Real and Imagined

Emma has lately come to the horrible and, for her, devastating realization that Narnia is not real. Twin Lily soon joined her in bombarding me with questions: “Are the princesses at Disneyworld real or just people in costumes?” “Are all the Santas we see the real one or just people dressed up as Santa?” “Is Aslan real?” The problem is that I don’t even really know the answer. Narnia is perfectly real in one sense; the characters are real too. As a literature junkie, I’m not sure I even make the distinction anymore. But this was about them and their surprise that a place they love so dearly and which seems so real to them is not somewhere they can ever physically go. In just a few minutes, they seemed to see the whole disappointing truth about storytelling and imagination.

In what seems like unrelated news, they are both obsessed with death, and keep asking if various people are still alive. These questions often take me to the limit of my comfort zone, especially when they start asking about their own deaths. As it happens, I am living in my own imaginary world where none of my children will die, and I don’t want to leave that world anymore than they want to leave Narnia.

I have been trying to interest them in the life of C.S. Lewis and his mental world, so that they can see where Narnia really is, in a sense. They are not interested. He is an ordinary man to them (since they can’t yet appreciate his brilliance), and an ordinary child. He does not himself enter a magical world where he becomes royalty, and so their fascination with him ends. I am hoping that once they are finished accepting that all of these wonderful places and people are real only in a sense, they will re-encounter them just as innocently as I do now. C.S. Lewis covered this point perfectly in his dedication to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:

My Dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather.

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