February 12, 2013 by Jason Hood
I’ve begun Alan Jacobs’s gem, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, and all I can say is that I should’ve sprung for a hardback. I hate giving out nuggets–you should go get the whole bar of gold, or the whole unprocessed chicken breast, etc.–but here are some nuggets.
(1) Lewis’s mother had a calendar with daily quotations from Shakespeare. On the day of her death were lines from King Lear: “Men must endure Their going hence, even as their coming hither: Ripeness is all.” The first six words were inscribed on CSS’s tomb by his brother 55 years later.
(2) Early in the book Jacobs describes the remarkable degree of misery Lewis was experiencing when he began writing the Chronicles. The reality of intense family suffering and the psychological, social, and financial cost borne by Lewis in that season of his life is radically removed (and therefore all the more important) from the common portrait of Lewis as a prof who takes long walks, enjoys beers with the gang at the pub, and writes letters.
(3) I particularly appreciate @ayjay’s sensitivity to Lewis’s approach to education, which “is not about providing information so much as cultivating “habits of the heart”–producing “men with chests,” as he puts it in his book The Abolition of Man, that is, people who not only think as they should but respond as they should, instinctively and emotionally, to the challenges and blessings the world offers to them.” Thus stories and imagination are not optional; they are in fact vital.
(4) We find an important note along the same lines in Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost, which was dedicated to his friend Charles Williams, who had lectured on Milton at Oxford: “It is a reasonable hope that of those who heard you in Oxford many will understand that when the old poets made some virtue their theme they were not teaching but adoring, and that what we take for the didactic is often the enchanted.”
(5) Alan Jacobs thinks the Narnia stories aren’t as good as the Harry Potter stories!