“On Stories”: Lewis distinguishes between two kinds of stories: one read purely for excitement, and one read because it captures an elusive something. You can tell which you are doing by whether you re-read your books. If you re-read them, the surprise is gone, so there must be something else capturing your attention. Lewis notes that stories require dangers to the character, and if excitement is your desire, then any kind of danger will do. However, each danger has a particular quality to it, so substituting a different danger does not produce the same effect. The danger of starving to death trapped in a room of mummies is very different from the danger of being killed by a volcano. Lewis, in fact, likes the atmosphere of the story. His complaint about The Three Musketeers is that there is no weather, no difference between Paris and London, etc.

Lewis says that the kind of stories he likes best are the ones that capture a particular theme or idea. This is difficult, because the plot gets in the way by introducing normal things that obscure the theme. So War of the Worlds has a strong theme of otherness at the beginning, but the events of the plot dilute it into normalcy. Voyage to Arcturus (Lindsay) has abominable writing, but succeeds in creating a steadily increasing sense of otherness. The Well at the World’s End (Morris) mostly succeeds, in Lewis’ estimation, while E. R. Eddison’s works (The Worm Ourbouros being Lewis’ favorite) completely succeed because each action and speech further the theme. The Hobbit receives praise, especially for its transition in themes, from the down-to-earth “Hobbityness” to Epic.

“On Three Ways of Writing for Children”: Lewis identifies three ways of writing children’s stories. The first is the market-research method, and writes what kids want to read about (at least what they think kids want to read). This method will not produce good story, because the author must be interested in the story himself in order to produce a good story. The second way is to expand on a story originally told to a child (Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame), which does work because both parties want to hear the story; the creator creates a story of interest to both himself and the child. The third way, which is what Lewis did, was to write a children’s story because that is the best medium for expressing that idea. (The Bastable family trilogy by E. Nesbit is an example.)

Lewis then proceeds to discuss his favorite genre, fairy stories. He argues against people that think they will scare children, on the grounds that children all know that fairy stories are not real. And he argues against people who think they are escapist by saying that since they are obviously fantastic, no one reads them for escapism; rather, it is the realistic stories that produce escapism. People read fairy stories because they we delight in co-creation (says Tolkien) or because our internal Archetypes come out (says Jung). Lewis also notes that he writes out of images: he gets an image or set of images, and then asks about the motivation and how they got in that situation and so forth until a story comes out.

“Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said”: In order for a story to be written, the Author must have a vision of something that is bubbling up, wanting to be written, and the Man must see that it is worth the time to spend writing. (The Author-desire is like the desire to have lobster for dinner, and gets mediated by the Man.)  Lewis did not set out to write a story for children spreading Christianity. He had images wherein there was no psychology or love interest, and realized that the Form best suited to that was the fairy story.

“On Juvenile Tastes”: The literary establishment views children as a distinct literary species, but that is incorrect. Not all children like all genres; not all children like fairy tales (and many adults do). Fairy tales were originally adult literature, for example, they were told in the court of Louis XIV, but when adults were done with them they relegated them to the nursery. The thing about children is that they do not read a book because it expresses ideas, as the literary establishment does, but because it is a good story. “The literary world of today is little interested in the narrative arts as such; it is preoccupied with technical novelties and with ‘ideas', by which it means not literary, but social or psychological, ideas. ... [Authors who write story] label their books ‘For Children’ because children are the only market now recognized for the books they, anyway, want to write.” (41)

“It All Began with a Picture...”: Lewis had the idea of a faun carrying an umbrella and packages in a snowy wood since age 16, and when he was 40 he decided to try writing about it. At some point the Lion came in and everything came together.

“On Criticism”: In this essay Lewis makes some observations about being critiquing a work based on what critics have said about his work. First he decries the inauthenticity of an industry where someone asks if he needs introductions to critics or even asks him to critique a book whose author previously written very negatively about him. Second, he notes that you really need to read the book you are critiquing (although he recognizes time constraints) in order to be able to make negative statements like “the author never...,” because while a small portion suffices to say positive statements like “the author sometimes...”, you cannot know that he never does something unless you read the whole book. He notes that one famous scholar made very erudite notes in all his books—up to the third page, suggesting that he did not read much past this.

Lewis’ main complaint is that reviewers assume many things they do not know. One of these is to assume that the books were written in the published order, and shortly before publication; Tolkien is a great example of how that fails: the ring cannot represent the atom bomb because it was written before the bomb came, but published afterwards. Another set of reviewers are amateur psychologists of a Freudian persuasion who assume they know what desires the author had for producing the book; the vast mistakes here are obvious when you are then author and know the reasons. An even worse sin of the critic is to say things like “this passage is an afterthought” or “this is a tortured chapter,” which is creating a imaginary history of how the book was written without even actually saying what the problem is. When we see how others do this to works we write, it should especially prevent us from trying to do it to long-dead authors whom we do not even share contemporary culture with. Finally, the critic needs to resist the temptation to allegorize. One can always create an allegory, but that does not mean that it is the actual meaning of the book.

“On Science Fiction”: Lewis observes that the American science-fiction scene has started to include some good writing inamongst the trash. He identifies several types of science fiction. The first is a normal story set in the future, which is a poor use of the genre because the future part is irrelevant, and good art has nothing irrelevant. The second he calls “Engineer’s Stories,” which imagines how something currently impossible could be possible (for example, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea). The third is a story imagining what it would be like to be somewhere we cannot get to, but you can only have a few “first looks” kind of stories before the wildly differing results of the visit wear on readers. The fourth kind is “Eschatological,” that imagines the results of something pushed to an extreme, like Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty Four. The fifth kind, which is Lewis’ interest, are stories where the future is merely a “machine” for people wanting to visit worlds, terrors, beauty that does not exist on ours. Lewis thinks that a supernatural means of conveyance is best, which is why he sent Ransom to Venus by angels instead of by rocket as he did to Mars. Lewis also notes that the more fantastic the events, the more ordinary the character needs to be (hence, Alice in Alice in Wonderland is an ordinary girl).

“A Reply to Professor Haldane”: Lewis replies to a critique of his science-fiction trilogy, mostly by saying that Professor Haldane completely misunderstood his work and that Lewis does not have the views the professor thinks he has, and that the professor could have easily found them out by reading The Abolition of Man, as he had even mentioned in the preface. The professor appears to be Christian, and takes Lewis to task for poor Christian thought. Lewis spends a large portion of the reply saying that he is a democrat because he believes that people do not handle power well. He says that the worst kind of tyrant is a Theocracy, because the while the robber-baron knows he is doing something wrong at some level, and might repent, the man who believes he is doing the will of Heaven (or, if he be of atheistic persuasion, furthering the Right Cause) willingly embraces his evil and has no reason to even think of reconsidering it.

“The Shoddy Lands”: A visit from a friend bringing his new fiancee triggers a vision where the narrator finds himself in a land where everything is indistinct; it seems like a poorly implemented version of the real world. Soon he finds that women’s clothes and men’s faces are very clear. Then he meets an enormous version of his friend’s fiancee, who is much more shapely, but much more vacuous. He realizes that he is seeing the world from the fiancee’s eyes, and that she has a large ego, imagines herself to be physically and sexually perfect, and has little interests in the world, hence everything is indistinct. He hears his friend knocking and wanting to come in, and more quietly but more fully, someone who is probably Jesus is asking to be let in before the night falls.

“Ministering Angels”: The Mars science team finds that Central Command unexpectedly sent a rocket with a two “comfort women” for them two years into the three year stint. The two women insist that it is perfectly natural for men to need to be serviced, and they are there to do the job. They were the only women who volunteered: a cold psychologist who thinks it is her duty and a fat prostitute incapable of getting anyone within a million miles of earth. All the men took an instant and strong disliking to them. One of the crew asks for a tour of the new rocket (the two crew members instantly agree), and while touring, they realize that anyone could fly this ship, and take off, leaving everyone else and the rocket’s captain on Mars.

“Forms of Things Unknown”: Three previous missions to the Moon seemed to go well, until the transmissions suddenly ended mid-sentence. The crew members presumably died, but it was unclear how. Jenkins volunteers to be the sole crew of the fourth mission. He planned all sorts of strategies for ensuring he stays alive, but when he gets there, he finds the Moon quite as he expected, with nothing to make someone go insane and kill his companion. He finds perfectly done stone statues of the previous crew. He decides to send a transmission, but as he does, he sees a shadow come over him, turns, and sees a woman with snakes for hair...

“After Ten Years”: This unfinished story begins with King Menelaus of Sparta waiting in the horse given to the Trojans. When they get out, he leads a company of men in search of his stolen wife, Helen. He finds her, but the ten years have made her graying and fat, no longer the divine beauty that the army fought ten years for. Worse, Menelaus was only king of Sparta by virtue of having married Helen, who was the Queen, and the army still regards her as Queen, so he cannot kill her and get rid of the problem, or he will get rid of his kingship. But the rest of the Greeks want revenge on the woman they fought ten years for. Lewis seemed to be exploring the idea that on his (lengthy) return, Menelaus is offered the Helen he had dreamed about, but who would not be lovable, in contrast with his unlovely wife, but who would love him.

Review: 7
Lewis has insightful things to say, as always, however the essays repeat some themes. He is particularly vocal about the failings of modern thought, especially the dislike of fairy story, which sometimes gets old, despite being well-reasoned and insightful. The essays make good points on the nature of story, although a bit intellectual. This is complemented with some stories. I like the storytelling, but I find that I do not like the themes. “Shoddy Lands” is compelling, but it (quite intentionally) produces a blah feeling. Likewise, in “Ministering Angels,” the Mars team was shaping up to be interesting, until the women appeared and simply ruined it. The stories produce their intended effect very well, the problem is that I would rather not experience blahness, especially in my stories. “Forms of Things Unknown” I liked, and I think I’ve even read it in an anthology somewhere, but it is a little odd to find Medusa on the Moon.