The Books That Influenced C.S. Lewis as a Child

Daniel Lattier | January 22, 2016

The Books That Influenced C.S. Lewis as a Child

In a lecture delivered in 1954, C.S. Lewis (1893-1963) told his audience, “I myself belong far more to that Old Western order than to yours… I read as a native texts that you must read as foreigners.”

In saying this, he did not intend to be arrogant; rather, he was simply making a point about the vast difference between his education—which included a thorough training in the classics—and the education that his listeners had thus far received. He referred to himself as a “dinosaur” and a “specimen,” and encouraged his audience, “Use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.”

Today, the difference between Lewis’ education and our own has almost developed into a chasm, and an effort to recover its features is tantamount to an archaeological dig.

Fortunately, Lewis has made this digging a bit easier for us. In his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life, he has provided a testimony of some important characteristics of his own education.

In an earlier post, I listed some of the structural characteristics of C.S. Lewis’ education. In this second post, I will list some of the contents of this education, i.e., the books and authors he read as a child.     

 

Sir Nigel, by Arthur Conan Doyle

 

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain

 

Edith Nesbit’s Trilogy

- Five Children and It

- The Phoenix and the Carpet,            

- The Amulet (In his youngest years, Lewis wrote, “[This] did the most for me. It first opened my eyes to antiquity, the ‘dark backward and abysm of time.” As an adult he was still able to say, “I can still reread it with delight.”)

Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift (Writes Lewis, “Gulliver in an unexpurgated and lavishly illustrated edition was one of my favorites.”)

 

Old Punch Magazines, especially the Sir John Tenniel cartoons in them (Lewis: “I pored endlessly over an almost complete set of old Punches which stood in my father’s study.”)

 

Beatrix Potter books (Lews: “Here at last beauty.” On the story Squirrel Nutkin: “It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn.”)

 

Saga of King Olaf, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

H. Rider Haggard

 

H.G. Wells

 

Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkiewicz

 

Darkness and Dawn, by George Allan England

 

Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace

 

Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers, by F. Anstey (The book [and later movie] Freaky Friday was based on this story, in which a father and son magically exchange bodies. Lewis called it “the only truthful school story in existence.”)

Sohrab and Rustum, by Matthew Arnold (Lewis: “I loved the poem at first sight and have loved it every since.”

 

Tamburlaine, by Christopher Marlowe (Lewis: “I first read Tamburlaine while traveling from Larne to Belfast in a thunderstorm.”)

 

Paracelsus, by Robert Browning (Lewis: “[I] first read Browning’s Paracelsus by a candle which went out and had to be relit whenever a big battery fired in a pit below me [on the ship], which I think it did every four minutes all that night.”)

 

Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods, by Richard Wagner, illustrated by Arthur Rackham (On reading this Lewis writes, “Pure ‘Northernness’ engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago… And with that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself…” He later also read the other volumes in the series, The Rheingold and The Valkyrie)

Myths of the Norsemen, by H.A. Guerber

 

Myths and Legends of the Teutonic Race, by Donald Mackenzie

 

Northern Antiquities, by Paul Henry Mallet

 

George Bernard Shaw

 

The Odes, by Horace

 

The Aeneid

 

Bacchae, by Euripedes

 

John Milton

 

William Butler Yeats (Lewis writes that Yeats “stood apart from the rest” of the poets he was reading in his teen years.)

 

James Boswell

 

Herodotus

 

History of English Literature, by Andrew Lang

 

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne

The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton

 

Demosthenes & Cicero (I include them on the same line because Lewis called them “The Two Great Bores”)

 

Lucretius

 

Catullus

 

Tacitus

 

Virgil

 

Euripides

 

Sophocles

 

Aeschylus

 

The Iliad and the Odyssey

 

William Morris (Lewis read nearly of all his books. He was Lewis’ “great author” during his teen years. One should note that he was also a big influence on Tolkien.)

Le Morte d’Arthur, by Thomas Malory

 

The High History of the Holy Grail, by Sebastian Evans

 

Laxdale Saga

 

Pierre de Ronsard

 

André Marie Chénier

 

Beowulf

 

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

 

Apuleius

 

The Kalevala

 

Robert Herrick

 

Sir John Mandeville

 

The Old Arcadia, by Philip Sidney

 

Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

 

All of the Brontës’ books

 

All of Jane Austen’s books

 

The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser

 

Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women, by George MacDonald (Lewis describes the effect of first reading MacDonald: “It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I cam alive in the new.” He also wrote that “George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer.” MacDonald was also an influence on Tolkien.)



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