The Christian Imagination


Christian ImaginationJack reads selected passages 

from his favorite books

Unscripted. Unrehearsed. Unedited.


The Christian Imagination
“Authors, Authority, and the Humble Reader”
Peter J. Leithart, 2002. 


Madeleine L’Engle on the reader: The reader, viewer, listener, usually grossly underestimates his importance. If a reader cannot create a book along with the writer, the book will never come to life. Creative involvement: that’s the basic difference between reading a book and watching TV.  (from Walking on Water)


Works of fiction present a world to us. In some sorts of fiction, like fantasy or science fiction, the world of the novel is a world quite completely different from the world of our experience. In many cases, of course, the world presented is much like our own world. Paris and London were really cities in the late 18th century, the Bastille really did fall, severed heads really were mounted on pikes and paraded through the streets of Paris — these are not figments of Dickens’s imagination. But even the novel that strives for historical accuracy invites us to enter a world different from our own. Danton and Robespierre really existed, but Lucy Manette and Sidney Carton did not, and the world of A Tale of Two Cities is different from ours precisely because it is a world peopled by the likes of Sidney Carton and Lucy Manette.

No matter what the difference between the real and fictional worlds, reading intelligently requires a humble acceptance of the world of the novel. It is a poor reader, and a proud one, who throws aside A Tale of Two Cities with the sneering complaint that “It’s unrealistic. Sidney Carton never went to the guillotine.” A “suspension of disbelief” is elementary in reading fiction, but it is rarely recognized as an act of humility. In part, that is due to the dour connotations that “humility” has in contemporary usage, but here those connotations are completely out of place. As G. K. Chesterton said, humility makes a small, and that means that everything around us becomes large and astounding and magnificent. Humility before the world that the author presents means that we allow him to set the rules, but it also gives reading an element of play. Across the centuries, Dickens says to us, “I’ll pretend Jerry Cruncher was real if you will.” By opening the book and beginning to read, we are saying, “Let me play too.” To read well, we must become as little children.

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