Door to the Far World

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 lose the path and its threshold disappears behind the vines of time. But passing through doors can have monumental consequences, just ask Dante and Bunyan. 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 suggests we write about the things 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 immersion 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 November wood, lifting my eyes to a crystal sky through windblown, yellow-clad  poplars, my mind and heart ablaze 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’s 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 The Joshua Tree played in the background of my life, signaling a deep sense that something vital was missing in my reading and writing, an itch I couldn’t scratch.

silhouette of woman
Photo by B Schus on

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 and further in. This glimpse of the old country 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?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s