C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was arguably the most influential Christian thinker of his time, and his thought has long outlasted him. It would be difficult indeed to find someone who has had more influence than Lewis on the modern classical education renewal. From his great works of fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters) to his books on Christianity and education (Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man, to name a couple), Lewis has had a long reach.
Obviously, such a stellar thinker and prolific writer gives us much to ponder, but here is a small sampling of “quotables” from C.S. Lewis on one of his favorite subjects: books and reading.
1.“Those who have greatly cared for any book whatever may possibly come to care, some day, for good books. The organs of appreciation exist in them. They are not impotent. And even if this particular boy is never going to like anything severer than science-fiction, even so,
‘The child whose love is here, at least doth reap
One precious gain, that he forgets himself.’”
from Lilies That Fester
2.“We must attack the enemy’s line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.”
From God in the Dock, “Christian Apologetics”
3.“But there is another sort of travelling and another sort of reading. You can eat the local food and drink the local wines, you can share the foreign life, you can begin to see the foreign country as it looks, not to the tourist, but to its inhabitants. You can come home modified, thinking and feeling as you did not think and feel before. So with the old literature. You can go beyond the first impression that a poem makes on your modern sensibility. By study of things outside the poem, by comparing it with other poems, by steeping yourself in the vanished period, you can then re-enter the poem with eyes more like those of the natives; now perhaps seeing that the associations you gave to the old words were false, that the real implications were different than you supposed.”
from Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature
4.“If only one had time to read a little more: we either get shallow and broad or narrow and deep.”
from The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves
5.“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face.”
from God in the Dock, “On the Reading of Old Books”
— Brian Phillips, CiRCE INSTITUTE