It’s easy to forget the imaginative world of our childhood. We often abandon it early, seeking our way in the “real world.” As a result, we quickly forget the path and the great threshold to the far world disappears behind the vines of time. But passing through doors can have monumental consequences, as Dante and Bunyan remind us. And so, retracing our steps is vital, especially for writers. In the second chapter of C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing, Corey Latta shows how Lewis’s early reading shaped his imaginative world, and how that world continued to aid him as a lifelong writer. Latta then asks us to write about ideas or images that stirred our imagination as kids. Did they stay with us as we grew up? And what’s our imagination like now?
Ninjas and vampires, I think, captured my imagination most as a kid. They held a special magic for me, and I inhabited their world with relish. But the last of the Nasferatu and Dragon Worriers died long ago – or were killed – slain by the Puritan Calvinists who later claimed my time and whitewashed my imagination. But unlike Lewis’s experience, my old imaginative friends were more the product of movies and martial arts magazines, than books. I enjoyed a vivid and large imagination as a kid. But I don’t think it had the staying power of Lewis’s, because it lacked the depth and texture gained from regular, long emersion in narratives.
I eventually came to serious reading through the cathedral door, so to speak, out of a perceived call to ministry. But most of my reading before that proved sporadic and unimaginative. A few happy exceptions came from cheap paperbacks written by C. H. Spurgeon and Andrew Murray. These nineteenth century preachers were masters of metaphor, simile, and story. I still think few contemporary speakers match the quality of their artistic expression. After all, they were literary men. In praise of the force of their art, Murray’s writing once compelled me out into a cold November wood, lifting my eyes to a crystalline sky through leafless, windblown poplars, my mind and heart ablaze in prayer with his theme. Just before that, my now ex-wife gave me a beautiful volume of Poe’s complete works. But it only began to flirt with my imagination before it vanished into the dark and dreary days that ensued.
I never read seriously before theological education. Even after seminary, I read few imaginative books. Out of all the books I encountered in those days, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress proved the only one, besides the Bible, that I read more than once. This was significant, looking back. No, wait. . . I also read Augustine’s Confessions a few times, but it was pretty imaginative in its own way. When I read these books, inklings struck me like beams from a crack in the door, calling me back to the imaginative world. But over the past several years it was as if U2’S The Joshua Tree played as the theme behind my thought life, signaling a deep sense that something vital was missing in my reading and writing, an itch I couldn’t scratch.
But recently I turned to poetry and literature and found the old path again. Over the past few months something began to happen as I read Seams Heany’s Beowolf, Armitage’s the Death of King Author, Chesterton’s the Ballad of the White Horse, and Tolkien’s the Hobbit. The key in the old lock turned. The rusty hinges creaked open, and there through the door, I could see that far world again. Of Course, the ninjas and vampires were gone, blasted to smithereens by Cromwell’s canons, at the counsel of John Owen. But the imaginative world they inhabited was still there, beckoning me further up the path and further in the door. This glimpse of the old country, though along different paths, tangs of joy, and fills me with anticipation about what this (re)discovery my mean for me as a person and writer.
What about you? Do you still know the way to that far world?