This article is very interesting. It documents the twin pillars of Lewis' life, myth and allegory. I don't agree entirely with the article. In particular, this paragraph:
For poetry and fantasy aren’t stimulants to a deeper spiritual appetite; they are what we have to fill the appetite. The experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual, is... an experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual. To hope that the conveyance will turn out to bring another message, beyond itself, is the futile hope of the mystic. Fairy stories are not rich because they are true, and they lose none of their light because someone lit the candle. It is here that the atheist and the believer meet, exactly in the realm of made-up magic. Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes.
What I take from this is that the story experience is irreducible, is demonstrative knowledge like the inputs of the senses. This ignores a quality of stories: their propensity to come to life.
Good authors manage a curious trick. Whether it is creativity by randomness or subtle twinges of the subconscious, divine inspiration, the Muse, what have you, this effect is displayed when readers come up to an author whose work they have enjoyed, and ask if the story "really meant" X and Y and Z. The author reflects for a moment, and says, "Oh. Well, I suppose it did." And the trick is that it really did.
Human existence overflows with stories. We are story beings, naturally desiring to know. And that's not just Biblically or scientifically, it's knowing something inside out, divining whatever meaning envelops us constantly. Just as there is an infinity of sentences from a finity of words, there is an infinity of associations and meanings from a single sentence.
The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.
-- Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
In fact, we always think that our story has meaning. Without exception, we are the authors of our own stories, asking (if we are awake) what our life means and where we will go next. We have to take up the questions, even if we choose to lay them down and live in the moment, asking no more meanings from existence. If a close friend, knowing our life story, draws together the tapestry of actions and dreams to point out a recurrent thread, we do not retort (if we are honest) "That's not what I was doing at the time!" Instead, we say, "Oh. You know me better than I know myself." And the trick is that they really did. That's because we are more than newspaper articles.
The paragraph from the New Yorker that I quoted comes up to this point and draws back, where it says, "Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes." To see what I mean, just start rereading that sentence from "a narrow material world."
I am thus confused by the article's "this is the futile hope of the mystic", that the story means more than it says it does, that the aesthetic experience corresponds to something beyond itself. When language, human thought, and life itself are mystical, gainsaying the mystic is truly futile. The writer was not connecting the dots.
I take the Christian story as marvelous and true, where God has created a world invested with meaning. The article would have it that the question of Christianity's historicity does not speak to its richness for humanity: "Fairy stories are not rich because they are true, and they lose none of their light because someone lit the candle." On the contrary, marvelous things that are really true cut us differently than beautiful lies. I just talked about that, come to think of it.
More on these thoughts later. But read the article, it's well worth the time.
via Neil Gaiman.