C.S. Lewis’ Teenage Bookshelf, and Other Lessons on Reading

The Beowulf author, Sir Thomas Malory, Jane Austen, William Morris, Charlotte Brontë, and Shakespeare. With the exception of Morris, who is merely an important author of his period, these are all canonical authors. Notably, though, these are all authors that Lewis talked about in a single four-page letter he wrote when he was almost 18. This 1 Nov 1916 letter gives us a peek Lewis’ teenage bookshelf and is filled with gems about reading and writing that will tell us a lot about the later Lewis as professional critic.

In this letter to his best friend, Arthur Greeves, Lewis begins in his strident, almost cocky and combative tone. It is a humorous irony that Lewis pins Arthur to the mat for setting Beowulf and Malory side by side, while spelling Beowulf wrong in the process. It isn’t the only spelling mistake or book name he gets wrong in this letter, so a gentle wink at Lewis’ expense is okay given the ribbing he gives Arthur.

Despite the fisticuffs tone, the letter has a number of perceptive points in it about reading. “It is always very difficult,” Lewis says, “to explain to another person the good points of a book he doesn’t like.” Very true, and we often find ourselves defending a book in a different kind of way when we are talking to an unsympathetic partner. Yet Lewis tries, and in doing so notes that Beowulf is a story from “a different world.” This is a critical feature of the books he loves, and suggests that both Austen and Malory are able to do the impossible: to create a fully realized fictional world of their own where, especially in Malory, the characters are old friends, the forests are familiar, and the dragons are real.

Even as a young reader, Lewis knew the critical elements of a successful fictional universe. Beyond the world-building elements he mentions, there are other literary elements captured partially in this paragraph:

If you are to enjoy [a book like Beowulf], you must forget your previous ideas of what a book should be and try and put yourself back in the position of the people for whom it was first made. When I was reading it I tried to imagine myself as an old Saxon thane sitting in my hall of a winter’s night, with the wolves & storm outside and the old fellow singing his story. In this way you get the atmosphere of terror that runs through it–the horror of the old barbarous days when the land was all forests and when you thought that a demon might come to your house any night & carry you off. The description of Grendel stalking up from his ‘fen and fastness’ thrilled me. Besides, I loved the simplicity of the old life it represents: it comes as a relief to get away from all complications about characters & ‘problems’ to a time when hunting, fighting, eating, drinking & loving were all a man had to think of it.

Lewis also never stopped talking about “atmosphere,” and never shook the idea that reading was an encounter that the reader was largely responsible for. The literary time travel Lewis attempts here hints at the kind of writing he would later do as a critic. In his work, Lewis predicted the world of “reader response,” and the great value there is looking at the reader’s experience of a book. But he also insisted on readers situating themselves in a frame of mind to appreciate the book in its original context (as impossible as that is to do fully). Most of his literary history had this goal in mind, and at least three books based on lectures were explicitly written to help students read the poetry of the past: A Preface to Paradise Lost (1939-42), Studies in Words (1956-60), and his career-long prolegomena lectures that became The Discarded Image (1963-64).

Here we also see Lewis’ lifelong belief that rereading is essential to a literary life. Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, which was so formational for him, was even better at 17 than 15. He frequently said things like,

“Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life” (An Experiment in Criticism, 2).

Not just in letters where he constantly admits that he can’t say much about a book until he has reread it, Lewis’ only overt work in literary theory is about reading and rereading.

And, of course, we get to see some of Lewis’ favourite authors. He is still early in his exploration of Shakespeare–here he is only interested in The Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Nights Dream, The Tempest, and the sonnets, though he forgets that he also loved Twelfth Night–and Brontë will not captivate him in the ways that others do. He had been crowing about Jane Austen all year, and even drew her into early attempts at fiction where he writes a Malory-styled character with a Morris-influenced psychology in an “old style” archaic language (and both Morris and Malory were adept at archaism when they wanted to be). These are foundational writers for Lewis.

There are some missing from his canonical teen bookshelf. In 1916 he discovered George MacDonald’s Phantastes, a book that changed his life. In the same month as this letter he reread Bunyan‘s Pilgrim’s Progress and recommended Milton‘s Paradise Lost, but he won’t read Dante for another three months. Earlier in the year he finished Spenser, finding him delightful and setting a life ahead of work in The Faerie Queene. Besides certain devotional and classical essentials Lewis would add to his bookshelf fifteen years later, these five authors go a good distance toward filling out the teenage bookshelf that formed his literary mindset for life.

Clearly, this coming of age period was foundational to Lewis’ lifelong work in letters. Recognizing that calendars are arbitrary things, I still thought it would be interesting to list the books that Lewis read in 1916, according to letters to Arthur and his father. No doubt there are many books that aren’t mentioned, but the list gives us a bit of a sense of the reading that formed his young adult mind.

  • Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590s)
  • Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)
  • Algernon Blackwood, The Education of Uncle Paul (1909)
  • John Ruskin, The Political Economy of Art = A Joy for Ever (1857)
  • George MacDonald, Phantastes: a Faerie Romance (1858)
  • Gawain and the Green Knight (14th c.)
  • Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy (1818)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (late 14th c.)
  • George Bernard Shaw, Love Among the Artists (1914)
  • Pindar, Odes (470 BCE)
  • Sir Philip Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia (1590)
  • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica (c. 295–215 BCE)
  • William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis (1849–50)
  • William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (1602)
  • Algernon Blackwood, The Complete John Silence Stories (1908)
  • William Makepeace Thackeray, The Newcomes (1855)
  • Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (1811)
  • Algernon Blackwood, Jimbo: A Fantasy (1909)
  • John Milton, Paradise Regained and Minor Poems, ed. F.E. Bumby (17th c.; 1910)
  • Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur (1485)
  • William MorrisThe Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858, 1875)
  • Horace Annesley Vachell, The Paladin, As Beheld by a Woman of Temperament (1909)
  • James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound (1820)
  • Mary Augusta Ward, Lady Connie (1916)
  • Valdemar Adolph Thisted, Letters from Hell (1866)
  • Letters from Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple: 1652–4, ed. E.A. Parry (1888)
  • Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 9 vols (1760–7)
  • A number of pieces in The Spectator by and about “A Student in Arms”
  • Charlotte Brontë, The Professor (1857)
  • John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678; 1684)
  • Sebastian Evans, The High History of the Holy Graal was translated (from the first volume of Perceval le Gallois, with illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones (1898)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Minor Poems, ed. Walter W. Skeat (late 14th c.; 1888)
  • Edward Clodd, Memoirs (1916)
  • W.B. Yeats, The Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats (1908)

I also thought it would be helpful to include the entire letter, taken as usual from the brilliant three-volume collection edited by Walter Hooper. The errors are original in the letter, and the “J” signature is shorthand for “Jack.” In this period Lewis was writing a four-page letter of 800-1000 words to Arthur every Tuesday night at 10pm for about an hour (though this one may be Wednesday).

In each of the letters of the period, Lewis talks about Arthur’s previous letter, what they are reading, some adventures in walking through the countryside or collecting books, news about new records or performances they have attended, and literature they are working on. At this point, Lewis is madly preparing to sit for an Oxford entrance examination in December, so there isn’t much walking. And after leaving a project he spent six months working on, Lewis is struggling with what to write. As a result, the letter is mostly about reading. For the last year or so, Lewis had been calling Arthur “Galahad” after the chaste Arthurian knight–another indication of the imaginative worlds in Lewis’ study.

1 November 1916]

My dear Galahad,

I can’t let it pass unchallegend that you should put ‘Boewulf’ and ‘Malory’ together as if they belonged to the same class. One is a mediaeval, English prose romance and the other an Anglo Saxon epic poem: one is Christian, the other heathen: one we read just as it was actually written, the other in a translation. So you can like one without the other, and any way you must like or dislike them both for different reasons. It is always very difficult of course to explain to another person the good points of a book he doesn’t like. I know what you mean by that ‘crampy’ feeling: you mean there are no descriptions in Beowulf as in a modern book, so little is told you & you have to imagine so much for yourself.

Well, for one thing, remember that nearly all your reading is confined to about 150 years
of one particular country: this is no disgrace to you, most people’s circle is far smaller. But
still, compared with the world this one little period of English literature is very small, and tho’ you (and I of course) are so accustomed to the particular kinds of art we find inside it, yet we must remember that there are an infinite variety outside it, quite as good in different ways.

And so, if you suddenly go back to an Anglo-Saxon gleeman’s lay, you come up against something absolutely different–a different world. If you are to enjoy it, you must forget your previous ideas of what a book should be and try and put yourself back in the position of the people for whom it was first made. When I was reading it I tried to imagine myself as an old Saxon thane sitting in my hall of a winter’s night, with the wolves & storm outside and the old fellow singing his story. In this way you get the atmosphere of terror that runs through it–the horror of the old barbarous days when the land was all forests and when you thought that a demon might come to your house any night & carry you off. The description of Grendel stalking up from his ‘fen and fastness’ thrilled me. Besides, I loved the simplicity of the old life it represents: it comes as a relief to get away from all complications about characters & ‘problems’ to a time when hunting, fighting, eating, drinking & loving were all a man had to think of it. And lastly, always remember it’s a translation which spoils most things.

As to ‘Malory’ I liked it so awfully this time–far better than before–that I don’t know what to say. How can I explain? For one thing, to me it is a world of its own, like Jane Austen. Though impossible, it is very fully realized, and all the characters are old friends, we know them so well: you get right away in those forests and somehow to me all the adventures & meetings & dragons seem very real. (I don’t beleive that last sentence conveys my meaning a bit) Then too I find in it a rest as you do in Scott: he (M. I mean) is so quiet after our modern writers & thinks of his ‘art’ so little: he is not self-conscious. Of course he doesn’t describe as Morris does, but then he doesn’t need to: in the ‘Well’ you feel it is only a tale suddenly invented and therefore everything has to be described. But the Round Table is different: it was a hundred years ago & shall be a hundred years hence. It wasn’t just made up like an ordinary tale, it grew. Malory seems to me almost a historian: his world is real to me, his characters are old friends whom you get to know better & better as you go on–he is a companiabl author & good when you’re lonely.

I suppose this sounds all rot? But after all when you say it ‘doesn’t suit you’ you strike at the root of the matter. Perhaps you can’t enjoy it just as I couldn’t enjoy Green’s Short History it is not my fault that I don’t like oysters but no reasoning will make me like them. This controversy has proved even more expansive than the other: if you had given me any excuse for going on with the ‘exaltation’ one I’m afraid I should never get to bed tonight.

By the way I suppose at 10 o’clock when I am beginning your letter you are just getting into bed? Remember at 10 next Wednesday night to imagine me just spreading out your one in front of me and starting to jaw. But seriously, do I bore you. I have taken up such reams about ‘Boewulf’ etc. It is easy to explain a thought, but to explain a feeling is very hard.

Last weekend I spent in reading ‘The Professor’. It forms a nice sort of suppliment to Villette–something [like] the same story told from the man’s side. I liked the description of Hunsden extremely & also the detestable brother. I do wish she had left out the awful poetry in the proposal scene: they are the worst verses in the language I should think. Its difficult to understand how a woman of Ch. Brontës genius could help seeing how bad they were. But on the whole it is a very enjoyable book, tho’ not of course to be compared with her other three. What did you think of it?

Yes, I shall be home for Xmas, rather earlier in fact. This exam. [to get into Oxford] will take place in the first week of December and when it is over I shall come straight home. I am beginning to funk it rather: I wish you were in for it with me (so as to be sure of one, at least, worse than myself). I wish I could see ‘The Winter’s Tale’: it, ‘The Midsummer’s Nights Dream’ & the Tempest are the only things of Shakespeare I really appreciate, except the Sonnets. It is a very sweet, sort of old fairy-tale style of thing. You must certainly see it.

As to Bennet’s book, if a person was really a book-lover, however ignorant, he wouldn’t go and look up a text book to see what to buy, as if literature was a subject to be learned like algebra: one thing would lead him to another & he would go through the usual mistakes & gain experience. I hate this idea of ‘forming a taste’. If anyone like the feuilletons in the ‘Sketch’ better than Spenser, for Heaven’s sake let him read them: anything is better than to read things he doesn’t really like because they are thought classical. I say, old man, it’s beastly kind of you to keep the ‘Country of the Blind’ till I come. Of course if you hadn’t told me I should have thought you would throw it off the top of the tram. Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha, likewise He-He-He! (You do love that sort of writing!) By the way why do you call it your dog if it lives at Glenmachen? I suppose in the same way as you like Shakespeare but I don’t like reading him? Can’t write more to night, your last letter was very short–


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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53 Responses to C.S. Lewis’ Teenage Bookshelf, and Other Lessons on Reading

  1. dalejamesnelson says:

    Thank you for assembling that list of books, Brenton, and, speaking of the ones I’ve read (about 13 of them), I’d say it’s a great list. I’d encourage Lewis’s admirers to take their appreciation of CSL to the next step and delve into the things he liked to read throughout his life. I suppose everyone’s read MacDonald’s Phantastes, anyway!

    Of course, just because a book or author is read by Lewis, we can’t assume he thought highly thereof. One thing I wonder about is what Lewis thought of Thackeray at various times, and, especially, what he thought of WMT as an adult. Does anyone read Thackeray any more? I almost never seem to see anything about him. If Thackeray’s dropping out of the canon and being replaced by Mrs. Gaskell, my guess would be that’s a good exchange, but maybe we’d be better off reading both. I read a fair bit of Vanity Fair many years ago, but felt like I was getting the drift and didn’t need, or want, to stick with it. But should I try, say, the Newcomes?

    Trivia — I will send you separately a screen capture from one of the Adam Dalgleish mysteries on TV that shows a guy holding what surely must be the old Penguin Classic edition of WMT’s Henry Esmond.

    Dale Nelson


    • Thanks Dale. The list began–and still is open to me–as a challenge to read C.S. Lewis’ 1916 year. You will note it didn’t happen in 2016! Ah, shucks. Too bad. But I am hoping to recreate Lewis’ framework of thought in this essential moment of his intellectual formation.
      I don’t read Thackeray, except Vanity Fair in the past. Just 3 months after this letter, Lewis wrote: “Why is it I can’t appreciate Thackeray?” A decade later, “I have been converted to Thackeray.” By VanFair! I think Lewis thought him a genius.
      I didn’t get VanFair but didn’t try hard. Perhaps as a more mature reader I would?
      I got that email before this note and was really, really confused. Now it all makes sense!


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I really liked the 1967 BBC dramatization of Vanity Fair (seen when I was 15, thanks to Masterpiece Theatre), and I remember a physicist-friend much better read than I in various ways really enjoying the thing itself when we were in grad school – but I’ve never yet tried! (Didn’t much like the Kubrick Barry Lyndon dramatization – with the notable exception of the music!) I’ve got The Rose and The Ring – but have I started it, or do I only keep meaning to…?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. dalejamesnelson says:

    Another thing I wonder about is whether Lewis stopped reading Algernon Blackwood forever after the miserable experience with Doc Askins’s madness. It seems so. After going through that, Lewis more or less swore off occult reading, and of course that’s what Blackwood was famous for writing. Offhand, the only reference to Blackwood that I remember in Lewis’s writing, after the 1920s, is a mention of his name along with several others, in “Period Criticism” (1946). But as an adolescent CSL had read a lot of Blackwood. The 1969 catalogue of his library included Jimbo and John Silence. I haven’t read Jimbo yet. John Silence is just drenched in occultism. One of my upcoming “Jack and the Bookshelf” columns reviews it.

    Dale N.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Interesting question! I liked all sorts of Blackwood short stories as an adolescent* – and still do! – but was disappointed about how ‘occulty’ John Silence was when I finally read right through it as an adult.

      * Thanks to Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature, or discovered independently at about the same time? – I can’t remember!


    • Joe R. Christopher says:

      I read an essay on Lewis and Blackwood in the Gothic Section at the South Central Modern Language Association conference a number of years ago, but never got around to making it into a paper for publication. As I remember, Lewis disliked one of Blackwood’s books, but sometime later he sees a new Blackwood book, mentions dipping into it when he saw it (in a letter to Arthur), but evidently never purchased it and comments about Blackwood disappear after that. Perhaps Lewis had simply outgrown Blackwood’s fiction. Obviously THS is Lewis’s book in the Gothic tradition, but one probably shouldn’t call it in Blackwood’s aspect of the Gothic. (Part of the reason I haven’t re-done that paper into a publishable essay is that I would have to read a number of books by Blackwood that I haven’t read–I know the John Silence stories best of what of his I have read–and I just don’t have time at present for going through his books.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Hello, Dr. Christopher!

        On 29 May 1918, CSL wrote to Arthur Greeves: “I told you I was reading Blackwood’s new on ‘The Promise of Air’: it is very disappointing, being merely a long & tedious expansion of a theory that could have been explained in a single essay. Although it is in story form nothing ever happens: I’m afraid if he goes on being ‘serious’ after this fashion we shall have lost a good romancer for a bad mystic.” Maybe this was the book you were thinking of.

        I hope your paper on Blackwood can appear someday.

        Dale Nelson

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am interested that Lewis read 3 of them in 1916 and didn’t spend a lot of time on him afterwards. I appreciate this conversation.


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          In his [16 May 1916] letter, Lewis writes Arthur, “Now let us get on with what you really want to hear; no, I did not go to the ‘Starlight Express'” adding, “perhaps after all it is not an opera but a cantata or something.” Tantalizing! What had they – and what hadn’t they heard – and why was Arthur so keen? Was it because they heard it was an adaptation of Blackwood’s novel, A Prisoner in Fairyland (which Lewis only reports coming to know in itself on [3 June 1917]? Or because the music was by Elgar? Or both? What seems a nicely detailed Wikipedia article about “The Starlight Express” (as ” last edited on 8 February 2018″) tells us that Violet Pearn’s collaborative adaptation “ran for only one month, closing on 29 January 1916.” But it notes, “On 18–19 February 1916, a selection of the songs and music were given an acoustic recording at the HMV Studios, Hayes, by The Gramophone Company. […] There were four 12-inch records.” Presumably, when, on “June 1st 1930”, Lewis tells Arthur he “lay on the sofa and played through […] The Laughing Song from the Starlight Express”, it was the fourth of these with “The Laugher’s Song” sung by Agnes Nicholls.

          A Prisoner in Fairyland (1913) is parenthetically subtitled “The Book that ‘Uncle Paul’ Wrote”, which refers to The Education of Uncle Paul (1909) about which Lewis had earlier written Arthur so enthusiastically [1 February 1916]. Though this is the first reference to him preserved in the Letters, Lewis seems (to me at least) to write of “Blackwood” as if both were already familiar with him – at least by name.


          • Huzzah! There’s some lit sleuthing. I don’t know either the genre or the technology of those stage musicals and operas of the period, so I haven’t narrowed in on many. There is a probably a paper in “Lewis and the Stage.”


            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              Indeed! I was just browsing Warnie’s published diary selection for various references and, among other things, reencountered his lively, detailed comments on the household going together to see a student production of Midsummer Night’s Dream (7 June 1933).


          • dalejamesnelson says:

            Long after the period of CSL’s interest in Blackwood, the latter became a film storyteller. I think these were broadcast on TV. Here’s one:


            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              Wow, thanks! I’ve been gradually bumping into all sorts of (comical) fantasy/angelic-demonic films of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, lately, and wondering which of the Inklings may have seen or heard of which ones… (Now, if I can only remember which they were! – but it gave me a new context for It’s a Wonderful Life!)


  3. dalejamesnelson says:

    Nine volumes for Tristram Shandy?


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Originally – though I don’t know who (if anyone) reprinted it that way… A quick rummage in the Internet Archive finds the Dent/Lippencott George Saintsbury ed. in three volumes (is that the text which Everyman’s Library reprinted – without the E.J. Wheeler illustrations – in one volume?), and a World’s Classics ed. which notes “frist published in nine volumes” and presents the one-volume text in nine ‘books’.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Probably comparatively skinny? – idiotically I’ve never looked at ’em, when I had access to great libraries, or scans of ’em online, more recently! It may also be something to do with all the playfulness with respect to form which characterizes the work… (Not up on my Shandy scholarship, either!)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. dalejamesnelson says:

    Occasionally, as we read Lewis’s letters or look at the list of his library, we come across items that draw a complete blank. I wonder about Vachell’s Paladin. Mrs. Ward’s Lady Connie — worth reviving?

    Sometimes obscure book-references in Lewis do lead to good discoveries (as we will be sharing with readers here at A Pilgrim in Narnia before long). Just recently I looked up Harold Mead’s Mary’s Country. This turned out to be a post-apocalyptic novel, kind of like John Christopher’s No Blade of Grass or Golding’s Lord of the Flies, but with a more hopeful element, which is connected with Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode. I’ve drafted a “Jack and the Bookshelf” column for the New York C. S. Lewis Society on this book, too. (People who like reading about Lewis’s reading might enjoy checking out this series, which appears most of the time in issues of the Society’s Bulletin, CSL.) I won’t see it’s a forgotten masterpiece, but it’s good.

    Dale N.


  5. joviator says:

    When I was 11, I was given a copy of Le Morte d’Arthur. It doesn’t seem to have had the same salutary effect on me, possibly because I didn’t understand most of it.


    • Funny, I tried reading some of Malory to my son when he was 7 or 8. Same issue. So we switched to Roger Green’s adaptation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • joviator says:

        “Then I jewtered my ashen spear and crashed into Sir Junkpile and brast his breastbone,” as the young knight put it in Steinbeck’s story, is pretty much all I got. That, and a lot of good names for non-player characters.

        Liked by 1 person

        • dalejamesnelson says:

          Sure, Joviator and Brenton — it’s good to start with an adaptation of Malory when you’re young. I might recommend The Boy’s King Arthur in the Scribner illustrated classics series, with superb paintings by N. C. Wyeth. I read it to my son when he was eight.

          Dale N.

          Liked by 2 people

  6. dalejamesnelson says:

    Clodd’s Memoirs appears, from archive.org, to be many chapters about his friendships with various people. I don’t recognize all of the names, and none of the names is one that strikes me as someone in whom Lewis was highly interested. There is a chapter on George Meredith, whose novel The Egotist, I have read somewhere, Lewis was said to read every year (despite a forbidding first chapter). Meredith! If Thackeray is little read now — what can be said of Meredith!



    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      We had at least a good swatch of Modern Love (maybe all of it?) in my undergrad Victorian Lit class – I was just thinking of it the other day (XVI – wow!) – and is that when and where I first read ‘Lucifer in Starlight’, too? But I think I had a vivid impression of Meredith himself from an anecdote by Conan Doyle (I suppose in Memories and Adventures) before I ever read a word of his. (Indeed, still haven’t caught up with his prose fiction – though The Shaving of Shagpat sounds alluring!)


  7. Dan Hennessy says:

    Reblogged this on The Kingdom of Memory and commented:
    Whatever “Jack” read has got to be good for the soul… solid nutrition while moving through time without leaving the Classics behind…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wayne says:

    a comment and a question…
    I’m intrigued by Lewis’ comment toward the end “as if literature was a subject to be learned like algebra”
    this kind of leads me to the question: in Lewis’ day what did a course of study consist of? I know he was a tutor for years but not much more than that. Today we have degree plans with lists of required and elective classes to be studied. What was it for Lewis and Tolkien?


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      At Oxford, ‘set texts’ one could be examined on would be important – but how one discovers what the set texts were when they were students, I wish I knew (and may be very embarrassed when told how easily they can be looked up – but, somebody, tell me, please!).


    • If you can forgive the tone of my review (I came from a different kind of academic context with a different debating style), Joel Heck’s book Irrigating Deserts has a chapter on the school system at Oxford. McGrath’s CSL bio may do so as well. Sayers’ bio “Jack” has it from Sayers’ perspective as a student–and so does John Lawlor’s Memories & Reflections.
      For Lewis’ tutor, Kirkpatrick, tutelage was very controlled on languages, believing you needed to think in Greek/Latin/French/German/Italian to read it. They were too soft in Maths and had to double down (Lewis still failed math). Kirk let Lewis read whatever he wanted because his reading level was already at Oxford’s standards. Sorry so brief. On Tolkien, I would recommend John Garth’s book, which has a lot about Tolkien’s early education.


  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    This is splendid – thank you very much!

    It suddenly strikes me as curious that the historical references in Beowulf are from the Sixth-century, which is also a date for ‘the historical Arthur’, making both the Beowulf Poet and Malory writers of historical fiction of more or less the same period (and both with fantastical elements), though they are of very different periods themselves – as are Scott and Morris (also between them) as writers of (in one or another sense) historical fiction!


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