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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

G. K. Chesterton and Fantasy

After many years away from writing fiction, I knew it was time to return. I had writen three commercial novels that went everywhere and landed nowhere, and I felt quite discouraged. All my agents had promised me great success; they gushed about my unique writing style and voice. They were puzzled as to why they had failed to get a publisher to sign me up as the next best thing since chocolate. I tired of writing about flawed humans and their angst. I gave up.

Living without writing grows into an illness that seems to permeate every corner of life. My creativity and enthusiasm dwindled away and I ran on empty. In my heart, I knew I was called to write, that it is a gift that I was squandering, but I could not face the thought of laboring and giving birth to yet another weighty novel, only to be rejected once more.

I prayed. I did not pray for motivation to write another novel. I prayed to God to show me what to do with this gift and how to use it to recover my floundering life. I was drifting in a sea of hopelessness and depression, after having gone through some terrible tragedies in my life. I needed rescuing. So God sent me a life raft, in the form of a little book by G. K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.

How could this slim book written in 1906 about Chesterton's discovery and embracing of Christianity possibly change my writing life (and the rest of my life, for that matter)? It is due to one chapter he entitles, "The Ethics of Elfland."

I had always loved fantasy books; I read them voraciously and have since I was a child. Reading Ray Bradbury inspired me to start writing my own fantasy short stories when I was about nine. I had always wanted to write a fantasy book, but felt it would be an indulgence, a waste of time. For what good were they? Nice, silly escapist books that could not contain the power and truths I so very much yearned to express in my writing. Boy, was I blind! If I had just taken the time to see how fantasy had molded my life, my dreams, my code of honor, my values, I would never accuse fantasy of being so impotent.

So, after months of intense prayer, asking God to help me write again, show me what to write, I found Chesterton's book and--lo and behold--he had written this mind-blowing chapter on the importance of fantasy.

I will just mention a few things in this post and continue in the next, but here are some of the words that spoke to my heart and changed my life:

"We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment . . . .Here I am trying to describe the enorous emotions which cannot be described. And the strongest emotion was that life was as precious as it was puzzling. It was an ecstacy because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an opportunity . . . . It was good to be in a fairy tale."

Chesterton shows how, when he was young, the world contained magic, and that somehow, that magic implied a magician--someone who conjured up all the wonder in the world and gave that wonder meaning. He speaks of how we lose that wonder, how we forget we are living in this magical, awesome world, and what fairy tales do for us is return us to that wonder we have lost. When I read that, I was like a woman dying of thirst, only just realizing that thirst was there. When I had finished reading the chapter, I knew God had spoken to my heart. He said, "write fairy tales. Tell the world about me in the wonder you see and feel and touch. For in doing so, you will rediscover your own wonder and find healing for your soul."

I cannot state enough how true those words have been, how this writing journey of the last two years has not only healed my heart and made my spirit soar, but has brought me to know God more closely than I could have ever imagined.

I will end for now with this beautiful statement by Chesterton: "That life is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege." I try to live with that awareness in my heart each day, and response properly--with appreciation to the great conjurer of the universe.


  1. Susanne, This is a great article! Since I don't run in the fantasy circles, not sure where you could send it. But I have no doubt there is a market for this article.

    (click, send, change address, repeat!)

    I know you will find a place for both this and your curling article, as well as your fairy tale series. Thanks for sharing your insights with the rest of us.

  2. your words are really beautiful mom, and I'm really proud of you for taking that leap of faith to continue to write, and put your heart out there.

  3. Interesting to know.