C.S. Lewis on a Story’s Most Essential Element

A few weeks ago, I shared a video that discussed C.S. Lewis’s two ways of seeing.  Today, I want to share another video, a sequel to the first.

Closely connected to Lewis’s two ways of looking was his belief that the most essential element of a story was its atmosphere, or its general feel.  More important than character and theme was whether the texture of the story was believable and cohesive enough to draw the reader fully into the story.

Entering the Atmosphere

Flaws in the character could be overlooked (since everyone has quirks), but a fault in the atmosphere would ruin its spell and sink the story.  The ultimate test of a story’s atmosphere was how often the book was reread.  When a reader comes to a book a second time, he or she already knows the plot, so can’t be surprised by it.

So what’s the point in reading it again?

The reader returns to a good story in order to enjoy its atmosphere again.  He wants to be enchanted again by the story’s alluring texture.

Video:  The Most Essential Element of a Story

Looking at the Atmosphere

There is a close connection between reading a story for its atmosphere and learning to see along something (see the first video for more on seeing).  When we see along something, we are entering into it as fully as possible, participating in it to the best of our ability.  When we see along a light beam, our eyes enter into the beam itself and so we see many things that we could not see when our eyes were outside the beam of light.

Likewise, when we enter fully into a story, letting the story draw us in, we experience the story from the inside.  We enter into the atmosphere of the story, which is equivalent to the beam of light.  By immersing ourselves in the atmosphere, we become a part of the story, seeing many things in the story through the light of the story’s atmosphere.

But we never see the atmosphere itself.  To look at the atmosphere would require us to exit the story in order to contemplate it like a critic.  And as soon as we exit the atmosphere, we are no longer experiencing the story, but trying to study its atmosphere.  So, we can either see and study the atmosphere or enter and enjoy the story.  But we cannot do both at the same time.

The Atmosphere of Christ

In Miracles Lewis makes the same point about knowing Christ.  Since Christ is the maker of all that is, he is both the writer of the story of the world, as well as the star of this story.  Christ is the “atmosphere” of all creation and all reality.

The atmosphere of a story entrances us and reveals to us so much more of the story.  And when we look at the world through Christ’s revelation, the scattered and chaotic details of this world suddenly harmonize into a symphonic and ineffably complex story.

There are some deep ideas to ponder here.  The video develops these ideas in more detail, so be sure to watch it (maybe a few times.)  When you finish, share your response in the comments section below.