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C.S. Lewis on Writing for Children

Those that know me well know that my deep love of children’s fantasy books can trace roots back to The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S. Lewis is my favorite children’s author.

C.S. Lewis

I enjoyed both reading and books before discovering Narnia, but it was the Narnian world that revealed to me the true escape the most special books can offer. I still remember the remarkable discovery.

I was in the third grade. An excerpt from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was included in our reading text book.  Being an avid reader, I always read far ahead of the assigned stories. It was there in that tattered text book I first encountered the enchanting Lucy Pevensie. 

She took hold of my imagination and pulled me through the wardrobe into a snowy, lamp-lit world. Together we met Mr. Tumnus the faun, who led us to his delightful cave to share a proper English (er, Narnian) tea. We heard flute music, magical tales of dryads and nymphs, and alarming news of a White Witch and a land of forever winter, never Christmas.

And then, horror upon horrors, Lucy abandoned me!  The excerpt ended a few chapters into the story, and I didn’t even realize it was part of a larger work (I skipped all the boring textbook explanations and descriptions and went straight for the stories).  I simply thought the tale ended there, with no resolution, no conclusion.  My dear, new friend Lucy had not nearly lived up to her great potential.  She had been discarded by some lazy writer in a half finished tale!

Well, I would have none of it! Right in the middle of class I marched to my teacher, plopped the book down upon her desk, jabbed my finger at the incomplete story, and demanded, “Why does it end there?”  Nevermind that it wasn’t reading period.  Nevermind that even if it was, I was not reading the story I was supposed to be. I needed to know what happened to Lucy and the faun! “Why Karma,” said my teacher (the dear and beautiful Ms. Berry), “It’s just part of a story.  It is actully a few chapters of a book, and the book is one in a series called The Chronicles of Narnia. I believe there are seven. We have them all in the school library.” 

Dear readers, I cannot describe the moment.  Imagine an angelic chorus of Hallelulahs and streaks of heavenly light beaming down upon me.  “Seven?” I whispered blissfully.  “May I go to the library?  Please!”  I could not imagine waiting one more second to know Lucy’s fate.

A gentle smile and a shake of Mrs. Berry’s head.  “Not now. You may do math. But you can go the library afterwards.”  (Thank God for teachers that recognize and encourage the love of a good book.)  I did manage to survive the wait (luckily the book wasn’t checked out), and the series did not dissapoint.  I haven’t keep track of the number of times I’ve read the Narnia series through the years, but I can assure you, I am far past ten and probably past twenty and approaching thirty.

All that is just to tell you that I’ve found an essay penned by C.S. Lewis titled On Three Ways of Writing for Children.  And though it was written at least a half a century ago, it very closely mirrors my own thoughts on writing children’s books. It was a joy to read the essay, which I’d missed up until now. I felt a special thrill to know that I share many setiments about children’s writing with the late C.S. Lewis, my favorite children’s author.  Anyway, if you have no time to read the full essay, here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“I am almost in­clined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”

“Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us.”

“About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale.”

“Noth­ing seems to me more fatal, for this art, than an idea that what­ever we share with children is, in the privative sense, ‘childish* and that whatever is childish is somehow comic.”

“The worst attitude of all would be the professional attitude which regards children in the lump as a sort of raw material which we have to handle.”

“The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man.”

There is no need for me to expound.  I agree with him whole heartedly, and I am glad his books never talked down to me as a child or up to me as an adult.