I mean, really. Why do we read?
The question comes up because today at Chapters, a lady was looking at the book Crispin, At the Edge of the World. She asked a colleague of mine if the book was preachy or not, since the back flap says that it is “the second book in a planned trilogy that explores themes of war, religion, and family.” She didn’t really want something preachy, and as context noted that she found The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe preachy.
Now, then, I left because she was already being helped, I had other work to do, and I found this last comment something to wrestle with. I really don’t see Narnia, and especially LWW, as preachy. I would argue, in fact, that LWW is only preachy to people who know the Christian story and know that Aslan is Jesus. I know someone else who isn’t a Christian but loves Narnia and says that she doesn’t care if “they” say that Aslan is Jesus. The book never gives soliloquys about morality or Christianity. All of the theology of Narnia is implicit in the story. And we are never told to put our trust in Aslan and follow him. The Narnians must, but that is because he is their king. If he weren’t a Christ-figure, it’s still a valid model of kingship to be found in many a traditional fantasy book at some level, at least.
All this got me wondering why on earth this lady reads books. If Narnia is too preachy for her, what does she seek out of a book? Pure entertainment? And is pure entertainment really so bad?
Why do I read?
It depends, really. Let me consider the books I currently have on the go. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. Well. This one I’m reading because I thought it would be a good book for devotional reading (I was wrong)–I always like to have one Christian book on the go, something that can help me understand God more, understand His kingdom, how to serve Him, how live as a follower of Jesus, etc. The Greeks and the Irrational by E R Dodds I am reading because it was recommended to me by a prof and because it is interesting and helps further my knowledge of my field of study, Classics. I hope to someday be a REAL Classicist, and find the classical world fascinating; as well, reading literature about other worldviews and cultures helps me rethink my own if I take it seriously (not that I always do as I should). A Fragile Stone, The Emotional Life of Simon Peter by Michael Card I am reading for the same reason I started Boethius (but it already proves more helpful in the devotional task). I am not currently really actively reading a novel (although there is a few [are a few?] that I have begun). I read novels mostly because they entertain me.
Depending on the novel, of course. Narnia I read because Aslan makes me cry and they fill me with joy and simple thoughts of big things. Umberto Eco I read because I find his novels both gripping and enlightening, drawing me in both with story and erudition, exercising my mind while being entertained–sometimes raising issues to be grappled with. Edgar Rice Burroughs (writer of the Tarzan novels), on the other hand, I read for pure entertainment value. And pure entertainment is a valid reason to read–we were designed for rest. Rest makes us realise that the world does not revolve around us and that it can survive without us for a while.
But what if I only ever read for entertainment?
What if, indeed . . .