On the Creation of Worlds

When we read stories of far away lands like Middle Earth or Narnia I hope that we never take for granted the minds from which these worlds came. Even when we see the worlds in movie form, I hope that we always take a moment to appreciate the creativity, ingenuity, risk and time put into their details. It is easy, I think, with such blockbuster examples like Harry Potter coming out every year, to overlook what it must have been for the writer to build these worlds. Now, I realize that few worlds are concocted entirely from scratch. I also think that writers writing about writing can be extremely noisome. Nevertheless, I like to wonder what the writing process was for, say, the creation of the Shire. How did Lewis really see the dancing Narnian trees? How tall are the tallest towers of Hogwarts? How did these images evolve in the writers’ heads?

C.S. Lewis says in an essay that all of Narnia branched out of the single image of a fawn carrying an umbrella. This amazes me. How can something as lush as Narnia grow out of a single image? Lewis actually has quite a bit to say on the writing of fantasy. The reason why he chose fantasy as a medium was because he believed we learn more about reality from fantasy than we do from stories set in reality. When we realize that the world is fantasy, we learn not to expect the things that occur in that world to happen to us. We therefore can concentrate on the meaning of the moral rather than bother critiquing the “realism” of the story. He also says that writing a good story is like being in love: sleeping and eating habits change, you are constantly distracted because you can’t stop thinking about the story, etc.

Like a good little Evangelical, I admire Lewis greatly for his work. I recently started reading The Space Trilogy, which consists of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I started Perelandra yesterday. In The Space Trilogy, Lewis essentially creates the battlegrounds of universal spiritual warfare—no trivial undertaking. In the first book, the main character, Ransom, is kidnapped and taken to Malacandra, or Mars, by two scientists who mean to appease the Martians, or Sorns, by handing Ransom over to them. Ransom escapes and discovers that the three Martian species, namely Sorns, Hrossa, and Pfillitriggi, all are extremely kind and wise in their own ways, and that they all live in peace with each other and the ruling spirits called the Eldila. The head Eldila, or Oyarsa, explains to ransom that Earth, or Thulcundra, is also known as the silent planet, for the Oyarsa of that world fell away from Maleldil, or the ruler of the Universe. Having learned the celestial language in the first book, Ransom is called back into space to go to Perelandra, or Venus, to begin the second story.

The most impressive feature of these books so far is the stunning displays of imagination and description of both Malacandra and Perelandra. To describe an entirely different planet seems to me to be simultaneously daunting and exciting, like when a painter eying a blank canvas. What tools do you use, what barriers do you create, what natural laws govern these new natures? Where do you even begin? Lewis boldly answers these questions, being careful to say that some things on other planets are so different from Earth that we can draw no comparison to help us describe the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of such places. Malacandra is a cold place, warmed by the hot springs. The plants are pink and feather-like. The land is fairly stark in places. The sea waves are not like ours: they do not billow and roll but rather are choppier, almost spiky. Perelandra, by what I can see this far into the book, is entirely different. The land flows with the ebb of the water, like foam on the waves. Land, therefore, rises and falls with the waves, and walking is difficult. The foliage is golden, the colors dazzle. The air is warm and comforting.

Though I could go on and on about the eloquence and creativity of the descriptions of these worlds, I would much rather let the descriptions speak for themselves. Here is an excerpt taken from the end of chapter three in Perelandra:

“Once more, a phenomenon which reason might have anticipated took him by surprise. To be naked yet warm, to wander among summer fruits and lie in sweet heather—all this had led him to count on a twilit night, a mild midsummer grayness. But before the great apocalyptic colors had died out in the west, the eastern heaven was black. A few moments, and the blackness had reached the western horizon. A little reddish light lingered at the zenith for a time, during which he crawled back to the woods. It was already, in common parlance, “too dark to see your way.” But before he had lain down among the trees the real night had come—seamless darkness, not like night but like being in a coal cellar, darkness in which his own hand held before his face was totally invisible. Absolute blackness, the undimensioned, the impenetrable, pressed on his eyeballs. There is no moon in that land, no star pierces the golden roof. But the darkness was warm. Sweet new scents came stealing out of it. The world had no size now. Its boundaries were the length and breadth of his own body and the little patch of soft fragrance which made his hammock, swaying ever more and more gently. Night covered him like a blanket and kept all loneliness from him. The blackness might have been his own room. Sleep came like a fruit which falls into the hand almost before you have touched the stem.”

Yes sir. The human mind, though frequently divinely guided, is capable of wondrous things. Hallelujah!

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