George MacDonald speaks of the true essence of a meaningful fairytale in his classic essay, “The Fantastic Imagination”:
[A fairytale] cannot help having some meaning; if it have proportion and harmony it has vitality, and vitality is truth. The beauty may be plainer in it than the truth, but without the truth the beauty could not be, and the fairytale would give no delight. Everyone, however, who feels the story will read its meaning after his own nature and development: one man will read one meaning in it, another will read another… A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean.
MacDonald argues that truth, consciously or unconsciously intended by the author, lies at the heart of any great work of art. The greater the art, the more truths it embodies and the myriad of ways it can be read and understood by its readers. A work of great art matched with a reader who is willing to surrender to that art, to let it “do its work” on him, is what produces the experience under examination here: one of awe, wonder, and transformation that happens between reader and text. Lewis describes this experience as a contrast between a reader asking “Will the hero escape?” and “I [the reader] shall never escape this. This will never escape me. These images have struck roots far below the surface of my mind.” 
The last aspect to examine is what happens to the reader when he re-enters the Primary World after experiencing the transformative power of the story. Again, just like the mystery of how reader and text relate, the response to the text may be varied. What is almost certain, if he is an honest reader, is that he will look at the world with fresh eyes, and want to share what he has found with others. The best and truest stories cause readers to, in the words of Frodo Baggins, “love their beloved land all the more.” Tolkien calls this phenomenon “recovery” in which we as readers are now “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them.” 
Lewis gives a concrete example of recovery here:
The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the ‘veil of familiarity’. The child enjoys his cold meat (otherwise dull to him) by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savoury for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat. By putting [elements of reality] into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves. … By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly.
And so those readers who see the world anew after dipping it in story act as excited men stumbling from the dark cave of Plato’s allegory into the sunlight of Reality. The remaining prisoners think the escapees are insane. The readers tug on the chains of the other prisoners and point to the book responsible for their release saying: “Take this and read. Here is light and life.” But the magic does not work the same way on everyone, and the mysterious combinations of reader, text, and author’s craft cannot be defined by any scientific equation.
Has a story revealed sunlight to you? Try surrendering yourself to the next one you read and see what happens.
Further Reading on the Power of Story:
Chesterton, G.K. “The Ethics of Elfland.” Orthodoxy. New York: Doubleday, 1990, pp. 42-63.
Lewis, C.S. An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.
—. “Christianity and Literature,” “On the Reading of Old Books,” “On Science Fiction,” “Different Tastes in Literature,” “On Stories,” “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said.” Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces. Ed. Lesley Walmsley. London: HarperCollins, 2000, pp. 411-420, 438-443, 450-460, 466-471, 491-504, and 526-528.
MacDonald, George. “The Imagination: Its Functions and Its Culture” and “The Fantastic Imagination.” The Heart of George MacDonald. Ed. Rolland Hein. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1994, pp. 416-428.
Tolkien, J.R.R. “On Fairy-Stories.” The Tolkien Reader. New York: Ballantine Books, 1966, pp. 33-99.
 MacDonald, George. “The Fantastic Imagination.” The Heart of George MacDonald. Ed. Rolland Hein. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1994, p. 425.
 Lewis, C.S. “On Myth.” An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969, pp. 48-49.
 Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993, p. 345.
 Tolkien, J.R.R. “On Fairy-Stories.” The Tolkien Reader. New York: Ballantine Books, 1966, p. 77.
 While I’ve tried to avoid using the term “myth” as it can cause confusion for some people, it has snuck in with a few quotes. For those unfamiliar with Lewis’s use of the term, I recommend reading his essay “On Myth,” which is quoted in this piece and cited in the additional works at the end. You may safely, in this context, substitute the word “story” for “myth” and come to the intended understanding.
 Lewis, C.S. “The Dethronement of Power.” Time and Tide, October 22, 1955.