The Book Meme Challenge: Your favorite writer
There’s now a kneejerk inclination to protest that decisions are always so difficult to make and favorites are so hard to pick for this meme business.
But first, a few numbers:
Number of books by this author in my library: 33
Number of classes in which I’ve studied him: 1.58*
Number of times his work has already appeared in the meme challenge: 2
Of course these numbers tell very little of the story, but they do convince me that I couldn’t possibly discuss anyone here except C.S. Lewis.
What do I love about Lewis?
I love that he wrote such various sorts of work: poetry, short stories, essays, novels, allegories, scholarly work, literary criticism, myth, word studies, and letters (which others have been so good as to edit and publish). Each book of his oeuvre is distinct, yet through them all runs the thread of Jack’s matter-of-fact prose – whether he is examining the medieval model of the universe, Spencer, fairy stories, or the Psalms. Oddly, I feel like Sayers described how I respond to his writing:
…everybody was very decent to you, and nobody said anything you couldn’t understand, or sneered at you. There were some frightfully deep-looking books on the shelves all round, and you had looked into a great folio Dante which was lying on the table, but your hosts were talking quite ordinarily and rationally about the sort of books you read yourself—clinking good love stories and detective stories. You had read a lot of those, and could give an opinion, and they listened to what you had to say…
Is this not charity operating in scholasticism? I reckon it is. However, it seems to me that many accuse Lewis of being simplistic, or of didacticism: that pejorative employed by those who require that truth be carefully wrapped round lest someone comprehend it. Sometimes this may be necessary (Moses met with it a fair few times), but Lewis’s style (in my estimation) reveals in its manner of concealment, like a well-draped article of clothing. For that matter, what does this accusation mean? At this point, it indicates that the moral or political message has surmounted aesthetic considerations (a charge which shall be answered shortly) – but whence comes the word? It is from the Greek διδακτικός, that is, “apt at teaching; instructive.” And apt he is! He is no monotone lecturer reading out an unending stream of facts, but an engaging professor who educates by delight. If all didacticism were so elegant, I suppose no one would blame me for claiming to love the didactic. Who dislikes learning?
As for the charge of messages surpassing aesthetics in importance, I can only quote Lewis himself, from “Three Ways of Writing for Children”:
…I feel sure that the question ‘What do modern children 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. But it is better not to ask the question at all. 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. But if they don’t show you any moral, don’t put one in. For the moral you put in is likely to be a platitude, or even a falsehood, skimmed from the surface of your consciousness. It is impertinent to offer the children that. For we have been told on high authority that in the moral sphere they are probably at least as wise as we. Anyone who can write a children’s story without a moral, had better do so – that is, if he is going to write children’s stories at all. The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author’s mind.
And, whether it is curious or not, I often feel that when Lewis is not speaking for me (but much more beautifully) things which I’ve thought, he is speaking what I ought to have thought. Reading his books, whatever their subject, is like the swiftest, easiest grafting of a cutting onto a tree; then does that branch give new fruit to my habits of thought.
*That is, one 3-hour class was dedicated to him; one 1-hour class was spent where he lived and taught; and one audited class discussed him.