My relationship with reading is a complicated and (so often to me) inexplicable romance. Sometimes, I fly through a book in a sitting (or a week if it's massive); other times I wade through one with the velocity of terrible Wi-Fi. Over time I have found that being in a few books at once helps to give me the variety I need while also helping me finish works.
So, what am I reading right now? About five books: The Doctrine of Justification by James Buchanan, The Birth of the Trinity by Matthew W. Bates, various articles from Thomas Peck's Works, The Gathering Storm by Winston Churchill, and Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. I'd like to say a word or two about the last one (fair warning, this post will have a very different flavor than our last few).
Every winter/spring for the last few years I've read C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, of which Perelandra is the second volume. It is, of course, a work of pure fiction. Lewis expressly asserts that it is not an analogy either. It's a sci-fi fantasy but with a surprising amount of spiritual significance. I call it Narnia for grown folks.
Most of my reading comes from the sector of hard theological treatises and church history. The first is so often gird up your loins hard work, and the second can be long and wearisome. I have found that sprinkling some non-theological historical reading (like Churchill) and especially some good, good fiction has a hugely refreshing effect on my mind. It somehow takes the pressure off and brings the huge concepts and striking beauty of God and his world home to me in a powerful and irresistible way. It reminds me what reading, real reading, really is all over again (it is exploration, time travel, cosmic venturing...). Reading fiction also helps me to hit the hard stuff with new eyes and hungry heart.
Some scoff at the reading of fantasy works like Perelandra as childish and impractical. After all, are not the peoples and worlds entirely made up? The characters--and God forbid our hearts be knit to them in any way!--are imaginary friends. Perhaps. But one wonders, if our children had "imaginary" Reepicheep and Puddleglum for heroes instead of "real" athletes, actors, and artists, would the real world be a better or worse place? Show me the man who holds Dr. Ransom in high regard and I will show you a man who is an asset to the particular planet he really inhabits (whichever one it may be).
But while this life may not be space travel and ancient wizards (yes, a famous wizard makes his appearance in the trilogy), is this real life not much more epic and important than these tall tales? If reading these stories gives me a greater sense of the majestic weight of life and the great principles and destinies that hang in the balance, then I do not hesitate to call them real, after a fashion. Certainly, in that sense, they are much more solidly practical than the little things we spend our real lives on. In fact, Lewis' third book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, is really about as down to earth as it gets.
I know, I haven't told you a thing about Perelandra. It is the tale of an English philologist who gets swept away to another world in our solar system to strive in mythological battle with spiritual evil in high places. And if you're looking for real edifying fiction, I know of no better place to start than with the trilogy, of which Perelandra is the second wonderful installment. There are many mighty books, but this little set has, to me, attained to the three. While my personal favorite is the third volume, I think most will testify that Perelandra was for them the most impactful. It is, if you like, chief of the three.
Is the space trilogy air-tight theologically sound? No. Did C.S. Lewis have questionable beliefs? Most certainly. Was he a real believer? I didn't know the man but I have no reason to doubt it. Is the space trilogy a specimen of sanctified imagination and vast learning made simple and exciting (and hilarious)? Without question. Productions like these remind us that there were once intellectual giants in the land. Do yourself a favor and pick up the set.