Perhaps my favorite time of the day is right before the boys’ bedtime. That is when I read stories to them. Just this week we finished reading “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. It is one of my all-time favorite books. One of the great advantages of being able to re-read (and read aloud) books like this is that the timeless truths that are there get absorbed deeper into the bones. Things that I might have missed in previous readings come alive for the first time. What follows is one such experience. Perhaps the most vital hinge of the plot of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the transformation of Eustace on Dragon Island. On this island, Eustace encounters a dragon and watches its last few moments before it expires. He takes refuge in the dragon’s lair, falling asleep on its hoard of treasure. Sleeping on the dragon’s hoard while thinking greedy thoughts changes Eustace into a dragon. The experience of being a dragon helps Eustace realize what an all-around nuisance he has been throughout the voyage. Through this experience and being “un-dragoned” by Aslan himself, he “begins to be a different boy”, and a much better one at that. But what stood out to me was his initial encounter with the old dragon. He doesn’t recognize the dragon. That is to say, he doesn’t recognize the creature as a dragon. In fact, he doesn’t even know what a dragon is. Even after he is changed into a dragon, he doesn’t recognize that he is a dragon until the rest of his companions from the Dawn Treader identify him as such. The reason he can’t identify a dragon is that he “had read none of the right kinds of books”. He knows nothing of knights, adventures, dragons and battles. He likes the kinds of books that are “filled with facts and have pictures of grain elevators”. He has no imagination. He lives in a world that consists only of empirical facts. Anything that is not observable, modern or useful is “rot”. He is thoroughly modern. It is telling that one of the features of the modern is the inability to identify a dragon. In fact one of the notable features of the modern world is the persistent slowness of recognizing evil. It is also interesting that little boys who don’t know what dragons are can end up becoming dragons themselves. So how do I train my boys (and myself) to recognize dragons. According to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the answer is pretty simple – reading the right kind of books.
What are the right kinds of books? Books that engage the heart as much as they do the head. Books that teach virtue without being “teachy” (Yes I know that isn’t a real word). Books that create worlds that we would want to live in. These awaken something within us. Something beyond just the story itself, but deeper and eternal. Beauty, truth, goodness. We are shaped by the stories we read, the stories we tell and are told, the stories we see and listen to. What kind of stories are shaping you and me? Can we recognize a dragon when we see one?