Books, to the reading child, are so much more than books — they are dreams and knowledge, they are a future, and a past.
~ Esther Meynell ~
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader C. S. Lewis describes Eustace Scrubb, the insufferable cousin of the Pevensies, as a child who hadn’t read “the right sort of books”.
As a child I was fortunate enough to read those sort of books! These are the books that capture the imagination and build a world in which a child can delight and roam. As they do so, the very best of the right sort of books touch a child’s heart–-they touched my heart–-because integral to the story were the deep truths of goodness, love, friends, home, reunion, courage and perseverance in failure and the overcoming of evil.
Tolkien in his essay, “On Fairy-Stories”, wrote (The Tolkien Reader; 85-86, 87, 88):
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn”…does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe , of sorrow and failure: the possibility of those is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy. Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
…In such stories, when the sudden “turn” comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.
…in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater–it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.
In a letter to his son Tolkien explains his term eucatastrophe (Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, 100):
I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane (for which see the essay) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made.
C. S. Lewis and Tolkien are the masters at this. I read Lewis as a child although I discovered Tolkien as an adult. However, there were numerous other authors I read growing up that also interwove their stories with pictures of truth, ranging from P. L. Travers and her Mary Poppins books to Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Little House books and Louisa May Alcott.
Why were these books important and profound? I knew enough sorrow and evil as a child and these books placed that pain within a larger context of joy and truth. They saved my mind and heart and strengthened the kindness and goodness that I did see and know.
I became a Christian the summer after my freshman year in college. I found I knew God in a relationship that was a reality grounded in reason.
I met the One who is Truth. I met the One who is Joy.
The evangelium gleam I had only glimpsed before, I met in the person of Jesus Christ.
It was then that I realized, as Tolkien had written (The Tolkien Reader, 88-89):
The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.
There is only one book that I have ever seen simply referred to The Book. The Bible is the center of my world view. Other books have brought insight and discernment and refreshment to me–but none like God’s Word because it is the Living Word of the Living God. It is the one book in which every time you read it, you can meet the Author heart to heart and discuss the pages with Him.
I wrote this post as a labour of love and gratitude to C. S. Lewis and to the other authors of my childhood who gave me many hours of happiness and hope as their words unknowingly prepared my heart for the lasting Hope of the Gospel.
I thank the Author who gave them talents and inspiration through which they gave a glimpse of joy to a little girl.
Meynell quote from the Richmond Public Schools’ Reading Quotes webpage.
Crossposted to J’s Cafe Nette.