authors

Author Quotes- C. S. Lewis and Fairy Tale Potency


Excerpts from the essay “On Three Ways Of Writing For Children,” by C.S. Lewis. (I highly suggest that you read it in its entirety.) I recently made and Author Quotes post which borrowed heavily from this C. S. Lewis article’s main thrust concerning books for children. Well, he went on so many valuable tangents that I thought I would make a secondary post concerned more with the general defense of fantasy and fairy tales for all ages. Let me know your thoughts

“The whole association of fairy tale and fantasy with childhood is local and accidental. I hope everyone has read Tolkien’s essay on Fairy Tales, which is perhaps the most important contribution to the subject that anyone has yet made. If so, you will know already that, in most places and times, the fairy tale has not been specially made for, nor exclusively enjoyed by, children. It has gravitated to the nursery when it became unfashionable in literary circles, just as unfashionable furniture gravitated to the nursery in Victorian houses. In fact, many children do not like this kind of book, just as many children do not like horsehair sofas: and many adults do like it, just as many adults like rocking chairs. And those who do like it, whether young or old, probably like it for the same reason. And none of us can say with any certainty what that reason is. The two theories which are most often in my mind are those of Tolkien and of Jung.

According to Tolkien the appeal of the fairy story lies in the fact that man there most fully exercises his function as a ‘subcreator’; not, as they love to say now, making a ‘comment upon life’ but making, so far as possible, a subordinate world of his own. Since, in Tolkien’s view, this is one of man’s proper functions, delight naturally arises whenever it is successfully performed. For Jung, fairy tale liberates Archetypes which dwell in the collective unconscious, and when we read a good fairy tale we are obeying the old precept ‘Know thyself’. I would venture to add to this my own theory, not indeed of the Kind as a whole, but of one feature in it: I mean, the presence of beings other than human which yet behave, in varying degrees, humanly: the giants and dwarfs and talking beasts. I believe these to be at least (for they may have many other sources of power and beauty) an admirable hieroglyphic which conveys psychology, types of character, more briefly than novelistic presentation and to readers whom novelistic presentation could not yet reach. Consider Mr Badger in The Wind in the Willows—that extraordinary amalgam of high rank, coarse manners, gruffness, shyness, and goodness. The child who has once met Mr Badger has ever afterwards, in its bones, a knowledge of humanity and of English social history which it could not get in any other way.”

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Author Quotes – C. S. Lewis, Reality, & Children’s Literature


Excerpts from the essay “On Three Ways Of Writing For Children,” by C.S. Lewis. (I highly suggest that you read it in its entirety.)

My first picture book, Wandlung, should be coming out within the next month. If you’re interested in understanding my philosophy on children’s literature (and children in general), these excerpts come as near to defining them as I could myself. I tore apart this essay to find the most impactful statements.

“Sentimentality is so apt to creep in if we write at length about children as seen by their elders. And the reality of childhood, as we all experienced it, creeps out. For we all remember that our childhood, as lived, was immeasurably different from what our elders saw. Hence Sir Michael Sadler, when I asked his opinion about a certain new experimental school, replied, ‘I never give an opinion on any of those experiments till the children have grown up and  can tell us what really happened.’

. . . I think we have stumbled on a principle. Where the children’s story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that, will read the story or re-read it, at any age. I never met The Wind in the Willows or the Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. 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.

. . . I am not quite sure what made me, in a particular year of my life, feel that not only a fairy tale, but a fairy tale addressed to children, was exactly what I must write—or burst. Partly, I think, that this form permits, or compels you to leave out things I wanted to leave out. It compels you to throw all the force of the book into what was done and said. It checks what a kind, but discerning critic called ‘the expository demon’ in me. It also imposes certain very fruitful necessities about length.

. . . About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale. Perhaps I had better say a few words in its defence, as reading for children.

It is accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did.

. . . The real victim of wishful reverie does not batten on the Odyssey, The Tempest, or The Worm Ouroboros: he (or she) prefers stories about millionaires, irresistible beauties, posh hotels, palm beaches and bedroom scenes—things that really might happen, that ought to happen, that would have happened if the reader had had a fair chance. For, as I say, there are two kinds of I longing. The one is an askesis, a spiritual exercise, and the other is a disease.

A far more serious attack on the fairy tale as children’s literature comes from those who do not wish children to be frightened. I suffered too much from night-fears myself in childhood to undervalue this objection. . . They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can’t bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.

. . . I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of the police.

I feel sure that the question ‘What do modern children need?’ will not lead you to a good moral. If we ask that question we are assuming too superior an attitude. It would be better to ask ‘What moral do I need?’ for I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age. But it is better not to ask the question at all. Let the pictures tell you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life. But if they don’t show you any moral, don’t put one in. For the moral you put in is likely to be a platitude, or even a falsehood, skimmed from the surface of your consciousness. It is impertinent to offer the children that. For we have been told on high authority that in the moral sphere they are probably at least as wise as we. Anyone who can write a children’s story without a moral, had better do so: that is, if he is going to write children’s stories at all. The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author’s mind.”

Do You Feel Changed By Non-Fiction?


I rarely commit myself to entire books of non-fiction. That sort of discipline requires a certain skill I have yet to gain, and I usually find my mind wandering to thoughts of how much better my time would be spent on fiction. Or with my kids. Or outdoors. Or doing anything else.

I am, however, 100% converted to be pro-non-fiction when it concerns the lives and philosophies of artists and creatives. As an adult, I never really cared to read any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. As all good children do, I once thrived on The Hobbit as a child and I watched the old Rankin-Bass animated adaptation nearly daily. I stopped caring much after middle school. Then one day, I was handed a thrift store copy of a book of essays on the man himself. Reading about Tolkien fascinated me. I became suddenly motivated to read all his books (starting with Children Of Hurin, oddly enough), and it was key to my eventual wider interest in all sorts of other fiction. It is often the artist that I am interested in as deeply as the work itself.

Lately I have been making my way through the recently published tome Salinger, by David Shields and Shane Salerno. It’s written in oral biography form, meaning simply that the entire book is a well organized collection of quoted statements from a variety of J.D. Salinger’s friends, family members, and business associates, along with some other scholars. This is my first oral biography, and I find it wonderful and fascinating to read a story as you would watch documentary interview footage.

Anyway, the main point I’m trying to come to is actually a question for you, the reader. It is simply this.

Do you feel that reading non-fiction changes you?

I think it is obvious to me that much of the time we read fiction to be changed. We read genre fiction to be swept up in a certain formula of a world, to get away or put on a certain mindset. We read high literature to test and expand our world-views, to endeavor to understand a wider range of real-world experiences and emotions.

But what about non-fiction? I consider myself a novice, but I assume that non-fiction reading is generally more of an attempt to gain information. Is this true for those who read lots of non-fiction?

As I have been reading Salinger, I’ve witnessed in detail the life of a very odd but relatable man, a highly intelligent and sensitive fellow who holds materialism, war, and first-world society at large in contempt while struggling also with the desire to be accepted and validated by the only world he sees around him. He gets weirder and weirder as his life goes on, troubled by WWII memories and a publicity that grows more as he tries to hide from it. As I pour over the details and see some aspect here or a statement there which I can relate to, I feel something familiar to me which I’ve never really heard discussed.

I walk away from the book in the spirit of the subject.

I am overwhelmed by thoughts that I might have had myself, independently, but never so consistently or overwhelmingly as after reading about a similarly-plagued mind. I tend to feel like I’m understanding him a little too well, like I am perhaps agreeing too much with his understanding of the world.

Does this happen to everyone? Without getting too mystical (that would be a great conversation for another time) or sounding too much like a creeper stalker or obsessive fan, I wonder honestly how our attempts to understand something through non-fiction affect us regardless of whether we intend to agree with the subject or not. We humans have a knack for studying things which are ugly, and I don’t stand opposed to this at all. I very firmly believe that we should be learning to cope with the reality of both the unspeakable beauties and horrors of this world. I do wonder, though, if perhaps we don’t recognize when a healthy understanding of the world fades into an attempt to reconcile or justify something in ourselves. Or something worse.

So what do you think?

What’s up with people who read so much non-fiction?

Why are the serial killer/murderer bio sections so full in our book stores?

When does gaining a healthy perspective bleed into an enjoyment of despair in the onlooker?

Author Quotes – Samuel Beckett & The Value of Depression


Excerpt from “Daily Rituals” by Mason Curry.

The siege began with an epiphany. On a late-night walk near Dublin harbor, Beckett found himself standing on the end of a pier in the midst of a winter storm.

Amidst the howling wind and the churning water, he suddenly realized that the ‘dark he had struggled to keep under’ in his life–and in his writing, which had until then failed to find an audience or meet his own aspirations–should, in fact, be the source of his creative inspirations. ‘I shall always be depressed,’ Beckett concluded, ‘but what comforts me is the realization that I can now accept this dark side as the commanding side of my personality. In accepting it, I will make it work for me.'”

In an age of anti-depressants we’re taught that to feel a certain emotion is to feel wrongly and need reparation, regardless of its legitimacy. I’m reminded of so many stories of WWII veterans who returned from war only to find that they had no way to voice the immensity of the horrors they experienced first hand. What is even worse is that no one back home actually wanted to know anything about it after it was over. Throughout my life, I’ve heard a constant stream of people reinforce the idea that a bleak outlook in this world is something to be overcome and left behind. Many of my own friends have voiced opinions that art that reflects anything overtly evil thereby implies that the artist is himself damaged or not to be trusted.

As you will probably find very quickly, I happen to believe that we should face the demons of this world honestly and boldly. I think appreciating the gravity and inevitability of death and the tragedies of humanity actually give us sobriety to step into life and chose to live.

If we cannot look boldly into the face of the oppressor, how can we claim to understand the gravity of our hope?

An Accidental Book Review


Most artists would agree that part of the struggle involved in consistent creativity is to stay away from standardization.

I thought that I believed that, but I realize now that I don’t.

A few days ago my good friend Arian used her social media resources to recommended a book she had just started, and at first sight I jumped on the library website and reserved a copy. I haven’t been able to put it down for days now. My wife and I both have bookmarks in its pages, and we keep passing one another, back and forth

The book is called Daily Rituals, by Mason Curry. It is based on his previous blog, Daily Routines. Mason has spent the past few years accruing the details of the personal daily rhythms and routines of hundreds of painters, writers, composer, statesmen, and scientists. Needless to say, the book and the blog are an endless source of interesting information about the strategies and quirks of the men and women who have influenced a multitude of cultures in the past 400 years. We’re talking Benjamin Franklin, Simone de Beauvoir, Mahler, Matisse, and Mr. Rogers.

Reading this book has been more than simply diverting for me. Of course it appealed immediately to me because of my slight obsession with biographical details on creative geniuses, but there is a looming crisis in my own life for which I secretly hoped this book would provide solution.

I’m not good at being creative, and my efforts to be diligent usually throw off everything else.

For the majority of my life I have procrastinated from creativity as I have any other pursuit. I’ve always marveled at my prolific friend Chris who is occasionally so smitten by a design in his brain that he cancels everything else because he has to pursue the project to its fulfillment. He can’t commit himself to any other goal until he had gotten some version of that creative spark out.

It’s just that good.

It’s just that savory.

Referring to my tendency to idolize this trait, he recently said to me that  “everyone is different in how they create.” It was a simply, sagely statement plainly expressed, so I ignored it completely.

As I opened Daily Rituals, I was searching for answers. My family life is confused and I’m constantly feeling inadequacy as an artist and as a father and husband. I needed to find someone’s little secret that could suddenly throw open the heavy curtains before the shadowy recesses of my mind. In a way, I found something like that.

The book is especially wide ranged in covering all types in all time periods. The average individual probably produces 2 hours of good work a day. Tea, alcohol, coffee, and tobacco become buzzwords in its pages. Some work best after dark, others swear by starting fresh just before dawn. Winston Churchill promises that he has figured out a rhythm that allow him a day and a half every 24 hours. Some live completely secluded, working the same schedule seven days a week with barely a single outside contact; others work madly for a few weeks here and are off for a month there. Some write when their children nap, some spend hours and hours every day simply walking the countryside or over drinks with friends. Some raise hundreds of exotic snails and sneak them into France under their breasts. Yes, you read that sentence correctly, and it is in there. The only constant theme is that every artist has some unique surprise up his sleeve and everyone swears by his own methods as far as personal effectiveness is concerned.

I was reading about Saul Bellow’s joyful and lighthearted habits in his flower garden as told retrospectively by his wife, when suddenly I realized that there is a theme in this book. An accidental theme, and one of staggering beauty. Despite their many downfalls, their abuses and neglects, every creative was defined by a willingness to search their own soul, to plunge into the still, dark depths of themselves and share some form of it with the world, in hopes that the humanity in it might be a sounding board for an0ther’s soul. To do so, every single one had to spend years, some claimed decades, to build a completely personal rhythm that gave them space to plumb those depths. Many of their own stories became tragedies of dependence, broken relationships, and bizarre, spiraling brokenness.

Yet every single one cries “Recognize the truth and don’t shy from proclaiming it!” and the force of its multitude speaks freedom over me.

For months, years now, I’ve been slowly recognizing that I have not been prepared for the level of commitment being creative takes. I’ve tried to put off the creative spark, then to force inspiration in a timeframe, and all along I’ve really just been confused myself. I’ve watched many friends, some artists, build productive structures in their daily lives and imagined that if I could only have the will to replicate some of those structures, I could pursue this craft more sincerely. But I’ve had it all backwards. As when one pursues any other goal, setting up a rhythm that is completely taylored to the objective is a necessity.

Creativity is about self-exposure and eventually perhaps, a sense of intimacy. Exposure, firstly, of one’s self to one’s self. Then, perhaps, to a wider audience. We choose to be ourselves, and our creativity is a record of that. We create because we desire to know, and we desire to have something in common. We feel our humanity. We build empathy. We realize that something that was at first glance altogether foreign is actually like us. The community that comes from creation comes out of each of our uniqueness, and the hard, bitter task of pursuing those uniquenesses.

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?”

– Toni Morrision