“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
C. 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.”
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 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. Continue reading “C.S. Lewis: Fantasy, Fairy Tales and Writing”