Good stories often introduce the marvelous or supernatural, and nothing about Story has been so often misunderstood as this. Thus, for example, Dr Johnson, if I remember rightly, thought that children liked stories of the marvelous because they were too ignorant to know that they were impossible. But children do not always like them, nor are those who like them always children; and to enjoy reading about fairies – much more about giants and dragons – it is not necessary to believe in them. Belief is at best irrelevant; it may be a positive disadvantage. Nor are the marvels in good Story ever mere arbitrary fictions stuck on to make the narrative more sensational. I happened to remark to a man who was sitting beside me at dinner the other night that I was reading Grimm in German of an evening but never bothered to look up a word I didn’t know, “so that it is often great fun” (I added) “guessing what it was that the old woman gave to the prince which he afterwards lost in the wood.” “And specially difficult in a fairy tale,” said he, “where everything is arbitrary and therefore the object might be anything at all.” His error was profound. The logic of a fairy tale is as strict as that of a realistic novel, though different.
From On Stories
On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. Copyright © 1982, 1966 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.