Unlocking the Low Door: Learning to Love Allegory

Unlocking the Low Door: Learning to Love Allegory

by Lindsey Brigham

An excerpt from: https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/unlocking-low-door-learning-love-allegory


If anything defined my childhood summers, it was The Play. Every summer, my family would migrate from South to Midwest, trading the scent of summer-heated slash pine for that of fresh-mown prairie; every summer, my siblings and the cousins we’d come to visit would bask in being reunited for a few precious weeks after a year’s worth of letters and phone calls; and every summer, we’d take up again the most solemn labor of finishing our inspired magnum opus, the project that demanded each of our skills and all our concentration, the Holy Grail which we grew up without ever actually completing—our literary and cinematic masterwork.

We laugh now: the filming of our production, completed piecemeal, has strange jumps in which characters’ voices and heights change without any comment or explanation, while its plot sounds, at various points, suspiciously like Narnia or Redwall or Lord of the Rings or Dante or whatever other story had captured our maturing imaginations. It was supposed to be a medievalesque allegorical fantasy in which magical gifts wielded the powers of the Pauline armor of God. But even as we laugh, we remember how we were swept away by the magic of our own storytelling, and by the depths we thought we sounded in our very sincere and very obvious allegory.

We had somehow escaped a literary prejudice that seems to plague modern readers, including modern students: a tendency to dismiss allegory as stiff and simplistic (though I suspect that children find it appealing until they learn better). What kills a love of allegory? Perhaps it is our literary education’s fixation on mining meaning from the text, leading us to think that only obscure meanings are valid, or perhaps it is the filtering-down of modern literary theorists’ preference for reader-constructed meanings. But, tellingly, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress no longer holds its place on the bookshelf next to the family Bible, and Spenser’s Faerie Queene is studied by scholars instead of being discovered by schoolchildren.

But if C.S. Lewis was right and the best teachers are dinosaurs, and if the Church is right and the best way to pursue holiness is to imitate fathers in the faith, then we need to re-learn a love of allegory. For allegory was loved by the Christians who wrote the books we teach and nurtured the faith we have inherited. And though we view it as but a low door, it can open upon wonders.


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