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What Eye Has Not Seen: Imaginative Realities


Imaginative Realities


Things beyond our seeing,

Things beyond our hearing,

Things beyond our imagining,

All prepared by God for those who love him.   

1 Corinthians 2.9

It is the desire of the moth for the star.

It is no mere appreciation of the Beauty

before us-but a wild effort to reach the Beauty above.   

Edgar Allan Poe


Nearly all forms of the aesthetic are concerned with a journey that moves one toward an encounter with the fantastic.  This is what may be called the eschatological orientation of the aesthetic.  It is filled with the desire for the immortal, for life where death has finally been destroyed.  This orientation, however, is not simply “out there” driven, but seeks to bring the “out there” “in here” – i.e., to realize what is not in what is.  It is seeking for the presence of life where death is currently reigning.  Inherent within the human person (spiritual as well as physical), and even within the cosmos, is the passionate longing for life.  The problem, however, is that this life appears to be just beyond “this world,” for we recognize that within our present reality there is also the presence of death, against which we are in constant struggle.  It is out of this perpetual tension between life and death that we seek to actualize within it an other reality that is beyond the one we know, one that is full of life and devoid of death, one that is immortal, one that is transcendent.  The question is, “How do we apprehend this reality?”

 Some seek this transcendent reality by means of abandoning the world we know in search for the other.  Others seek ways to actualize, to embody the transcendent within the immanent, the fantastic within the common.  Whichever course one takes, this effort initially recognizes that one, there are at least two separate realities, and that two, these realities are in some way related.[1]  It will be suggested that there is a particular way in which these two realities are related.  That there is some form of mediation that exists between them.  The traveler either knows or must learn that it is by means of this mediation, this incarnate form, that commerce from one reality to the other is possible.  The particular form that is assumed becomes a doorway, a portal to the other.  It serves as the bridge that spans the space in between two distinct realities.  Consequently, in order to encounter the other one must go through the door.

 There is a second element present in the movement toward the transcendent.  We have already noted that in the presence of this reality, or world, where we encounter both death and life, we long for the final eradication of death.  We long for that other world where death is no more to come. Though we may have glimpses, that other world is not entirely present within this one.  A world that is full of life where death does not exist where the mortal is swallowed up by the immortal, is a world beyond our sight, beyond our hearing, beyond our knowing.  To know life without death is a reality completely other than the present reality that we know.  How then, do we even begin to conceive of “what eye has not seen?” 

 The door motif is a classic narrative devise used to link distinct realities and to allow for passage between them.  In what follows, we will pursue the character and function of the door in the mythologies of the Ancient Near East and in the writings of C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald.  We will then conclude by looking at the relationship between the door motif and the imagination.


Door Motif in the ANE[2]

In ANE mythology there is the firm belief in two separate and distinct realities, yet, these realities are not entirely unrelated.  There are the realms of heaven, the under world, and earth; the latter being the abode of mortals while the other two consist of immortals.  The distinction that is made between these realities is the distinction between the abodes of immortal gods and mortal humans.  Though this distinction exists, gods and goddesses are often portrayed as partaking in the affairs of the mortal realm.  Likewise, on occasion a certain human will engage the realm of the gods in order to escape mortality by seeking eternal life (e.g., heroes such as Gilgamesh, Adapa, and Etana).  In the Summerian myth of Enki and Ninhursag, the water-god Enki impregnates Ninhursag, “the mother of the land,” leading ultimately to a number of deities receiving earthly realms over which to rule.  The Mesopotamian goddess Inanna is the queen of heaven, Ugarit Yamm makes his divine residence in the sea, Baal on top of Mount Zaphon, and Inanna’s sister, Erishkigal, is queen of the nether world.  The gods and goddesses in ANE myth play a constitutive role to the character and history of the earthly realm.  However, being immortal they transcend mortal limitations; not of this reality they belong to another, yet, there exists an inter-relation between the two. 

 The particular point at which this inter-relation occurs between immortal and mortal realities is referred to as the “cosmic center.”  The cosmic center may take various forms such as, a mountain, a tree, a temple, or even a king. In effect, the cosmic center becomes a door, or portal, through which an encounter takes place between the mortal and immortal.  It serves as a mediation point between heaven and earth, between gods and humans, between transcendent and immanent realities.

 Cosmic center

 In ANE mythology the primary focus is not to communicate the activity of a creation event that extends beyond the interests of the immediate realm.  However, there are at times allusions to a cosmic portrayal of creation.  Yet, even such cosmic portrayals of creation have as their immediate reference point a particular society.  One such example describes the place where Enlil separated heaven and earth leaving upon the earth a severed wound – typically identified as the world navel.  At this location was built the temple of Inanna in Nippur, which produced mankind from out of its center.  The name of the temple, Dur-an-ki, “the bond of Heaven and Earth,” suggests that the temple links two separated realms (realities) that were formerly one.[3]  Here, the cosmic center, taking the form of a temple, becomes the place where heaven and earth meet linking these two realms.

 In an Ancient Egyptian painting the sky-goddess Nut is arched over her husband Seb, the earth-god, who is lying on the ground.  Standing above his father and pushing up his mother is the air-god Shu separating heaven and earth.  In this case, Shu becomes the cosmic center, and is the mediatorial link between the two realms of heaven and earth.

 The Ugaritic poems about Baal and Anath tell of Baal’s desire to build a house for himself upon his mountain as the other gods and goddesses have done, and how he must acquire the approval of El.  Throughout the poems are two constant refrains when ascending El’s mountain, and when ascending Baal’s mountain, Mount Zaphon. 

 There she (Asherah) is off on her way

Towards El of the Sources of the Two Floods

In the midst of the headwaters of the Two Oceans.

She penetrates El’s field and enters

The pavilion of King Father Shunem.

At El’s feet she bows and falls down,

Prostrates her and does him reverence.


There, she (Anath) is off on her way

Unto Baal upon Zaphon’s summit,

O’er a thousand fields, ten thousand acres.[4]

 Whenever one approaches or departs from Baal’s mountain, it is always “over a thousand fields, ten thousand acres,” and likewise, to approach El’s throne one must “penetrate El’s field and enter.”  In either case, to ascend or descend the mountain upon which the deity dwelt one must traverse over or through some particular object.  This object, then, serves as a mediating portal from one realm into another.

 Elsewhere, the cosmic center takes the symbolic form of a gate.  In the Akkadian myth of the Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World (Ishtar is another name for Summarian Inanna), the goddess Ishtar must pass through seven gates before entering the nether world where her sister, Erishkigal, resides.  Another Akkadian story, Adapa, tells of the mortal Adapa ascending heaven in search for immortal life.  To do so, he must go through the “gate of Anu.”

 [Adapa], thou art going [before Anu], the king;

[The road to heaven thou wilt take.  When to] heaven

[Thou hast] go[ne up and] hast [approached the gate of Anu],

 One other common form that the cosmic center may take in ANE mythology is the cosmic tree.  The Assyrian Tree of Life (or sacred tree) is generally flanked by creatures (animal, human, or supernatural) on both sides, while a winged disk, where the god Aššur is believed to be residing, hovers over the tree.  The tree symbolizes the divine world order given by the god and is to be administered by the approaching king.  Sometimes the king will replace the tree standing in its place, becoming the embodiment of the divine world order in humanity.  Either the king or the tree become the cosmic center, and are represented as the mediating form that links the two realms of the divine and the human.[5]

 Recognizing the separation and distinction between the immortal and mortal realms, it must be stated that they were not entirely unrelated.  There was a particular place where heaven and earth met linking these two realms.  In the above examples, the meeting place between heaven and earth took the symbolic form of a particular temple, deity, mountain, fields, gate, tree and king. The cosmic center links the three realms of the nether world, earth, and the heavens by its base touching the earth and extending to the nether world, while its peak (head in reference to a person, or center in terms of a temple) reached into the heavens.  Passage, therefore, from one realm to the other required either an ascent or descent across or through the cosmic center.  The cosmic center, therefore, functions as a mediating form that links the immortal and mortal realms filling the space between these distinct realities.


 The relationship between separated, and therefore, separate realities is instituted by the cosmic center.  Considering further this relationship of distinct realities by means of the cosmic center, we recognize that in ANE mythology passage through the door of the cosmic center brings one into a real encounter with the other reality.  The function of the door serves first as a mediating point that links these realities serving as the point of relation between them.  Secondly, passage through the door serves to allow for the inter-relation of one reality to another.  By passing through the door one actually encounters a real other, a real presence.  Therefore, the cosmic center serves not only as a point of relation, but also for inter-relation.[6] 

 Two particular elements bear witness to this suggestion of inter-relation between distinct realities where one truly encounters the other.  The first is observed when noting that the cosmic center was “cosmic” in so far as it was “involved in the government and stability of the cosmos.”[7]  Recognizing the iconic function of earthly images as symbols for transcendent realities, presenting these realities as “real presences”,[8] marks the second. 

 In the ANE the cosmic center did not simply refer to a geographical location. [9]   In addition to location, it referred also to the place from which the order of the cosmos was decreed by the divine assembly in order to establish and give order to a particular society.  The cosmic center becomes a microcosm of the world-cosmic order established and decreed by the divine assembly, and according to which a society was structured.[10]  That is, the heavenly order is sent forth from the cosmic center in order to be embodied within the earthly.  It is quite literally an attempt to manifest, or incarnate heaven on earth, the universal within the particular.  It is here that we see that the inter-relationship between two separate and distinct realities is the attempt to realize the transcendent within the immanent, and in this way does the divine become present within the earthly so that an encounter between the two is actualized. 

 One example of this is found in the writings of the Hebrew prophets.  Both the books of Isaiah and Micah record the oracle:

                         In the last days,

The mountain of the house of YHWH will be established

As the head of the mountains,

And it will be exalted above the hills.

And all the nations will stream to it,

And many peoples will come,

And they will say, “Come, and we will go up to the mountain of YHWH,

To the house of the God of Jacob. 

That he may teach us from his ways,

That we may walk in his paths.” 

For from Zion will go forth the Law,

And the word of YHWH from Jerusalem. 

And he will judge between the nations,

And decide for many peoples. 

Then they will beat their swords into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks. 

Nation will not lift up sword against nation,

And they will not learn again to make war.[11]


The Hittite “Telepinus Myth” provides us with another portrayal of how the cosmic order is realized in and by the presence of deity.

 Mist seized the windows, vapor seized the house.  In the fireplace the logs were stifled, at the altars the gods were stifled, in the fold the sheep were stifled, in the stable the cattle were stifled.  The sheep neglected its lamb, the cow neglected its calf.  Telepinus walked away and took grain, (fertile) breeze, . . . , . . . and satiation to the country, the meadow, the steppes.  Telepinus went and lost himself in the steppe; fatigue overcame him.  So grain (and) spelt thrive no longer.  So cattle, sheep and man no longer breed.  And even those with young cannot bring them forth.  The vegetation dried up; the trees dried up and would bring forth no fresh shoots.  The pastures dried up, the springs dried up.  In the land famine arose so that man and gods perished from hunger. . . .

 [Telepinus . . . ] declares: “For my part I had flown into a rage [and walked away.  How dare] ye a[rouse me] from my sleep?  How dare ye force me to talk when enraged?”  He grew [still more infu]riated.  [He stopped] the murmuring springs, he diverted the flowing rivers and made them flow over their banks.  He [blocked off] the clay pits, he shattered [the windo]ws, he shattered the houses.  He had men perish, he had sheep and cattle perish. . . .

 Telepinus came home to his house and cared (again) for his land.  The mist let go of the windows, the vapor let go of the house.  The altars were set right for the gods, the hearth let go of the log.  He let the sheep go to the fold, he let the cattle go to the pen.,  the mother tended her child, the ewe tended her lamb, the cow tended her calf.  Also Telepinus tended the king and the queen and provided them with enduring life and vigor.

 In chiastic form the story begins with Telepinus abandoning his home resulting in disorder.  The story progresses to the climatic point of Telepinus becoming even more enraged and effecting more disorder.  From this point Telepinus is appeased and he returns to his home to restore order.  In this story, order and disorder within the immanent, within the earthly, are contingent upon the presence and absence, and the favor or anger of the deity.

 The second witness to the function of the cosmic center as that point through which an encounter is experienced is the ANE use of symbol.  This is testified to in a number of ways, by means of a number of different symbols.  As discussed earlier, certain mountains were identified as “cosmic mountains” in so far as they were associated with the abode of a particular god or goddess.  Mount Zaphon was the home of Baal, and El also made his residence upon a particular mountain.  Likewise, YHWH makes his theophanic presence known upon Mount Sinai and Mount Zion in the sacred writings of the Hebrews. 

 The temple was another symbol that was associated with the divine presence within the earthly realm.  Inanna resided in her temple Eanna, which was in Uruk.  The glory cloud of YHWH rested in the holy of holies throughout the wilderness journey of the tabernacle, and in Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.  Another temple example would be the Mesopotamian ziqqurat, which has been understood to be the dwelling of a god or goddess.[12]

 One other symbol that is probably one of the best known is the statue, or idol.  Such carvings, sculptures, paintings, and other forms were “images” of a particular god or goddess.  These “images” were believed to be housed by the god or goddess that they imaged.  As such, they quite literally made present the transcendent reality that they referred to within the immanent.  The image became a reality, so that through the image one was able to encounter the divine presence.

 In conclusion, by identifying the cosmic center in ANE mythology with the door motif two aspects of the door have been discussed as to its relationship to the realms of both the transcendent and the immanent.  First, the character of the door in the ANE as the cosmic center denotes that it mediates, in a particular form, the realms of the immortal and the mortal forming a relational link between the two.  Secondly, the function of the door for the world of the ANE served to allow for inter-relation between these two realms.  As such, an actual encounter was realized, and one was truly able to experience the real presence of the other by passing through the door.  Presence was mediated by the door, and became a present reality through the door.


The Door in Lewis and MacDonald[13]

 In the literary worlds created by C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald there is always the common world where the story begins and it is characteristically quite dull, and then there is the fantastic world that is filled with wonder, beauty, and life.  In order for one to leave the one world and inter into the other passage through some type of door or portal is required.  But why is this passage through a door necessary in order to enter the other world?  Could not the other world simply be a part of this world located geographically in a particular place that we could merely get to by traveling?  But if so, could it truly be an other world?  Would it not simply be a different form, or extension of this world?  Would we really experience the presence of the fantastic, or would we rather be forever enclosed within the common?  Yet, because there is a door, there is an other world, and that passage into that world must take place through this particular vehicle.  As Uncle Andrew explains to Digory concerning the dust in the Atlantean box:

 every grain had once been in another world – I don’t mean another planet, you know; they’re part of our world and you could get to them if you went far enough – but a really Other World – another Nature – another universe – somewhere you would never reach even if you travelled through the space of this universe for ever and ever – a world that could be reached only by Magic – well!

 Much like the views in the ANE, the worlds created by Lewis and MacDonald are separate and distinct.  Narnia is not a part of this world, but is its own world, its own reality.  As noted with the ANE, while there exists a space that separates these worlds there is yet relation between them.  The mediating point that connected the two worlds in the ANE was the cosmic center, which functioned as a door allowing inter-relation to take place between the mortal and immortal realms.  Likewise, in the literary worlds of Lewis and MacDonald there exists a particular object that serves to link the immanent earthly world with the transcendent world of fairy.  As such, this mediatorial object becomes a cosmic center.  Linking these literary worlds in Lewis and MacDonald, this object becomes a door that will allow the children into Narnia, or for Anodos, it is “the road into Fairy Land.”

 The Wardrobe

 We begin by asking what form does the door take in the literary worlds of Lewis and MacDonald? In George MacDonald’s Lilith the door is a mirror that Mr. Vane is led to by the raven and soon finds himself stepping closer and stumbling over the frame finding himself “in the open air, on a houseless heath!”  Without knowing it, he came through a door out, which, as Mr. Raven explains to him, is quite different from all the doors he had ever seen, which were doors in

 A second story of MacDonald’s, Phantastes, portrays the door into Fairy Land as a dream, or perhaps more accurately, sleep.  Anodos is promised that he will find the path into Fairy Land, which he seems to do so by passing into sleep.  When he awakens he either awakens in a dream, or sleep has somehow transferred him into Fairy Land.  Anodos awakens in his room, yet, the room is now alive.  The carpet is real grass, the bed frame becomes a network of tree branches, and a stream is flowing through his room from the wash basin.  At the end of the story, Anodos re-awakens on a hill overlooking his castle, and returns to his sisters who explain that he has been gone for 21 days and that on the day of his disappearance the floor of his room was flooded.  It seems that sleep had somehow served as a door that brought Anodos to “the road into Fairy Land.”

 Turning to Lewis, the door in The Great Divorce is revealed in the end to have been a dream.  We also witness the door as a dream in the first adventure of Alice in Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland.  Throughout the Chronicles of Narnia the door takes the form of rings in The Magician’s Nephew; a wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; a railway station where the children are called by magic from Susan’s horn, and a chasm door in Prince Caspian; a picture in The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’; a gate in The Silver Chair; and a train wreck in The Last Battle.  There is also another door in The Last Battle that is on top of Stable hill.  The stable door becomes a passage way for those who will that goes “further up and further in.” 

 Noting the different forms that the door takes in the literary worlds of Lewis and MacDonald, the fact that these doors serve to link two worlds that are completely independent and not part of the other is readily apparent.  One example of this is witnessed at the end of Prince Caspian when “Aslan had caused to be set up two stakes of wood, higher than a man’s head and about three feet apart.  A third, and lighter, piece of wood was bound across them at the top, uniting them, so that the whole thing looked like a doorway from nowhere into nowhere.”  As this is done Aslan informs the Telmarines that they are really from another place, and do not really belong to Narnia at all.  He explains to them how in that other world (not Narnia) a group of pirates

 were put to flight by the rest and fled with their women into the centre of the island and up a mountain and went, as they thought, into a cave to hide.  But it was one of the magical places of that world, one of the chinks or chasms between worlds in old times, but they have grown rarer.  This was one of the last: I do not say the last.  And so they fell, or rose, or blundered, or dropped right through, and found themselves in this world, in the Land of Telmar which was then unpeopled.

 Aslan asks the Telmarines which of them wishes to return to the world from which they originally came by passing through this doorway “from nowhere into nowhere.”  But he warns them “that once you have gone through, it will close behind you for ever.  There will be no more commerce between the worlds by that door.” 

 Lewis beautifully displays both how the door takes on a particular form and how it serves to link two completely separate worlds thereby establishing a relation between them.  Another interesting point in reference to the door in that other world is that the door is associated with and located on a mountain.  As we have seen with the ANE, particular mountains served as common points of relation between two worlds or realities, and were thereby identified as cosmic centers.  The mountain as a door also appears at the end of The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’ where “eastward, beyond the sun – was a range of mountains.”  As the children look at these mountains they realize that “they were seeing beyond the End of the World into Aslan’s country.”  It was then that the mouse Reepicheep comes tho the end of his journey and leaves Narnia forever when he ascends the mountains alone into Aslan’s country.

 Like the ANE, the door in the worlds of Lewis and MacDonald takes on a particular form and mediates two separate and distinct realities establishing a link between the two. Both of these authors portray the door not only as an object relating two worlds, but also as allowing inter-relation between the two worlds to take place by means of passing through the door whereby one may truly encounter the other.  The only way to get into Narnia, into Aslan’s country, or back into the common world is through a designated door of one kind or another.

 Strange worlds

 Upon returning to his library by fleeing through a door in the darkness, Mr. Vane asks himself:

 Had I come to myself out of a vision?-or lost myself by going back to one?  Which was the real-what I now saw, or what I had just ceased to see?  Could both be real, inter-penetrating yet unmingling?

 As we have been discovering, the door serves not only as a link relating two distinct realities, but it also functions as a bridge allowing for inter-relation between one world and another.  They are completely separate and completely distinct, yet, inter-relate with one another.  MacDonald’s character, Mr. Vane, in Lilith discloses this point as he ponders “could both be real, inter-penetrating yet unmingling?” 

 The answer, of course, is yes.  Both are real and the one is neither part of nor an extension of the other.  The particularities of these two worlds are maintained, yet they may inter-penetrate or inter-relate with one another without robbing or destroying the other of its otherness.  This is witnessed as we observe the characters in these worlds passing through a door out of the common world and into the world of fairy.  As this is done what one will normally encounter is the presence of supernal beauty, the fantastic, raw life.  However, it is possible for someone to actually encounter the absence of life (i.e., death).  But one discovers that the presence of life is constituted by the dynamic activity of inter-relation, of inter-penetration, and that its absence is marked by the presence of self which blinds one from beholding the other. 

 Throughout the Narnian Chronicles Lewis describes the other world, the fantastic world as one that is full of life.  When Digory came to the “wood between the worlds” he remarked that “this wood was very much alive.”  Later, when Aslan begins to sing, the world of Narnia slowly comes into existence.  After he is finished, Aslan speaks: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake.  Love.  Think.  Speak.  Be walking trees.  Be talking beasts.  Be divine waters.”  Narnia is a world full of life.  In fact, Lewis describes how in Narnia one receives a new strength that will transform a child into a Queen or a King.  In The Last Battle as everyone is going “further up and further in” leaving Narnia behind, they discover that they are still in Narnia; it is the same, yet different, much like when Anodos awakens in what appears to be his room, and yet, not his room.  Edmund cries,

 ‘Look, there’s Mount Pire with his forked head, and there’s the pass into Archenland and everything!’

‘And yet they’re not like,’ said Lucy.  ‘They’re different.  They have more colours on them and they look further away than I remembered and they’re more. . . more. . . oh, I don’t know. . .’

‘more like the real thing,’ said the Lord Digory softly.

 In The Great Divorce, Lewis describes how upon landing in this strange new place the passengers of the omnibus were transparent and “were in fact ghosts: man-shaped stains on the brightness of that air.”  Then Lewis discovers that it was not the nature of the people that had changed, but that the new world where they found themselves was “much solider” than the common world.

 Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focussing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round.  The men were as they always had been; as all the men I had known had been perhaps.  It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison.

 The life of Fairy Land is presented by MacDonald in Phantastes as Anodos’ room “comes to life.”  Anodos awakes to the sound of running water that he observes to be flowing from his wash basin through the room.  He notices that his carpet is in fact grass, and that daisies are waving to the motions of a gentle breeze.  Then he watches as his dresser comes to life:

 My dressing-table was an old-fashioned piece of furniture of black oak, with drawers all down the front.  These were elaborately carved in foliage, of which ivy formed the chief part.  The nearer end of this table remained just as it had been, but on the further end a singular change had commenced.  I happened to fix my eye on a little cluster of ivy-leaves.  The first of these was evidently the work of the carver; the next looked curious; the third was unmistakably ivy; and just beyond it a tendril of clematis had twined itself about the gilt handle of one of the drawers. 

 The worlds of Fairy Land and of Narnia are indeed worlds full of wonder, beauty, and life.  They are worlds that transcend the common, or immanent, world of humanity where one is impressed with the overwhelming presence of life.  But it is a life that one can only partake in and encounter by means of relationship.  One is able to encounter the other because she believes that it is.  The only things that restrict one who passes through the door from encountering the other are unbelief and the sole attention to self (selfishness).  Such conditions prohibit one from beholding the presence of the other.  The Dwarfs in The Last Battle refused to look beyond their own self-ish image.  “They have chosen cunning instead of belief.  Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”  Mr. Vane from Lilith reflects:

 What a hell of horror, I thought, to wander alone, a bare existence never going out of itself, never widening its life in another life, but, bound with the cords of its poor peculiarities, lying an eternal prisoner in the dungeon of its own being!


The Door and the Imagination

 All that we have seen and heard and known in this reality bears the presence of death, of mortality.  However, the Hebrew prophets speak of an eschatological reality that breaks free from the immanent bonds of mortality.  Likewise, the NT writers point to this same vision of the future.  When the apostle Paul speaks of the future promises of God, of God’s eschatological kingdom, he speaks of it in terms that transcend this mortal reality.  This future reality is beyond what we know, beyond what we see, and beyond what we hear.  In the Apocalypse, the apostle John describes it as a world where death is no longer present, where pain, sorrow and sickness are no more.

 In spite of historic suspicion concerning the imagination,[14] it is the unique ability of the imagination to break out of the known and into the unknown, out of the common and into the fantastic.  Through the activity of the imagination “we seek to transcend the boundaries of the present, to go beyond the given, outwards and forwards, in search of something more, something better, than the given affords us.”[15]  However, it does not do so apart from principles that govern its creative activity to present these transcendent possibilities.  The imagination is rooted within the immanent and must therefore work from what is given.[16]  But its creative ability seeks to rearrange or reorganize the given patterns within the immanent in order to present a “counter-factuality with respect to or contra-diction of the given.”[17]  “From the world we know, we produce a vision of the world we want to build.  The imagination uses the familiar to create the unfamiliar.”[18]  It seeks for what may possibly be, it seeks to imagine something other than what is.  It seeks the immortal presence of life.

 Embedded within this discussion of the imagination are two concepts that we must seek to clarify.  The first is the means by which the imaginative is connected to an other reality or world.  The focus here is the vehicle, the object of mediation that the imagination assumes in forming a link between two separate and distinct realities.  In other words, we discover the mediatorial role of the imagination as it serves to link two distinct realities by assuming a particular form, according to which one may identify the imagination as a door. 

 The second concept to clarify is the relation of the imagination to the real.  As we have seen, there is a mortal drive toward immortality.  This drive is not toward the absence of life, but toward “real presences.”  Humanity desires the fantastic qualities of immortal life – that which we have not seen, heard, or even known.  We discover that the activity of the imagination is a movement toward the beautiful, toward life, toward presence.  It as a drive toward definition – not in the static sense of mortal inactivity, but in the dynamic sense of immortal life.

 Character of the Imagination

 Worlds like Narnia and Fairy Land have a familiarity about them, and yet, they are also quite different than the world we all know.  They present a believable reality bearing the presence of the extra-ordinary, yet, they are not so extra-ordinary that they become completely unbelievable.  How this is accomplished – or better, why this is so -is rooted in the activity of the imagination and its ability to bridge the two worlds of the common and the fantastic.  While the imagination is capable of reaching heaven, it is still grounded to earth.  The imagination works from the given reality that surrounds it to a possible reality that stands before or beyond it.  Therefore, the fantastic worlds created by the imagination are distinct from the common world, and yet, bear a resemblance to it.  The author, character(s), and reader must use the imagination in order not only to present but also to relate the two realities of the fantastic and the common. 

 In order for the worlds of Narnia and Fairy Land to be truly fantastic, and yet, still believable, the author must engage upon the creative imagination.  It is by the imagination that the author is able to break free from this world and into another world that transcends this one.  The author is able to imaginatively visualize that world the eye has not seen, ear heard, or been known; a world of fantastic possibilities where the overwhelming presence of life is not only seen but also felt.  Initially, it is the author’s imagination that forms this bridge to the other, relating the two worlds of the common and the fantastic.  The character(s) and reader will have to share in the author’s imagination if they are to get to Fairy Land.  But eventually, they too will have to engage their own imaginations in order to span the space between the common and the fantastic. 

 Though it may not always take on the form of a particular door (e.g., Tolkien’s Middle Earth),[19] in the writings we have witnessed the creative imagination assumes a substantive form that becomes a portal from one world to another.  These portals or doors are symbolic representations of the author’s imagination.  In other words, what I am suggesting is that the door in the writings of Lewis and MacDonald represent in material form the creative imagination.  The imagination is incarnated into a particular form and is presented as a door between worlds.  As such, the creative imagination inhabits the characteristics that we have looked at in our study of the cosmic door. 

 Turning to the character(s) within a story, they must somehow traverse across the space that separates the common from the fantastic.  Somehow Anodos, Mr. Vane, and the children must get into Fairy Land or Narnia.  They cannot simply travel long enough and far enough to get there.  The only way into Fairy Land or Narnia is by a door, and they must go through the wardrobe, the mirror, etc. . .  In a way, they must go through the author’s imagination.  They must momentarily suspend disbelief and self-ish knowledge, and turn to the other.  Initially, they must partake in the author’s imagination and open the door.  They must recognize and accept the door as a bridge into the fantastic, or at least, out of the common. 

 Likewise, the reader must also suspend disbelief and self-ish knowledge in order to recognize the door as an incarnate form of the author’s imagination.  As readers, we must accept what is presented to us, what is given to us by the author’s imagination if we are to see, hear, or know the fantastic.  And in the case of Lewis and MacDonald, the imagination that forms the bridge out of the common and into the fantastic is presented to us in the form of a door.  Only as the reader partakes in the author’s imagination will she proceed through the door, through the author’s imagination, and enter Fairy Land or Narnia.  The reader can read about these worlds, but unless she partakes in the author’s imagination she forever looks at these worlds from a distance as an outsider and never actually beholds them from within.

 Nevertheless, for both the reader and the character(s) it is not enough to piggyback upon the author’s imagination.  Eventually they must exercise their own imaginations as well.  If one attempts to bypass the door they will never actually enter these fantastic worlds.  By going through the door, one momentarily suspends disbelief trusting that the door leads somewhere or that something lies on the other side if it.  To partake in the imagination of the author, one must do so imaginatively, hoping that what lies on the other side of the door is something other than what is presently being offered.  This imaginative hope drives one to open the door, to allow the other to speak, to receive what the imagination of the author may present, to bridge the common and the fantastic. Thus, the imagination serves as the door linking two separate and distinct worlds filling the space that separates the common from the fantastic.  But it also serves to empower us to proceed through the door in order to encounter the other.  It does not just allow the other to speak, but allows us to see, hear, and know the other. 

 Activity of the Imagination

 What happens if the imagination is not used and if the character(s) and reader do not participate in the imagination of the author is that they either never enter these fantastic worlds, or they never truly see, hear, or know them.  With the former they only come up to the wardrobe, but never take a step further, refusing to accept the possibility for realities beyond what they know.  They remain within the immanent and thereby suffer mortality.  Though they live, they never taste the fullness of life, or of what life can be in the absence of death.  They never partake in what can be, but remain within what is.  Such a reality is fixed and static not dynamic and active.  It does not move forward and toward transcendent realities, but forever abides in the confined realities of the immanent.  Such immanent life knows only what the eye sees and what the ear hears, and nothing more.

 With the latter they refuse to enter with “poetic faith.”[20]  They enter these fantastic worlds, but can not see them.  They can not believe them.  Uncle Andrew could only remark, “A most disagreeable place.  Completely uncivilized.”  All that Uncle Andrew could hear when the talking beasts spoke was what he perceived to be nonsense.  Eustace believed Narnia to be a game that his cousins had made up and considered himself too smart to reveal in such foolish nonsense.  He remained skeptical of this other world until he was turned into a dragon and could only shed this outer form by the claw of Aslan.  That is, Eustace refused to inhabit the other world and would not believe it until it inhabited him and he had no other choice but to believe it or to go insane.  Eustace is an example of one who attempts to impress what is known upon what is not known as an act that refuses to accept the other.  He attempts to force the common over the fantastic, but the fantastic is too large.  It is not until the fantastic breaks into the common that Eustace chooses to accept it.  These individuals entered Narnia critically, or even uninterestingly (non-critical), and do not accept the presence of the other, or even allow the other to speak.  The other does in fact speak, but they are deafened to its voice.  The common has blinded them from the brightness of the fantastic.

 If the author does not use the creative imagination, then the fantastic is never, and can never, truly be something other.  It becomes merely an extension of the author, or an invasion of the common into the fantastic.  As an author attempts to create the fantastic, they only impress the self onto it, and really only create a duplicate copy of the self.  The fantastic turns out to be only a basic image of the author.  It does not truly break free from what is known, from the common.  This weakened form of the fantastic becomes merely another form of the common that is deprived of genuine otherness. 

 These descriptions of what the imagination is not, of what takes place in the absence of the active imagination are nothing more than humanity taking the forbidden fruit and eating.  The mortal turning its back on the immortal (a fatal move), the self consuming the other.  As such, one refuses to receive what is given by the other choosing rather to take what the self desires; an action that ultimately denies the other and alienates the self.  In this case, one refuses to turn from what they know, and therefore, superimpose the common over and upon everything else – even what they do not know.  This consuming activity rejects any presence of that which is beyond and transcends the immanent.  By doing so, one leashes onto mortality severing themselves from immortality, they grasp what is inevitable and let go of what is possible. 

 This is why no one really creates the worlds of the fantastic; they only describe what already is, and what is given.  As such, these fantastic worlds are real imaginative possibilities, and not imaginary prescriptions of self-ish desires.  It requires the imagination to receive these possible realities, and it requires the imagination to then partake and encounter them.  In other words, to even allow for the possibility that such fantastic realities exist requires the use of the imagination.  But then, to actually engage or encounter these realities, to inter-act with them, to “inter-penetrate” and inter-relate with the other, likewise requires the use of the imagination.  The imagination is in this activity necessary in order for us to step outside of the common and into the fantastic; to travel across that bridge that links these two worlds.  Thus, the imagination takes a step beyond linking two distinct realities to allowing one to receive the presence of the other, the life of the other.  It moves us to a real encounter with the fantastic, with the beautiful, with presence.  


 The reality that this paper has attempted to draw attention to refers back to the words of the Hebrew sage Qohelet to enjoy life, to enjoy that which has been given to us.

 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; also, that every person who eats and drinks and experiences pleasure in all their toil, this is the gift of God. (3.12-13)

 Life is filled with beauty, and in fact, was made tov (good).  But if our eyes are focused on the mortal only we will never proceed beyond Genesis 3 and will forever abide in the absence of life.  How may we live within the mortal and yet taste of the immortal?  How can we experience the comic within the tragic?  How can we break out of the apparently endless cycle of mortality (Eccl 1.4)?  This is what the arts seek to address and what the imagination is capable of apprehending.  To the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years it was said that they were not yet given a heart to know, eyes to see, nor ears to hear (Dt 29.4).  For those of us, in Western “post-modern” culture, who have lost our sight of the beautiful, we may begin to see and hear anew by and through the vehicle of the imagination.  The beautiful is presented to us in literature, in art, and in music.  They invite us to participate, to take and eat that which is given, to see, hear, and partake imaginatively in the beauty of immortal glories.

 There are two practical points that this paper has attempted to lead us toward concerning the use of the imagination in our lives today.  First that the imagination enables us to envision a future shalom, a future reality that is beyond what we now see, hear, and know.  The imagination orients us toward a fantastic reality that has defeated death and is pregnant with life.  But it is not something that lies entirely in the future for which we can only await patiently for.  After we have imaginatively captured this vision of a future shalom, the imagination secondly empowers us to actualize that reality within this one.  It moves us to incarnate the future within the present, to encounter the presence of the future.  The imagination seeks to make a possible future a present reality, to transform what is into what can be.  The imagination enables us to capture a glance of the fantastic, and then to embody the fantastic within the common. 


[1] Related not in terms of a monistic ontology, but by an ontology of relatedness, which affirms the otherness of two realities so that they do not slip or fall into one another in which case they could only be different aspects of the same reality.  See John D. Zizioulas, Being As Communion, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press (New York: 1997).

[2] ANE refers to Ancient Near East.  All references to ANE literary material will be taken from James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Princeton University Press (New Jersey: 1969).

[3] Ibid., 14-15.

[4] ANET, Baal & Anath.

[5] Simo Parpola, The Assyrian Tree of Life, JNES 52/3 (1993), 167-68.

[6] Richard J. Clifford, The Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament, Harvard University Press (Cambridge: 1972), 6; “In the religions of the Ancient Near East, to characterize rather broadly, divine presence was sought not so much in a mystical inward searching of the soul but in symbolism where a relationship was established between the natural and supernatural worlds.”

[7] Ibid., 3.

[8] This phrase is from George Steiner, Real Presences, University of Chicago Press (Chicago: 1991).

[9] Clifford, 7.

[10] Richard J. Clifford, “The Hebrew Scriptures and the Theology of Creation” TS 46 (1985), 507-523.

[11] Emphasis and translation are mine.

[12] Clifford 1972, 21-22.

[13] All references will be made from C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, HarperCollins Publishers (New York: 2001); The Great Divorce, Simon & Schuster (New York: 1996); George MacDonald, Lilith, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids: 2000); Phantastes, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids: 2000).

[14] For recognizing this as a “cultural discomfort” see Kathleen R. Fischer, The Inner Rainbow, Paulist Press (Ramsey: 1983), 5-6.

[15] Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart, Hope against Hope, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids: 1999), 52.

[16] Ibid., 87; “imagination operates in a carefully regulated manner, moving within certain given limits and in accordance with known patterns.”

[17] Ibid., 85.

[18] Fischer, 27.  She continues by stating that “this is the most widely recognized meaning of the imagination, the power which creatively envisions new possibilities.”

[19] Actually, literary examples like Tolkien’s LOTR’s is itself a door, much like a musical composition, or work of art, or a piece of poetry, or even a particular film. 

[20] A phrase coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

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