Excerpts from Vol. III of the Collected Letters of Lewis

Thankful for Kindle highlights. Enjoy.

“We cd. read the whole Aeneid together.”

“But fan mail from children is delightful. They don’t gas. They want to know whether Aslan repaired Tumnus’s furniture for him. They take no interest in oneself and all in the story. Lovely.”

“Unredeemably savage religion goes on in the village: the Hermit philosophises in the forest: and neither really interferes with the other. It is only Xtianity wh. compels a high brow like me to partake in a ritual blood feast, and also compels a central African convert to attempt an enlightened universal code of ethics.”

“…though California must be a very attractive state, I confess I prefer New England. It is more my sort of country.”

“…finally someone has said ‘None are so unholy as those whose hands are cauterised with holy things’: sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job. You now want truth for her own sake: how will it be when the same truth is also needed for an effective footnote in your thesis? In fact, the change might do good or harm. I’ve always been glad myself that Theology is not the thing I earn my living by. On the whole, I’d advise you to get on with your tent-making. The performance of a duty will probably teach you quite as much about God as academic Theology wd. do.”

“A book of reference tells me that John Flavel came from Dartmouth and kept a private school. I have never heard of him before nor seen his books. But I have no difficulty in believing that he may be excellent. The past is full of good authors whom the general literary tradition has ignored and whom one only finds by chance. There is a great element of chance in fame.”

“I think love for one’s country means chiefly love for people who have a good deal in common with oneself (language, clothes, institutions) and is in that way like love of one’s family or school: or like love (in a strange place) for anyone who once lived in one’s home town. The familiar is in itself a ground for affection. And it is good: because any natural help towards our spiritual duty of loving is good and God seems to build our higher loves round our merely natural impulses–sex, maternity, kinship, old acquaintance, etc. And in a less degree there are similar grounds for loving other nations–historical links & debts for literature etc (hence we all reverence the ancient Greeks).”

“Indeed (I do not know whether to be more ashamed or joyful at confessing this) I realise that until about a month ago I never really believed (tho’ I thought I did) in God’s forgiveness. What an ass I have been both for not knowing and for thinking I knew. I now feel that one must never say one believes or understands anything: any morning a doctrine I thought I already possessed may blossom into this new reality. Selah!”

“P.S. Of course God does not consider you hopeless. If He did He would not be moving you to seek Him (and He obviously is). What is going on in you at present is simply the beginning of the treatment. Continue seeking with cheerful seriousness. Unless He wanted you, you would not be wanting Him.”

“I somehow can’t quite believe in myself going to Wyoming…”

“Dear Acworth– I have read nearly the whole of Evolution and am glad you sent it. I must confess it has shaken me: not in my belief in evolution, which was of the vaguest and most intermittent kind, but in my belief that the question was wholly unimportant. I wish I was younger…”

“Texas certainly does’nt sound attractive, but you seem to have got some enjoyment out of it; my brother says he has an idea that this is the one which calls itself the Lone Star State, and that its inhabitants–like the Scots and the Jews–are always making up good stories against themselves. e.g. that when America entered the war, Texas wired the President ‘Texas joins with U.S.A. in fight for freedom.’”

“For the Pagans knew more than the modern Ph.D’s.”

“Dear Mrs. Van Deusen The new photos raise extreme Sehnsucht: each a landscape as fulfils my dreams. That is the America I wd. like to see, not the great cities, which, except superficially, are really much the same all over the earth.”

“Meanwhile our only security is that The Day may find us working each one in his own station and especially (giving up dissensions) fulfilling that supreme command that we love one another.”

“In Ireland I stayed at a lonely bungalow last summer which the peasants avoided not because a ghost had been seen near it (they didn’t mind ghosts) but because the Good People, the Faerie, frequented that bit of coast. So apparently ghosts are the least alarming kind of spirit.”

“Obviously, where one is ‘more sure that God wants one to be’ is the place one must go: and even if the surety shd. in fact be mistaken I expect we may rely on God to bring it about that good will come of it.”

“What you say about the present state of mankind is true: indeed, it is even worse than you say. For they neglect not only the law of Christ but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery, perjury, theft and the other crimes which I will not say Christian Doctors, but the Pagans and the Barbarians have themselves denounced. They err who say ‘the world is turning pagan again’. Would that it were! The truth is that we are falling into a much worse state. ‘Post-Christian man’ is not the same as ‘pre-Christian man’. He is as far removed as virgin is from widow: there is nothing in common except want of a spouse: but there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse lost.”

“My feeling about people in whose conversion I have been allowed to play a part is always mixed with awe and even fear: such as a boy might feel on first being allowed to fire a rifle. The disproportion between his puny finger on the trigger and the thunder & lightning wh. follow is alarming. And the seriousness with which the other party takes my words always raises the doubt whether I have taken them seriously enough myself. By writing the things I write, you see, one especially qualifies for being hereafter ‘condemned out of one’s mouth’. Think of me as a fellow-patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier, cd. give some advice.”

“As to Aslan’s other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone in this world who (1.) Arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2.) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3.) Gave himself up for someone else’s fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4.) Came to life again. (5.) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb (see the end of the Dawn Treader). Don’t you really know His name in this world. Think it over and let me know your answer!”

“You and I who still enjoy fairy tales have less reason to wish actual childhood back. We have kept its pleasures and added some grown-up ones as well. One hasn’t kept the senses, though. What a comparatively tasteless thing an egg or a strawberry is now! Yes: I think the palate is the only part of me that need regret the early years…”

“You know, over here people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the sacramental side of it. Hence, in the spectators, a feeling of (one hardly knows how to describe it)–awe–pity–pathos–mystery. The pressing of that huge, heavy crown on that small, young head becomes a sort of symbol of the situation of humanity itself: humanity called by God to be His vice-regent and high priest on earth, yet feeling so inadequate. As if He said ‘In my inexorable love I shall lay upon the dust that you are glories and dangers and responsibilities beyond your understanding.’ Do you see what I mean? One has missed the whole point unless one feels that we have all been crowned and that coronation is somehow, if splendid, a tragic splendour.”

“How thankful I am that when God became Man He did not choose to become a man of iron nerves: that wd. not have helped weaklings like you and me nearly so much.”

“…the difference between a pagan and an apostate is the difference between an unmarried woman and an adulteress. For faith perfects nature but faith lost corrupts nature. Therefore many men of our time have lost not only the supernatural light but also the natural light which pagans possessed.”

“How wrong you are when you think that streamlined planes and trains wd. attract me to America. What I want to see there is yourself and 3 or 4 other good friends, after New England, the Rip Van Winkle Mts., Nantucket, the Huckleberry Finn country, the Rockies, Yellowstone Park, and a sub-Artic winter. And I shd. never come if I couldn’t manage to come by sea instead of air: preferably on a cargo boat that took weeks on the voyage. I’m a rustic animal and a maritime animal: no good at great cities, big hotels, or all that. But this is becoming egotistical.”

“I’d love to see a bear, a snow-shoe, and a real forest…”

“I have now perceived (what I always suspected from memories of our childhood) that the way to a child’s heart is quite simple: treat them with seriousness & ordinary civility–they ask no more. What they can’t stand (quite rightly) is the common adult assumption that everything they say shd. be twisted into a kind of jocularity.”

“I have done lots of dish-washing in my time and I have often been read to, but I never thought of your very sensible idea of doing both together. How many plates do you smash in a month?”

“I suspect we–and especially, my sex–don’t cry enough nowadays. Aeneas & Hector & Beowulf & Roland & Lancelot blubbered like school-girls, so why shouldn’t we?).”

“You ask ‘for what’ God wants you. Isn’t the primary answer that He wants you. We’re not told that the lost sheep was sought out for anything except itself. Of course, He may have a special job for you: and the certain job is that of becoming more and more His.”

“I am sure you understand that Aslan is a divine figure, and anything remotely approaching the comic (above all anything in the Disney line) would be to me simple blasphemy.”

“I am certainly unfit to advise anyone else on the devotional life. My own rules are (1.) To make sure that, wherever else they may be placed, the main prayers should not be put ‘last thing at night’. (2.) To avoid introspection in prayer–I mean not to watch one’s own mind to see if it is in the right frame, but always to turn the attention outward to God. (3.) Never, never to try to generate an emotion by will power. (4.) To pray without words when I am able, but to fall back on words when tired or otherwise below par. With renewed thanks. Perhaps you will sometimes pray for me?”

“When Our Lord made a wheel in the carpenter shop, depend upon it it was first and foremost a GOOD WHEEL. Don’t try to ‘bring in’ specifically Christian bits: if God wants you to serve him in that way (He may not: there are different vocations) you will find it coming in of its own accord. If not, well–a good story which will give innocent pleasure is a good thing, just like cooking a good nourishing meal. (You don’t put little texts in your family soup, I’ll be bound.)”

“But the great thing is to cultivate one’s own garden, to do well the job which one’s own natural capacities point out (after first doing well whatever the ‘duties of one’s station’ impose). Any honest workmanship (whether making stories, shoes, or rabbit hutches) can be done to the glory of God.”

“(I had been in Ireland, Donegal, which is lovely. All the mountains look like mountains in a story, and there are wooded valleys, & golden sands, & the smell of peat from every cottage).”

“About the word ‘hiking’ my own objection wd. lie only against its abuse for something so simple as taking an ordinary ‘walk’: i.e. to the passion for making specialised & self-conscious stunts out of activities which have hitherto been as ordinary as shaving or playing with the kitten.”

“It is right and inevitable that we shd. be much concerned about the salvation of those we love. But we must be careful not to expect or demand that their salvation shd. conform to some ready-made pattern of our own… God has His own unique way with each soul.”

“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely, in reality, the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr Johnson said, ‘To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour’… We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.”

“We were talking about Cats & Dogs the other day & decided that both have consciences but the dog, being an honest, humble person, always has a bad one, but the Cat is a Pharisee and always has a good one. When he sits and stares you out of countenance he is thanking God that he is not as these dogs, or these humans, or even as these other Cats!”

“I’m all for a planet without aches or pains or financial worries but I doubt if I’d care for one of pure intelligence. No senses (no relish of smells & tastes?), no affection, no Nonsense! I must have a little fooling. I want to tickle a cat’s ears and sometimes have a slanging match with an impertinent squirrel. By the way, I hope the reference to aches, pains, and financial worries does not mean you are suffering from all three (or both, for there are only two here).”

“You have no idea how many instances of domestic nastiness come before me in my mail: how deceptive the smooth surface of life is! The only ‘ordinary’ homes seem to be the ones we don’t know much about, just as the only blue mountains are those 10 miles away.”

“I envy your friends their 12 acre tract of woodland but shd. loathe a house that is nearly all glass. Not (I think) because I’m v. fond of throwing stones, but I like to feel in-doors when I’m in. The main charm of the view from a room is the fact that it is framed in, and unified by, the window. And I hate indoor sunlight. It makes shadows across the page of your book and turns the print green. All really open-air people (sailors, & farm labourers) like thick walls, small windows, and those shut!”

“I never knew a guinea-pig that took any notice of humans (they take plenty of one another). Of those small animals I think Hamsters are the most amusing–and, to tell you the truth, I’m still fond of mice. But the guinea pigs go well with your learning German. If they talked, I’m sure that is the language they’d speak.”

“My other great favourite is XIX.29 First, the mere glory of nature (between the Psalms and Wordsworth–a long gap in history–you get nothing equal to either on this theme). Then the disinfectant, inexorable sun beating down on the desert and ‘nothing hid from the heat thereof’.30 Then–implied, not stated–the imaginative identification of that heat and light with the ‘undefiled’ law, the ‘clean’ fear of the Lord, searching every cranny. Then the characteristically Jewish feeling that the Law is not only obligatory but beautiful, ravishing: delighting the heart, better than gold, sweeter than honey. Only after that, the (more Christian like) self examination and humble petition. Nearly all that could be said before the Incarnation is said in this Psalm. It is so much better Paganism than the real Pagans ever did! And in one way more glorious, more soaring and triumphant, than Christian poetry. For as God humbled Himself to become Man, so religion humbled itself to become Christianity.”

“I will never laugh at anyone for grieving over a loved beast. I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little. No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much–i.e. more than every one of God’s works deserves. But you need not feel ‘like a murderer’. Rather rejoice that God’s law allows you to extend to Fanda that last mercy which (no doubt, quite rightly) we are forbidden to extend to suffering humans. You’ll get over this. I will rejoice in the job.”

“Lor’ bless you, I’m no pacifist. A really modern weapon, a machine which a skill-less man can work by pressing a button, to the destruction of thousands, himself in safety, is disgusting. But a bow or pistol or sword, a thing used face to face–that is a different matter. Indeed I have a respect not unmixed with envy for people who can hit anything. (The only man I ever had a pot shot [at] in the first war didn’t appear to know he was being fired on at all)…”

“About past, long past, sins: I had been a Christian for many years before I really believed in the forgiveness of sins, or more strictly, before my theoretical belief became a reality to me. I fancy this may not be so uncommon.”

“Lords coëval with creation, Seraph, Cherub, Throne and Power, Princedom, Virtue, Domination, Hail the long-awaited hour! Bruised in head, with broken pinion, Trembling for his old dominion, See the ancient dragon cower! For the Prince of Heaven has risen, Victor, from his shattered prison. Loudly roaring from the regions Where no sunbeam e’er was shed, Rise and dance, ye ransomed legions Of the cold and countless dead! Gates of adamant are broken, Words of conquering power are spoken Through the God who died and bled: Hell lies vacant, spoiled and cheated, By the Lord of life defeated. Bear, behemoth, bustard, camel, Warthog, wombat, kangaroo, Insect, reptile, fish and mammal, Tree, flower, grass, and lichen too, Rise and romp and ramp, awaking, For the age-old curse is breaking. All things shall be made anew; Nature’s rich rejuvenation Follows on Man’s liberation. Eve’s and Adam’s son and daughter, Sinful, weary, twisted, mired, Pale with terror, thinned with slaughter, Robbed of all your hearts desired, Look! Rejoice! One born of woman, Flesh and blood and bones all human, One who wept and could be tired, Risen from vilest death, has given All who will the hope of Heaven.”

“What you say about books turning up at what seems to be just the right moment is well supported from my own experience. So much so that now, if I lose or forget something I’ve read that seems important, I do not much bother, for I feel a confidence that if I really need it it will be given to me again, and just in time–in a book on some quite different subject I shall find it quoted or a man I didn’t much want to talk to will mention it in conversation.”

“In both countries an essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English–just like doing Latin prose. Failure on this exam should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it.”

“Of course. ‘Gentle Jesus’, my elbow! The most striking thing about Our Lord is the union of great ferocity with extreme tenderness. (Remember Pascal? ‘I do not admire the extreme of one virtue unless you show me at the same time the extreme of the opposite virtue. One shows one’s greatness not by being at an extremity but by being simultaneously at two extremities and filling all the space between’).4 Add to this that He is also a supreme ironist, dialectician, and (occasionally) humourist. So go on! You are on the right track now: getting to the real Man behind all the plaster dolls that have been substituted for Him. This is the appearance in Human form of the God who made the Tiger and the Lamb, the avalanche and the rose. He’ll frighten and puzzle you: but the real Christ can be loved and admired as the doll can’t.”

“No one ever influenced Tolkien–you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch. We listened to his work, but could affect it only by encouragement. He has only two reactions to criticism: either he begins the whole work over again from the beginning or else takes no notice at all.”

“Dear Thomasine, It is very hard to give any general advice about writing. Here’s my attempt. (1) Turn off the Radio. (2) Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines. (3) Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You shd. hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again. (4) Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about…) (5) Take great pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn’t, and a single ill-chosen word may lead him to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget that you have not told the reader something that he needs to know–the whole picture is so clear in your own mind that you forget that it isn’t the same in his. (6) When you give up a bit of work don’t (unless it is hopelessly bad) throw it away. Put it in a drawer. It may come in useful later. Much of my best work, or what I think my best, is the re-writing of things begun and abandoned years earlier. (7) Don’t use a typewriter. The noise will destroy your sense of rhythm, which still needs years of training. (8) Be sure you know the meaning (or meanings) of every word you use.”

“Sir,– Nearly everything I have ever read about spelling reform assumes from the outset that it is necessary for us all to spell alike. Why? We got on for centuries without an agreed common orthography. Most men of my age remember censoring the letters of soldiers and know that even the wildest idiosyncrasies of spelling hardly ever made them unintelligible. Printing houses will always have, as they have now, their own rules, whether authors like them or not. Scholars, who know the ancestry of the words they use, will generally spell them accordingly. A few hard words will still have to be learned by everyone. But for the rest, who would be a penny the worse if though and tho, existence and existance, sieze, seize and seeze were all equally tolerated? If our spelling were either genuinely phonetic or genuinely etymological, or if any reform that made it either the one or the other were worth the trouble, it would be another matter. As things are, surely Liberty is the simple and inexpensive ‘Reform’ we need? This would save children and teachers thousands of hours’ work. It would also force those to whom applications for jobs are made to exercise their critical faculties on the logic and vocabulary of the candidate instead of tossing his letter aside with the words ‘can’t even spell.’”

“Dear Pauline Bannister I could not write that story myself. Not that I have no hope of Susan’s ever getting to Aslan’s country, but because I have a feeling that the story of her journey would be longer and more like a grown-up novel than I wanted to write. But I may be mistaken. Why not try it yourself?”

“I believe you are right in thinking that most ancient peoples had no hope of heaven, tho’ of course selected and exceptional individuals might be made gods and go to Olympus. That was as much out of the common course in their scheme as Elijah’s being caught up in the fiery chariot is in ours. I won’t answer for the Egyptians: nor for the Greek ‘mystery’ religions. What is v. much more important is that the ancients may have been right. The N. T. always speaks of Christ not as one who taught, or demonstrated, the possibility of a glorious after life but as one who first created that possibility–the Pioneer, the First Fruits, the Man who forced the door. This of course links up with Peter 1. III 20 about preaching to the spirits in prison and explains why Our Lord ‘descended into Hell’ (= Sheol or Hades). It looks v. much as if, till His resurrection, the fate of the dead actually was a shadowy half-life–mere ghosthood. The medieval authors delighted to picture what they called ‘the harrowing of Hell’, Christ descending and knocking on those eternal doors and bringing out those whom He chose. I believe in something like this. It wd. explain how what Christ did can save those who lived long before the Incarnation.”

“Here the whole world (stars, water, air, And field, and forest, as they were Reflected in a single mind) Like cast-off clothes was left behind In ashes yet with hope that she, Re-born from holy poverty, In Lenten lands, hereafter may Resume them on her Easter Day.”

“Yours is one of the nicest letters I have had about the Narnian books, and it was very good of you to write it. But I’m afraid there will be no more of these stories. But why don’t you try writing some Narnian tales? I began to write when I was about your age, and it was the greatest fun. Do try!”

“Keep on, do your duty, say your prayers, make your communions, and take no notice of the tempter. He goes away in the end.”

“A text you shd. keep much in mind is I John iii, 20: ‘If our heart condemns us God is greater than our heart.’ I sometimes pray ‘Lord give me no more and no less self-knowledge than I can at this moment make a good use of.’ Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted–i.e. keep on fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk–don’t keep on looking at it.”

“I have a notion that, apart from actual pain, men and women are quite diversely affected by illness. To a woman one of the great evils about it is that she can’t do things. To a man (or anyway a man like me) the great consolation is the reflection ‘Well, anyway, no one can now demand that I should do anything.’”

“The noble Arthurian volumes continue to arrive, but are not yet on the shelves. The work of arranging all my books in their new homes, tho’ delightful, goes on v. slowly, for I am not strong enough to do more than a little each day.”

“I don’t think Tolkien influenced me, and I am certain I didn’t influence him. That is, didn’t influence what he wrote. My continual encouragement, carried to the point of nagging, influenced him v. much to write at all with that gravity and at that length. In other words I acted as a midwife not as a father. The similarities between his work and mine are due, I think, (a) To nature–temperament. (b) To common sources. We are both soaked in Norse mythology, Geo. MacDonald’s fairy-tales, Homer, Beowulf, and medieval romance. Also, of course, we are both Christians (he, an R.C.).”

“Yes, autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life. But of course, like Autumn, it doesn’t last!”

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