Setting: C.S. Lewis on Reality–“We Couldn’t Make it Up”

In the book Mere Christianity, Lewis reflects on the nature of reality:

Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. For instance, when you have grasped that the earth and the other planets go round the sun, you would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match–all at equal distances from each other…or distances that regularly increased…. In face, you find no rhyme or reason (that we can see) about either the sizes or the distances; and some of them have one moon, one has four,…and one has a ring.

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. This is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up.

I Should Feel We Were Making It Up

This principle applies not just to Christian apologetics, but to fiction writing as well. (Isn’t it interesting to note that Lewis was also a fiction writer, a literature professor, and medieval literature specialist.)

If the setting in our stories is too simple, too predictable, readers will feel like we’re just making it all up (which, of course, we are) rather than experience being swept up in the fictional dream.

Feel Real

For our fiction’s settings to feel real, they need to be complex, to contain variations–twists, surprises, imperfections, and to make even contemporary settings highly individual, particular, even a bit peculiar in their specificity

Your Turn

In the comment space below, please share the title and author of a work you read recently in which the author made the setting feel real. What was it that made it seem like it “could not be made up.” Or, are you a writer? Feel free to share an excerpt from your work illustrating a “reality” rendered in a way that seems it “could not be made up.”

I look forward to hearing from you!




2 thoughts on “Setting: C.S. Lewis on Reality–“We Couldn’t Make it Up”

  1. What an interesting post! I do agree that complex, unpredictable worlds are much more fun to read about. I’ll try to apply the idea to two books I just finished reading this last week:

    I just finished reading “Wee Free Men” by Terry Pratchett. I really liked the world he created, where people barter for bits of education, and witches watch the borders and speak up for those who don’t have a voice, but spend most of their time doing something else. It was small details that made the setting seem real. The Nac Mac Feegle who break all the rules were quite surprising and added to the unpredictability of the complicated world.

    I finally read “Seven Wild Sisters”, the sequel to “The Cats of Tanglewood Forest”, by Charles De Lint. They are like appalachian fairy tales and feel familiar and unfamiliar. The fairy world is mixed into the regular world, but separate at the same time. It is hard to predict which of the fairy creatures will feel like helping and what they will decide to do next. Like “Wee Free Men”, the main characters don’t know the rules and learn them as they go. That adds to the real feeling, knowing that there rules, but not knowing what they are and what the exceptions might be.


    1. Wow! Great application of the principle in analysis of your reading material. I have not read and Charles De Lint yet. I have heard a lot of praise for his fantasies. Do they have contemporary or historical Appalachian settings?


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