Posted by: Billy Marsh | December 16, 2008

On Stories: C. S. Lewis and the Enjoyment of Reading

And Other Essays on LiteratureLongtime editor and friend of C. S. Lewis, Walter Hooper, begins his “Preface” by describing this work as, “The theme of the collection is the excellence of Story (ix).” After reading it, there is no doubt that Hooper is absolutely correct that the “excellence of Story” is the fundamental message behind each of these essays.  On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature originally was published in Of Other Worlds, which has now been revised removing the material which makes up On Stories, and also taking four short stories to create another separate volume which is known as The Dark Tower and Other Stories.

Hooper points out that when the majority of these articles were written, some of the most influential literary critics were exhorting readers to find just about anything in literature (i.e. “life’s monotony, cynicism, social injustice, drudgery,” etc.) except for “enjoyment” (ix). Lewis resisted this temptation and persevered in his pursuit of freeing readers from being slaves to what the world wanted them to make of literature, and instead, encouraged them to delight in whatever taste of story they had acquired, no matter if the public took them serious or not. These type of admonitions are especially forceful coming from Lewis, who was a literary expert and Oxford professor, and who had established himself in his own right not only as a fiction author, but also as an academic held in high regard in the same field. Much of his apologetic is understood in light of his own contributions in the areas of fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia) and science-fiction (The Space Trilogy), which were genres viewed as “childish” and below the contemplation of the “serious” reader.

I was initially drawn to this book a few years ago when I saw that there were two articles in it, one called “The Hobbit” and the other “Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings,” where Lewis reviewed Tolkien’s work. For obvious reasons, I wanted to read firsthand what Lewis thought about his close friend’s creation of Middle-Earth. However, I had trouble locating On Stories in stores and online, but once I had found it, I never seemed to have enough extra cash to purchase it. Finally, I bought it last Christmas, but didn’t have a chance to start reading it until the Summer in which case I made it about half way through before the Fall semester began, and then it was tentatively placed on hold. Thankfully, I was able to finish it up last week, and for unspoken reasons, I now see why the Lord providentially had me put off completing it at this point in my life. Nevertheless, all of my labors to acquire the book and expectations for its content were compensated and exceeded immensely. It is both a priceless and precious little book.

As a seminarian and a beginning theologian, the tendency is only to be interested in things that are “useful” for your area of study; everything else is viewed as peripheral. Reading is treated as a chore (or job/work) and choosing what you read can in a lot of ways become purely pragmatic. In my opinion, this is both an unnecessary and harmful attitude. Part of the reason I read for breadth is because I “enjoy” reading other types of books and literature, not just so I can have a wider “breadth” of knowledge. In summary, Hooper hits the nail precisely on the head when he introduces this collection of essays as a representation of Lewis’ enjoyment of the excellence of stories; and in reading the book, you are left with an eagerness, simply to go and read and enjoy it.

What I wanted to do in this post was to give you some of my favorite quotes from the many articles in On Stories. Not all of them have to do specifically with reading stories, but each quote demonstrates the keen insight of Lewis into the literary world as well as into the mind of Man. Moreover, God gave Lewis incredible vision into the way of the world and so it is always good to hear him put something into words that you know is true, but have never heard it articulated. Obviously I got a little “long-winded” writing this post, so I’ll save the quotes for a separate entry; therefore, I hope this post has served not only as a promotion of On Stories, but most of all, as a challenge for you to pick up a book this winter break for no other reason than simply to enjoy it.

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Responses

  1. 3 cheers for reading in breadth as a breath of fresh air!
    Bryan

  2. I appreciate you pointing this book out and your insightful comments on it. This is one of Lewis’s essay collections I haven’t read. Coincidentally, I just blogged about a post I read on Lewis by Bruce Edwards, a professor of English at Bowling Green State University. You might find it interesting.

    Here’s the link http://greatcloud.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/c-s-lewis-and-the-redemptive-imagination/.

    (Hopefully this won’t be tagged as spam.)

    Blessings,
    Chris

    • Chris,
      Thanks for the link. I’m always interested in what others are saying about Lewis and Tolkien regarding their relationship to the faith. I haven’t read the whole article yet, but I believe that there is a lot of worth and wisdom in building a theology of imagination. Hope to dialogue more!


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