Back of the North Wind

Discussions of theology, philosophy, religion and life inspired by the writings of George MacDonald (and perhaps others such as CS Lewis) posted by "recovering fundamentalists".

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I am a "recovering fundamentalist". The trick is to figure out how not to throw out the Baby with the bathwater. I learn through dialogue, and so invite commentary on my posts to Back of the North Wind.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Imaginary Friend (My Favorite Book, Part II)

My son announced yesterday that he has an Imaginary Friend. After discussing this with him for awhile, I began to think about some of what I'd been reading both from George MacDonald and also in the blogosphere, where someone was comparing God to an imaginary friend. [Update: It was Bill Maher, as quoted in the Thinklings Weblog.] In my favorite book, At the Back of the North Wind (for which this blog is named) there is a haunting passage towards the end, where little Diamond meets the beautiful wise woman, North Wind, after a long time apart. He's troubled by the thought that she might be only an imaginary friend:

"Please, dear North Wind," he said, "I am so happy that I'm afraid it's a dream. How am I to know that it's not a dream?"

"What does it matter?" returned North Wind.

"I should, cry" said Diamond.

"But why should you cry? The dream, if it is a dream, is a pleasant one -- is it not?"

"That's just why I want it to be true."

"Have you forgotten what you said to Nanny about her dream?"

"It's not for the dream itself -- I mean, it's not for the pleasure of it," answered Diamond, "for I have that, whether it be a dream or not; it's for you, North Wind; I can't bear to find it a dream, because then I should lose you. You would be nobody then, and I could not bear that. You ain't a dream, are you, dear North Wind? Do say No, else I shall cry, and come awake, and you'll be gone for ever. I daren't dream about you once again if you ain't anybody."

"I'm either not a dream, or there's something better that's not a dream, Diamond," said North Wind, in a rather sorrowful tone, he thought.

"But it's not something better -- it's you I want, North Wind," he persisted, already beginning to cry a little.

CS Lewis describes this longing in both Surprised by Joy and A Pilgrim's Regress. In Regress, Lewis' vision of the transcendent is a far off Island. The protagonist complains, when he learns that his search for the Island seems to be leading him to God and Christianity, that what he believes he is searching for is more of a place, not a person. Just as Diamond tells North Wind, "it's you I want, North Wind, not something better."

After more dialogue and a long pause, North Wind finally answers Diamond:

"I think," said she, after they had been sitting silent for a while, "that if I were only a dream, you would not have been able to love me so."

So that, not only is the Imaginary Friend, the Far-off Island, or any of the other inumerable forms that the Longing for Joy takes (for me it can be a mountain, a hiking trail, a sailboat), a symbol of something that is better, but there must be something real in the symbol that we will meet in the "something better".

And this dialogue with North Wind, this understanding of a longing for something that doesn't seem as first blush to be God, is another reason why At the Back of the North Wind is my favorite book.