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"yours ever... C.S. Lewis"
on January 11, 2002
It is said that as regularly as the mail arrived, professor Lewis sat down at his desk and personally responded... even if the correspondents were little children who had come to know of him through his Narnia books. In fact, he felt it was his God-given duty to do so! "C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children" is a collection of these heartfelt responses, spanning nearly 20 years (1944-1963).
Lewis's own direct contact with children was limited. He once said, "I theoretically hold that one ought to like children, but am shy with them in practice." (Letter to Arthur Greeves, Dec.'35). And in his "The Abolition of Man" he says (chap.1, para.11) "I myself do not enjoy the society of small children... I recognize this as a defect in myself." What he may have lacked in direct contact with children he certainly seems to have displaced with these personal letters, in which we see a lofty Oxford academic who is able to freely converse with children about such diverse topics as (of all things) Zoroastrianism, cats, the Gauls, Virgilian hexameter, the Renaissance, and his opinion that human faces are much easier to draw than animal faces. Never does he talk DOWN to his younger "friends". He usually signs off with an affectionate "yours ever"! And often he sprinkles a question or two of his own in a letter, which, rather than dismissing the sender, invites a response, showing he values these children. For example, an American girl (Joan) received 28 letters from Lewis over a 20 year period!
Why do I give this book a rating of 5 stars? Is the writing as deep, weighty, and significant as War & Peace? Not even remotely. But, to me, it is remarkable that an academician/author of the caliber of C.S. Lewis found the time to write such beautiful simple letters to inquiring kids all over the world. There's something very refreshing (for Lewis fans like me at least) about picking this book up and just turning at random to any letter. One ends with "It is still cold here but the snowdrops, crocuses, primroses and daffodils are up and the thrushes are building nests." Or another "Well, I can't say I have had a happy Easter, for I have lately got married and my wife is very, very ill." Such disclosure is an example of the respect Lewis felt children worthy of. One word of caution though: Does a proper appreciation of this book require a familiarity with Lewis's works? Quite frankly: Yes! The Narnia books! Because so many of the letters are alluding to Narnia, readers unfamiliar with that cycle of books may find most of this book quite boring.
Lewis never tired of corresponding with his child fans. His final letter, to a boy named Philip was written on November 21, 1963. The following day Lewis passed away peacefully at his Oxford home. Earlier, he had written the following to a group of fifth graders:
"I'm tall, fat, rather bald, red-faced, double-chinned, black-haired, have a deep voice, and wear glasses for reading.
The only way for us to get to Aslan's country is through death, as far as I know: perhaps some very good people get just a tiny glimpse before then.
Best love to you all. When you say your prayers sometimes ask God to bless me,
Yours ever, C.S. Lewis"