The other night I was watching The History Boys (you should see it if you haven’t yet.), and the “general studies” teacher in the film tells a student about those moments in books when someone writes something that you thought was “uniquely your own” and you see it there on the page. The teacher says it’s like the writer reaches out and “takes your hand.” I have always thought something similar (but less eloquently). The moments I love best in books are when I suddenly come upon something that I know to be true but didn’t necessarily know to be so. In the film Shadowlands about C.S. Lewis, his character tells another student, “We read to know we’re not alone.” That’s it, I think. That’s it.
Today, as I was reading Waking the Dead by John Eldredge, I came across this section where he is discussing myths, “stories that remind us of the transcendent and the eternal”:
Years ago a mother wrote to C.S. Lewis regarding her son (age nine) and his love for The Chronicles of Narnia. The boy was feeling bad because he felt he loved Aslan (the lion hero of the story) more than Jesus. With grace and brilliance Lewis replied that he need not worry: “For the things he loves Aslan for doing and saying are simply the things that Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.” Truth doesn’t need a verse attached to it to be true. All that you loved about Aslan is Jesus.
And Aslan has done the same thing for me. More than any other thing in the world – even church, even songs, even people – books have taught me truth about the world. I read them to see what is really there because often the world around me seems to be covered in grimy, dirty soot, the beauty and sincerity buried in lies, or facades, or guises of control. I truly feel as if I see through a glass darkly.
But when I read, it’s as if someone has scrubbed a spot on a window clean for me, and I can just peer through enough to see what is really happening. Sometimes that reality is horrifying – genocide, hunger, cruelty – and sometimes, rarely, it’s glorious, the way a baby laughing is glorious.
So I thought I’d ask you, what books help you see reality? What books are mythic to you? Here are a few of mine, and I can’t wait to hear about yours.
The Chronicles of Narnia – see my Narnia challenge here.
A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Boys of My Youth by JoAnn Beard
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Fairy Tales, in general
The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
The Gospel of John
Paradise by Toni Morrison
And I could keep going . . . but what are your mythic books? Do share, please.