For a month I have not written here, being occupied once again by real-world concerns such as work, writing and wedding planning. Sometime soon, I will return to my thoughts on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader film, which is now scheduled to release on Dec. 10, 2010.
Yet for now, and after reading more of C.S. Lewis’s wonderful second story of his Space Trilogy, I would love to share my thoughts about storytelling, good or bad, and its basis in God’s truth.
In Perelandra, Dr. Elwin Ransom is taken by angels to the planet Venus. There he finds a watery paradise with fantastic floating islands and creatures, and a woman who is apparently the Eve of her world, innocent and without sin. But after a former acquaintance of Ransom’s, Professor Weston, also lands on that world, Ransom finds the man has actually given over his mind to what he claims is the “Life-Force” of the universe. His goal, possessed by this evil spirit — likely the devil — is to tempt the sinless woman to rebel against Maleldil — God.
For years I have found this story and its debates between Dr. Ransom, the “Un-Man” and the innocent woman to be among the most fascinating of C.S. Lewis’s literature. And the following section, in which the Un-Man suggests the woman can think of a “story” in which she disobeys her Creator, is especially relevant to writers and readers of speculative fiction.
So now I present it here, with thoughts and questions . . .
“I am wondering,” said the woman’s voice, “whether all the people of your world have the habit of talking about the same thing more than once. I have said already that we are forbidden to dwell on the Fixed Land. Why do you not either talk of something else or stop talking?”
“Because this forbidding is such a strange one,” said the Man’s voice. “And so unlike the ways of Maleldil in my world. And He has not forbidden you to think about dwelling on the Fixed Land.”
“That would be a strange thing — to think about what will never happen.”
“Nay, in our world we do it all the time. We put words together to mean things that have never happened and places that never were: beautiful words, well put together. And then tell them to one another. We call it stories or poetry. In that old world you speak of, Malacandra, they did the same. It is for mirth and wonder and wisdom.”
This is the beauty of Lewis’s portrayal of this Devil-possessed figure. So much actual truth is mixed into what he says that you almost see the logic of it. But I ask myself, is this really the point of all stories about worlds that never exist — or should it be? Are they really the same as deceiving ourselves, or others? I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever met one of those Christians (they were more common in the past, I believe) who thought any story was the same as a lie.
[. . .]
“But you remember we are not to live on the Fixed Land.”
“No, but He has never forbidden you to think about it. Might not that be one of the reasons why you are forbidden to do it—so that you may have a Might Be to think about, to make Story about as we call it?”
Many Christians, either creators or partakers of stories whether in films or books, think similarly. We can pretend that there are other worlds, story-worlds, in which God behaves differently or is different from what Scripture says is truth.
The Shack, for example, portrays a “God” who manifests as two women and a man. Far from its author’s vision is any God of holiness either. And closer to orthodox Christianity, Frank Peretti wrote spiritual-warfare novels in which demons often act in ways never seen in Scripture. Peretti later said he became bothered about people taking it all literally, and changed direction.
So how far can God’s people go in their works of art, especially speculative fiction in which more liberties are often taken? Can we change a spiritual law, such as God’s nature or the reality of sin, as easily as we make up creatures or bend physics with science-fiction devices?
Can we do this while making sure readers know the truth? Can this be glorifying to God?
[. . .] “It is not from the making a story that I shrink back, O Stranger,” she answered, “but from this one story that you have put into my head. I can make myself stories about my children or the King [her husband]. I can make it that the fish fly and the land beasts swim. But if I try to make the story about living on the Fixed Island I do not know how to make it about Maleldil. For if I make it that He has changed His command, that will not go. And if I make it that we are living there against His command, that is like making the sky all black and the water so that we cannot drink it and the air so that we cannot breathe it. But also, I do not see what is the pleasure of trying to make these things.”
Here I believe Lewis himself, one of the greatest storytellers ever to bless Christendom, incidentally gives us a three-part solution to these storytelling questions (in addition to Perelandra’s central narrative of the battle for innocence in a new creation):
- Can we write a story in which God has changed His commands, perhaps for another world? If so, will this confuse readers about what His truths are in this world?
- Can we write a story in which a character lives in a way against His standards? If so, can this also be shown to be the disobedience that it is, perhaps not always with a character changing his/her ways but at least with consequences for the lie being shown?
- What is the point or pleasure in writing a story in which God works differently, or an element defies or ignores his standards?
As a writer who wants to glorify God and portray His old truths in new ways to readers — including myself! — I hope never to stray from the clear teachings of Scripture. But if I do speculate, such as what we’ll find on the New Earth, I hope that is always clearly shown.
What do you think? How we achieve this Biblical balance?