Thursday, May 3, 2012

Out of the Mouth of C.S. Lewis

I must apologize for my inconsistency in posting this week! Due to a garage sale last weekend and company coming this weekend, things have been a bit nuts around here. I appreciate your patience and hope to be posting more frequently again next week! :)


I just finished rereading C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. I hadn't read them in, I don't know, probably 18 years? So the reviewing was long overdue, and very refreshing. At the back of my edition they included an essay of Lewis' entitled "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (which I found online for your reading pleasure here).

It was a great read, and just to expose you to some of the ideas Lewis included (so good!), I thought it would be fun to state a question, and then let Mr. Lewis answer by using an excerpt from the essay. If this doesn't make sense, hopefully it will by the time you've finished reading...

Question: Isn't reading fairy tales some sort of bizarre and unprofitable escapism? Wouldn't I benefit from reading something more realistic?

Mr. Lewis: No. "The dangerous fantasy (novel or story) is always superficially realistic. The real victim of wishful reverie does not batten on the Odyssey, The Tempest, or The Worm Ouroboros: he (or she) prefers stories about millionaires, irresistible beauties, posh hotels, palm beaches and bedroom scenes- things that really might happen, that ought to happen, that would have happened if the reader had had a fair chance. For, as I say, there are two kinds of longing. The one is askesis, a spiritual exercise, and the other is a disease."

Question: Shouldn't I protect my children by not allowing them to read stories with evil characters and plots that might frighten them?

Mr. Lewis: "I suffered too much from night-fears myself in childhood to undervalue this objection... none of my fears came from fairy tales...we must here make a distinction. Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean... that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil... (This) would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker... Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel."

Question: As a writer, should I purposefully seek to include a moral in my stories?

Mr. Lewis: No. "Not because I don't like stories to have a moral: certainly not because I think children (or any other audience) dislike a moral. Rather because I feel sure that the question "What do modern children (or audiences) need?" will not lead you to a good moral. If we ask that question we are assuming too superior an attitude. It would be better to ask, "What moral do I need?" for I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age...Let the pictures tell you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life... The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author's mind."

So there you have it! Out of the mouth of C.S. Lewis himself. What a brilliant mind, what a delight to learn from it.

Anyone have a favorite Lewis quote to share? Because that would just be delightful!

1 comment:

  1. There are too many wonderful quotes from CS Lewis. "Mere Christianity" is on my to-be-read-list.

    I find both Lewis and Tolkien, as well as their lives, to be absolutely fascinating

    ReplyDelete

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