CS Lewis explains why you should be proud to read children's books


#1

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#2

Lewis would take back everything he said on the subject if he were to see what’s become of society (or at least American society) in the last 20 years, thanks to The Internet. Grown ups wanting to stay (or at least act like, dress like, talk like) kids, kids want to be grown ups and chasing after all the baggage “being grown up” entails. Soccer moms dressing like their teenage daughters, teenager daughters wanting to be Pretty Little Liars, dressing like wannabe-cougars. Don’t be fooled: CS Lewis (and Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear and others) may have appreciated a sense of childlike wonder, whimsey, myth, fable, fairytaleness, etc., but CS Lewis for one was also all about what becomes, and is becoming to, a man (and a Christian) or a woman (and a Christian.)

His chapter on “Sexual Morality” (in Mere Christianity) brilliantly sums up some of his views on maturity (sexual and otherwise):

http://www.merelewis.com/CSL.mc.3-05.SexualMorality.htm

And something else: describing Ruth Graham’s article as a “stupid, shaming, linkbaity screed” is absoutely absurd. Disagree with it if you like, but your choice of adjectives/noun (all four of them) is/are demonstrably inaccurate (and, arguably, intentionally misleading, slanted and agenda-driven.)

I saw a commercial for Modern Family yesterday. Phil Dunphy was speaking. He said "“I’ve always said that if my son thinks of me as one of his idiot friends, I’ve succeeded as a dad.”

CS Lewis would strongly disagree with such a definition of “paternal success.”


#3

Oh, but didn’t you hear? CS Lewis has no grown-up credibility, because he was (ugh) Christian.

(Insert sarcasm mark here, please.)

Seriously, Lewis is wise as always. He’s also effectively rebutted Graham’s other argument, the shuddering fear of “escapism”:

I never fully understood the label of “escapist” till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, ‘What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers.

(Oh someone do please bring up Moorcock’s attempted rebuttal of that, I’ve been itching to have a good argument about it.)


#4

I dunno… I kind of feel like you’re raising two separate issues here. He might have very well been upset by modern society, but why would he “blame it on the internet” vs. anything other number of things? Seems more likely he’d blame it on something like not teaching “western civ”, enlightenment values, or the classics, or a lack of respect for some vague idea about tradition… or any number of things…

Either way, it doesn’t negate his view on adults being able to enjoy children’s lit. I doubt he’d say that Harry Potter and the Hunger Games were the cause of the “fall of western civ”, so I’m a little flummoxed about your digression here…


#5

Which would be vaguely possibly true if not for the fact that a good number of YA fiction stories are of a far higher quality than a lot of novels for ‘adults’. It’s not like Atlas Shrugged, Silmarillion, or Great Gatsby look more than cartoonish when compared to a huge number of novels targeted at young adults (Heck, Cory’s ‘Little Brother’ is steps above all of them)

And you can’t talk about how civilization has fallen and ignore the fact that things have also been getting better in lots of ways. When he was around here in the US racism and marital rape were basically legal and societally acceptable.

Sure, CS Lewis wasn’t exactly the sort to embrace the world’s differences and variety, he was a die hard Christian and wanted everyone else to be one too, but I think even he would take issue with the fact that in some places we’ve created an artificial gulf between literature for ‘children’ and for ‘adults’.

You’re arguing with some weird long-term imagined effect that has nothing to do with what’s actually discussed in the articles.


#6

Also, I always found his depiction of women’s proper behavior and of what are essentially Arabs to be somewhat problematic… I found myself censoring myself on his descriptions of dark skinned people when I was reading the chronicles to my daughter a few years ago. I can’t remember exactly chapter and verse, but it was in the last 3 books, I think. Sad really. Otherwise, they are great books.


#7

I often wonder why the Nobel in literature is never given to children’s authors. E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web), C.S. Lewis (Narnia), Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are), Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory),… There are tons of candidates. And that’s just scratching the surface of the English-language ones. If they started digging into young adult, the Nobel committee could come up with hundred options better than Herta Muller (whoever the hell that is) or Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (whoever the hell that is).


#8

I’m usually kind of all over the place with my points. I’d be surprised if there isn’t a third or fourth separate issue in there somewhere.

I’m just glad I’ve had three responses so far that have been pleasant ones :smile:

I don’t think Lewis, or any reasonable person, would have a problem with adults enjoying kid-oriented fiction, YA, whatever. I do think he’d have a problem with adults liking it because they’re supposed to like it, because it’s the “thing to do”, because they’ll fit in more with the youth crowd, because it makes them feel or seem younger/cooler, etc. YA fiction is a demographic now much more than it used to be. With the movie tie-ins, the mass cultural acceptance of grown ups acting like kids, it’s understandable that there’s some pushback from people like Ruth Graham, questioning why YA is mainstreaming with adults. I tend to try to see the big picture, connect dots where there sometimes (?) might not be connections but sometimes I get lucky. Generational (and gender) lines of interest are so blurred now that it’s hard to keep track. Bronies are a thing, fer Ghod’s sake. It all just kinda makes me feel like I’m gonna hurl, ha ha. (irony)

A character in Gorgias (not one of the "good"ones) is talking to Socrates about adults acting like children, and he says such people deserve a whipping, ha ha. He also said that hearing a child speak as an adult makes him uncomfortable, because it’s unnatural. While I don’t absolutely agree with him, I do see his point. Seeing 50+ year old skateboarders, men in shorts with their baseball caps on backwards, it’s just goofy. But whatever.

Someone brought up The Westing Game. I only just read it for the first time probably 5 years ago. And I’m 48. I enjoyed the heck out of it. Some YA stuff holds up when one reaches maturity, some doesn’t, of course. Artificial/inorganic/cloying vs. The Real. It’s a constant battle.


#9

Ahh, but let’s think this through a bit further, shall we?

Adults (being humans) are prone to doing things because it will ‘fit in’ or because it’s ‘what you’re supposed to do’. That’s one of the primary reasons for the continuing presence of horrible behavior towards various minority groups worldwide (including in our own nation, I could make a list but I think you know it would be a very long one)

That’s not new, nor is it at all dangerous or negative in this case. This is a positive (or, at worst, neutral) expression of a human behavior that’s often used negatively.


#10

See, e.g., Cicero “O tempora o mores.” See also Sturgeon’s Law (“Ninety percent of everything is crap.”)


#11

Why shouldn’t we be civil! It’s not like we’re insulting each other’s moms or something! :wink:

Aren’t you making sort of broad generalizations about why people read books they do? People can have a wide variety of reasons for liking something, not just “to fit in”.

Go watch the documentary on Bronies… it’s pretty enlightening, actually.

It might not be your thing, but they aren’t hurting anyone, right? So does it matter so much?

That’s true of nearly all culture… some is “authentic”, some, not so much. And that varies from person to person.


#12

It’s interesting how English speakers so often doubt that non-English authors deserve their Nobel prizes, whoever they may be, and have a list of five English-language alternatives ready.


#13

No offense was intended. I just meant that because I’m an English speaker my list only scratches the surface of those writers, so there must be many non-English children’s writers who would make better candidates as well. In fact, I would be very interested to hear your non-English nominations.


#14

Well I for one refuse to accept the opprobrium that somebody assumes Lewis would have heaped upon me had he not died the day I was born. He’s an enjoyable writer, and always had a few good points to make, but he was hardly a great philosopher… or great sociologist, or whatever job title it is that has the right to look down from on high and judge us lesser, uncultured beings.

Whether the Lewis of your imagination delights in our childlike entertainments, or tut-tuts at their decadence, might just say more about you than about Lewis. After all, the poor fellow’s dead - he can’t even defend himself.


#15

Modern Family is a fictional TV show. It’s not like I Love Lucy was any less juvenile.


#16

I think children and YA books should get more attention, but “whoever the hell that is” in regards to non-western/white authors is pretty xenophobic. It doesn’t mean much that you don’t know who they are. It certainly says nothing of their quality, which you are strongly implying.


#17

What about Moorcock’s absolutely decisive rebuttal?
(please include description of rebuttal in your response)


#18

Ummmmm… Actually, the Nobel selections I criticized are both western/white. (I guess you could still call me a sexist though, because one is a woman.)

The real issue is this - if the committee were to compare either of my example winners to, say, Roald Dahl in terms of literary innovation, brilliance of prose, social relevance, or almost any other criteria, they would have an awfully hard time of it. If it makes you feel better, I would be more on the fence comparing Dahl to, say, Grass (German, like Muller) or Sartre (French, like Le Clezio). But what the hell do I know?


#19

A stupid, shaming, linkbaity screed against young adult literature in Slate…

Good writing begins with paring out excessive redundancy.


#20

Sure, nothing like before, when adults were expected to have much more mature attire and pursuits.

I am with William on this one; somehow adults simply accept things like golf and stories about vain people having shallow relationships, but really they aren’t any more sensible than things people tut-tut now.

(Except I personally would never have put the Silmarillion anywhere near Atlas Shrugged, but that’s beside the point.)