September 2010 - Vol. 42

.On Literature and the Arts
Brief reflections from the writings of C.S. Lewis

Many modern novels, poems, and pictures, which we are brow-beaten into “appreciating,” are not good work because they are not work at all. They are mere puddles of spilled sensibility or reflection. When an artist is in the strict sense working, he of course takes into account the existing taste, interests, and capacity of his audience. These, no less than the language, the marble, or the paint, are part of his raw material; to be used, tamed, sublimated, not ignored nor defied. Haughty indifference to them is not genius nor integrity; it is laziness and incompetence. 
- The World's Last Night and Other Essays, Chapter 5, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960 

Admitted fantasy is precisely the kind of literature which never deceives at all. Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction; they can be deceived by the stories in the women's magazines. None of us are deceived by the Odyssey, the Kalevala, Beowulf, or Malory [author of Le Morte d'Arthur]. The real danger lurks in sober-faced novels where all appears to be very probable but all is in fact contrived to put across some social or ethical or religious or anti-religious “comment on life.” 

- An Experiment in Criticism, Cambridge University Press, 1961

If I have read the New Testament aright, it leaves no room for “creativeness” even in a modified or metaphorical sense. Our whole destiny seems to lie in the opposite direction, in being as little as possible ourselves, in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed, in becoming clean mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours.... An author should never conceive himself as bringing into existence beauty or wisdom which did not exist before, but simply and solely as trying to embody in terms of his own art some reflection of eternal Beauty and Wisdom.... And always, of every idea and of every method the Christian will ask not “Is it mine?” but “Is it good?” 

- “Christianity and Literature,” Christian Reflections, William Collins Sons & Co., 1967

The patrons of sentimental poetry, bad novels, bad pictures, and merely catchy tunes are usually enjoying precisely what is there. And their enjoyment …is not in any way comparable to the enjoyment that other people derive from good art.

 It is tepid, trivial, marginal, habitual. It does not trouble them, nor haunt them. To call it, and a man’s rapture in great tragedy or exquisite music, by the same name, enjoyment, is little more than a pun. I still maintain that what enraptures and transports is always good…
The experiences offered by bad art are not of the same sort. 

- “Notes on the Way,” Time and Tide Magazine,  June 1,1946

All men at times obey their vices: but it is when cruelty, envy, and lust of power appear as the commands of a great super-personal force that they can be exercised with self-approval. The first symptom is in language. When to “kill” becomes to “liquidate” the process has begun. The pseudoscientific word disinfects the thing of blood and tears, or pity and shame, and mercy itself can be regarded as a sort of untidiness.

- “A Reply to Professor Haldane,” Of Other Worlds, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967

“Great works” (of art) and “good works” (of charity) had better also be good work. Let choirs sing well or not at all. Otherwise we merely confirm the majority in their conviction that the world of Business, which does with such efficiency so much that never really needed doing, is the real, the adult, and the practical world; and that all this ‘culture’ and all this ‘religion’ (horrid words both) are essentially marginal, amateurish, and rather effeminate activities.”

- “Good Work and Good Works,” The World's Last Night and Other Essays, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960
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