The Glimpse of Joy: C.S. Lewis Discovers George MacDonald

This is a letter C.S. Lewis wrote as an 18 year old while at school before going to war. He is writing to his great, childhood friend, Arthur Greeves.

7 March 1916

My dear Galahad,

I was very glad to get your interesting letter – which was fortunately longer than some of them – as I was beginning to wonder what had become of you; I think your ‘lapse’ this term puts you on a level with mine last, so that we can cry quits and admit that we are both sinners.

I have had a great literary experience this week. I have discovered yet another author to add to our circle – our very own set: never since I first read ‘The well at the world’s end’ have I enjoyed  book so much – and indeed I think my new ‘find’ is quite as good as Malory or Morris himself. The book, to get to the point, is George Macdonald’s ‘Faerie Romance’, Phantastes, which I picked up by hazard in a rather tired Everyman copy – by the way isn’t it funny, they cost 1/1d. now – on our station bookstall last Saturday. Have you read it? I suppose not, as if you had, you could not have helped telling me about it. At any rate, whatever the book you are reading now, you simply MUST get this at once: and it is quite worth getting in a superior Everyman binding too.

Of course it is hopeless for me to try and describe it, but when you have followed the hero Anodos along that little stream to the faery wood, have heard about the terrible ash tree and how the shadow of his gnarled, knotted hand falls upon the book the hero is reading, when you have read about the faery palace – just like that picture in the Dulac book – and heard the episode of Cosmo, I know that you will quite agree with me. You must not be disappointed at the first chapter which is rather conventional faery tale style, and after it you won’t be able to stop until you have finished. There are one or two poems in the tale–as in the Morris tales you know–which, with one or two exceptions are shockingly bad, so don’t TRY to appreciate them: it is just a sign, isn’t it of how some geniuses can’t work in metrical forms–another example being the Brontes.

I quite agree with what you say about buying books, and love all the planning and scheming beforehand, and if they come by post, finding the neat little parcel waiting for you on the hall table and rushing upstairs to open it in the privacy of your own room. Some people–my father for instance–laugh at us for being so serious over our pleasures, but I think a thing can’t be properly enjoyed unless you take it in earnest, don’t you? What I can’t understand about you though is how you can get a nice new book and still go on stolidly with the one you are at: I always like to be able to start the new one on the day I get it, and for that reason wait to buy it until the old one is done. But then of course you have so much more money to throw about than I.

Talking about finishing books, I have at last come to the end of the Faerie Queene: and though I say ‘at last’, I almost wish he had lived to write six books more as he hoped to do–so much have I enjoyed it. The two cantos of ‘Mutabilitie’ with which it ends are perhaps the finest in it, and if you have not done so already, you should read them whenever you have the time to spare….


About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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16 Responses to The Glimpse of Joy: C.S. Lewis Discovers George MacDonald

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  11. Doug says:

    I can’t help but think of my enchantment with story as a youngster, and the voracious appetite of my two kids for good story, of which, they discovered MacDonald was a master. They quickly moved on to the more modern stuff, more power to them, but it was fun to see those eyes light up and their enthusiasm for a good tale. All four of our family still love story, and MacDonald and Lewis are grandfathers, of sorts, of that love.
    I also got a chuckle out of wry comment about the Brontes.


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