Reawakening Imagination with Fantasy Literature

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C.S. Lewis quote

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides.”—C.S. Lewis

The success of The Chronicles of Narnia film series testifies to the popularity of fantasy literature. The next installment in the works is an adaptation of The Silver Chair, the fourth of C.S. Lewis’s seven novel series and a fine example of otherworldly literature.

In The Silver Chair, the central characters leave the world they know and venture off into the otherworld of Narnia. Upon leaving Narnia and returning to the actual world at the end of the novel, the characters have gained new perspectives.

Within the otherworld of Narnia is the world of the Underland. The dark and dreary Underland differs greatly from the vibrant and lively world of Narnia. As captives held under enchantment by the Queen of the Underland, Jill, Eustace, Puddlegum, and Prince Rilian are forced to forget Narnia and believe that nothing exists beyond this unsubstantial world.

Imagination is the force that ultimately frees the characters from this enchantment. As Puddlegum proclaims:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones (Lewis 182).

Even in a state of despair and hopelessness, the characters are able to think beyond what they believe to be objectively true. They imagine a world of unlimited potential.

“Otherworlds” of fantasy literature such those found in The Chronicles of Narnia’s The Silver Chair reawaken a sense of awe. This sense of imagination and wonder is innate to humanity yet often remains dormant in the 21st century mind. We no longer wonder. We no longer stand in awe of something greater than ourselves. More often than not, we reduce everything to what we can understand objectively. 

This stifled sense of imagination is a result of reductionist and objective thought processes prevalent in the 21st century. The most obvious manifestation of this way of thinking is society’s growing dependence on technology. While technology certainly has had many positive influences on society, it can also have crippling effects on creative thought. This phenomenon is especially true for younger generations, born into the technocratic era.

C.S. Lewis noted: “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” Twenty-first-century teachers need not discourage imagination in favor of objective thought, but rather nurture creativity and channel it to activate critical thinking. Even though Lewis lived prior to the rise of popular technology, his claims about education are still relevant today, and perhaps even more so.

Suggested activities

Encourage students to read The Silver Chair, then have them compare Narnia and the Underland. It may be helpful to analyze the scene in which the central characters are captured in the Underland (See chapter 12). Encourage students to think about what role imagination plays in the characters’ successful escape from the Queen.

Extend the discussion by asking students to consider if 21st century society is a type of Underland. Have them think about the effects of modern life on their imaginations. For example: Do they think the use of technology encourages or discourages imaginative thought?  Do they believe imagination is still necessary in a world filled with scientific and technological advancement? 

Ask students write about what a world with no imagination would look and be like. Have them use evidence drawn from their reading of the C.S. Lewis novel in their writing. This is a skill stated in the Common Core English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Grade 8 »CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

Hold a class debate. Divide the class into two teams—Narnia versus the Underland. Team Narnia should argue that imagination is necessary and Team Underland should argue that imagination is not necessary. Each team should use evidence from The Silver Chair to support its argument. This exercise encourages students to develop their own arguments and practice public speaking skills. It also hones listening skills and develops the ability to anticipate counter-arguments and respond effectively. Such skills are required by the Common Core English Language Arts Standards » Speaking & Listening » Grade 8 » CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

With the rise of technology, we are led to believe that the sky is the limit. But in reality we are bumping our heads against the ceiling of our own limitations much of the time. We too often fail to imagine and dream and ask “What if?” Fantasy literature can help combat indifference toward the world. Otherworlds give life to a sense of wonder that has been forgotten. We assume that only objective knowledge is worth knowing. Entering these otherworlds through novels such as The Silver Chair allows students to entertain possibilities that seem impossible. In this technocratic world, that is something to be cherished.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caitlin Gemma, a rising senior at Villanova University majoring in Humanities, is interning at EDSITEment this summer.

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