Tag Archives: Literature

“Reading great literature” by C.S. Lewis

“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison.

My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog…

In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

–C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961/1992), 140-141.

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“God’s excellent gifts” by John Calvin

“Whenever we come upon these matters in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts.

If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.

For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity?

Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably?

Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of all the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen?

No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how pre-eminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God?

Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws, and all useful arts.

Those men whom Scripture calls ‘natural men’ (1 Cor. 2:14) were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things.

Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true good.”

–John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; vol. 1; The Library of Christian Classics; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 2.2.15: pp. 273–275.

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“But the words were not quite the same” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“It was evening, and the stars were glimmering in the eastern sky as they passed the ruined oak and turned and went on down the hill between the hazel-thickets. Sam was silent, deep in his memories.

Presently he became aware that Frodo was singing softly to himself, singing the old-walking song, but the words were not quite the same.

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 1028.

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“Read, reread, and reread again” by Douglas Wilson

“As a general pattern, read quality literature, and go ‘slumming’ occasionally to remind yourself what quality is and why quality matters. And when you go slumming, enjoy yourself.

Don’t act like you just came down to check out the rubes and cornpones. In the writer’s restaurant, you should know what first rate cordon bleu is and, at the same time, not be above enjoying an elephant ear or a funnel cake at the state fair.

‘Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend’ (Prov. 27:17). In a similar way that conversation sharpens a man’s countenance, conversation with men throughout history sharpens a man’s mind.

You don’t want to hang out all the time with lazy friends—bad companions corrupt good morals. If this is the case, and it is, then a point should be made to seek out profitable companions in a disciplined fashion throughout your life with books.

Set a lifetime pattern of reading books. Set a course of reading, and adopt general criteria which will guide your reading. I would recommend one to two books a week.

If you began this when you were thirty and joined the choir invisible when you were seventy, you would have read, over this course of time, between 2,080 books and 4,160 books. It is quite true that you run the risk of learning something, but these are the risks a writer must take.

Read attentively and with your eyes open, but not as though you are cramming for a test. The reason you should not read as though studying for a test is that, as we have already noted, the vast majority of what you learn (with great profit) you will not be able to recall. Read with a pen, pencil, or highlighter so that you can mark things of interest in a way that will help you find them again, and keep your reading intelligent and interactive.

Generally speaking, read canonical literature. The amount of books in the world is vast, and your reading should be filled with purpose and intent. You are not wandering around aimlessly in circles, which would be easy to do if the books you read were to be selected at random. Canonical reading provides you with the protections of a collective wisdom.

Anyone who wants to write in the English language needs to focus on the canon of Scripture. Read, reread, and reread again. This is of course something that all Christians should do, but it is also something every writer should do. For shaping the cadences of your mind, there is nothing like the Authorized Version.”

–Douglas Wilson, Wordsmithy (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2012), 42-43.

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“I grew up a word-haunted boy” by Pat Conroy

“I grew up a word-haunted boy. I felt words inside me and stored them wondrous as pearls. I mouthed them and fingered them and rolled them around my tongue.

My mother filled my bedtime hour with poetry that rang like Sanctus bells as she praised the ineffable loveliness of the English language with her Georgia-scented voice. I found that hive of words beautiful beyond all conveyance.

They clung to me and blistered my skin and made me happy to be alive in the land of crape myrtle, spot-tailed bass, and eastern diamondbacks. The precise naming of things served as my entryway into art.

The whole world could be sounded out. I could arrange each day into a tear sheet of music composed of words as pretty as flutes or the tail feathers of peacocks.

From my earliest memories, I felt impelled to form a unique relationship with the English language. I used words to fashion a world that made sense to me.”

–Pat Conroy, My Reading Life, (New York: Doubleday, 2010), 55.

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“He’s a hedonist at heart” by C.S. Lewis

“He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore.’

Ugh! I don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the Miserific Vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures.

There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least– sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillian, 1950), 112-113.

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“On the Enemy’s ground” by C.S. Lewis

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure.

All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillian, 1950), 49.

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