Among the entries for this mini-series on my writing heroes, I fear this (and its sequel) is my most embarrassing!
Oh well, I did post that this year I wish to lean into what scares me.
So here goes.
Writing heroes I’ve never really read!
If you find this post pretentious, I’m truly sorry. In your shoes, I too would roll my eyes!
After all, can there be anything more ridiculous and even hypocritical than to speak about those I know little of other than through hearsay? Especially when I’ve had every opportunity to read their work but never really did. Or at least in the case of today’s entry, not all the way through.
But in my defense, and perhaps by way of an olive branch concession, I implore that readers treat this post as a way of chronicling my still unfinished journey in reading and learning from great writers.
Writers like, for instance, C S Lewis.
C S Lewis (29 Nov 1898 – 22 Nov 1963)
The first writing hero I’ve never really read is none other than the late and great C S Lewis.
To talk about his life here would be impossible. Better people than I have done so infinitely well across the decades since Lewis burst onto the literary scene. And especially after his conversion to Christianity. So it’ll amount to sacrilegious were I to even attempt here to unpack his greatness!
Instead, I’ll just focus my thoughts on him and why he’s one of my writing heroes despite me not having read any of his works from cover to cover.
On my bookshelf once sat several of his classic masterpieces that have been synonymous with Mr. Lewis. Titles like Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy. Not to mention the entire Chronicles of Narnia series.
Now all I have are the last three.
No matter that I have no idea how I lost the rest. Even if I hadn’t, I’ll sheepishly confess here that I never made it through all the way for any of these books.
Not even Narnia, though (I’ll like to think to my credit) I did watch all the three books that were made into movies: “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (2005); “Prince Caspian” (2008); and “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (2010).
I did try. Truly I did!
To be fair to me, I did try. Truly I did.
For instance, when I was still a young believer and learned of his seminal works that unpacked how Mr. Lewis came to embrace the Christian faith despite being an atheist prior, I just knew I had to learn more.
So I picked up Surprised by Joy (about his conversion) and Mere Christianity (about his conviction).
Then when I heard of the tongue-in-cheek humor that masked some pretty dark and disturbing interpretations as to how the Devil trains his underlings to infiltrate humanity, I tore through The Screwtape Letters.
But the truth was, I simply couldn’t understand him after plowing through a few pages!
It wasn’t that Lewis’ vocabulary was bombastic; in fact, he had a great knack for using simple words.
But when reading page upon page of lines that go something like (from “Surprised by Joy“):
“…after one or two such experiences I made it a rigid rule that at ‘social functions’…I must never on any account speak of any subject in which I felt the slightest interest nor in any words that naturally occurred to me. And I kept my rule only too well; a giggling and gurgling imitation of the vapidest grown-up chatter, a deliberate concealment of all that I really thought and felt under a sort of feeble jocularity and enthusiasm, was henceforth my party manner, assumed as consciously as an actor assumes his role, sustained with unspeakable weariness, and dropped with a groan…”
Yep, that last word above says it all!
If at first you don’t succeed, give up!
Even today, having walked with words for over half a century, I still can’t figure out many of his lines without tying my prefrontal cortex into knots!
Though every now and then when I feel a wave of bravado, I would pick up his books again and give it another shot, thinking maybe this time it’ll be different. Maybe this time I’m more prepared. I’m older, more learned, and (surely) much wiser.
But each time, after less than ten minutes, I’ll put the book back on the shelf, and turn to walk away weary and despondent.
It’s not that I don’t believe I can’t figure his writings out if, say, I read a page a day. Then spend an hour or so pondering, musing, and unpacking the lines. But is such an undertaking sustainable after a few days, let alone in the long run?
For me, I doubt it. Which probably makes me the poorer for it too.
And I don’t think Mr. Lewis, known to be a kind and humble man, would want me to if it means such “anguish” (gosh, sounds like I’m shamelessly using Mr. Lewis to defend my inaction!).
Rest assured Mr. Lewis, I’m definitely the more disappointed one of us here.
So why do I still consider him one of my writing heroes?
Well for one thing his reputation of course.
Mr. Lewis is not only a preeminent intellectual jargonaut of the 20th century, but he’s also one of the most influential writers of all time. It’s not easy to find another to rival his writing in terms of churn (more than 30 books and many scholarly papers) and range (books for both the young and the young-at-heart).
I’ve always had a weak spot for writers with such impressive credentials that are acknowledged globally.
He straddles both the mass market (especially with his Narnia series) as well as the intelligentsia.
That’s no mean feat and just goes to show the prolific prowess of his writing.
Those reasons alone are enough to get my buy-in!
But of course, I really can’t leave off a tribute post without sharing one more reason why.
His quotable quotes. Which isn’t hard to find online. Why, a cursory search online already brought me to one site that had not five, not 55 but 125 of his quotes! I’m sure if I dug further, I’ll find even more.
Some of my favourite quotes from Mr. Lewis were also discovered in researching this piece.
Adult as a term of approval —
“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence, they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being an adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
I nodded so vigorously with this quote I swore my head was about to drop off!
Or this gem:
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
It’s like he’s vindicating my belated effort in launching this blog despite writing stuff that’s hardly original!
So all in all, Mr. Clive Staples Lewis will always be one of my writing heroes.
Even though I still can’t finish a single one of his masterpieces!
One thought on “My “Writing Heroes” #5 – Those I’ve Never Read (Part 1)!”
Lol ‘jargonaut’ is such a cool word. And to be fair, I use the word ‘Narnia’ more than I have any right to, since I haven’t read the books nor watched the movies. Your thoughts on his work remind me of the readers who’ve tried Infinite Jest, lol. Sounds like a masochistic pursuit. Still, this is a pretty unique series that I’m very interested in. Thanks for the rundown on CS Lewis, Kelvin!