook to Literature, p. 219] A fantasy world should be independent of our world and self-sufficient: all the information needed to understand actions and meanings should be available within that world. It is an imaginary world and may have natural laws different from those of our world, but once those laws are established, they must be adhered to—if they are ignored or violated, the magic spell of the story will be broken. Tolkien again provides a useful explanation: “What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful ‘subcreator.’ He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside.” [Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” p. 60]

What is myth? Perhaps the common idea of myth is “fictitious story, or unscientific account, theory, belief, etc.” However, Lewis had a more precise idea:

A myth, according to Lewis, is a narrative with a simple, satisfactory and inevitable shape which imparts to its readers’ imaginations a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth. A myth, in other words, is a story, a narrative; it depends for effect upon its shape, upon what happens to whom for what reasons, not upon the particular words or style in which it is told; it must communicate imaginatively, not intellectually; and at its heart must be a truth of universal significance or applicability… “When allegory is at its best, it approaches myth, which must be grasped with the imagination, not with the intellect.” [Preface to The Pilgrim’s Regress, 3rd ed. (London: Bles, 1943), p. 13.]

Schakel believes that the Narnia stories are not allegory, and should not be read as such. To support his view, he quotes Lewis himself.

He tried to set matters straight in his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said”: “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 . . . drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all” (Of Other Worlds, p. 36). Elsewhere he cites the use of a secondary world as evidence that Aslan is not to be taken as an allegorical figure:

In reality . . . he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, “What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” This is not allegory at all. . . . The Incarnation of Christ in another world is mere supposal; but granted the  supposition, He would really have been a physical object in that world as He was in Palestine. ( Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. W. H. Lewis (London: Bles, 1966), p. 283.)

Lewis expected his readers to enter his supposed world fully, to accept it as real and self-contained, and not to be asking what details in Narnia stand for in our world or looking for meanings that can be abstracted from the story through allegory. Their primary appeal, he expected, would be to the heart, not the head.

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