C.S. Lewis on Children’s Stories for Adults

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Every Christian writer and preacher is required to use a C.S. Lewis quote at least once a year or else risk losing communication privileges completely. It’s an unwritten, but fastly abided by, rule. Most go straight for the “muddies in a slum” or “no mere mortal” quotes. They’re great. But what follows are some of the best from Lewis’s book On Stories and Other Essaysparticularly his essay “On Writing for Children.” So much goodness here.

On whether children’s stories are “juvenile”

“I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz.”

“Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of merely as a descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves.”

“When I became a man, I put away childish things, including my fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

On the dangers, or lack thereof, of “unrealistic” stories

“I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like any fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories.”

“It would be far truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

On whether it is harmful to read children stories of danger

“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.”

“I think it is possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors [your child feels], and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable.”

*Soviet security which arrested, tortured and killed

On writing to children not as lesser beings

“We must meet children as equals in that area of our nature where we are equals. Our superiority consists partly of in commanding other areas, and partly (which is more relevant) in the fact that we are better at telling stories than they are. The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we must talk to him as man to man. But the worst attitude of all would be the professional attitude which regards children in the lump as a sort of raw material which we have to handle.”

It is thoughts like these that inspire me to write and keep me diving deep into stories. I feel the truth of them more heavily and more certainly now as a father and a grown up than ever before. There is power in stories, so let us feed them to our children. But only the good ones of course.