The fairy tale is a form of literature both Chesterton and C. S. Lewis enjoyed and wrote.
Lewis’ fairy tale series – The Chronicles of Narnia – is, of course, the best known of their works in this field.
In his learned way, he also wrote about fairy tales, providing scholarly analysis.
Chesterton’s comments were no less insightful, but perhaps more easily graspable.
Academic vs. journalist.
I’ll briefly deal with Lewis first.
With a title that says it all, Lewis wrote an essay called “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said.”
Gee, the essay itself almost seems anticlimactic!
In the essay (which can be found in Of Other Worlds), Lewis begins by quoting Tasso’s comments that poets “ought `to please and instruct.’” (As I said, Lewis is the scholarly academic.)
He says that good writing (including his own), should be both “pleasing” and “instructing.”
“If only one of these is present, then, so far as I am concerned, the book will not be written. If the first is lacking, it can’t; if the second is lacking, it shouldn’t.”
He points out that children’s literature should not be written with purely pedantic purpose and in a calculated way. As far as his writing for children goes, he says such a notion is “pure moonshines” and notes “I couldn’t write in that way at all.”
He says his own children’s fiction begins with images (Narnia started with an image of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood), and that the story takes form around the image, a process he calls “bubbling.”
As for the Christian nature of the Narnia stories, he says he didn’t set out to write Christian stories: “At first there wasn’t anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”
Of course, that is only natural as Lewis was a Christian, and that faith formed his thinking. Thus what came out on paper had to grow out of that way of thinking.
As the stories began to take shape, they became fairy tales.
“As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e., became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale.”
He said he fell in love with the “Form” of the fairy tale because of “its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and `gas’.”
The fairy tale form allowed him to present the Christian faith without all the religious trappings (“lowered voices”) that can help to “freeze feelings.” Paradoxically, through the use of fantasy, the elements of faith can become more real.
“But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school association, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency?”
Which explains his Narnia tales. As for fairy tales (and fantasy) in general:
"At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well 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."
I dare say Lewis’ fairy tales have added to many people’s lives.
(Chesterton will be covered in a post this weekend.)