Old Enough For Fairy Tales

C. S. Lewis dedicated his novel The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to Lucy Barfield, the daughter of his fellow-Inkling Owen Barfield. She was Lewis’s goddaughter. The dedication itself is worth revisiting. It reads:

My dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result, you may be too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be,

Your affectionate Godfather,

C. S. Lewis

The point suggested so elegantly here is elaborated upon in the posthumous collection of Lewis’s essays, On Stories. He erases what he considers an artificial boundary between children’s literature and adult. In the essay, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” he contends that, “The whole association of fairy tale and fantasy with childhood is local and accidental.” The genre “gravitated to the nursery when it became unfashionable in literary circles, just as unfashionable furniture gravitated to the nursery in Victorian houses.” In the titular essay he writes, “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”. He explains in another essay:

I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth: if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed. A tree grows because it adds rings: a train doesn’t grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next. In reality, the case is stronger and more complicated than this. I think my growth is just as apparent when I now read the fairy tales as when I read the novelists, for I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood: being now able to put more in, of course I get more out.

Indeed we introduce our children to the Grimms, The Hobbit, Kenneth Grahame, Beatrix Potter, and of course Lewis precisely because we know, from experience, that they produce a lifetime of deepening enrichment.

Pictured above: an illustration of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by Pauline Baynes.