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November 12, 2013

C.S. Lewis—A Commitment to Craft

November is definitely C.S. Lewis’s month. He was born on November 29, 1898 and died on November 22, 1963. In fact, he died in England on the exact same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. This year is the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death and Lewis’s as well. His Chronicles of Narnia are even more successful now than when they were first released in 1949 through 1956. A scholar, a theologian, a literature professor and the author of more than 20 books, Lewis still found time to answer letters from his even his youngest fans.

These letters are worth reading today. Treat yourself or a C.S. Lewis fan to a copy of C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children compiled by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead. You will delight in Lewis’s charming letters and thank you notes to youngsters who sent him their drawings of the characters in his book. One of my favorites was written to an American family who lived in Washington, D.C. He addresses the letter to all eight siblings: Dear Hugh, Anne, Noelie (There is a name I never heard before; what language is it and does it rhyme with oily or mealy or Kelly or early or truly?), Nicholas, Martin, Rosamund, Matthew and Miriam—

Don’t you know those children were delighted that he addressed his letter to each of them? Lewis goes on to answer their questions about his novel, The Silver Chair, and praises young Nicholas’s picture of the Prince—“especially his legs, for legs aren’t too easy to draw, are they?”

Years ago in Oxford, I met Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis’s former secretary. “Jack made things seem larger than life,” he said “Everything had more meaning around him.” Hooper went on to tell me about his relationship with the beloved author of The Chronicles of Narnia and of Lewis’s commitment to his writing group, the Inklings—a group Lewis belonged to for more than fifteen years. In fact, Lewis usually hosted the Thursday night critique sessions in his rooms at Magdalene College. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Ring trilogy, was also a member of the group.

I learned a lot about Lewis and his writing chums during that hour’s chat. For one thing, Lewis had a commitment to craft. Too many beginning writers spend more time anticipating the joy of book signings and royalty checks than concentrating on writing well. Lewis had phenomenal publishing successes because he mercilessly honed his prose. His bestsellers are still selling today. That commitment to craft has paid off for decades.

How committed are you to the craft of writing?

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