Why C. S. Lewis wrote fairy tales

On StoriesIn his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” C. S. Lewis says “there are usually two reasons for writing an imaginative work, which may be called the Author’s reason and the Man’s. If only one of these is present, then, so far as I am concerned, the book will not be written. If the first is lacking, it can’t; if the second is lacking, it shouldn’t.” He applies this to his own fairy tales, namely The Chronicles of Narnia.

Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.

Then came the Form. As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e., became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale. And the moment I thought of that I fell in love with the Form itself: its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and ‘gas.’ I was now enamored of it. Its very limitations of vocabulary became an attraction; as of the hardness of the stone pleases the sculptor or the difficulty of the sonnet delights the sonneteer.

On that side (as Author) I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say.

Then of course the Man in me began to have his turn. I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it is so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if there were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.

That was the Man’s motive. But of course he could have done nothing if the Author had not been on the boil first.

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