Posted by: Billy Marsh | December 19, 2008

On Stories: Quotes and Selections

As promised, here are some of my favorite quotes and passages from the collection of literary articles by C. S. Lewis in On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. It is hard to pick and choose what to highlight since Lewis provides a wealth of literay wisdom in these very few pages (I’ll probably do one more post of quotes from this book). I hope, however, that just by getting a glimpse of some of what this book is centered around, the spark will be ignited in you not only to read this book, but even more so to learn to love and to cherish reading in general. Although, as I mentioned in the earlier post, that much of my chosen profession necessitates large amounts of reading, I still enjoy all of it and always look forward to picking up a new book, no matter whether it is fiction or non-fiction or whether it was opened up by own choice or as a requirement for a class. If I didn’t love reading, then I doubt that the Lord was truly leading me to enter the Ph. D. program. Moreover, as the Lord did in fact give me an appetite for reading by means of plowing through theological monographs and so forth, he also developed in me a love for literature in general, which has liberated me to take joy in everything from cultural commentary to biographies to fiction. I’m still trying to expand my literary horizons, especially since I have gotten off to a late start in life as a reader. I hope that some of these selections will help you do the same.

“On Stories”

It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one’s adult enjoyment of what are called ‘children’s books’. I think the convention a silly one. 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–except, of course, books of information (14).

The story does what no theorem can quite do. It may not be ‘like real life’ in the superficial sense: but it sets before us an image of what reality may well be like at some more central region (15).

The re-reader is looking not for actual surprises (which can come only once) but for a certain surprisingness. . . . It is the quality of unexpectedness, not the fact that delights us. . . . We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. . . . Till then [a second reading], it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness (16-17).

“The Novels of Charles Williams”

His writing, so to speak, brings me where I have never gone on my own sail and steam; and yet that strange place is so attached to realms we do know that I cannot believe it is mere dreamland (26).

Morality has spoiled literature often enough; . . . The truth is, it is very bad to reach the stage of thinking deeply and frequently about duty unless you are prepared to go a stage further. The Law, as St Paul first clearly explained, only takes you to the school gates. Morality exists to be transcended. We act from duty in the hope that someday we shall do the same acts freely and delightfully (27).

 “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”

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 (38).

And I think it 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, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable (40).

“On Science Fiction”

Every good writer knows that the more unusual the scenes and events of his story are, the slighter, the more ordinary, the more typical his persons should be (60).

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 (66).

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