The other day I was wandering the library with my armload of serious (boring) grown-up books and thinking that it was pretty much time to leave, when I suddenly thought about famed author C. S. Lewis.
He’s the British intellectual giant and acclaimed author of a number of books on theology and literature who passed away in 1963. He’s perhaps most famous for his Chronicles of Narnia series. Adding to a resurgence of popularity in the books is that some of the volumes have been transformed into major motion pictures in the past few years (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawntreader).
Having been a Lewis fan for years, I of course had read the Narnia series in my younger days and had also borrowed the books on CD from the library from time to time.
On this particular day, I had a desire to listen to one of these wonderfully written tales again. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s nice just to listen to someone else do the reading. So I ventured into the children’s library to pick up one of the books on CD.
I had to chuckle because when I walked into the kids’ library, my first thought was that hopefully people would think I was just coming to check on my child or something like that. I felt self-conscious about being there, but that feeling soon lifted as I glanced around and was reminded how much outstanding children’s literature there really is out there. And who says we as adults must absolutely stop reading it at a certain age?
Lewis certainly wouldn’t have seen it that way. He often spoke of the magic to be explored in books written for the younger set, and often pointed out how adults can tend to lose much in the way of imagination and wonder as the years pass.
Of course he revealed a profound ability to connect with young audiences via the Chronicles of Narnia which includes seven volumes packed with adventure, intrigue, magic and delight at every turn.
Interestingly, Lewis never had children of his own but his knack for telling a fine story from children’s perspectives is remarkable.
But the Narnia books, which were written over the span of several years in the 1950s, have always been appealing to many of us ‘grown-ups’ as well. Perhaps it’s partly because they are so well-crafted. Lewis tells rich, meaningful and accessible stories but they’re aren’t drenched in sentimentality. He certainly never condescended to his audience and scenes are typically described in a clean, crisp and rather simple fashion.
Compared to the special-effects laden films from the Narnia books (which have hit the big screen with varying results), the books are relatively spare in their descriptions of some events such as raging battles for instance. Lewis knew the secret that fuels timeless stories – leave it to the reader to turn to his or her own imagination and the possibilities are pretty much endless.
He once noted that the best books are the ones you can read time and again, and that’s indeed the case with the Narnia tales. There’s always something new and fresh to discover. And really, that’s the way it is with many of those classic children’s books. Take The Wind in the Willows, which was written by Kenneth Graham and first published in 1908.
Again, a compelling world has been created by Graham with characters that readers find themselves really caring about. It’s intelligent and imaginative – storytelling at its best.
I walked out of the library that evening with my aforementioned armload of books, and yes, a couple of Lewis books on CD – The Voyage of the Dawntreader and The Last Battle. I was reminded of a comment I heard once about how those who don’t read are missing out on a rich world. Adults who never discover the spark and joy of classic tales – even if they were written for children primarily – are also missing out.
Let the old-fashioned escapism begin.