Archive for October 12th, 2011

"Jack" Lewis as a child

I picked a sorry time to start a blog.  I’m approaching the busiest point of an already unreasonably busy semester.  But hey, I need to start some time, so I’ll start slowly; just a couple of short letters to get the ball rolling.

The 1905 letter is the very first that Jack wrote to Warnie, and is the first contained in the published collected letters.  Warnie is away at Wynyard School and Jack is about eight years old.  Jack is talking about the adventures of his canary and some Halloween celebrations.  One point that I found interesting is how plain and straightforward his language is.  He’s reporting on events truly and completely, even if some of the evens must have been exciting (the fireworks) or even terrifying (his dog going into spasms and foaming at the mouth).  Everything is told in plain, straightforward style.

The second letter is shorter, and is full of news from Jack’s imaginary world of Boxen.  I know that Jack later said that Boxen was a rather dry, unmagical place, but I must say that I find his level of detail in demography and political intrigue to be a bit mind blowing.  A short quote speaks for itself:

The colonists (who are of course the war party) are in a bad way:  they scarecly leave their houses because of the mobs.  In Tararo the Prussians and the Boxonians are at fearful odds against each other and the natives.

A couple of things strike me about these two letters.

  • First, I find it ironic (and scary) that Lewis at eight years of age is writing more creatively and coherently than a significant number of my college students do at eighteen or even twenty.  I’d like to say that it was simply due to Lewis’s innate genius, but I’m afraid its probably not that simple….
  • Second, I’m amazed to see Lewis’s detailed knowledge of Boxen.  I know that we might be tempted to write that off quickly because, after all, it is his own imaginary world that therefore we should expect him to know quite a bit about it.  Then I remind myself that he’s only nine flippin’ years old!  How many modern nine year olds have you heard talking like that?

Of course, I wonder sometimes if that isn’t simply because we, as a civilization, haven’t simply become lazy in our thinking.  Coming up with that level of detail is  hard work for most of us, and we’d rather let someone else do it for us and then just present us with the results.  We certainly have become lazy in our writing.  Becoming a decent writer is difficult, and we want to be able to skip the practicing part and and expect instant gratification.  If we can’t have that, many of us just give up.  Quite sad really.

Ah well.
Lewis, C. S. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis Walter Hooper, ed.(San Francisco:  Harper San Francisco, 2004), 2-3.

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