I ended 2015 with my wick burnt to the bitter end, but no more so than on most of my other New Year’s eves. I generally do end my years with a whimper rather than a bang. By December 31st time really does feel ancient. Also the whole holiday season thing wrings me out. By the last day of the year I am such a tired stupor that all I want to do is curl up in my big easy chair in my new Christmas pajamas watching some old movie that I’ve seen at least 20 times before. Or read a book, a comfortable old book; I am not in the mood to break through any intellectual frontiers. Perhaps I might have a glass of wine to feebly welcome in the New Year, limping half-awake across the midnight line.
But New Year’s day, as in the past, I awoke with a new sense of purpose and energy. I know the calendar is only an artificial human construct but, artificial or not, there is something magical about the dawning of the New Year. Right away I felt excited about returning to my essential creative self and beginning anew. The bright spirit who guides my reading life immediately produced exactly the right book to help me get there. I was browsing Hoopla* and there it was: C.S. Lewis: The Art of Writing and the Gifts of Writers. Immediately I felt a familiar and welcome something welling up within – that combination of urgency, desire, and “rightness”, similar I suppose, to love at first sight. The book is a collection of essays, speeches, and recordings on the theme of writing, most of which I had never read.
In fact, now that I think of it, 2015 was an unusual reading year in that other than one essay (“Why I Am Not a Pacifist”) I went the entire 12 months without reading any C.S.Lewis. He, along with a few others, is usually the bread and butter (or in my new gluten-free diet the nutritional yeast) of my reading life. Perhaps part of my burnout was due to Vitamin CSL deficiency.
As soon as I began listening to the book I felt a surge of spiritual energy and I knew I had found the perfect book to kick off my 2016 reading year. As with many other C.S. Lewis audio books, this one is narrated by Ralph Cosham. His proper slightly dry British diction strikes the perfect note of confident intelligence and self-effacing humility. It’s easy to forget I am not listening to C.S.L. himself. Sadly I have just read that Mr. Cosham passed away in 2014.
A few minutes into the first essay I felt myself coming home to the green pastures, wooded paths, and clear sparkling streams of my literary world. Many of the pieces have to do with children’s literature and Lewis’s ideas about what that means. This was especially delightful because my first project this year is illustrating a children’s book for an author I know. I am now inspired not only to illustrate but to write, maybe for children, maybe not.
In Lewis’s view, the author should let the subject matter of his or her imagination choose the appropriate form, whether that form be fairy tale, detective novel, science fiction, essay, poetry – whichever vehicle seems best to fit your material. To Lewis it would be beyond vulgar to write according to the demands of the market. He himself wrote the Narnia books because they seemed the best form for the stories he had to tell, not from any special affection for children.
Here is a quote from this book that I love:
“No book is really worth reading at the age of 10 which is not equally, and often more, worth reading at the age of 50.”
So true. I read The Wind in the Willows for the first time only a couple years ago and I can’t imagine I would have liked it better had I read it as a child. It is a book I will surely read again.
I am also fascinated by what Lewis has to say about movies based on books:
“Nothing can be more disastrous than the view that the cinema can and should replace popular written fiction. The elements cinema excludes are the very elements that give the untrained mind its only access to the imaginative world.”
Lewis would probably be appalled at the number of untrained minds in our time who are completely shut out from this imaginative world. A non-reader cannot even know what Lewis means by “imaginative world.” He is talking about a world that exists only in the human mind, a world that has qualities far beyond mere excitement, explosions, and sequential dramatic events, however well-acted and however impressive the special effects. This imaginative/spiritual world is a vast and eternal resource. The more you read the more you discover how words can lead you through doorways and secret passages to places that are beyond the reach of language. You cannot get this magical experience from the movies.
*Hoopla is a library-connected app where you can get free ebooks, audio books, music, and movies. Check it out if you have not already found this treasure.