On Great Stories, Post-modern thinking, & Surprised by Joy

By my late teen years, I was well on my to becoming modern/post-modern in my thinking. I scoffed at fiction that wasn’t full of depth and insight into the human condition. I read stories that spoke to the failures of the human heart and said, “See, that is the way life really is.” I focused on the weakness of the human condition, the failures, the impotence of people. I was skeptical of anyone who spoke of “answers” that were quick and easy. The problem was, I began to see all answers as quick and easy solutions that did not deal with the “real problem.” I became scornful of stories that didn’t of the way things “Really were.”  

Yet, as I moved away from childhood and toward something else entirely – this new way of thinking – I couldn’t help feel a certain sadness because I was leaving something behind. I had to push something down. Post-modern thinking ultimately sucks the life out of you because you no longer focus on the good, the beautiful, and the true.

If all of this sounds vague and confusing, it was.

Until I first encountered the C.S. Lewis autobiography, Surprised by Joy. In the book, Lewis details some of the childhood circumstances that would eventually lead to his conversion. Lewis talked of the early childhood experiences that brought him real joy. The things that made him so happy that it was nearly beyond description. One of those things was creating of stories about talking animals.

I couldn’t help but think about my childhood and how filled with wonder I was when I fell in love with stories. Me and my brothers and sisters constantly generated a series of stories. We used to tape them on an old tape recorder and play them back.

And I remember at age 11 going to movies to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. And going a year later to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. From then on, I wanted to tell great stories. Epic stories with real good guys and real bad guys, stories where something important was at stake.    

The critic in me – that modern mind that wants to dissect rather than embrace – wants to say those were great for kids, but look at the holes in the story. Look at how one-dimensional the characters are.

The kid in me knows better. The kid in me – that mind that is willing to embrace awe, wonder, and unconditional excitement over the story – tells the critic to shut up because this is AWESOME.

The greatest contribution Lewis has made to my life is not his apologetics or even his incredible insights into the human condition. His greatest contribution is his teaching on awe, wonder, and joy. He taught me that one can still be academic without being modern/post-modern. He taught me that the wonder of great stories is not something to be embarrassed about but embraced. He taught me that we ought to seek the WOW of life.       

We lose something fundamental when we stop believing in the magic of great stories. After all, there is a reason most of the Bible is a story. We love great stories – at least we used to before we started doubting and questioning greatness. When we give up on great stories, we forget that there is greatness.

As I come to the last book in the C.S. Lewis project, I am reminded how thankful I am to Lewis. I am recovering from post-modern thinking. I have been for years. Lewis showed me the way out.

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