On Narnia and Where the Wild Things Are: C. S. Lewis and the Importance of Influence and Collaboration for Writers

When I set about reviewing the book, The Magician’s Nephew, I wanted to know more about the author, C. S. Lewis. I learned some interesting facts about this prolific writer, and I thought, why not share what I’ve learned. However, when it came time to actually write up a little biography of the man, I was overcome by one thought: what could I possible share that hasn’t already been shared a hundred times? My only answer that is I can share my own thoughts on what I learned about C. S. Lewis.

There were two things that immediately jumped out at me when I started my research. The first thing I found interesting was learning whose writing influenced that of C. S. Lewis. The second was his involvement in a group of writing men from Oxford that included none other than one of my personal writing heroes, J. R. R. Tolkien.

Influence

In his early childhood, Lewis loved the books by Beatrix Potter with the talking animals that dressed in human clothes. Along with his older brother, Warren, he created a world of his own called Boxen populated with fantastic creatures, and complete with its own intricate history. These writings were published after Lewis’s death.

In his later writings, Lewis attributes his Irish heritage as one of the greatest influences on his work. His early work in particular draws heavily on Irish mythology. He discovered a liking for the work of W. B. Yeats. He wrote in a letter, “I have here discovered an author exactly after my own heart, whom I am sure you would delight in, W. B. Yeats. He writes plays and poems of rare spirit and beauty about our old Irish mythology.”

This made me think about who I would consider to be influences on my own work. If I really spent some time on this, I could come up with a large number of writers who had an impact on me as a person, and who inspired my own writing. I don’t remember much of my very young years, but a few exceptions have survived into adulthood, most notably, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. I don’t remember specific attachments to these books, but I find in them an endearing sense of wonder and adventure.

Growing into adulthood, I found among others, The Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Both of these stories feature young women who grow up to become writers, which inspired me to seek out my own voice as these women had done.

At some point I discovered fantasy novels, and while I don’t remember for sure what I read first, The Lord of Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien was certainly the most significant. Here I discovered something I hadn’t found before in books. I could create whole worlds from nothing. And this is what I wanted to do.

Collaboration

The second part of what impressed me about C. S. Lewis was his writing group, called The Inklings. This was an informal group of hugely prolific writers which included Lewis’s brother, Warren, J. R. R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams. They met together regularly, critiquing one other’s work, and inspiring and challenging each other. Lewis’s character Ransom from his science fiction series, the Space Trilogy, is believed to be based on Tolkien.

What I get from this, is writing is not a solitary endeavor. Writers, like any other human, need the social interactions of other humans, especially other writers. I know I am at my best when I have the energy of other writers to spur me on. Some of my most productive writing sessions have come during National Novel Writing Month at live write-ins when there are dozens of other writers working furiously alongside me toward the same goal.

I’ve also been involved in two writers’ groups where we’ve met together on a regular basis. Encouragement, motivation, inspiration, accountability. A significant amount of the work I’ve completed is a direct result of working alongside other writers. Writers do better together.

C. S. Lewis published more than thirty books, from fantasy and science fiction to poetry to theological apologetics. He wrote about what interested him, spurred on by the encouragement and challenges of other writers.

C. S. Lewis titles I’d like to read:

  • the Chronicles of Narnia series
  • the Space Trilogy
  • The Screwtape Letters
  • Mere Christianity

Read more about C. S. Lewis here.

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