Best Years Home
Mike's Midlife Story
More Free Columns
Links Page
Friends of Best Years
About Mike
Old Stuff
A Celebration of Joy: Christian Romanticism in the Chronicles of Narnia, by Mike Bellah
Abstract and Table of Contents
Introduction
Definitions
Myth and Imagination
Children's Stories
The Ideal Reader
Fantasy and Realism
Friendships: Love in Narnia
Quest and Adventure
The Eucatastrophe
Romanticism in the Chronicles
The Failure of Romanticism
The Triumph of Chrisitian Romanticism
The Baptized Imagination
Works Cited
 

CHAPTER IV: CHILDREN'S STORIES

The conversation with Edmund and Lucy at the end of the last chapter brings up another point. The Chronicles are not just romance; they are fairy stories; they are children's stories. At least they are stories about children, and they contain adventures of dwarfs, dragons, magicians, jousting, and similar topics that one usually associates with the content of children's stories. The subject was a sensitive one for both Lewis and Tolkien, for neither of them believed "children's stories" to be a separate literary genre. Tolkien writes, "all children's books are on a strict judgement poor books," and "books written entirely for children are poor even as children's books" ("On Fairy-stories" 59).

Tolkien went on to bemoan the fact that romance or fairy-stories had been relegated to the exclusive realm of children:

Actually, the association of children and fairy-stories is an accident of our domestic history. Fairy-stories have in the modern lettered world been relegated to the `nursery,' as shabby or old-fashioned furniture is relegated to the play-room, primarily because the adults do not want it, and do not mind if it is misused. (58)

Lewis writes that one usually has to speak in apologetic and playful terms about the love of "children's" books. "Yet," he says,

I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty--except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all. (Of Other Worlds 15)

Lewis goes on to add "most of the great fantasies and fairy-tales [throughout history] were not addressed to children at all, but to everyone" (An Experiment in Criticism 70). This was an issue about which Lewis felt quite passionate, and his defense is often both humorous and caustic:

The process of growing up is to be valued for what we gain, not for what we lose. Not to acquire a taste for the realistic is childish in a bad sense; to have lost the taste for marvels and adventures is no more a matter for congratulations than losing our teeth, our hair, our palate, and finally, our hopes. Why do we hear so much about the defects of immaturity and so little about those of senility? (72)

Lewis believed strongly that children should not be spoken down to. He writes, "we must meet children as equals in that area of our nature where we are their equals . . . . The child as reader," he adds, "is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man" (An Experiment in Criticism 34). Specifically, Lewis thought that children are often patronized in two ways: one, by overly shielding them from violence, and two, by fostering a contrived moral on them.

While Lewis believed that children should be protected from literature that would promote disabling phobias, he did not believe one should keep a child from "the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil" (An Experiment in Criticism 31). Lewis felt such overprotection to be ludicrous in a generation born under the shadow of the atomic bomb. He writes, "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 make their destiny not brighter but darker" (31). Lewis's conclusion to his argument reads like an ad for the Chronicles of Narnia:

Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of 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. (31)

Thus, Lewis said that children could be patronized by overprotection. Similarly, he thought they could be victimized by moralization. To Lewis moralization means deciding in advance what modern children need and writing it into a story. Lewis believed this attitude on the part of the author far too superior. "Let the pictures tell you their own moral," he writes,

but if they don't . . . 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 children that. For we have been told on high authority that in the moral sphere they are probably at least as wise as we. (33)

Lewis explained his own moral in the Chronicles by saying that authorian moral rises spontaneously "from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life" (33). He insists that one should "let the pictures [in one's imagination] tell you their own moral" (33). In his case, Lewis says that at first he had very little idea of how his first Narnian story would go. But then suddenly:

Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don't know where the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there, He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him. (42)

So Lewis had a very high view of children, and nowhere does this show itself more clearly (unless it is in the Chronicles themselves) than in his view of the ideal reader.

To chapter 5

Respond to my thesis. I'd like to hear from you.