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Posts Tagged ‘C. S. Lewis’

18 MAY, 2012

C. S. Lewis on Why “School Stories” and Media Distortion Are a More Deceptive Fiction Than Fiction

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“Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines.”

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t,” Mark Twain reflected on the osmotic balance of truth and fiction, which has long fascinated famous authors.

In An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis — he of great insight on the motives of duty and the secret of gaiety — articulates with extraordinary astuteness the counter-intuitive truth about fact vs. fiction, increasingly timely in today’s opinion culture where we need, more than ever, the critical thinking necessary for teasing apart agenda and opinion from truth.

No one can deceive you unless he makes you think he is telling the truth. The unblushingly romantic has far less power to deceive than the apparently realistic. Admitted fantasy is precisely the kind of Literature which never deceives at all. Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories*. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines. None of us are deceived by the Odyssey, the Kalevala, Beowulf, or Malory. The real danger lurks in sober-faced novels where all appears to be very probable but all is in fact contrived to put across some social or ethical or religious or anti-religious ‘comment on life’ … To be sure, no novel will deceive the best type of reader. He never mistakes art either for life or for philosophy. He can enter, while he reads, into each author’s point of view without either accepting or rejecting it, suspending when necessary his disbelief and (what is harder) his belief.

* See Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality, which seeks to teach children how to fight myth with science.

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19 APRIL, 2012

C. S. Lewis on the Secret of Happiness

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‘A good toe-nail is not an unsuccessful attempt at a hair.’

Though a slim collection, C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children shines with the enormity of Lewis’s compassion and wisdom in responding to fan mail from his young readers, often imbuing his correspondence with a kind of subtle but profound advice on life, delivered unassumingly but full of wholehearted conviction.

Adding to his insight on duty and “the three things anyone need ever do” is this beautiful response to a boy named Hugh, who asked for a definition of “gaiety,” in a letter dated April 5, 1961.

A creature can never be a perfect being, but may be a perfect creature — e.g. a good angel or a good apple-tree. Gaiety at its highest may be an (intellectual) creature’s delighted recognition that its imperfection as a being may constitute part of its perfection as an element in the whole hierarchical order of creation. I mean, while it is a pity there sh[oul]d be bad men or bad dogs, part of the excellence of a good man is that he is not an angel, and of a good dog that it is not a man. This is the extension of what St. Paul says about the body & the members. A good toe-nail is not an unsuccessful attempt at a hair; and if it were conscious it w[oul]d delight in being simply a good toe-nail.

Half a century later, researcher-storyteller Brené Brown articulated a similar sentiment, making an eloquent case for the gifts of imperfection, and Alain de Botton cautioned us that these ideals we contort so hard to conform to may not even be our own. Perhaps at the end of the day “gaiety” is simply the ability to be our own imperfect being and fully inhabit its beingness.

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10 APRIL, 2012

C. S. Lewis’s Advice to Children on Duty and the Three Kinds of Things Anyone Need Ever Do

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“Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs can do the journey on their own!”

As if one needed another reason to have a soft spot for beloved writer C. S. Lewis: He received many fan letters from children, mostly after the publication of The Chronicles of Narnia, and answered many of them. In fact, he didn’t just answer them; his correspondence with young readers, collected in C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children, was full of tremendous generosity, compassion, and wholeheartedness — and subtle, timeless wisdom.

In a letter to a girl named Sarah, dated April 3, 1949, Lewis writes:

Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we’ve got to do (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them. Things you ought to do are things like doing one’s school work or being nice to people. Things one has got to do are things like dressing and undressing, or household shopping. Things one likes doing — but of course I don’t know what you like. Perhaps you’ll write and tell me one day.

Nearly a decade later, in a letter dated July 18, 1957, Lewis revisit the subject of duty’s false deities with another little girl, Joan:

A perfect man wd. never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (or own loves, tastes, habits etc) can do the journey on their own!

(It must be the week for sage advice to little girls from cultural icons.)

This caution against duty eclipsing your authentic drives is a fine addition to the discussion of how to find your purpose and do what you love.

Also in C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children you’ll find Lewis’s 5 tips on writing, originally intended for little ones, but surprisingly useful — needed, even — reminders for any grown-up writer.

Letters of Note

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