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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


****Of Other Worlds

Essays and Stories

by C. S. Lewis

edited by Walter Hooper

Reviewed December 21, 2002.
A Sonderbooks' Best Book of 2002 (#3, Nonfiction Rereads)
A Harvest/HBJ Book, New York, 1966. 148 pages.

Last week I was challenged that as a Christian I shouldn’t be endorsing the Harry Potter books.  As I thought through why I disagree with that perspective, I turned to this book, one I bought back when I was a student at Biola University.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Harry Potter books are nowhere near as spiritually uplifting as C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  However, part of the reason I thoroughly enjoy the Harry Potter books is that I love fantasy.  It is true that God condemns witchcraft in this world, but what if there were a world where you could do magic without going through Satan to do it?  (Indeed, the magic in Harry Potter that is most like the magic of real witchcraft is portrayed as either silly, in the case of divination, or evil.)  To me, the magic of Harry Potter most nearly resembles the magic of fairy tales, and that’s why I turned to C. S. Lewis.

I like the essays in Of Other Worlds the best.  It also contains a few stories, mostly science fiction, that he never published while he was alive, as well as the beginning of a novel about Troy.

In the essays, C. S. Lewis defends his love of fairy tales (meaning fantasy stories), children’s books, and science fiction.  He tends to over-intellectualize, but ends up with the view that it is good, even noble, to like these things, that sometimes they can communicate better than any other form.

Let me include some of the lines I’ve underlined:

“Good stories often introduce the marvelous or supernatural, and nothing about Story has been so often misunderstood as this.”

“The whole story, paradoxically enough, strengthens our relish for real life.  This excursion into the preposterous sends us back with renewed pleasure to the actual.”

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information.  The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.”

“[The story] may not be ‘like real life’ in the superficial sense:  but it sets before us an image of what reality may well be like at some more central region.”

“Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us.”

“[The fairy tale] stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth.  He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods:  The reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

“Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”

“The Fantastic or Mythical is a Mode available at all ages for some readers; for others, at none.  At all ages, if it is well used by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies.  But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.”

“If good novels are comments on life, good stories of this sort (which are very much rarer) are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.”

“It would seem from the reactions it produces, that the mythopoeic is rather, for good or ill, a mode of imagination which does something to us at a deep level.  If some seem to go to it in almost compulsive need, others seem to be in terror of what they may meet there.”

Once I started, I spent my morning reading the entire little book.  I ended up feeling wonderfully refreshed.  I also felt less defensive about my reading habits and recommendations.  I believe that fantasy is a good thing, and C. S. Lewis put his finger on some of the reasons why.

Reviews of other books by C. S. Lewis:

A Year with C. S. Lewis
Till We Have Faces
The Great Divorce
Out of the Silent Planet
That Hideous Strength
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician's Nephew
The Last Battle

The Last Battle performed by Patrick Stewart

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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