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Of Other Worlds

C. S. Lewis

























  ‘You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,’ said C. S. Lewis. And he meant it, for at that moment I was pouring his tea into a very large Cornishware cup and he was reading Bleak House.

  This little anecdote suggests, I think, a theme for this book: the excellence of Story. And especially those kinds of story we call fairy tales and science fiction, both of which were dear to Lewis. In the nine essays printed here he discusses certain literary qualities which he feels critics neglect. Also—something rare with Lewis—he talks a little about his Chronicles of Narnia1 and his science-fiction trilogy. Indeed, I have felt it so important to preserve in a permanent form all that Lewis has written about his own fiction that I have considered their publication, despite the overlapping in several of the pieces, justified. Following the essays are three science-fiction short stories (as far as I know, the only short stories of Lewis’s ever to be published) as well as the first five chapters of a novel which Lewis was writing at the time of his death.

  Lewis’s boyhood stories, written (I think) between the ages of about six and fifteen, were about his invented Animal-Land and the anthropomorphic beasts which inhabit it. His brother had, as his own country, India. In order that it might be a shared world, India was lifted out of its place in the real world and made into an island. Then, the mood of the systematiser being strong in both boys, Animal-Land was united with India to form the single state of Boxen. Soon the maps of Boxen included the principal train and steamship routes. The capital city of Murray had its own newspaper, The Murray Evening Telegraph. And so, out of an attic full of commonplace children’s toys came a world as consistent and self-sufficient as that of the Iliad and the Barsetshire novels.

  There are a good many stories and histories of Boxen extant (but unpublished) written in ruled exercise books in a large, neat handwriting and illustrated with his own drawings and water-colours. As the early legends of King Arthur and his Court grew to include romances of individual knights of the Round Table, so a systematic reading of Boxoniana from beginning to end (which, believe it or not, covers over seven hundred years) reveals a similar kind of growth. Lewis’s interest was at first primarily that of tracing the history of Boxen; but once it became a finished creation, he turned to writing novels in which the principal characters—some little more than names in the histories—spring into prominence.

  Lewis’s masterpiece, and obviously the character he liked best, is Lord John Big. This noble frog is already the Little-Master, i.e., the Prime Minister, when we meet him in Boxen: or Scenes from Boxonian City Life (in two volumes complete with List of Contents, List of Illustrations, and Frontispiece). Later he has his own history: The Life of Lord John Big of Bigham by C. S. Lewis in 3 Volumes published by the ‘Leeborough Press’. It is obvious, no doubt, from the titles that Lewis liked even the making of books. Drawn on the fly-leaf of one little book is the head of a spectacled mouse between the words ‘Trade Mark’.

  There is much to admire about Boxen. Lord Big is indeed a frog of powerful personality, and I find him almost as unforgettable as Reepicheep the Mouse and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle of the Narnia stories (who were, by the way, Lewis’s favourites). There is not the slightest bit of evidence on a single page of the juvenilia that the author had to labour to find ‘filling’ for his really good plots: the stories seem to write themselves. And the humour, which is inseparable from the story itself, is unmistakably of the Lewis kind.

  But, as Lewis himself admits,2 Boxen is empty of poetry and romance. It would, I believe, astonish the readers of the Narnia books to know how really prosaic it is. This is (I think) chiefly because of his desire to be very ‘grown-up’. He says himself, ‘When I began writing stories in exercise books I tried to put off all the things I really wanted to write about till at least the second page—I thought it wouldn’t be like a grown-up book if it became interesting at once.’3 Most of all, the Boxoniana are blighted by, of all things, politics—something which Lewis came to detest later in his life. It did, after all, hold him so long in bondage. The characters in Scenes from Boxonian City Life all relish a place in the ‘Clique’ though none of them, not even the author, appears to have any clear idea what a ‘clique’ is. Which is not surprising for, as Lewis wanted his characters to be ‘grown-up’, he naturally interested them in ‘grown-up’ affairs. And politics, his brother says, was a topic he almost always heard his elders discussing. There are, by the by, no children in any of these stories.

  A sentence in a piece of juvenilia which points to the future chronicler of Narnia and lover of ‘faery land’ is to be found in The Life of Lord John Big of Bigham where Lewis puts into the mouth of the Little-Master these words: ‘Say what he will, in every man’s heart of hearts there is a deep-rooted objection to change—a love of old customs because of their age which neither time nor eternity can efface.’

  One other comparison remains. Lewis, as a boy, seems to have had little feeling for the real nature of beasts as such. In the Boxen stories they are little more than ‘dressed animals’, and without the advantage of the illustrations one might find it difficult to remember that Lord Big is a frog, James Bar a bear, Macgoullah a horse, and so on. But it is as ‘servants, playfellows, jesters’ that we meet them in Narnia where there are ‘wagging tails, and barking, and loose slobbery mouths and noses of dogs thrust into your hand’ (The Silver Chair, p. 115). When Prince Caspian visits the tree-house of the Three Bulgy Bears, he is answered from within by a ‘woolly sort of voice’; and when the bears come out ‘blinking their eyes’ they greet the Prince with ‘very wet, snuffly kisses’ and offer him some honey (Prince Caspian, p. 67). And Bree, who is as fond as any horse of sugar-lumps, rises up from his roll in the grass, ‘blowing hard and covered with bits of bracken’ (The Horse and His Boy, p. 187).

  There are, however, a few places in the juvenilia in which we find that winsome commingling of beast and man—what Lewis might call ‘Eden’s courtesy’—and which is so characteristic of his fairy tales. Viscount Puddiphat, a music-hall artist, is being wakened by his valet (the italics are mine):

  On a certain spring morning, the viscount’s valet had entered his master[’s] bedchamber with a cup of chocolate, and the ironed morning paper. No sooner had his step resounded on the floor than a mass of feathers stirred in the large bed, and the owl raised himself on his elbow, with blinking eyes.

  The faerie element is absent from Animal-Land but this, in itself, does not prove that Lewis had to conceal his interest in fairy stories. After all, there are differences of kind and it would do harm to force them into competition. Lewis wrote another romance (unpublished) about Dr Ransom which falls, chronologically, between Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Contrary to what might be expected, it does not have a theological theme. However, one truth that strikes me from comparing Boxen and Narnia is this: Boxen was invented by a
boy who wanted to be ‘grown-up’; the ‘noble and joyous’ tales of Narnia were created by one liberated from this desire. One wonders what different fruits Lewis’s literary gifts would have borne had he not overcome the modern bugbear that fantastic literature is—in a contemptuous sense—‘childish’. We can of course never know this: the important thing is that he did overcome it.

  In introducing these essays and stories I should, at the same time, like to thank all those who have allowed me to reprint some of the papers in this book.

  ‘On Stories’ was first published in Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1947) by the Oxford University Press. It was originally read, in a slightly fuller form, to a Merton College undergraduate literary society as ‘The Kappa Element in Fiction’. ‘Kappa’ stood for ϰϱύπτον—the ‘hidden element’.

  ‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children’ was read to the Library Association and published in their Proceedings, Papers, and Summaries of Discussions at the Bournemouth Conference 29th April to 2nd May 1952.

  ‘Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said’ first appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Children’s Book Section (18 November 1956).

  ‘On Juvenile Tastes’ is reprinted from the Church Times, Children’s Book Supplement (28 November 1958).

  ‘It All Began with a Picture . . .’ is reprinted here from the Radio Times, Junior Radio Times, vol. CXLVIII (15 July 1960).

  ‘On Critics’ appears in print for the first time, as does ‘On Science Fiction’, a talk given to the Cambridge University English Club on 24 November 1955.

  ‘A Reply to Professor Haldane’, also published for the first time, is a rejoinder to Professor J. B. S. Haldane’s article ‘Auld Hornie, F.R.S.’, Modern Quarterly, N.S., vol. I, no. 4 (Autumn 1946) in which he criticises Lewis’s science-fiction trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I have not, however, thought it necessary to reprint Professor Haldane’s article for Lewis makes the argument quite clear. Besides, the chief value of Lewis’s reply is not in its polemical nature but in the valuable light he throws on his own books.

  ‘Unreal Estates’ is an informal conversation about science fiction between Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss. It was recorded on tape by Brian Aldiss in Lewis’s rooms in Magdalene College, on 4 December 1962. It was first published under the title ‘The Establishment Must Die and Rot . . .’ in SF Horizons, no. 1 (Spring 1964) and later as ‘Unreal Estates’ in Encounter, vol. XXIV (March 1965).

  ‘The Shoddy Lands’, a short story, first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, vol. X (February 1956).

  Lewis’s next story, ‘Ministering Angels’, was set off by Dr Robert S. Richardson’s article ‘The Day After We Land on Mars’ which was published in The Saturday Review (28 May 1955). Dr Richardson’s article contains the prediction that ‘If space-travel and colonisation of the planets eventually become possible on a fairly large scale, it seems probable that we may be forced into first tolerating and finally openly accepting an attitude toward sex that is taboo in our present social framework. . . . To put it bluntly, may it not be necessary for the success of the project to send some nice girls to Mars at regular intervals to relieve tensions and promote morale?’4 Lewis takes it from there in ‘Ministering Angels’ which was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, vol. XIII (January 1958).

  ‘Forms of Things Unknown’ is published for the first time.

  After Ten Years is an unfinished novel which Lewis began in 1959. Though he never abandoned the idea of finishing it, he could not think of how to continue the story. Lewis became very ill in 1960 and lived in comparative discomfort until his death in 1963. This may partially account for his inability to ‘see pictures’—which was his usual way of writing stories. He usually wrote several drafts of a scholarly work such as The Discarded Image, although one draft was often sufficient for a work of fiction. And, as far as I know, he wrote only the single draft of After Ten Years which is published here for the first time. Lewis did not divide the fragment into parts (or give it a title); but, as each ‘chapter’ appears to have been written at a different time, I have decided to retain these rather natural divisions. The reader should be warned that chapter V does not really follow chapter IV. Lewis was anticipating the end of the novel, and had he completed it, there would have been many chapters between numbers IV and V.

  Lewis discussed this work with Mr Roger Lancelyn Green, the author and formerly a pupil of Lewis’s, and Dr Alastair Fowler, Fellow of Brasenose College, and I have asked them to write about the conversation they had with him. The nature of the story makes it important, however, that the reader should save Mr Green’s and Dr Fowler’s notes until last.

  I have to thank Dr and Mrs Austin Farrer, Mr Owen Barfield, and Professor John Lawlor for the help they have given me in preparing this volume. I am also grateful to Mr Roger Lancelyn Green and Dr Alastair Fowler for their notes on After Ten Years. A large share of thanks also goes to my friend, Mr Daryl R. Williams, for his careful proof-reading. And it is to Major W. H. Lewis that I owe the pleasure of editing his brother’s essays and stories.

  Walter Hooper

  October 1965

  Wadham College, Oxford





  It is astonishing how little attention critics have paid to Story considered in itself. Granted the story, the style in which it should be told, the order in which it should be disposed, and (above all) the delineation of the characters, have been abundantly discussed. But the Story itself, the series of imagined events, is nearly always passed over in silence, or else treated exclusively as affording opportunities for the delineation of character. There are indeed three notable exceptions. Aristotle in the Poetics constructed a theory of Greek tragedy which puts Story in the centre and relegates character to a strictly subordinate place. In the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, Boccaccio and others developed an allegorical theory of Story to explain the ancient myths. And in our own time Jung and his followers have produced their doctrine of Archetypes. Apart from these three attempts the subject has been left almost untouched, and this has had a curious result. Those forms of literature in which Story exists merely as a means to something else—for example, the novel of manners where the story is there for the sake of the characters, or the criticism of social conditions—have had full justice done to them; but those forms in which everything else is there for the sake of the story have been given little serious attention. Not only have they been despised, as if they were fit only for children, but even the kind of pleasure they give has, in my opinion, been misunderstood. It is the second injustice which I am most anxious to remedy. Perhaps the pleasure of Story comes as low in the scale as modern criticism puts it. I do not think so myself, but on that point we may agree to differ. Let us, however, try to see clearly what kind of pleasure it is: or, rather, what different kinds of pleasure it may be. For I suspect that a very hasty assumption has been made on this subject. I think that books which are read merely ‘for the story’ may be enjoyed in two very different ways. It is partly a division of books (some stories can be read only in the one spirit and some only in the other) and partly a division of readers (the same story can be read in different ways).

  What finally convinced me of this distinction was a conversation which I had a few years ago with an intelligent American pupil. We were talking about the books which had delighted our boyhood. His favourite had been Fenimore Cooper whom (as it happens) I have never read. My friend described one particular scene in which the hero was half-sleeping by his bivouac fire in the woods while a Redskin with a tomahawk was silently creeping on him from behind. He remembered the breathless excitement with which he had read the passage, the agonised suspense with which he wondered whether the hero would wake up in time or not. But I, remembering the great moments in my own early reading, felt quite sure that my frien
d was misrepresenting his experience, and indeed leaving out the real point. Surely, surely, I thought, the sheer excitement, the suspense, was not what had kept him going back and back to Fenimore Cooper. If that were what he wanted any other ‘boy’s blood’ would have done as well. I tried to put my thought into words. I asked him whether he were sure that he was not overemphasising and falsely isolating the importance of the danger simply as danger. For though I had never read Fenimore Cooper I had enjoyed other books about ‘Red Indians’. And I knew that what I wanted from them was not simply ‘excitement’. Dangers, of course, there must be: how else can you keep a story going? But they must (in the mood which led one to such a book) be Redskin dangers. The ‘Redskinnery’ was what really mattered. In such a scene as my friend had described, take away the feathers, the high cheek-bones, the whiskered trousers, substitute a pistol for a tomahawk, and what would be left? For I wanted not the momentary suspense but that whole world to which it belonged—the snow and the snow-shoes, beavers and canoes, war-paths and wigwams, and Hiawatha names. Thus I; and then came the shock. My pupil is a very clear-headed man and he saw at once what I meant and also saw how totally his imaginative life as a boy had differed from mine. He replied that he was perfectly certain that ‘all that’ had made no part of his pleasure. He had never cared one brass farthing for it. Indeed—and this really made me feel as if I were talking to a visitor from another planet—in so far as he had been dimly aware of ‘all that’, he had resented it as a distraction from the main issue. He would, if anything, have preferred to the Redskin some more ordinary danger such as a crook with a revolver.

  To those whose literary experiences are at all like my own the distinction which I am trying to make between two kinds of pleasure will probably be clear enough from this one example. But to make it doubly clear I will add another. I was once taken to see a film version of King Solomon’s Mines. Of its many sins—not least the introduction of a totally irrelevant young woman in shorts who accompanied the three adventurers wherever they went—only one here concerns us. At the end of Haggard’s book, as everyone remembers, the heroes are awaiting death entombed in a rock chamber and surrounded by the mummified kings of that land. The maker of the film version, however, apparently thought this tame. He substituted a subterranean volcanic eruption, and then went one better by adding an earthquake. Perhaps we should not blame him. Perhaps the scene in the original was not ‘cinematic’ and the man was right, by the canons of his own art, in altering it. But it would have been better not to have chosen in the first place a story which could be adapted to the screen only by being ruined. Ruined, at least, for me. No doubt if sheer excitement is all you want from a story, and if increase of dangers increases excitement, then a rapidly changing series of two risks (that of being burned alive and that of being crushed to bits) would be better than the single prolonged danger of starving to death in a cave. But that is just the point. There must be a pleasure in such stories distinct from mere excitement or I should not feel that I had been cheated in being given the earthquake instead of Haggard’s actual scene. What I lose is the whole sense of the deathly (quite a different thing from simple danger of death)—the cold, the silence, and the surrounding faces of the ancient, the crowned and sceptred, dead. You may, if you please, say that Rider Haggard’s effect is quite as ‘crude’ or ‘vulgar’ or ‘sensational’ as that which the film substituted for it. I am not at present discussing that. The point is that it is extremely different. The one lays a hushing spell on the imagination; the other excites a rapid flutter of the nerves. In reading that chapter of the book curiosity or suspense about the escape of the heroes from their death-trap makes a very minor part of one’s experience. The trap I remember for ever: how they got out I have long since forgotten.