Any discussion of whether adults should read fiction meant for children or young adults will inevitably mention the Chronicles of Narnia. After all, the Chronicles are an excellent series of books which can be enjoyed regardless of one’s religious background. Yet it is still primarily aimed at children, and it uses many of the tropes inherent in fairy tales from fantastic talking animals to evil witches. Often the author CS Lewis’ quote regarding children’s literature is used to justify adults reading it.
“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
This quote reveals a deeper truth, that a mature individual is not concerned with appearing mature. Those who are adults find no inherent benefit in wearing the adult mask that those in later childhood and adolescence wear. In addition, those who are truly mature can see the wisdom of childlike imagination. Through imagination, we can explore our ideals and the potential pitfalls many of us face. For example, Narnia does not deny the basic inhumanity of others and the desire to make our gods much like ourselves. Contrast the god Tash with Aslan. Tash is a cruel being that demands sacrifices but he is easy to know and to control. Aslan on the other hand is kind but not tame. He is a wild lion who does as He pleases and cannot be easily defined.
Yet one might argue that the true benefit of childlike imagination is simplicity. After all, the best truths in the world are the simple ones, correct? Well, CS Lewis would certainly not agree with statement. He argued in his book Mere Christianity that nothing is simple at all. Even something basic like a chair is not simple. It is made up of wood that had to be crafted by a carpenter, and that wood is made up of countless atoms which is turn is made up of countless electrons, neutrons, and protons. Nothing is simple. John Green, author and blogger, regularly says, “The truth defies simplicity.” So I don’t believe CS Lewis’ admiration of children’s literature came from a mere appreciation for simplicity, because a childlike imagination is far from simple. To create worlds in your head with different mixtures of creatures from many different sources is not a simple task. In fact, someone who thinks simply cannot imagine anything at all.
Imagination requires a stretching of the mind which often allows you to see things that are not obvious. This is not to say that imagination is always positive. Just like anything else, it can also be used for ill, to shut ourselves off from anything that might hurt us. But in general, childlike imagination is not a simple thing and it gives us a medium to explore not only different worlds but different ideas that we could not otherwise explore. Think for example about CS Lewis’ flirting with the idea of others outside the accepted religions being able to reach paradise in the Last Battle.
However, as for more specific ideas and concepts that can be explored through imagination, that is the very role of this blog.