You all know that I have written extensively about the Chronicles of Narnia on this website. They are among my favorite books, and every now and then I listen to the audiobook versions of them. Today was one of those days, and I was making my way through The Silver Chair. This is probably my second favorite Chronicle behind The Last Battle, and I was intrigued by a connection I found today to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and his famous essay “On Fairy-Stories.”
If you have read the book, you will remember the scene where Jill, Eustace and Puddleglum overcome their fear and rescue the chained Prince Rilian from the cursed silver chair. After being held prisoner by the evil Queen of the Underworld for many years, the Prince is prepared to escape his subterranean chamber and regain his rightful spot on the throne in Narnia, but they are intercepted by the Queen herself on the way out.
Rather than start a fight, she begins to talk. Her verbal assault is on the nature of reality itself. She begins to try to convince our heroes that the world they think they are trying to return to doesn’t exist. In fact, in response to Jill, the witch explains, ““There never was any world but mine.”
What makes this interesting is that the Queen is clearly part of the world. She is part of that created world which implies that she cannot be the creator of that world. Even think about C. S. Lewis as he wrote this novel. He created Underworld. Functionally, for the purposes of this argument, he could have written the stories in such a way that there never was any world beyond Underworld. He did not write the stories in that way because his stories include Narnia, the land between the worlds, our own world and a variety of other worlds that we never see but see referenced in The Magician’s Nephew. However, for purely hypothetical purposes, the creator of the world, C. S. Lewis himself in this case, could have created a story where the witch was entirely right. Those are his rights as the creator.
The Queen herself was proposing that she was indeed the creator, but she was not. She is only a sub-creator to use the language of Tolkien. She is developing a vision of reality, but she herself is embedded in the reality of Lewis. Because she is in the universe that developed in his brilliant mind, she has to play by the rules of that universe. She can of course create her own universe. That is always an option. However, we need to keep in mind what was laid out by Tolkien. He wrote, “Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality; hopes that the peculiar quality of the secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality.” Her ability to be a sub-creator within the creation does not extend to the same degree that Lewis’s ability does as the ultimate creator of her world. He is the one who has the authority to make things however he wants, and as a part of his creation, she must abide by the restrictions put on her by that act of his creativity.
The Queen is playing by the rules nevertheless. She wants to run outside the boundaries and say that the world is her own. She wants it to be her own creation, but she does not have that power. That strikes me as something that Tolkien would have wanted to draw out for the to the capitalization of the word Reality. She is within her rights to create a reality, but it is not Reality. She can write a narrative, but if it does not square up with what is true about the Reality, made by the ultimate creator, then her errand is bound to be a failure. It will be exposed as a fraud because there are fundamental things that parts of creation know about that creation.
As a parallel example, think about the chaos that has captured the Internet about the theory of a flat earth. A remarkable number of people have embraced this conception, but for many of us, we scratch our heads and wonder how they can believe such things. It really doesn’t make sense because the narrative they are laying out does not seem to square up with the creation we experience. They are well within their rights to create a reality that explains why the world is actually flat but because it does not seem to line up with the world that we experience which was created by the creator, the Reality, it fails to resonate with people like me as a story of creation.
Now, you can probably think of plenty of stories that have been written that tell about a flat world. Narnia in fact may potentially be flat (there is an interesting dialogue where at least Caspian is amazed by the fact that our earth is round), but no one has a problem with people writing a fictional story about the world being flat. We don’t say that people are anti-science or willfully ignoring the evidence when they create a fictional world which portrays the hypothetical truth that there is a possible world that could be flat. It is not as if fiction is somehow constrained to only tell stories about round worlds because Reality is indeed where we occupy a round world.
The problem is in the usurpation. Sub-creators are perfectly within their rights to they create worlds. They can make up all kinds of elements of the story. Some can be just like our world, and others do not have to be. The flat earth sub-creators are, like the Queen, trying to take their role of sub-creator and elevate themselves to the level of creator. She was not the one that could define Reality in Narnia, and people in our world are not the ones who can define Reality here.
We can take this illustration far beyond Narnia, J. R. R. Tolkien or a flat earth. There are plenty of ways that we see this happen all the time in the world around us. People create stories, and they intend to put them in the spot of the great Story. We think that our own reality is truth, but we fail to realize that Reality is Truth. Trying to elevate our own sub-creative activity to the level of creator simply fails every time.
In fact, it fails in Narnia as well. Puddleglum makes his stand by saying, “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. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.”
Her story does not connect to his experience in the way that Reality does. It makes her story feel inauthentic, and that is the thing about all stories told by the sub-creator. We may tell wonderful stories. The Chronicles of Narnia are excellent stories, and I enjoy them a lot. I think that they do illuminate a lot of truth, and they have made me think about the way I view my own world because of their connection to Reality.
However, even at our best, our sub-creative activities pale in comparison to the creation of the creator who wrote the entire narrative of the world into existence. We try our best, and we are inspired by the work of God, but we will never be able to approach that level. That is not meant to discourage anyone from writing. I would never intend to do that and would be somewhat hypocritical if I did. However, it is a recognition of the fact that we need to understand our place in the world as a sub-creator. We write stories within the framework of Reality, and when we try to put our story in the place of that story, our story will always fall short. An imitation always falls short of the mark, and people will always return to that which resonates with what they know, Reality.
I think they should be an encouraging note for those of us who are Christians. Yes, we understand that there are many false narratives that fly around the world today misrepresenting the way that the world truly is. However, we know who created Reality and who told the magnificent story. Sooner or later, despite all of our efforts to the contrary, we are going to realize that any story that does not resonate with that story is woefully insufficient.
 C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia Complete 7-Book Collection with Bonus Book: Boxen (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), Kindle Locations 13432-13433, Kindle Edition.
 J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," in The Tolkien Reader (New York: Ballantine Books, 1966), 87.
 C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia Complete 7-Book Collection with Bonus Book: Boxen (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), Kindle Locations 13496-13499, Kindle Edition.