What Lewis almost said: some thoughts on quoting carefully

lewis-hamlet-quote
Detail of page 99, _Selected Literary Essays_, C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper. (Cambridge University Press, 1969).

I’ve ranted in the past about C. S. Lewis misquotes. So has the C.S. Lewis Foundation, Essential C. S. Lewis,  and a host of other Lewisians.

I’ve often wondered why I care about this so much, why it rankles me so deeply when someone tosses around a quote offhandedly – or heavy-handedly, as the case may be – and then takes special care to note that it is from none other than C. S. Lewis, implying that it (the quote) is nearly scriptural and therefore they (the quoters) are entirely trustworthy and authoritative.

Does it really matter?

I think so (for reasons mentioned here). I think it speaks to something about how we use language, words, and ideas, how we view authority, and how we tend to accept (often blindly) what we are offered by Those-Who-Know, whether in virtual conversations, printed text, or spoken word.

We often let others do our thinking for us. But to make it look like we’ve done our own thinking, we buttress it with a quote by Someone Really Important and Smart, like C. S. Lewis, or countless other dead people whose words have been dissected into convenient sound-bites that make us look good.

Sometimes the quote is nearly-right, as in the case of this popular one:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live among those who are.

This quotes gets almost 3 millions hits in a Google search. Bravo for Clive on being viral, a thousand times over.

Unlike many of Lewis’s other misattributed quotes (including: “Humility is not thinking of yourself less: it’s thinking less of yourself,” and, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream,” and, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”), this one is almost spot on. What Lewis actually wrote was:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are: that good fortune I have enjoyed for nearly twenty years. (C. S. Lewis, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?”)

If the misquoters knew that the original included “in a circle of” as opposed to “among,” I suspect they would love it even more. We are all about circles these days – circles of friends, circles of life, circles of prayer, circles of circles.

[“Circle” is a very strange word if you look at or say it over and over and over again.]

The problem with this quote being used as it so often is – i. e. to say that if one’s friends have common sense and real-world wisdom, then so will you – is that Lewis wasn’t talking about that at all (which isn’t to say he wouldn’t agree).

This quote is from one of Lewis’s literary essays, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?” You can find it in at least three places: Proceedings of the British Academy (Vol. 28, 1942), They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses (Geoffrey Bles, 1962) and Selected Literary Essays (ed. Walter Hooper, Cambridge University Press, 1969). It appears rather unexpectedly about two-thirds of the way into Lewis’s argument that Hamlet is best enjoyed for its poetic power and prowess rather than being critiqued along various theoretical and critical lines. He tips his hat to Owen Barfield, not for being a friend who helped Lewis navigate the difficulties of daily decision making (though perhaps he did do that) or for being a friend whose mere presence deepened and expanded Lewis’s own daily wisdom (though perhaps that did happen).

Instead, he tips his hat to Owen Barfield specifically and his other literary friends generally for being the kind of people who kept Lewis grounded as a reader and critic, for being people of deep intellect and smart ideas who challenged Lewis as a reader and critic, for being people who thought carefully and thoroughly and creatively before spouting off about nothing in particular.

For those who are interested, Lewis tends toward a reading style that embraces the poetry, the lyricism, the words, the essence, the donegality, and the visceral responses rather than a reading style that hacks and dismembers texts into lifeless blobs of intellectual blubber. Lewis believed that the many critics who had examined Hamlet’s character through every lens from every angle had missed something important. He warns that our own reading of Hamlet (should you choose to read it, which he would strongly recommend) will also miss something important if we approach it in the same clinically sterile way.

Perhaps I should rather say that it would miss as much if our behaviors when we are actually reading were not wiser than our criticism in cold blood. (“Hamlet: The Prince of the Poem?” in They Asked for a Paper, pp. 68-69; Selected Literary Essays, p. 103)

Lewis’s famous quote about wise friends is assuredly about wise friends – but not in the sense that most people use it.

And perhaps that’s not a very big deal at all. Perhaps if the quote is powerful and good and true, it has limitless applications.

But maybe it is a big deal. Maybe we need to be very careful about what we write and say and quote. Maybe knowing the context is as important as knowing the words.

If a writer doesn’t know absolutely certain where a quote is from (which includes almost every wildly popular [uncited] internet quote) but the words are good enough to stand on their own without the weight of Someone Really Important and Smart behind them, then simply say so. “As someone once said: … ”

Don’t claim the words as your own if they aren’t. At the same time, don’t attribute them to someone else if you have not checked and confirmed their source. Language is too important and powerful, too beautiful and poetic to be flung about lightly and carelessly.

 

Naughty teens, pernicious literature, and scare quotes: a glimpse at 1884

Youth's Golden Cycle

132 years ago – when (according to some) people slipped seamlessly from childhood into adulthood – John Fraser (Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, University of Chicago) published a 439-page-thick doorstop book titled:

Youth’s Golden Cycle: or, Round the Globe in Sixty Chapters: Showing How to Get on in the World, with Hints on Success in Life; Examples of Successful Men; The Blessings of Loving Mothers, Careful Housewives, Clean, Cozy Homes; What and How to Eat and Drink: What to Read and How to Write; the Structure and Uses of the Most Important Members of the Body; How to Be and Keep Strong; The Wonders of Creation, Science and Art; Little Things-their Importance; Entertaining Stories of Animals; Animals-their Language and Habits; (etc.)

Back in 1884, titles were often as cumbersome as the books themselves.

This book was written for adolescent readers in response to “the rapid increase of the evils that result from the reading of pernicious literature,” “immoral fiction,” “bad books,” and other things being written by “vile writers” and being marketed by “worse publishers.”

Shocker: the market has been targeting teens for quite a while now. And adults have been afraid about the commercialized culture for as long as the market has been targeting teens. As the author says in his introduction:

“Every hour, the havoc wrought by the perusal of immoral fiction by our school-boys is assuming graver aspects. Almost daily we read of bands of youthful desperadoes, just entering their teens, being broken up by the police, and nearly always it is found that the organizations so broken up were directly suggested by dime novels…”

In other words, young teens and the media marketed to them have been viewed with alarmist fear for – well, for quite awhile now, even long before 1884. Cell phone apps and music videos may be new; the fears surrounding them are not. Nor are our lofty attempts to replace the offending filth with something nobler.

This particular book attempted to do just that: “Now the express object of this book is to counteract the evil influence of this vicious literature, and to furnish youth with reading that will be as exciting as any novel, and at the same time instructive, wholesome, manly, and fresh. Nor will it be of the ‘goody-goody’ order, to which so much of our Sunday-school literature belongs.”

Ouch. Genuine scare quotes in 1884. “Goody-goody” used pejoratively in 1884. Sunday-school taking it on the chin in 1884.

In some ways, things haven’t changed at all.

 

 

For when it’s time to dump the butterfly narrative

 (Photo: CKirgiss)
(Photo: CKirgiss)

I am a firm believer in the power of stories to not only bring joy and pleasure (and oh, they surely do) but also to re-right things that have become slightly upended in my obstinate struggle against the fog of everyday living.

Of course there is only one Story – both historical reality and eternal truth – that redeems and transforms. But there are many stories that pull back oppressively heavy curtains and push open stubbornly creaky doors so that a sliver of light smacks us in the face and says, “You there – wake up, would you? Listen and see and taste again what you once did so deeply and fully. Best for you to exit the fog, young one. The days are sweet and many, if you would have them.”

“Trees think we humans are mostly little, flashy creatures, rather the way we think of butterflies.”*

Er. Um. Well. Oh no. Bloody bother.

Thus did a single line in a 300-page story wrestle with my curtains and doors today, curtains and doors that be heavy-hung and tight-locked for any number of days now.

Little? Flashy? Me? Oh no. Surely not. That is not the butterfly story I know. I love Jesus, so of course I will be a butterfly – meaning I will be beautiful, bright, born anew from a blunderingly dull ground-crawler devoid of all wonder. It is so very sacred to be a butterfly, yes? To change from the repulsive mundane into the beautifully spectacular? I choose that. That will be my story. (And we shall skip the oozy putrid muck in the cocoon because in my story, the caterpillar will be gently and magically transformed from one thing to another without the disgusting obliteration and grossness that never gets mentioned – too messy and unevangelium.)

Plus: I will be an intelligent butterfly, thank you, and also a deeply profound butterfly who lives faithfully and wisely for many long years instead of a month like butterflies usually do. And also who flies with purpose and grace. Because I want a better story (don’t we all) that stars butterflies-as-I-create-them, and so I will fiddle with levers and buttons and pedals and engines back here behind the tight-locked doors and heavy-hung curtains (hiding out with other Kansas carnival vagrants who also want a better story that is perhaps a bit or a lot more concerned with what others see and perceive than what I actually live and am).

The butterfly narrative is too lovely to give up. I want to keep it, but also remake it into something better, which is so typically foolish and smarty-pants of me.

The butterfly narrative is woven deep into our transformation psyches and theologies. It’s quite lovely to thus imagine oneself. We do not easily surrender our narratives. Nor do we easily surrender our illusions and schemes and dramas.

But today, the line in the story in the book in my hands smacked me right down on the ground and rattled my bones (and maybe also my teeth) and said, “I am a good story, and I thank you for loving me and reading me. But might I remind you that little and flashy is neither your soul nor your calling. Trees, my dear — trees are the thing. Think about that while you finish reading me.”

Trees. Planted by streams of living water. With roots sunk deep deep deep into Almighty love. Growing so slowly that one almost can’t notice it at first. Uncurling green leaves and bearing fruit. Resting seasonally as if life itself depended on it. Drawing life from unseen waters that flow with no end. Made of the same stuff on which Christ was hung  – which is forever my humiliating shame and also my humbling glory.

You there, the one fumbling through the days with no more purpose or direction than a little flashy flitting thing. Yes, you. The flash may be beautiful and impressive, my dear – but it is short-lived, even shorter than you know. Set it aside. Set it forever aside and instead plant yourself. Plant yourself and live.

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

Stealing THE HOBBIT from the children (in which I state the crime)

 

 

JRRT - "The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water"
JRRT – “The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water”
JRRT "Rivendell"
JRRT “Rivendell”
JRRT "Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves"
JRRT “Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves”
JRRT "Conversation with Smaug"
JRRT “Conversation with Smaug”
JRRT "Death of Smaug"
JRRT “Death of Smaug”

(All images from The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, 2012)

Two winters ago I (along with millions of others) planted myself in a movie theater to watch the first installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. For several years, I’d included the book on my English syllabus (Purdue University). My students – many of whom had never read the book previously (or even heard of it – how is that possible??) responded to the story in various ways. [Note 1: my rather old-fashioned pedagogy requires students to arrive at class with a comment, question, or discussion starter – based on that day’s reading – written on a 3 x 5 card. In cursive, preferably. Extra points for using a fountain pen.] [Note 2: I’m not big on deconstructing a text to death and then discoursing in a lofty and snooty and philosophical manner about things that are killed by loft and snoot and philosophizing. I’m big on reading – carefully, enthusiastically, intentionally, thoughtfully, and joyfully – and letting a book be what it is, not what I or some dead French philosopher says it should be. But that’s just me.]

Last week, I stumbled across some of those old-fashioned 3×5 cards in an old-fashioned file drawer and enjoyed a few moments of old-fashioned reminiscing.

“I wish Bilbo and gang wouldn’t act so irrationally. Just do as you’re told!”

“I’ve gotten so attached to the dwarves and Bilbo that I may have shed a tear when Bilbo was saying goodbye. Is that normal?? I can’t believe I teared up over dwarves and a hobbit. They’ve changed me.”

“I wish Tolkien could read The Hobbit to me before bed every night.”

“STAY ON THE PATH!!!”

“I got so upset when they wandered off in the woods that I literally threw the book and didn’t pick it up again for several days. Why, Tolkien, why??”

“These dwarves have taken a terrible beating so far. Between giants, spiders, and being locked in barrels, they deserve a break – and TREASURE!”

“As terrible and disgusting as he is, I always just want to give Gollum a hug.”

“Why do the ponies always have to die??”

Who knew that 3×5 cards could be so enjoyable and that college students could be so endearing? But then, this:

“I really wish that Fili and Kili didn’t have to die. And this is going to be such a sweet movie.”

This, from an A+ student, who really loved the book and really can’t be blamed for having such high cinematic hopes.

But the movie wasn’t “sweet” – regardless of how you define the word – and not because it diverged from the written narrative extensively (which it did) but because in making it, Peter Jackson did that which an adult should never ever do: he stole from a child. From all children, actually.

While sitting in that theater two winters ago, I soon gave up on jotting down all the ways the cinematic experience strayed from the textual (and authoritative) narrative and instead got out my phone (yep – I was that person) and started frantically texting all my Tolkien-loving friends who were planning to take their kids to the movie that night, because, you know, children’s book, duh.

My text: Leave the children at home! Really! Truly! Just do it!

I fumed as I typed because, well, this was not a children’s movie. (And yet people brought their children anyway. What is wrong with people?) And if children couldn’t (or shouldn’t) go to see The Hobbit, then what was the point? (Besides the money, that is.)

Not surprisingly, I skipped installments two and three because, as my students rightly observed, The Hobbit is a story that should be read to children – or by children – at night. And also adults. Of course. Indeed. And though readers of all ages should rightly shudder at the thought of goblins (pony-eating horrors that they are) and Smaug (gentle and tame dragons are a freak of postmodernism) and Wargs (blerrgggh), we should still be able to sleep peacefully because the book is ultimately joyful and entirely eucatastrophic* in a way that honors all readers, and especially the children.

The movie – not so much.

“I hope the movie gives off the same happiness that the book does,” wrote one of my students on his 3×5 card just a month before the release date.

Um, no. It does not. Not in part one. I suspect not in part two. And definitely not in part three where two-plus hours of a large-screen  brutally vivid battle does not do justice to Tolkien’s genius of appropriately describing for children, on just a few pages,** the Battle of Five Armies – “and it was very terrible.” (Chapter XVII) Based on reviews I’ve read, neither does it do justice to Tolkien’s genius of narrative construction, which is just so very sad.

I’m a firm believe that the book – any book – is always better than the movie, just because (which isn’t to say that movies aren’t ever good or wonderful or brilliant or delightful.)

But when the movie exists in its present form only by way of being rudely, violently, and quite childishly wrested away from its intended audience – an audience that gives the story its very essence – then things have gone too far. They have perhaps gone there, but then failed to come back again.

Please, please, please – stop it, stealers. Really. Truly. Just write your own stories.

If you dare.

If you can.

*Read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.” Now. Really. Truly. Just do it.

**I recently read this comment in an online forum: Did Fili and Kili die in the book, too? They are by far the greatest characters in the movie, yet I don’t have the heart to read the book since it is to[sic] long.

Grrrr.

You could read the entire book, cover-to-cover, in less time than it takes to watch the entire movie conglomerate, credit-to-credit. Really. Truly. Just read it, already.

 

Prayer stars

Paper prayer stars (Photo: CKirgiss, Folding: LTenBrink)
Paper prayer stars (Photo: CKirgiss, Folding: LTenBrink)

At some point, every pray-er — no matter how devout — struggles to pray, sometimes for surprisingly pathetic reasons. One would think that shutting oneself up in a dark and quiet closet in order to listen to the Almighty would be a delightful gift to oneself, especially in a world that is spilling over with glaring and blaring distractions.

But it turns out that sometimes the dark and quiet closet is its own distraction. So much darkness. So much silence. So much closeness. The simplicity and sparseness can be quite overwhelming.

And then instead of praying, we end up thinking in spirals and worrying along rivulets and wandering through mists.

So we pinch our arms, reprimand our souls, nag our chattering minds, and get back to it. Diligently. Mercilessly. Stoically. Because, well, we should; we must; we ought; even though it’s so much work and requires such sternly disciplined singleness of mind. (And by “sternly disciplined singleness of mind” I mean “something that looks quite a bit like joyless self-martyrdom”.)

But – if you are very fortunate and very willing to listen and very emptied of self – something might break through the joyless self-martyrdom. You read a book that helps you understand prayer in a new way. You have an experience that peels back all the false layers of piety. You sense the Spirit gently whispering within the holy breath of life.

Or maybe even this: you receive a box of 8 small folded stars (that are beyond comprehension) and a note that says,

When I prayed for you I made these.

What manner of miraculous friendship is this, that someone not only prays for us but at the same time creates anew (from the old) something that reflects not just us but also the very One who made us?

In that moment – and everyone should have such a moment as this – prayer becomes something much sweeter and larger and more miraculous and divine and beautifully disciplined and creatively focused.

To the star-making pray-er: thank you for making prayer and creativity and friendship even sweeter and more brilliant than they already were.

To the rest of us pray-ers, including myself: what could be more unspeakably amazing than that we are invited to converse with the Almighty Creator (of the individually named and intentionally placed Stars), who is also Abba Father (of the undeserving and helpless flock known as humanity)?

Let us all find our own manner of star-making so that we will joyfully and often enter that sacred space to utter sacred words in the presence of the Sacred itself.

Tiny journals – from old and used to new and useful

I love journals. Unlined journals. Lots and lots of unlined journals. (You can read my relevant confession here.)

Lately, besides loving unlined journals, I’m also loving small journals. Mini journals. Little journals. Tiny journals. Journals that fit in the palm of my hand. Journals that force a person to choose her words very, very carefully because the tiny books neither offer non-essential empty space nor allow non-essential empty verbiage.

Tiny journals force a person to plan out her words. To think carefully about what she will write on the limited pages. To stop and consider what she is doing rather than rushing into a rambling reflection. (And maybe also to wear extra-strength reading glasses.)

Unlined journals are hard to find. Tiny unlined journals are even harder to find. So I must either fall out of love with them or make my own. I don’t know how to fall out of love, so I have no choice but to make my own, and in the process give new life to limp and worn leather goods.

It’s always gratifying to give new life to an old thing. It’s even more gratifying when the new thing is delightful and wondrous and has a purpose. Thus, while making my tiny journals, I glimpse ever so slightly the joy of the Creator when he remakes an old thing (such as me) into as new thing that has a purpose.

Such is the miracle of tiny, remade, repurposed things.

Mini-journal supplies   Mini-journal supplies

Mini-journal   Mini-journals

These book signatures (top left) are 2″ x 2.24″ and 1″ x 1.5″. I decided to punch the sewing holes (read: skewer them) on a princess coloring book (top right) for what I think are obvious cultural reasons. Note my new bookmaking awl (top right). It’s amazing. Splendid. Stunning. You should probably get one. Today. These little books (bottom left and right) are the remade offspring of a purse (orange), a datebook (navy), a wallet (teal), a coin purse (black), a checkbook clutch (brown), and a skirt (fuscia). The larger of the tiny journals are just the right size for copying out Romans 8. I tested it. The smaller of the tiny journals are just the right size for a favorite Psalm or poem or song or fable or alphabet (regular or runic) or note to a special someone, which would require giving up the tiniest of tiny journals, which would require a long pep talk to self about generosity and sharing and friendship and love.

 

 

Treasure Island

I grew up in a typical ’50s ranch. 3 (tiny) bedrooms. 1 (tiny) bathroom. 1 (tiny) dining room. 1 (tiny-to-average) living room. And 1 (tiny) galley kitchen. You know. The kind of kitchen that doubles as a hallway. So that a person must walk through it in one direction, then turn left to access the dining room. Or walk through it in the other direction, then turn right-ish to access the living room.

At least it was a through-street galley kitchen. It may have been squished for cooking but it was ideal for running circles around the inner core of the house. In pairs. Going opposite directions.

My first adult-apartment-galley kitchen, not so much. It was one of those architectural wonders tucked into a back corner of nothing. You know. The kind of kitchen that doubles as a hallway. To nowhere.

I’m all grown up now and I have a kitchen that still serves as a hallway in some respects. But that doesn’t matter because now I have an island.

That place around which crowds gather.

For a long time.

To talk. And feast. And talk some more.

It is quite possibly the 8th wonder of the modern world.

Late on Wednesday nights, after a crowd of college women depart my house (where they have consumed several loaves of banana bread, many tall glasses of milk, some mugs of coffee, a few cups of tea, and a portion of Scripture) my island is tangly. Busy. Scattered.

Lovely.

Wednesday's treasure island
Wednesday’s treasure island

It’s my favorite night of the week. It’s my favorite view of the island.

Except for those very rare occasions when the power goes out just before dinner on another night. And the only way to eat the 9×13 pan of goulash is by candlelight. Candlelight that evokes Advent. (Or maybe radioactive elbow macaroni.)

Thursday's treasure island
Thursday’s treasure island

What’s more lovely than enjoying a candlelight family dinner around the kitchen island? The glow is joyful. The ambiance is restful. The quiet is soothing. And the goulash is especially splendid.

Of course, the looming question soon becomes this: what, exactly, happens next? After we take our last bite? After this unexpected sweet dinner vigil is over?

Because, well, you know, there’s no power. There’s no way to use anything requiring electrical juice or internet bandwidth.

Panic. (I can’t live without modern conveniences which makes me an immigrant-descendant super-failure.)

Stress. (So are we supposed to just talk all night?)

Sadness. (We used to know how to play board games.)

And then sweet relief. (Oh look – the power’s on. We are saved from our pathetic selves.)

…and then…

Sadness. (It was prettier by candlelight.)

Stress. (We’ve become those people – the ones who are defined by their power adapters.)

Panic. (How can I recover just a tiny little sliver of that peaceful beauty, proving I’m not one of those people?)

With a flip of the power-company master-switch (and the hard work of many devoted employees), my kitchen island went from being an oasis in the dark to being a harsh glare of manufactured light. Which changed everything about the room. And the meal. And us.

Sure, we could see better.

But it wasn’t as sweet. Or as peaceful. Or as (dare I say it) holy.

So I acted. With a flip of the electric-customer kitchen-switch (and a few puffs of breath to soften the candlelight even more), my kitchen island went from being drenched in glaring rays to being cloaked in whispered light. And it changed everything about the room. And the meal. And us.

Thursday's recovered treasure
Thursday’s recovered treasure

For about 5 minutes. Because powered habits are really hard to break. So the electronics are running full force. Like usual.

I find that sad.

Even so, my kitchen island – whether lit by a satin-nickle triple-globed ceiling fixture, 10 candles, or just 1 – is a treasure, more than adequate for hosting a feast, surviving the darkness, or welcoming the occasional castaway. Or all three.

I think Robert Louis would approve.

Subjunctive – schmunctive

subjunctive

Just to clarify: I am not the grammar police. Not even after 20 years of being a professional writer and 8 years of being an English teacher. It’s too frustrating. And heartbreaking – it’s to show possession, Smith’s to indicate plurality, and their to contract “they are.” There are just no words for it. Though if you were Trumpkin, these might do: Beards and bedsteads! Thimbles and thunderstorms! Cobbles and kettledrums! Weights and water-bottles!

Which brings us to the English verb – 3 simple tenses, 3 past tenses, 6 progressive forms, the emphatic “do” form, and hey, how about that modal trinity of can-must-should – and LUCKY LUCKY US, beside all those tenses, let’s not forget The Many Moods of Verbs (which rather sounds like a title of a 70s soft-listening LP).

“If you were Trumpkin” is a prime example of one such mood: the subjunctive.

Of or pertaining to that mood of the finite verb that is used to express a future contingency, a supposition implying the contrary, a mere supposition with indefinite time, or a wish or desire.

Yeah. That thing.

We’ve all heard it.

If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.”

If I were king of the for-eheheheheheheheheheh-st.”

From these, one might reasonably conclude that the subjunctive mood has more to do with lyrical freestyling and jabberwocky antics than with a verbal mood.

If I was. If I were. Does it really matter?

To some people, yes. They argue that if we were to subjugate our subjunctives so as to use them less subjectively and more submissively (in respect to grammar rules) and more subliminally (in respect to rhetorical flair) our speech would more accurately reflect our progressive civility and refinement (or maybe our panties-scrunched-in-a-bunch-ness) and the world would be a better place. For you. And me. You just wait and see.

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.

But I do know this: if I were a rich woman and also were queen of the forest, I would be able to buy more books and store them in my ever-expanding royal library, which would definitely make the world a better place. For me. For me. You just wait and see.

C.S. Lewis, Lore, and Love

Photo: CKirgiss

It seems presumptuous to join all the other Lewisians today in celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Perhaps not brilliantly, but oh well – we can’t all be Lewis.

Set aside for the moment that Lewis and Tolkien had a serious falling out, in part because of Lewis’s decision to join the Church of England after his conversion.

And that his writing sometimes echoes faintly of British snobbery.

And that he occasionally leaves you guessing as to what he really thinks and believes about specific doctrinal points (purgatory, for example).

And that Robin McKinley, one of my favorite young adult authors, who recently converted to Christianity, is quite thoroughly allergic to him (as stated here).

And that Hollywood has made a flozzergnashing priddlyshnotz of Narnia (there are no words for it, really).

And that HarperCollins has ignored all textual evidence, literary logic, and scholarly output by INCORRECTLY renumbering the Chronicles of Narnia (which many of us have ranted about in the past for all the reasons outlined here).

And that Tolkien pooh-poohed his Chronicles in part because they included Father Christmas.

And that many of his colleagues felt he’d sold out to the world of commoners via the BBC and popular publishers (or maybe it was just jealousy).

And that sometimes you have to read his sentences several times over to really digest all of the truth and logic and brilliance packed into them.

And that his literary scholarship can sometimes make current literary scholars feel incompetent.

And that he often leaves readers hanging with, “In a book I read one time – I can’t remember which one…” (the price of possessing a searchable-PDF-high-quality-flatscanner-like memory).

And that he smoked (this one really gets some people).

And drank (now I’ve really done it).

Set it all aside because it doesn’t matter; the fact remains – C. S. Lewis was a brilliant writer. Since his writings are all I personally have of him, they are all I can speak to.

And they are indeed brilliant. Delightful. Unexpected. Rich. Deep. Profound. Playful. Reflective. And so many other things.

The Lewis Society to which I belong does, on occasion, genuflect a bit more than necessary. And a friend of mine sometimes jokes that I adhere to the doctrine of the Quadrinity. But I recognize my sometimes excessive adoration of Lewis for what it really is – sincere admiration (with a dash of awe) for a man who wielded language like a warrior’s sword, waved words like a magician’s wand, and rang truth like a chorister’s bell.

He did this as an expert of literary scholarship.

He did this as a devout believer of Jesus Christ.

I am glad to know him, even if just through his books. Those are more than enough.

________________

[Lewis is so very much more than his Chronicles; even so, many readers only know him as the man who created Narnia. And so here are some of the best lines from that land where we all want to be.]

“Then he isn’t safe” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  –The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”  –Prince Caspian

“If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie.”  –The Silver Chair

“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”  –The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Was it all a dream?” wondered Shasta. But it couldn’t have been a dream for there in the grass before him he saw the deep, large print of the Lion’s front right paw. It took one’s breath away to think of the weight that could make a footprint like that.  –The Horse and His Boy

Then there came a swift flash like fire either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”  –The Magician’s Nephew

“Come further up, come further in!”  –The Last Battle

______

Okay, just one more, from Out of the Silent Planet, basically summing up the entire doctrine of the fall and our subsequent need for Christ’s redemptive work on the cross:

They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history – …

“It is because they have no Oyarsa,” said one of the pupils.

“It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,” said Augray.

Lewis at The Kilns

Lessons from the Tree

Photo: CKirgiss
Unlit by day

I love my book tree just as much unlit by day as lit by night. It’s gracious like that.

Like all beautiful and bookish things, there’s more to this book tree than just a tapered stack of tomes. There is truth. Loads of it. Mostly about the Church and her people.

Lesson 1: If one book falls, they all fall. (Really – is it too obvious to state?)

Lesson 2: Each book brings something unique to the tree – colors, textures, topics, covers, authors, views, titles. The variety is astonishing.

Lesson 3: The tree is made entirely of books that were either destined for the trash pile or stacked in a junk shop before being rescued, bought for a price, carried home, and given new life.

Lesson 4: Some of the books have divergent views on such things as history, humanity, and society, but they all agree to play together nicely and be part of this particular tree.

Lesson 5: Together, these books make something bigger, better, and more beautiful than they do alone.

Lesson 6: Even the smallest amount of book tree light pierces the surrounding darkness.

Photo: CKirgiss

Lesson 7: The inner book tree lights radiate the space within, then spill out the cracks, tumble over the pages, and radiate the space without.

Photo: CKirgiss
Inner light, outer glow

Lesson 8: The seemingly ordinary books are quite as necessary as the fancifully decorated books.

Photo: CKirgiss
(extra)ordinary

Lesson 9: The tree stands tall and true only because it is built on a foundation that is strong and level (and also happens to be made out of an old shed door decorated in crayon by the neighbor girl).

Photo: CKirgiss
On this table I will build my tree.

Lesson 10: The tree brings me joy. Great, great joy.

So should the Church. And so can the Church. But often she does not because (sometimes) each of her books determines to write its own story, construct its own foundation, and be its own individual tree.

And yet the Lord loves her (and her books) still. Glory be, that is Good News indeed.

[Just one more thing…]

My particular book tree has its own peculiar mix of doctrines that I discovered only after constructing it. (NOTE: The views of my tree do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or its author.)

My book tree:

is ecumenical

Photo: CKirgiss
Dante and Catholic Philosophy

embraces teaching that is both didactic and narrative

Photo: CKirgiss
Pinocchio and English-French Dictionary

is evangelistic

Photo: CKirgiss
Billy Sunday

wallows gleefully in human depravity

Photo: CKirgiss
The Seamy Side of History

is egalitarian – or maybe complementarian?

Photo: CKirgiss
Call of the Wild and A Girl of the Limberlost

is confidently heaven-bound

Photo: CKirgiss
The Country Beyond

warns against backsliding

Photo: CKirgiss
The Danger Trail

deals with behavior lapses simply and swiftly (and – let’s hope – privately)

Photo: CKirgiss
It Never Can Happen Again

encourages daily surrender and sanctification

Photo: CKirgiss
Little Journeys

puts a high priority on children’s ministries

Photo: CKirgiss
Complete Cheerful Cherub

cares for those in need

Photo: CKirgiss
The Sick-A-Bed Lady

follows a congregational form of government

Photo: CKirgiss
The Little Minister

and lastly, has a definitive view of baptism.

Photo: CKirgiss
Water Babies