C. S. Lewis’ Philosophy of Writing

Earlier this week, we looked at C. S. Lewis’ thoughts on Christianity and Culture, which discusses his philosophy of writing–why he wrote what he wrote.

He felt that “The abuse of culture is already there, and will continue whether Christians cease to be cultured or not. It is therefore probably better that the ranks of the ‘culture-sellers’ should include some Christians–as an antidote. It may even be the duty of some Christians to be culture-sellers.”

Having established this, though, he goes on to write that, “[When] I speak of ‘Resisting the abuse of culture’ I do not mean that a Christian should take money for supplying one thing (culture) and use the opportunity thus gained to supply a quite different thing (homiletics and apologetics). That is stealing. The mere presence of Christians in the ranks of culture-sellers will inevitably provide an antidote.” 

And I find this fascinating because “homiletics” are preaching, a sermon or moralizing discourse, and “apologetics” are defending the Christian faith, particularly against those who don’t believe. He writes in an apologetic way in Mere Christianity, but he argues here that this sort of thing shouldn’t show up in a novel.

IMG_7701 by alice10

This fits with what he says on art in An Experiment on Criticism: “[A]n ‘appreciation’ of sculpture which ignored the statue’s shape in favour of the sculptor’s ‘view of life’ would be self-deception. It is by the shape that it is a statue. Only because it is a statue do we come to be mentioning the sculptor’s view of life at all.” If we busy ourselves so much about our view of life, we will never make a proper statue, and if we focus on others views of life, we’ll never appreciate their art as art. We’ll be too busy looking at what they’re trying to say.

And yet, this is the man who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia and Out of the Silent Planet. Who wrote Till We Have Faces and That Hideous Strength. Everywhere one turns in Lewis’ novels, we find the fingerprints of Christianity…but no preaching for preaching’s sake (with the exception perhaps of Perelandra…but that is a unique book). He is clearly writing from within a Christian construct, whatever he writes.

So even while he argues that Christian culture-sellers must not peddle preaching or apologetics, he clearly doesn’t mean that they must divorce themselves from their beliefs and write anti-Christian works or even works devoid of any supernatural content or feelings. He seems to mean that one should focus on writing a book…and let the rest creep in naturally.

 “The great artist—or at all events the great literary artists—cannot be a man shallow either in his thoughts or his feelings. However improbably and abnormal a story he has chosen, it will, as we say, ‘come to life’ in his hands. The life to which it comes will be impregnated with all the wisdom, knowledge and experience the author has; and even more by something which I can only vaguely describe as the flavour or ‘feel’ that actual life has for him.”

C. S. Lewis, An Experiment on Criticism

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo by alice10

6 thoughts on “C. S. Lewis’ Philosophy of Writing

  1. It reminds me of Ernest Hemingway and the presence of Christianity in his major novels: allegorical in “A farewell to the arms” and more evident and ‘preaching’, but parallel to pagan (greek) archetypes in “For whom the bell tolls”. I wonder, and I think it would be not completely avoid of sense, if the visions of both regarding art and religion were similar.

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  2. Both Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien believed in “playing fair” with their readers. Both could have preached, had they wanted to, in their fantasy novels, but such preaching would have been out of place, especially in *The Lord of the Rings,* which Tolkien regarded as “feigned history.” Lewis turned to allegory instead, a literary form Tolkien neither liked nor trusted because it was too easily misunderstood, no matter how carefully a writer presents it. Lewis’s fans and his critics are both better judges than I am at how pleasant a thing it is to encounter the allegory in his novels, but he did draw a fairly sharp line between the real world–with real Christianity–that he inhabited, and the fantasy world he created.

    Tolkien wanted to create a world utterly different from the one we live in, yet one that is marked by both an “unfallen” period of prehistory, and by much longer periods wherein the inhabitants of Middle-Earth wrestle with the same weaknesses and problems we all do. One has to read *The Silmarillion* in order to find out what that unfallen period was like and how creation was marred, but his later works are suffused with the pain of a glorious past that has been lost, and the threat that *everything* may eventually be destroyed by the War of the Ring. In that war, Frodo may be a Christ figure (he is wounded in his side and in his hand), but he is not Christ, nor did Tolkien mean him to be. It is enough that Frodo–like millions of parents or soldiers in our world–is ready to sacrifice himself, if need be, in the effort to save the world he loves.

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    1. I’ve never thought of Frodo as a Christ-figure, but that’s a fascinating thought. And no, he clearly isn’t Christ, for at one point, he’s willing to take the ring and keep it as his own. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  3. Yes it is certainly interesting that Lewis held this view. Yet it is a reason for writing things that do not clearly present the Gospel and do not openly preach a Christian message. While we shouldn’t write imitations of the popular culture books, we can write books that a non-Christian may pick up and read. If the art is divorced from our faith, they will find out about our faith when they look into who we are.

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