Monday, October 21, 2013

Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories

by C. S. Lewis

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

Thoughts: It's C. S. Lewis. It's obviously going to be fabulous. The first section of this book is a collection of essays about writing, with an emphasis on speculative fiction. In the second section, there are four short stories, again with a SciFi/Fantasy bent.

The first part was especially good. These essays, among many other important things, defended views I've held for a long time, but never been able to defend very well. Such as: children's books can be as good and well worth reading as adult books, it is not lame to re-read books many times, speculative fiction is not worthless escapism, and SciFi is awesome. I could fill this review with quotes discussion, but that would deprive you of the pleasure of finding things out for yourself. (Plus it would be way too much work.) So here goes a much smaller selection (but still very long, compared to the rest of my reviews).

"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often more) worth reading at the age of fifty--except, of course, books of information."
"On Stories", pg. 15
Hah! Take that, people who think people who read children's books as adults are weird and immature!
There's also some interesting discussion in this essay about film vs. "popular" fiction (in other words, the pretty badly written stuff). There's a section early on that is talking about excitement, and how the film of King Solomon's Mines lost what made the original book special by (among other things) exchanging the particular  and atmospheric fear of being shut in the dark cave, with general "excitement" and violent danger. I thought it very applicable to most modern action movies (although I do actually enjoy many modern action movies).
"If you find that the reader of popular romance--however uneducated a reader, however bad the romances--goes back to his old favourite again and again, then you have pretty good evidence that they are to him a sort of poetry."
"On Stories", pg. 15

"I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story."
"On Three Ways of Writing for Children", pg. 24
In this essay, he also has a whole defence of fairy tales being read to children, even though they can be terribly frightening. (Have you read the original fairy tales? They are dark.) "Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage." (pg. 31) It also reminded me of Doctor Who (the awesomest), and how people remember hiding behind the sofa whilst watching it, but loving it all the same.
Another fascinating discussion was concerning the idea that kids who read fantasy will lose themselves in escapism. I strongly disagree with this, and thankfully, so does C. S. Lewis. In fact, he basically argues the reverse, that love of fantasy makes people less inclined to escapism, especially compared to real-world stories.  "[A child] does not despise the real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted." ("On Three Ways of Writing for Children", pg. 29-30) He talks more about escapism, but from an adult perspective, in the essay "On Science Fiction".

I could quote so much more, sigh... But this is getting too long already, so I'll leave the essays and go on to the stories.

Somewhat unexpectedly for me, I didn't enjoy these as much as the essays. My favourite was actually the unfinished story, "After Ten Years". It had enormous potential to be the kind of story I would treasure for my whole life. And strangely enough, it was the least scifi of the lot, being about the aftermath of the Trojan war. The more actual scifi stories almost seemed a little dated, especially "Ministering Angels" and "Forms of Things Unknown". I liked "The Shoddy Lands" a bit more, but seemed to fit more with The Great Divorce (splendid book), and more interesting when you came at it from that point of view than expecting cool scifi stuff.

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