C.S. Lewis: Fantasy, Fairy Tales and Writing

Narnia Lion

“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.”   C. S. Lewis


Lewis Fairy TalesC. S. Lewis believed that a children’s story is sometimes simply the right form for what a writer wants to convey and that a good story would be re-read and enjoyed at any age. He cites The Wind in the Willows as an example saying, “I never met The Wind in the Willows…books till I was in my late twenties and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account.”  He cautions against writing sentimentally about children as seen by their elders noting that our childhood was lived differently from what our elders saw.  The reality of childhood creeps out if we are open and allow those characters to speak for themselves.  C. S. Lewis wrote children’s books in the sense that he excluded what he thought they would not like or understand but did not write down to them or below what would attract an adult. “I never wrote down to anyone; and whether the opinion condemns or acquits my own work, it certainly is my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.”  cslewis bath lion

Lewis dismissed writing what children might like for entertainment or need to hear on moral grounds. He views these kinds of writers more as anthropologists observing children as a distinct group and producing works that they themselves do not like but what  children are supposed to like or need educationally or morally.  Lewis cites commercial motives for these types of writers as well.  Lewis remarks that he would lay very long odds against the Ministry of Education writing a good story for children.  “Good writers neither patronize nor idolize children but treat them with respect”.

Lewis with LionLewis advises writers to bring a story into being from the “whole cast of the author’s mind” and write from elements of their own imagination they share with children. He describes his writing process similar to bird watching, initially waiting quietly and watching what pictures arise in the imagination (the fawn with the umbrella was the first picture to come to mind for Lewis in the Narnia series) to take form and then joining them up with other similar pictures eventually creating a complete story.  Lewis admits that stories rarely come together whole and complete and usually have gaps that need “deliberate inventing” to complete the story.  However if the writer is lucky, the whole set of pictures join together “without doing anything yourself” other than taking dictation.  The main point of his process is that the story comes up from within the writer’s imagination and is not imposed by outside considerations of marketability or moral necessity.  In addition, some of the best stories, Lewis says, are written extemporaneously by authors such as Kenneth Graham, Lewis Carroll and Tolkien for a particular living child.                                                                                                                                                                                             C.S.-Lewis-Quote on world

The type of story Lewis recounts as “dearest to my own taste” is the fantasy or fairy tale.  He calls these genres a subspecies of children’s stories but we now know them as genres in their own right for both children and adults whether written for children in mind or not.   Tolkien claims that the appeal of fairy story lies in the author function as a sub-creator creating a subordinate world of his own rather than commenting on current life situations directly.  I view my writing as a co-creation with the Muse and the world created is not subordinate to the “real” world but an integral part of it accessed, as Jung would say, in the archetypes of the collective unconscious.  In this way fairy tales, fantasy and visionary fiction can liberate us.  I remembered that I was fascinated with magic and what and how I would use magical powers in real life adventures.  I devoured Half Magic as a child and found it wonderous to live in that world along with my own day- to-day world.  I also loved A Wrinkle in Time as a twenty-something and of course enjoyed the Harry Potter books as an adult along with my sons.  I didn’t just read these books but lived in them.  The essays on literature and stories by C.S. Lewis have confirmed my own beliefs about writing for and about children and adults in my own magical visionary book series, the Urwelt Chronicles, and I am grateful for his generation of fairy tale fantasy writers.


Lewis, C. S. (Ed. Walter Hooper) (1982).  C.S. Lewis on Stories and Other Essays on Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers.

Rice, Constance “In Defense of the Fairy Tale: C.S. Lewis’s Argument for the Value and Importance of the Fairy Tale”  Inklings Forever. 2004. www.taylor.edu/cslewis.


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