C.S. Lewis on Telling Stories

A love of stories is knitted into the fabric of humanity.  Storytelling transcends cultures and epochs.  Bedtime stories are told to breathless children waiting to hear what comes next.  Scary stories are told in hushed tones around camp fires in the woods.  Love stories are told by poets to star crossed lovers.  War stories are told by veterans to their grandchildren.   With stories being ubiquitous, it seems odd that so few people stop to ask “what exactly is a story?”  A similar thought troubled C. S. Lewis enough that he wrote an essay, “On Stories” which examines the definition of a story and ruminates on what makes a story good.  Towards the end of the essay, Lewis distills his premise into the following two sentences.  “To be stories at all they must be a series of events: but it must be understood that this series—the plot, as we call it—is only really a net whereby to catch something else. The real theme may be, and perhaps usually is, something that has no sequence in it, something other than a process and much more like a state or quality. Giantship, otherness, the desolation of space, are examples that have crossed our path” (17).  In Out of the Silent Planet, it is as if Lewis gives the reader an object lesson in how he believes one should approach the art of storytelling.  For Lewis, there needs to be more than excitement for excitement’s sake.  There needs to be a pleasure that comes from deep imagination, from experiencing a sense of “otherness.”  While Lewis describes several examples of this in his essay that are also demonstrated in Out of the Silent Planet, I will focus on three that the book exemplifies particularly well.