“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”
– C.S. Lewis
So, I’ve been posting a lot of book- and reading-related quotes. I hope you’re enjoying them as much a I am. :)
Happy Anniversary to my wonderful husband! I love you very much.
One of the first things my husband and I bonded over was our shared love of C.S. Lewis. Here’s a favorite quote of ours from the last page of “The Horse and His Boy,” one of the Chronicles of Narnia. This quote reminds us of ourselves because we love to argue. Well, I enjoy debating when I’m in the mood, and he loves to argue for fun, but we make it work.
“Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I’m afraid even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again: so that years later, when they were grown up they were so used to quarreling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently.”
– C.S. Lewis
I realize that this is a strange quote for today, but it will make him smile when he reads it, and that’s what matters.
So today, I’d like to thank him for loving me and taking good care of me. For letting me tell you everything I’m thinking or worrying about, even if it’s you that’s worrying me. For being patient and gracious with me when my emotions over-run my reason, and I get scared even though you have things in hand. For forgiving me when I nag you. And for telling me over and over again that I’m beautiful, especially when I don’t quite believe it. I love you.
And I like to thank all of the people who have loved and encouraged us and prayed for us over the last few years. A lot of things haven’t gone as planned, and we’ve had some hard times, but you were behind us, and God was with us, and we’ve stuck together. Thank you.
“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
– C.S. Lewis
This raises the question, how old does an “old book” have to be? World War II seems like a long time ago to me, and that’s when Lewis wrote, but I doubt that’s long enough. On the one hand, American culture has changed pretty significantly in the last 100 years, but I’m not sure it’s far enough away that it can really give us an outsider’s perspective on our own culture.
Another way to get that outsider’s look is to read old books by people from different cultures. I remember realizing this while reading “The Count of Monte Cristo,” a 150-year-old French novel. I was complete flabbergasted by the characters’ concept of honor and disgrace, specifically the things (like bankruptcy) that you could never live down, that would drive you to commit suicide or enter a nunnery. Or the cultural idea that it was acceptable, honorable in fact, to kill someone for insulting you. The point is, if French people of that time took their idea of honor for granted, what cultural ideas am I taking for granted that I should really re-think?
So what do you think, readers? Is Lewis right? How old is “old?” And does reading a book from a far-away country accomplish the same thing? (In case you hadn’t noticed, the theme of this quote is very similar to that from last week Monday’s Chesterton quote.)
C.S. Lewis had quite a bit to say on pride and humility – they aren’t really what we think. Here is my favorite on humility, from The Screwtape Letters. In case you aren’t familiar with this book, it reads like a series of letter from a senior demon to a junior one, discussing the human man that the junior demon is tempting. The “he/him” is the young man (who has recently become a Christian) and “He” or the “Enemy” is God. The bold sections are my highlights.
By this virtue (humility), as by all the others, our Enemy wants to turn the man’s attention away from self to Him, and to the man’s neighbors… You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point.
The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method, thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.
To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the, fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.
He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.
His whole effort, therefore, will be to get the man’s mind off the subject of his own value altogether. He would rather the man thought himself a great architect or a great poet and then forgot about it, than that he should spend much time and pains trying to think himself a bad one. Your efforts to instil either vainglory or false modesty into the patient will therefore be met from the Enemy’s side with the obvious reminder that a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all, since he can very well go on improving them to the best of his ability without deciding on his own precise niche in the temple of Fame.
– C.S. Lewis
This passage has been very helpful for me as I strive for this virtue. I don’t have to discount myself. Instead, I strive to love other people’s talent’s and gifts — and my talents and gifts — for what they are: gifts from God.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
– C.S. Lewis (from “The Four Loves”)
Some people want control or power. I tend to want peace more than I want just about anything else — to the extent that I’ll forgo possibly great opportunities and experiences because it’s easier (by which I mean less work socially and emotionally) to stay home with a good book and a pot of tea.
But I wasn’t created and given my life to be safe and comfortable. As the saying goes, “A ship may be safe in the port, but that is not what a ship is for.” This quote challenges me to live a more dangerous life than what comes naturally to me — even if “dangerous” means the hard work (for me) of talking to strangers and people I only know a little.
I have a heart and a life for a reason, and I need to use them.