I'm likely coming from a very different place then he is when I agree with Stephen Burnett's recent post on "Avoiding 'spray-paint' for speculative-stories" (linked to recently by the Claw) but I still feel like I couldn't agree more.
As I look back on my own upbringing, I am just now starting to realize (admit to myself?) that I was raised with Christianity forced down my throat from the womb onwards. And this meant having to look for the Christian (oh, alright the JW) meaning in absolutely everything. Some may feel that that is a wonderful way of being reared and in some ways it did have a few - what I hold to be - benefits that have stuck with me even now.* But it certainly has its drawbacks. One of those is a growing resentment, defiance even, towards the beliefs one is being forced to accept.
And so my experience taught me that even with the best intentions you can certainly go overboard in your zeal for instilling your faith/beliefs in your children. I think in some ways it backfired on my sister and I. We were taught to question "worldly beliefs" and ended up rebelliously questioning those we had been raised with.
Anyhow, I'm going on a tangent. My point was originally going to be that I think it is a lot more pleasant to come into a belief on one's own by being struck by it of one's own accord either by encountering certain facts or even by being led towards it in a more subtle, gentle, meandering way, then it is to have a 'message' force-fed to one through constant propaganda.
Which brings us back to Burnett's point.
When I was nine-years old and began to read the Narnia books I had no idea that there was a "Christian message" embedded within them.* They were the most fantastic books I had ever read (surpassing even Little Women which I'd read the year before) and that was all I knew.
Fast-forward: Now that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie has come out and now that I know (through having Christian friends (yes, really)) that the Narnia books have been adopted/labeled by many as 'Christian fiction,' I am so, so glad that I read them as a child and was able to draw my own meaning and interpretation from them.*
As Burnett says:
"The antique Wardrobe in the story and its beautiful carvings (at least as portrayed in the film version) can tell its own story, with inherent, transcendent value. It doesn’t need Christians to come along and add to the imagery with churchy-sounding propaganda."Hear, hear!
In my case, years later the imagery of the Narnia books did sink in. I finally 'got' the meaning of the conclusion to The Last Battle and the train accident, etc. But no one had given me the Christian Oprah's Book Club version of the series and made me go through a checklist after each book to make sure that every bit of symbolism had thoroughly sunk in. Oh, and I hadn't had to (as JWs are wont to do) been forced to look up all of the scriptures that corresponded with every part of the story either.
What's the end result? I'm not a Christian today. But I'm still drawn to Christianity as something that at its very heart is extremely mysterious and beautiful (I know that's an overly brief and very inadequate way of putting it but...).* And I think that Lewis stayed true to 'real Christianity' when he wrote the Narnia books.*
Burnett goes on to say:
In his [Lewis'] approach, story comes first, and Deep Meaning is secondary — for the author, that is. He himself explained why he wrote the books, not to propagandize, but to tell stories:Let each reader take what they will from Narnia. Don't try to force a meaning upon it that isn't there for all of us.
Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.
C.S. Lewis, “Of This and Other Worlds”
Or, to put it even another way: Please try to resist the desire to add to what is already perfect.*
* A sense of wonderment and amazement with the world; a sense of appreciation.
* In fact, I actually had to hide their subject matter from my parents because we weren't allowed to read books with magic in them.
* Which at the time was admittedly limited...
* Pure, unadulterated, uncorporatized heart.
* Although he sure did do his own fair share of overt evangelizing in many of his other writings (i.e. God in the Docks, etc.)
* Once again I'm reminded of Dorothea: "Please not to call it by any name," said Dorothea, putting out her hands entreatingly. "You will say it is Persian, or something else geographical. It is my life. I have found it out, and cannot part with it." From George Eliot's Middlemarch. The full quote is here.