This year, the girls and I are studying The Chronicles of Narnia, written by C. S. Lewis. We have thrown ourselves into it (as usual!). We are all very much enjoying it, but I have to admit to being surprised by just how good a writer Lewis is. I mean, I know he’s excellent, having read most of his adult books, but this series is something quite different. He is man who understands man. In fact, and rather bizarrely given he had none of his own, he is a man who understands children. Occasionally, when reading his biography alongside the books, I am struck by not only this ability to understand but also by his ability to put that understanding into words. I have henceforth decided to call it C S Lewis Wisdom and write a post about his thoughts on growing up.
Lewis’ Own Experiences as a Child
I am currently reading ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ to the girls. Alongside it, for about ten minutes per day I read ‘The Land of Narnia’ by Brian Sibley. Sibley is exceptionally good at pulling out nuggets of C S Lewis Wisdom. I have particularly enjoyed learning about the aspects of young Jack’s life (Lewis was known as Jack) which he has included in his books. There seems to be many instances. For example, in the same way Diggory’s mother is ill with cancer, so too was Jack’s mum. Jack experienced the loss of his mother at ten. In ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ he was able to play out his long held wish that his mother did not die.
In the same way, as a child he would spend hours by himself in the attic of his house, reading. This is replicated again in ‘The Magician’s Nephew’. And he and his brother sat in the darkness of a huge old wardrobe, telling each other stories…the infamous ‘wardrobe’ of Narnia was born.
Unlike other well-known authors of the time (Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Graham and JRR Tolkien), who wrote their books for a particular child, Lewis did not. In fact, Lewis had no children of his own, and did not have much opportunity to mix with young people.
However, he never forgot what it was like to be a child.
He once made the comment that he did not believe age mattered so much as people thought it did. He goes on to explain that ‘parts of me are still twelve and I think other parts were already fifty when I was twelve…’ It was this ability to experience his young self, even when in a man’s body, which stood him in good stead for writing children’s books.
C S Lewis Wisdom Regarding Fairytales
In 1952 Jack reminisced about reading fairytales in private, probably doing so up in his secret attic hiding place. He writes that he would have been ashamed if anyone caught him reading them. He continues, ‘Now I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.’ Lewis reiterates this in a dedication he wrote to Lucy, his God-daughter, in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:
My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result, you are already too old for fairytales. And by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can take it down from some upper shelf, dust it and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say. But I will still be your affectionate Godfather,
C S Lewis
I was not much of a reader as a child. No, actually that’s not completely true. I read. I read a lot of Enid Blyton. At age twelve my mother went into my school and asked my teacher to recommend another author. Enid Blyton was far too young for me. I was shown to the Judy Blume shelf. These were good, but to be honest, they ended my love affair with fiction books. Shortly after beginning my secondary school, my preference became non-fiction interspersed with the odd historical romance.
I dare not admit to the romance, because they too were not suitable for the student of a very academic school. Slowly, slowly I stopped reading fiction until I began homeschooling. The last twenty years has given me ample excuse to read the rich heritage of fiction which exists. I am so grateful to have enjoyed Lewis Carroll (or not actually – I found his books hard to read!), Kenneth Graham, Beatrix Potter, Tolkien…and now C S Lewis.
Thank God for children!
Growing Up To Be A Child Once More
I’m not sure I’m expressing how much C S Lewis Wisdom resounded with me. It kind of hit a nerve, because for so long I put the reading of ‘childish’ books to one side. I like the idea that as we grow older, we grow younger…
My mum will tell you that I have yet to grow up. Many of my friends and all of my children would agree. Being an adult was never something which held a huge amount of appeal for me. But with regards to books, I definitely learnt to feel ashamed of my choices of fiction.
I watch a lovely YouTube channel called ‘The Cottage Fairy’. She has helped me to realise that any books are great at any age. I know I shall spend my dotage happily reading all sorts of books, and perhaps especially those written for children.
I intend to age disgracefully…or not at all.
Either is fine with me.