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This paper was written by Dr. Don W. King.


Included with the gracious permission of "Dr. Zeus", creator of "Into the Wardrobe", a popular website devoted to C.S. Lewis. The original online copy of this paper can be found here.

cslewis.drzeus.net

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Articles > The C.S. Lewis Archive > The Childlike in George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis

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Thus far we have established that humility is an attribute MacDonald associates with the childlike. If we explore what he means by this, we will see that he ties humility directly to selflessness: "To be rid of self is to have the heart bare to God and to the neighbour--to have all life ours, and possess all things. I see, in my mind's eye, the little children clambering up to sit on the throne with Jesus" (19). The humility of a childlike personality is also characterized by unpretentiousness: "He who will be a man, and will not be a child, must--he cannot help himself--become a little man, that is, a dwarf. He will, however, need no consolation, for he is sure to think himself a very large creature indeed" (28). As one critic has noted: "The self of the ego MacDonald sees as the source of evil; 'the one principle,' he declares, 'is--"I am my own"'"(Manlove, p. 60).

How does MacDonald's emphasis on the childlike characteristic of humility relate to his appeal to the childlike reader? Does he expect us to approach his stories with submissiveness and reverence? I hardly think so; he was not a man so vain as to think himself very special. Perhaps if we substitute the word "innocence" for "humility" we can draw nearer to grasping the appeal his stories make upon the childlike reader. That is, his tales speak to us on a level that does not immediately raise our "adult" objections to the improbable. His stories ask us to leave open for the moment that this or that thing could happen, regardless of how loudly our adult voices, nurtured by realism and the scientific method, speak against such an idea. However, the kind of innocence MacDonald assumes of his audience is not to be confused with gullibility; he is not addressing readers who lack discernment. Instead, his targets are those who are willing, dare I say eager, to "exercise a willing suspension of disbelief."

Although I could at this point posit what I believe are the other elements of the childlike in MacDonald, I think a better approach will be to turn to Lewis's comments on the childlike. Since Lewis was by trade a literary critic, we can expect to find more discussion about the childlike in Lewis' writings than in MacDonald's. Additionally, because MacDonald's influence upon Lewis was overwhelming, we should not be surprised that he appeals to the same kind of audience as his "master": "I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him [MacDonald] as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him" (MacDonald, An Anthology, p. 20).

In a number of different essays Lewis discusses his ideas about writing for children. In one he declares: "I put in [my children's stories] what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my fifties" (Of Other Worlds, p. 22). Elsewhere he says he writes "'for children' only in the sense that I excluded what I thought they would not like or understand; not in the sense of writing what I intended to be below adult attention" (38). In still another essay he says that the best children's writers "work from the common, universally human, ground they share with the children, and indeed with countless adults" (41). Perhaps the most interesting point he makes is that children do not need to be patronized: "The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man" (33). This kind of no nonsense approach to communicating with children does not spare his childlike readers scenes of "death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil" (31). To do less than this, Lewis claims, is "to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism" (31).

What comes through clearly in these comments is Lewis' insistence that he "speaks to the adult, the child, and the child within the adult. He speaks to everyone, except to those ossified grown-ups who have stifled the child within" (Walsh, p. 157). More importantly, Lewis indirectly suggests in these essays other characteristics of the childlike reader besides innocence. The first of these is a sense of awe. In the essay "On Stories," Lewis reflects on how stories like Oedipus Rex, The Man Who Would Be King, and The Hobbit produce such an effect upon him: "Such stories produce . . . a feeling of awe, coupled with a certain sort of bewilderment such as one often feels in looking at a complex pattern of lines that pass over and under one another" (Of Other Worlds, p. 15). Another way of saying this is that the child within, our childlike self, inables us to see, even if momentarily, that there is more to life than the physical reality about us. Such knowledge is both terrifying and refreshing; terrifying in the sense that we are left to ponder the possibility of unperceived dimensions of life, and yet refreshing because we are exposed to the unexpected flash of hope that the banality of our own world is not all there is.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | Footnotes

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