C.S. Lewis on Fairy Tales & Five Recommendations to Get You Started


There’s been a bit of a hullabaloo over the past fortnight over whether fairy tales are dangerous, and just what is suitable reading for adults. In a fine response to the controversy, Gracy Olmstead affirms that, indeed, fairy tales are dangerous, and in all the right ways.

C.S. Lewis agreed with her. In his dedication of one of the great Twentieth Century fairy tales, The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe, to his goddaughter Lucy Barfield, Lewis wrote:

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 are already 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.

Lewis believed it, for his favorite reading for relaxation throughout his life was The Wind in the Willows.

From the old classics of Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen to the Eighteenth Century forerunner of Lewis and Tolkien, George MacDonald and his contemporary Oscar Wilde, give fairy tales a try. You might find you’re old enough to read them again.

Here are five recommendations to get you started. You might even try finding someone to read them to.

Andrew Lang, The Blue Fairy Book

George MacDonald, The Complete Fairy Tales

George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

Oscar Wilde, Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

E.A. Wyke-Smith, The Marvellous Land of Snergs


Book Shopping in Cambridge: The Haunted Bookshop & G. David, Bookseller

Cambridge Evening

When one finds himself in Cambridge, home of higher learning for over 800 years, the sensible thing seemed to be to look for a used bookshop. With only a couple of hours to spare before a supper appointment, G. David Bookseller seemed to be the best target.

Ryder & Amies

David’s had the charming address of 16 St. Edward’s Passage, but—and this may come as a bit of a surprise—cab drivers don’t often know exactly where used bookshops are off the top of their head. Still, he got me close, and after a brief stop in Ryder & Amies, University Outfitters, I found an alleyway that seemed like the right spot.

Books signMy eye quickly caught a sign with that magical word “Books” on it. This wasn’t G. David, but a place called The Haunted Bookshop. Now with a name like that it can go one of two ways. Either it’s a kitschy unserious sort of place, or it’s filled with all kinds of awesome. The books in the window indicated awesome, indeed, awaited. A Haunted Bookshop in Cambridge? I couldn’t help but think it was the sort of shop Russell Kirk would have loved.

The Haunted Bookshop was the proverbial hole in the wall with books everywhere, double stacked on the shelves. They were heavy on children’s books, and there are few things more fun than old British children’s books.

Haunted Bookshop

Haunted Bookshop Window

I was browsing away when the proprietress asked if I was looking for anything in particular. Usually I giving a smiling “just looking around” at this point, but there was something that I had been keeping an eye open for since my trip to Charleston last year. I missed out on a cheap, albeit ex-library, copy of C.S. Forester’s Poo Poo and the Dragons at an outdoor library book sale. So now I asked, and was told, “Oh, I know it’s around here somewhere.” Thus began a search through the piles and double-stacked shelves for the Forester.

“Is the bookshop actually haunted?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. We have our own ghost.”

“Is she a happy ghost or an unhappy one?”

“She seems to be pleasant.”

“I suppose one ought to be content with one’s lot in life.”

“Or death.”

Meanwhile, I was dispatched up the narrow stairs to check the shelves there. Finally a shout of success from below. It had been on the desk all along. Having gone through all of that I felt somewhat obligated to buy it, and after my hard swallow upon seeing the price, she rang it up.

Haunted Books

Haunted Books 2

Haunted Stairs

Haunted Upstairs

It was then I turned to see the C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot volumes in a previously unexplored bookcase. It was like being a kid in a candy store, but I had to pace myself. A first edition of Lewis’s Miracles seemed like the best bet, and at a price I could stomach. Who could resist buying a Lewis first edition in Cambridge where he finally received his academic due? (Clearly I had made an unconscious decision only to buy books by authors whose first initials were “C.S.”.)

Lewis & Forester

I finally extricated myself before more pocketbook damage was done, and was pointed around the corner to G. David, my initial target. David’s stock is mostly remaindered books. And while not a bad thing—quite good in its place, actually—remaindered wasn’t what I was after. Then I found the rare book room. I looked at my watch. I wouldn’t leave until closing time.

G. David

Old leather bound volumes dominated, many from centuries ago. It was a pleasure to stroll through the shelves, examining the occasional volume. Most prices were well beyond reach for me, but far too many were just on the outer edge to where one might stretch. It was not a safe place to be. There were early editions of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, including leather bound versions. Affordable and tempting were volumes of the Annual Register from the 1760s back when a young Edmund Burke was associated with the publication.

Old Leaves

The area that finally caught my attention was the large island where old maps and prints were kept. I sorted through a picked over stack of leaves from a seventeenth century Bible, only £10 each. Most “popular” passages were gone, but I grabbed the opening page of Habakkuk, a favorite of mine. I added to this a small late eighteenth century map of Asia, including India from where I had just flown.

Finally closing time came. I wish I could have returned, but time and finances did not allow it. I am sure there were many more treasures to be discovered in Cambridge, but I am more than happy with the gems I uncovered.

Cambridge Dusk

C.S. Lewis Off the Shelf: Remembering the Other Jack

“I would read other books, of course, but in my heart I knew that I read them
only because there wasn’t an infinite number of Narnia books to read.” – Neil Gaiman

Lewis shelf

When they both died fifty years ago today, November 22, 1963, it would have seemed an odd debate as to who would have the most impact fifty years on: the President of the United States, icon for the nation, or an Oxbridge Don, known for his children’s books and popular Christian apologetics. Today, certainly, the television coverage is dominated by the President: JFK and his legacy.

Lewis TIME coverNonetheless, Lewis is far from forgotten. His popular Narnia series still sells, and a movie version of The Silver Chair has been announced. Lewis was popular in his day, we shouldn’t forget, a popularity that led to a certain unpopularity and marginalization at Oxford that prompted his move to Cambridge. He even appeared on the cover of America’s TIME magazine. Indeed, as Jonathan Merritt notes, Lewis is now more popular than ever.

I had the great pleasure of reading Alan Jacobs’s fine biography of Lewis, The Narnian, this year. I couldn’t recommend it to you highly enough. (Don’t miss Jacobs’s Lewis inspired thoughts at Books & Culture.) The biographical insight puts Lewis in a new light. Lewis was a man who led an unorthodox personal life, to be sure, and I find it extraordinary that he was able to write as much as he did under the circumstances. Belief in God was something Lewis struggled with. The atheism of a young intellectual finally gave way to the considered reflection of belief. Aslan was on the move. Lewis had lived it.

Lewis ScrewtapeWhat to read from Lewis? It’s hard to pick. Everyone should read Narnia, of course. Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters are probably best known among his apologetics. But there is more, which shouldn’t be ignored. Lewis wrote so much worth reading he becomes a friend who stays with you decade after decade as you read, discover something new, and read again.

Of the curious fact of that Lewis and Kennedy died on the same day, along with Brave New World author Aldous Huxley, the always delightful Peter Kreeft made use in his book Between Heaven and Hell. In the imaginary dialogue “somewhere beyond death” the men discuss the meaning of life, and, of course, it is Lewis who points the way to Christ. He has done that through his books for decades now. And of those who died on this day fifty years ago, it is hard to deny that it is Lewis who is still on the move.

Lewis Narnia