Chesterton via Lewis

In reading The Narnian, Alan Jacob’s bio on CS Lewis, I came across a great quote by GK Chesterton worth pondering by any English teacher: “Literature is luxury. Fiction is a necessity.”

Jacob explains: “…the stories most greatly treasured, and treasured for the longest periods, are those that trace, in bold lines, the outlines of our deepest experiences. And if it is stories, among all the things we make and do, that mean the most to us as we face our own battles, journeys, and riddles, what does that suggest?”

He quotes Chesterton further: “The life of man is a story; an adventure story; and in our vision the same is true even of the story of God.”

This is akin to Tolkien’s notion of subcreation and his thought we are, ourselves, the story told by God. This idea brought me back to faith, but I have to admit, it’s been over two years and I can still barely articulate it.


3 thoughts on “Chesterton via Lewis

  1. Greg,

    Two thoughts:

    a) If “Literature is luxury. Fiction is a necessity,” then how can one have fiction without luxury? If one option is choiceless (Fiction), but is only carried through the medium of the luxury (which one could do without), then wouldn’t literature become a necessity as well?

    b) Your last paragraph about God telling a story brought me to think of the Neverending Story (movie – early 80’s) and it makes me wonder what other stories God has to offer and what stories the editors of man chose to eliminate when the story went to publish.

  2. Hey Calon,
    Chesterton’s quote essentially reiterates the division between “high” culture and “low” culture, an argument very popular in literary circles today. For example, most professors would see Shakespeare and a Bach concerto as “high” culture (elevated, more worthy of notice), while Spiderman (comics or the movie) and Nora Jones would be seen as “low” culture (popular, for the masses, easily accessible and understood). Literature=high, fiction=low. Chesterton sees this as a false equation, reckoning that we gain more from mere “fiction” than we do from “literature.” In his day, fairy tales and other adventure stories were “fiction” relegated to children, and he did not understand why. Another great quote from Chesterton: “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Ultimately, we can’t afford the luxury of “literature” (usually as defined by what the high and mighty professors TELL us what literature is), when fiction does so much more for the “masses” (us) with regards to our imaginations.

    The concept of imagination leads to comment b, as the imagination, according to Chesterton, Tolkien, and Lewis, gave clear evidence for God. As God is a creator, thus so are we. And the Neverending Story is almost a perfect example of that sense of “creation.” Do a google search on “Tolkien and subcreation” and a better explanation will come up. I like your phrase “the editors of man,” because we have seen several instances when the story has been supressed in one way or another, usually to maintain a false and dishonest sense of power. However, as Tolkien states as well, all stories we create, in fiction or society, will always be marred due to our fallen state.

    Thanks for spurring me to think this through…

  3. I like your response. It is very well explained. Thank you.

    I wish we had the comics thirty years ago that we have today. For example, DC comics (creators of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) have done a wonderful job…let me rephrase this…WONDERFUL JOB, at spinning threads of yarn with classical myth.

    The most notably observed: the Sandman graphic novels(published through DC’s adult comic line – Vertigo). Also in some of the Wonder Woman stories. She’s actually the grand daughter of Zeus. This is greek mythology! I am reminded of Willie Shakespeare’s “A mid-summer night dream” and the others.

    Alas, I shouldn’t forget what these comics are teaching us. “Not that there are Amazonian half-naken women running wildly about, but that they can be beaten.” …wait, that doesn’t sound right.. ::scurries off::

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