Happy Birthday, C.S. Lewis. And Thank You
C.S. Lewis once said you can make anything by writing. And he did – to the delights of generations of young readers. More than 60 years after the publication of The Chronicles of Narnia, the seven-book series is still going strong. Over a hundred million copies – in 47 different languages – have been sold worldwide.
The prescient Lewis – born 120 years ago on this day – was a master of one of today’s hottest literary genres – young adult fiction. Before Harry Potter, The Book Thief and other popular YA novels earned their place in the hearts of not-so-young-adult readers, Lewis had ascended the throne of cross-generational literature.
A master storyteller, Lewis understood that the best tales have no expiration date. As the author himself said, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” While he may have had a childlike imagination, the products of his fantasy were meant for a far broader audience. “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”
It is hard to imagine my childhood without the stories of C.S. Lewis. He sucked me into the magic of Narnia as soon as the Pevensies opened that wardrobe door. It wasn’t until much later that I realized Lewis is revered as more than just a storyteller. He has ascended to the philosopher’s pedestal, and his words on friendship, faith, grief and other lofty topics remain inspirational more than a half-century after his death.
On Friendship: “What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.”
On Grief: “Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”
On Love: “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.”
On Courage: “Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do.”
On Fairy Tales: “Since it is so likely that (children) 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.”
And for anyone who toils over the written word – from the freshman struggling through a writing seminar to the published author – Lewis’ musings on language and writing are on the money. He wrote: “to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's the whole art and joy of words.” And I can almost imagine him at a podium admonishing students: “Don't say it was delightful; make us say delightful when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers: Please will you do the job for me.”
There is no shortage of Lewis quotes to provide inspiration for any occasion – even if you don’t agree with everything he says. I, for example, diverge from his opinions about books. “I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once,” he wrote. Really? There are plenty of books I have loved – books that stay with me, but I never pick up again. I may read from a random page or two – but I just can’t reread from cover to cover.
Well, there is one exception to this rule: The Chronicles of Narnia. I reread all seven books aloud to my children. I crawled along with Lucy into Mr. Tumnus’ cozy burrow; I felt the sea spray on my face aboard the Dawn Treader; I wondered at the courage of Susan as she took up her bow and arrow. And Aslan? Damn. I almost named one of my kids after that lion.
“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger, Strike the bell and bide the danger, Or wonder, till it drives you mad, What would have followed if you had.”
What bedtime story – this one from The Magician’s Nephew – offers a better lesson for children? Go forth and prosper, dear ones. And remember: Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.