rainbow sky over green hills

This post was originally published in September 2006.

Mostly for my own reference, I’m putting down some (to me1) significant quotes from other essays in the C.S. Lewis book.2

“The Novels of Charles William”

Good characters in fiction are the very devil. Not only because most authors have too little material to make them of, but because we as readers have a strong subconscious wish to find them incredible.

“On Three Ways of Writing for Children” 

It is much 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 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. This is a special kind of longing. The boy reading the school story of the type I have in mind desires success and is unhappy (once the book is over) because he can’t get it: the boy reading the fairy tale desires and is happy in the very fact of desiring. For his mind has not been concentrated on himself, as it often is in the more realistic story.

The dangerous fantasy is always superficially realistic. The real victim of wishful thinking 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 an akesis, a spiritual exercise, and the other is a disease.

(This idea of akesis is one that needs further looking into in relation to the value of the fantastic.)

“Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said”

The Fantastic or Mythical is a Mode available at all ages for some readers: for others, at none. At all ages, if it is well used by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.

“On Science Fiction”

We must not listen to Pope’s maxim about the proper study of mankind. The proper study of man is everything. The proper study of man as artist is everything which gives a foothold to the imagination and the passions.

Stories of the sort I am describing are like that visit to the deck. They cool us. They are as refreshing as that passage in E.M. Forster where the man, looking at the monkeys, realizes that most of the inhabitants of India do not care how India is governed. Hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of ‘escape.’ I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple questions, ‘What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers. The charge of Fascism is, to be sure, mere mud-flinging. Fascists, as well as Communists, are jailers; both would assure us that the proper study of prisoners is prison. But there is perhaps this truth behind it: that those who brood much on the remote past or future, or stare long at the night sky, are less likely than others to be ardent or orthodox partisans.

“…the proper study of prisoners is prison.” There are a few people of limited vision I wouldn’t mind saying that to.

If good novels are comments on life, good stories of this sort (which are very much rarer) are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience. Hence the difficulty of discussing them at all with those who refuse to be taken out of what they call ‘real life’ — which means, perhaps, the groove through some wider area of possible experience to which our senses and our biological, social, or economic interests usually confine — or, if taken, can see nothing outside it but aching boredom or sickening monstrosity.

It would seem from the reactions it produces, that the mythopoeic is rather, for good or ill, a mode of imagination which does something to us at a deep level. If some seem to go to it in almost compulsive need, others seem to be in terror of what they may meet there.

“A Reply to Professor Haldane”

I wanted to write about imaginary worlds. Now that the whole of our own planet has been explored other planets are the only place where you can put them.

“Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

This book is like lightning from a clear sky; as sharply different, as unpredictable in our age as Songs of Innocence were in theirs. To say that in it heroic romance, gorgeous, eloquent, and unashamed, has suddenly returned at a period almost pathological in its anti-romanticism is inadequate. To us, who live in that odd period, the return — and the sheer relief of it — is doubtless the important thing. But in the history of Romance itself — a history which stretches back to the Odyssey and beyond — it makes not a return but an advance or revolution: the conquest of new territory.

What shows that we are reading myth, not allegory, is that there are no pointers to a specifically theological, or political, or psychological application. A myth points, for each reader, to the realm he lives in most. It is a master key; use it on what door you like.

The value of myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which as been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity’…By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves. This book applies to the treatment not only to bread or apple but to good and evil, to our endless perils, our anguish, and our joys. By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly. I do not think he could have done it any other way.


  1. Seventeen years on, I would probably find a different sent of quotes if I read the book again!
  2. All quotes are from the book C.S. Lewis: On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, a collection of essays first published in 1966, but with several later editions available.

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