C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children, eds. Lyle W. Dorsett & Marjorie Lamp Mead

So my life has been in a smidgy bit of an uproar lately, for various reasons – my library card expired, for one thing, right on the day that half my books were due to get renewed!  I had no idea the expiration date was so soon; it feels like I just renewed it a few weeks ago.  And, see, I have this friendly blue library card with an elegant number that I have memorized, and it has one of the earliest extant drafts of my signature, which I had only invented recently when I got the card in 2001.  However, the library has since “upgraded” to fancy new white library cards that are just so cold and hateful and soulless, and every time I see them my brain is all NOT THE MEAN WHITE CARD DO NOT WANT, and the last time I got my library card renewed, the librarian tried to take my old card away and give me a nasty new one, and it was such a narrow escape, you have no idea.

This time I was prepared.  I said a whole lot of words to the library guy to convince him of the sincerity of my desire to keep my exact particular library card FOREVER.  “BECAUSE I KNOW THE NUMBERS BY HEART,” I explained to him urgently, not giving him my card when he put out his hand for it.  (I kept having visions of him snipping it smartly in half before I could stop him, and it was like watching someone CUT UP A CHILD.  It’s just so irrevocable.  Once you have cut a child in half, it’s too late to fix it!  You cannot tape it back together and keep using it!)

And he didn’t say anything, just kept waiting for me to hand him my library card, and I believe I said something along the lines of, “No, seriously, listen, I understand that there is a new library card in town but I cannot bear to lose this library card.  We have been together all these years and we just can’t be parted, you see, because it would be far too painful, a brutal separation really, and CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD?”  As I mopped up my tears and prepared to ululate martyr’s funeral style, to make sure he understood the serious mourning I would have to go into if he took my friendly blue library card away, the library guy looked to his colleague for assistance, and his colleague said, “Um, yeah, she can keep that one if she wants it.”  OH AND I DO.

Well anyway, it was very stressful, as you can imagine, in spite of the very validating realization that I have only accrued $13.30 in fines since three years ago when my card last had to be renewed.  So I sensibly bought myself some spiritually soothing books to get me through these and other difficulties.  I got a large green book with a soppy nature drawing on the front that is a compendium of C.S. Lewis’s religious writings – I need some of these, and the book cannot help the soppy drawing – and I got The Essential Rumi, which I love so much I haven’t yet figured out how to address it on this blog, and I got C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children.

Phew.  That was a long introduction for a very slim book.

Those of you who read this blog regularly may know that I have a rocky relationship with C.S. Lewis.  The longer we are apart, the more he bothers me.  I am sensibly buying a lot of C.S. Lewis’s books, so that I will be statistically more likely to read his stuff frequently, because in reality I love him an awful lot.  And this book, his letters to children, mainly about his Narnia books, is exactly the reason (well, one of many) that I love him.  He does not patronize, and it’s so easy to patronize a kid.  He writes in a serious but good-natured way, and answers their questions very politely.  Behold an excerpt:

Dear Lucy,

I am so glad that you like the Narnian stories and it was nice of you to write and tell me.  I love E. Nesbit too and I think that I have learned a lot from her about how to write stories of this kind.  Do you know Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings?  I think you wd. like it.  I am also bad at Maths and it is a continual nuisance to me – I get muddled over my change in shops.  I hope you’ll have better luck and get over the difficulty!  It makes life a lot easier.

It makes me, I think, more humble than proud to know that Aslan has allowed me to be the means of making Him more real to you.  Because He could have used anyone – as He made a donkey preach a good sermon to Balaam.

Perhaps, in return, you will sometimes say a prayer for me?

With all good wishes,

Yours sincerely,
C.S. Lewis

I have this book of letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, and the editors of it have cleverly chosen a selection of letters relating to Lord of the Rings.  I bought it one time when I was in California learning Chinese (not very successfully though I can still count quite high), and although I do not count myself among the die-hard Lord of the Rings fans in my family (didn’t even read it until the films came out – I know, I know), I was captivated by Tolkien’s letters about it.  I wish someone would do a similar thing with C.S. Lewis and letters relating to his writing.  Not just Narnia but all of his writing.  How good would that be?

  • I used to have this one library card that I had registered with all the libraries in town (so that I only had to memorize that one library card number). But…somehow I lost the thing. I still can’t even bear to talk about it. The ugly bloodred one that I have to replace it just doesn’t seem the same. My heart goes out to you and your lucky save!

    Anyway, I’ve totally been in beginner mandarin classes before too (as well as Japanese, Spanish and French) and I’ve failed and somehow ended up dropping them all… except maybe French. So much for a language major.

    Hmmm…I too am bad at maths…

    • Thanks! 🙂 Actually, when I first got my grown-up blue library card, I kept losing it and having to get another one. I went through a number of library cards before finally settling on this one. There’s this one librarian who always says “You know, we have new library cards that are stronger than this,” when I check out, and I always tell him I’m happy with my library card and I really want to keep this one. He just won’t listen to me!

      I’m bad at maths but I’m pretty good at languages. The problem is never having anyone to talk to. I’d really like to do an immersion program in one of my top five need-to-learn-them languages. I think that would be fun!

  • Wow, close call with the library card, but right result! I love Rumi, too, but (whispers in low voice) have never read any C. S. Lewis, well apart from doing The Lion, The Witch etc in school, which I never think counts. He writes a very good letter, though.

    • The two people I know who didn’t read the Narnia books until adulthood were unimpressed by them. Er, but I still can’t help feeling that it’s much better to have read them, than not to have read them. The Horse and His Boy is my favorite one. I love the way C.S. Lewis writes – he writes lovely spare sentences and doesn’t waste words. You just have to be aware that he’s going to be a bit (sometimes a lot) sexist, but the books are just charming.

  • Mumsy

    Jen, your very own mother never read the Narnia books until well into her teens. I think I read the last ones in college. So. But perhaps my inner nine-year-old just lasted longer than other people’s?

    • Well, that’s good to know. I really want everyone to love the Chronicles of Narnia, but not everybody does, you see. I’m glad you read them to me when I was three! Lo these many years ago!

  • I love your blue library card story, and the way you tell it. Please publish a novel so I can read it and love it and read it again. That is all 😛

    • Aw, thanks! That is the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all week.

  • Saffron Lang

    Hi Jenny,
    Hehe, i’ll make a confession: i came across your blogsite when i entered “C. S. Lewis Letters to Children” in the google search engine.

    i had recently bought, “Companion to Narnia” which, i will add, i wasn’t intending to buy at all. it just jumped out at me, as if a red flag was waving like mad with a wailing voice of “BUY ME!” so i gave in, and it’s a GREAT encyclopedia for anything Narnian.

    anyway, back to you. i’m very interested in finding this book “CSLLTC,” and since you’re a proud owner of it, is it as good as it sounds? i mean, just reading that excerpt makes me want to plunge into that book (after i find it in the bookstore, hopefully! fingers crossed!)

    i discovered Lewis’ books when i was in sixth grade, but lost interest in it for a time; that was my Philip Pullman Dark Materials stage.

    but now, in my twenties, i’m fervently returning to my Narnian childhood.

    thanks for this blog.
    love the library story! love libraries; hate librarians. they’re the “trolls under the bridge” haha!

    cheers!
    always,
    Saffron

    • It is delightful and definitely worth buying, if a little short. When I am slightly cross with C.S. Lewis, I like to open this book up and read a little of it, and then I love him again.

      (I like librarians! As long as they are not judgmental.)