Posted by: Billy Marsh | December 30, 2008

On Stories: Quotes and Selections ~ Authors, Fiction, and Myth

Here’s the second set of passages from C. S. Lewis’ On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature that I found to be worth passing on concerning stories, literature, and reading: (Click here to view the first set of quotes and selections)

“The Hobbit”

The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funniest to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic (82). — Lewis knew better than he thought!

“Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

This book* is like lightning from a clear sky (83). — *In this article Lewis is writing on behalf of the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, but speaks in large part of Tolkien’s work as a whole.

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 (85).

As we read we find ourselves sharing [the characters’] burden; when we have finished, we return to our own life not relaxed but fortified (86).

And all the time we know the fate of the world depends far more on the small movement than on the great. This is a structural invention of the highest order: it adds immensely to the pathos, irony, and grandeur of the tale (88).

The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity’ (90).

The book is too original and too opulent for any final judgement on a first reading. But we know at once that it has done things to us. We are not quite the same men. And though we must ration ourselves in our re-readings. I have little doubt that the book will soon take its place among the indispensables (90).

 “The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard”

A great myth is relevant as long as the predicament of humanity lasts; as long as humanity lasts. It will always work, on those who can receive it, the same catharsis (100).

No one is indifferent to the mythopoeic. You either love it or else hate it ‘with a perfect hatred’. This hatred comes in part from a reluctance to meet Archetypes; it is an involuntary witness to their disquieting vitality. Partly, it springs from an uneasy awareness that the most ‘popular’ fiction, if only it embodies a real myth, is so very much more serious than what is generally called ‘serious’ literature. For it deals with the permanent and inevitable, where as an hour’s shelling, or perhaps a ten-mile walk, or even a dose of salts, might annihilate many of the problems in which the characters of a refined and subtle novel are entangled (100).

“George Orwell”

My appetite is hearty and when I sit down to read I like a square meal (102).

Paradoxically, when Orwell turns all his characters into animals he makes them more fully human (103). — Lewis is commenting here on Orwell’s Animal Farm.

A central character who escapes nullity only by being tortured is a failure. And the hero and heroine in this story are surely such dull, mean little creatures that one might be introduced to them once a week for six months without even remembering them (103).

Finally, Animal Farm is formally almost perfect; light, strong, balanced. There is not a sentence that does not contribute to the whole. The myth says all the author wants it to say and (equally important) it doesn’t say anything else (104).   



  1. I’m stunned to learn that there is a book by C.S. Lewis that I haven’t read!! (And didn’t even know about.) Thank you for this.

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