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C.S. Lewis and the True Myth: the best stories ring true because they weave Truth into it.

I do not like Star Wars. I never really have, though I stood outside a movie theater for two hours in Fargo in the January and February cold when the original trilogy was re-released into theaters in the mid-1990s.


It seemed like the thing to do.


Yet I never really loved the movies, and now that Star Wars has taken over Disney (or vice versa), I have zero desire to go back to Disney World. Well, because of that and some other obvious reasons.


But I know a lot of people who like Star Wars, and it’s probably for the same reason many people love Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter—there is the idea of a True Myth woven in.


Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’. — C. S. Lewis.1

I realize, depending on where you are on the poets vs. accountants scale on theological things, that the rest of this blog post is going to make you break out in hives and as such, you may want to stop right now. I understand the struggle, I’m wary about the New Age-y “force” in Star Wars and the witchcraft in Harry Potter…I get it. But if we set aside those fine points for a minute, we can get to an interesting conclusion you can’t get to any other way.


Today, as with much of the rest of our language, words have become a mashup or no longer mean the same as they used to. This has happened to the word myth.


We think of a myth as something fictional. For Lewis and his peers (like J.R.R. Tolkien), a myth was something different. It was a traditional story from earlier history that was told by people to explain unexplainable events. It might have been true or untrue.


For obvious reasons, story and narrative were important to Lewis. It was only by understanding the Gospel in terms of a grand narrative instead of as rules and moral laws that he was able to come to Christian faith in the early moments leading up to WW2.2


In other words, neither Tolkien nor Lewis viewed the Gospel as a fake story, but instead, as The Story, as the True Myth. It’s the One True Story that we all recognize as being true, whether we admit that or not. This is logically so, since God has created us and we would connect with what is True because our Creator is the source of Truth and created us in his image.


When we see movies or read books with the threads of the True Myth woven in, we immediately connect to it. We might write all kinds of elaborate essays trying to explain this connection, some by people who are Christians and some by people who aren’t and have to do some word gymnastics to get it done, but there it is, the True Myth, reaching into our souls and immediately recognized and adored.


Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. Spiderman. Nearly all super hero movies. Star Wars. Etc. The stories might be packaged in questionable wrapping, but those threads of the True Myth are recognized and make the stories stick with us, for better or for worse.


We don’t cheer for the prideful, selfish hero who rebels against good and makes it his life work to destroy all that’s good in tightly focused revenge. C. S. Lewis rightly noted that any good story recognizes God’s truth, and so stories where a prophet, hero, or king who comes from humble or unsuspecting origins who suffers and struggles and feels pain and yet selflessly continues before ultimately saving the world—this makes our heart sing.


Feeling down? Lost? Dejected?


I'd say read your Bible and have a conversation with God, but if you're not there in your spiritual life, then go watch the battle scenes from Lord of the Rings films, and see unlikely heroes warring against evil with impossible odds, taking noble, selfless action, not focusing on what’s “right for them” or most convenient, but doing a hard, painful thing because it’s right and true.





It just lifts your spirits because even though it’s a fictional story created by Tolkien, we recognize the True Myth at work. We cry, our hair stands up, we get goose bumps on our arms, we are activated. I'm not saying you should preach a sermon series on it, but you can certainly acknowledge it on your own.



There is no reason human beings, with our selfish nature and tendency to look out for number one, should resonate so strongly with selfless suffering to save others, outside of an underlying understanding of what Jesus Christ did for us.



Which is why so many films, television shows, and books that are coming out now are either bombing at the box office or are rewiring people to accept a lie. There seems to be a tipping scale of sorts, with woke entertainment landing badly and yet, still making inroads inch by inch to rewire us so that we don’t respond to True Myth, but to Selfish Lie.


Because yes, I’m seeing a surprising amount of entertainment (some of it “reality” TV) in which selfish and prideful people set on manipulation and revenge—iconoclasts of sorts who destroy something good without replacing with something better—are the heroes. This is not the True Myth. It’s a lie that feeds the darkness inside, a darkness that doesn’t make our heart sing but makes it heavy and hard and twisted.


We become Gollum, if you will. We let Gríma Wormtongue tell us how to be.


I’m not quite sure if it’s the art changing the people or the people changing the art (maybe both) but a rise of occultic, anti-hero, self-serving, narcissistic, sociopathic, twisted and sick characters is chugging across screens and pages…and people are identifying with them. I don’t know if it was reality TV that set this all in motion, putting the selfishness of man on display and on a pedestal instead of doing the hard work of creating good stories based on the True Myth, but here we are.


And yet, you cannot destroy what God our creator has written on our heart.3

A man who disbelieved the Christian story as fact but continually fed on it as myth would, perhaps, be more spiritually alive than one who assented and did not think much about it. The modernist . . . need not be called a fool or hypocrite because he obstinately retains, even in the midst of his intellectual atheism, the language, rites, sacraments, and story of the Christians. The poor man may be clinging (with a wisdom he himself by no means understands) to that which is his life. — C. S. Lewis4

The messy conclusion here, to keep this sort of short, is that the True Myth sits in our heart because God put it there when he made us. It’s waiting to be activated, and though we might choose to push it down and refuse to believe, it still rings lightly when we trip over its threads.


The warning might be that while consuming the True Myth in entertainment may give you a small sense of hope and a brief “fix,” it cannot replace believing that Jesus Christ is your intended Savior. And yet this is what we do, pursue anything that might assuage the sense of emptiness or hunger, until we eventually find our way to eternity too late.


We have to make careful choices in what we consume for entertainment, but it’s not just a swear word count. It’s a bigger question of what the underlying narrative is. The more we activate our hearts and minds with things not according to True Myth, the further we move into lie until we are at home there.


Forever, eventually.

 

1 Lewis wrote this in a letter to Arthur Greeves as he described his coming to faith in Christ.


2 Joshua S. Hill, “The Gospel as C. S. Lewis’s ‘True Myth’,” The Gospel Coalition, September 2, 2016, https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/book-review/the-gospel-as-c-s-lewiss-true-myth/


3 Romans 1:19-20 are some of the scariest verses in the Bible, because you have no excuse for rejecting God. He wrote his truth—The Truth—plain for you to see.


4 Lewis, C. S. “Myth Became Fact.” In God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, by C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper, 63–67. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1944/2001.

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