The Contrast of Reality and Appearance
When I was taken to the theatre as a small boy what interested me most of all was the stage scenery. [...] I knew very well that the scenery was painted canvas; that the stage rooms and stage trees, seen from behind, would not look like rooms or trees at all. That was where the interest lay. That was the fascination of our toy theatre at home, where we made our own scenery. You cut out your piece of cardboard in the shape of a tower and you painted it, and then you gummed an ordinary nursery block on to the back to make it stand upright. The rapture was to dart to and fro. You went in front and there was your tower. You went behind and there--raw, brown cardboard and a block.
In the real theatre you couldn't go "behind", but you knew it would be the same. The moment the actor vanished into the wings he entered a different world. One knew it was not a world of any particular beauty or wonder; somebody must have told me--at any rate I believed--it would be a rather dingy world of bare floors and whitewashed walls. The charm lay in the idea of being able thus to pass in and out of a world by taking three strides.
[...]All sorts of things are, in fact, doing just what the actor does, when he comes through the wings. Photons or waves (or whatever it is) come towards us from the sun through space. They are, in a scientific sense, 'light'. But as they enter the air they become 'light' in a different sense: what ordinary people call sunlight or day, the bubble of blue or grey or greenish luminosity in which we walk about and see. Day is thus a kind of stage set.
[...]We can call this the contrast of Reality and Appearance. But perhaps the fact of having first met it in the theatre will protect us from the threat of derogation which lurks in the word Appearance. For in the theatre of course the play, the 'appearance', is the thing. All the backstage 'realities' exist only for its sake and are valuable only in so far as they promote it.
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Behind the Scenes" (1970)
On this day:
1956 C.S. Lewis's essay "Behind the Scenes" is first published Time and Tide.