C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and the Power of Storytelling

By

It’s often said that politics is downstream from culture. This is not strictly true, since our laws do shape our culture, and our sense of what is right and wrong.

But there is much truth in that old saying. The ideas that shape politics, and the laws that politicians make, are rarely advanced by argument alone. Rather, they are advanced by the stories that shape our imaginations, stories that teach us what is true. If you can control the stories a people see, hear, and tell each other, you can ultimately control what they think and even how they think.

That’s why the great musicologist Damon of Athens wrote more than 2000 years ago: “Give me the songs of a people, and I care not who writes its laws.” In our own time, the Christian musician and novelist Andrew Peterson often says, “If you want someone to hear the truth, you should tell them the truth. But if you want someone to LOVE the truth, you should tell them a story.”

This idea is thoroughly biblical. In fact, Jesus himself was a storyteller. Mark 4:34 says, “Jesus did not speak to them without a parable.” Jesus knew the power of storytelling.

Two other great Christian writers, writers whose birthdays we celebrate today, also understood the power of storytelling.

Madeleine L’Engle was born on November 29th, 1918, 100 years ago today. She is best known for her children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time. Some have called it a science fiction fantasy story, and it is that. But if you’ve read that book, you know it is the story of children in search of their father, a search that takes the children through time and space, and which has many supernatural guides. The quest of thirteen-year-old Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace for their father has been compared to the longing we humans have for our heavenly father.

That similarity was no accident. Madeleine L’Engle often spoke of her stories as a way to illuminate spiritual matters. “Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write,” she said, “For only in such response do we find truth.” Further, she said, “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”

Some of Madeleine L’Engle’s ideas stray from Christian orthodoxy, and the recent film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, though successful at the box office, was not faithful to the Christian ideas of the book. I don’t recommend it. But for a book in the tradition of great Christian fantasy writers C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams, it is hard to beat A Wrinkle in Time.

The greatest story of all is this: The beautiful world is broken, but it will not always be so. Writers like Lewis and L'Engle help us to understand this story in deeper, richer, truer ways.

Warren Cole Smith

And speaking of Lewis, he shares something else in common with Madeleine L’Engle, and that is a birthday. The great Christian writer was also born on this date in 1898, 120 years ago. Lewis had a razor sharp mind and defended the doctrines of the Christian faith in such books as Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain. However, anyone who has read The Chronicles of Narnia or his science fiction space trilogy does not need to be told that Lewis believed in the power of storytelling to communicate truth. When Lewis described the land of Narnia before Aslan arrived as a place where it was “always winter but never Christmas,” adults and children alike understood a bit more fully what it means to live in a beautiful but broken world.

In fact, Lewis wrote that stories can help us see truth that cold, hard logic sometimes hides. He wrote, “That is one of the functions of art: to present what the narrow and desperately practical perspectives of real life exclude.”

Artists such as Madeleine L’Engle and C. S. Lewis help us remember that the Bible is more than just a collection of stories. The bible is itself a magnificent story of the creation, fall, redemption, and ultimate restoration of all things. The greatest story of all is this: The beautiful world is broken, but it will not always be so. Writers like Lewis and L’Engle help us to understand this story in deeper, richer, truer ways.

So we should remember the birthdays of C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, and pray that God would raise up Christian storytellers in our own time.

Warren Cole Smith is the Vice President—Mission Advancement at The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. A shorter version of this article appeared at the Colson Center’s website www.breakpoint.org. Warren has written or contributed to more than a dozen books. His latest book is a novel, Print The Legend.


3 Comments

  1. The Warren & the World Vol 6, Issue 47

    […] It’s often said that politics is downstream from culture. This is not strictly true, since our laws do shape our culture, and our sense of what is right and wrong. But there is much truth in that old saying. The ideas that shape politics, and the laws that politicians make, are rarely advanced by argument alone. Rather, they are advanced by the stories that shape our imaginations, stories that teach us what is true. If you can control the stories a people see, hear, and tell each other, you can ultimately control what they think and even how they think. Read more […]

  2. JT

    [… Thinking out loud … ] I often wonder about C.S. Lewis (and others like him). Mostly I wonder what God thinks of him. Was he exemplary?
    From our perspective he is easily praised for having been a successful philosopher, solid apologist, and gifted story teller. Not becuase he was popular, but because he was skilled. … But he WAS popular. Jesus warns His followers to be wary of the well-liked prophets (ones that the world doesn’t hate). So I often wonder: What did Lewis accomplish in the scheme of eternity? I puzzle over these questions partially because; (not to sound arrogant) I share some of the same skills/gifts as Lewis. I wonder if maybe he would have done better to have been something different than a philosopher, apologist, and story writer. Is it possible that writing novels and sketching out worlds that don’t exist can actually be harmful (not because of what they are, but because of what those stories might replace– more solid truth– Scripture unbounded).
    Authors have absolute control over a fictional work. Is that a parallel to the first temptation: “to be like God.” Does the bible really NEED to be painted over with fiction for the sake of those who would rather not read it for what it is?

    These kinds of questions have boggled me for years.
    Either I posses gifts that need to be utilized and dispensed, or they are simply ships that need to be burned so I can move on to “higher ground.”

  3. Barbara Hayes

    “So we should remember the birthdays of C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, and pray that God would raise up Christian storytellers in our own time.”
    Andrew Peterson is, without any doubt, one of those authors. His “Wingfeather Saga”, apart from being exquisitely written, is the expression of so many layers of deep God-inspired thinking about the world, and at the same time a call for compassion and love. Time will tell, but even if the world wouldn’t last one more year, I think Andrew’s stories,as well as C.S. Lewis’s amd many others, are treasured in heaven for eternity, as they’re also His stories.

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.