As someone who works with children and loves a good story, discovering C.S. Lewis’ essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” was a pleasant surprise. And I admit that it assuaged an ego bruised by being labeled a romantic and childish. It is also interesting to note that the essay was written after Lewis had published some of the Chronicle of Narnia books. He received a lot of flak for writing them. It was consisted unsuitable for a childless, educated Oxford professor to stoop down to the level of writing children’s books. Even now critics of Lewis say that it was an intellectual retreat or regression for him to write children’s books, after suffering a serious defeat at the Oxford Socratic debates. Judge for yourself.
Here are a few unadorned exerts from the essay which, though not necessarily contributing to the main argument, I found enjoyable:
“In my own first story I had described at length what I thought a rather fine high tea given by a hospitable faun to the little girl who was my heroine. A man, who has children of his own, said, ‘Ah, I see how you got to that. If you want to please grown-up readers you give them sex, so you thought to yourself, “That won’t do for children, what shall I give them instead? I know! The little blighters like plenty of good eating.”’ In reality, however, I myself like eating and drinking. I put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my fifties.”
“The third way, which is the only one I could ever use myself, consists in writing a children’s story because a children’s story is the best art-form for something you have to say”
“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doings so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
“Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table [neat sorting-out of books into age-groups, so dear to publishers]”
“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 a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them.”
“Once in a hotel dining-room I said, rather too loudly, ‘I loathe prunes.’ ‘So do I,’ came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table. Sympathy was instantaneous. Neither of us thought it funny. We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny. That is the proper meeting between man and child as independent personalities.”