C.S. Lewis dedicated The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to his Goddaughter, Lucy Barfield, when she was fifteen years old.
Lucy lived a remarkable life. She was adopted by Owen Barfield, a member of the Inklings, and became a Goddaughter to Lewis. At age thirty, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and subsequently lived many years as a shut-in. Lewis made her famous by not only dedicating the story to her, but by naming the heroine, Lucy Pevensie, after her. After the book’s publication, children from around the world wrote to “the real Lucy” through Lewis’ publishers. While she was confined to her bed, Lucy endeavoured to reply to each and every letter, deriving much comfort and cheer from her correspondence with the world’s children.
In the dedication, Lewis points out that children grow faster than books and so Lucy will be too old to read fairy tales when the story is published. However, he writes, there will come a day when she will be old enough to read fairy tales again and he hopes that on that day she’ll read his story …
The words of Lewis’ dedication have stayed with me since I read them many years ago. His point might be sociological – perhaps older people are comfortable enough to be past caring what guests think of the reading materials displayed on their coffee tables. Or perhaps, and more likely, his observation is that adults can enjoy some children’s stories as much as children and maybe more.
(I’ve wondered what Lewis would have made of the recent explosion in the young adult genre of contemporary fiction. What would he have thought of Harry Potter? His Dark Materials? The Hunger Games?) (I’ve also wondered, in my more wicked moments, what his fellow Inkling, J.R.R. Tolkien, would have thought of the paranormal and fantasy books… )
So it is with Lewis’ wisdom that I have included references to children’s books in my novel, Gabriel’s Inferno. Over the course of the next few Tuesdays, I’ll be offering a few words about those books. (There is a Lucy in my story, too. See if you can find her)
The first book I’d like to mention is Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit. You can download an electronic version of this story from Amazon.com for free.
In Gabriel’s Inferno, one of the characters likens Julia Mitchell to the velveteen rabbit. Without posting spoilers, I’ll allow you to come to your own conclusion about how accurate the characterization is.
I will say, however, that there are at least two pieces of wisdom included in Williams’ story that adults will appreciate. First, there is the observation about how love changes one’s perception of something. Things, and even people, become more beautiful when we love them. Second, there is the observation that love somehow makes a thing real. Love has the power to transform something or someone into something very special. In her story, Williams says that this transformation is permanent. Once something becomes Real, she writes, it can’t become un-Real.
C. S. Lewis was very wise to remind his Goddaughter (and us) that some of the greatest wisdom in the world can be found in a simple fairy tale.
All the best and thanks for reading,
PS. News related to Gabriel’s Inferno is posted on my Facebook page and also through my Twitter account.
If your book club decides to read Gabriel’s Inferno, will you drop me a line and let me know? If you’re looking for a place to discuss the book (and also the postings I’m placing here on my website), there is an online reading group on Goodreads you can join.
Thank you SR for this post! I like that we discuss literature this time.
I read “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” some years ago and I loved it so much that I also read the other stories of “The Cronicles of Narnia” (even though I only saw the first movie).
I didn’t know about Lewis’ Goddaughter, though. Her story is really touching as well as Lewis’ message. Like you said above, I truly believe that adults can enjoy children’s books, firstly because we all were children once,so it’s like reminiscing of that time and secondly because, as adults, we can see the message and moral of some children stories more clearly than children do, and maybe it can touch our heart more deeply.So I think that it’s a bit immature of some people to dismiss a book labeling it as ” a story aimed merely to children” because, stories like that can really teach us a lot.
As long as young adult books go, well , we all can tell that we enjoy them and some of them are not only for teenagers( even though some people say otherwise). Take Twilight and The Hunger Games, for example. I keep hearing people saying that these are books not for “grown-ups” but I actually know more adults that have read and loved them than teenagers that did.
This past semester I took a class in Contemporary English Literature and, among the authors we analyzed, there was J.R.R. Tolkien.
I was really impressed by what he says in his essay “On fairy stories”, in particular his opinion on what it means for us to read a fantasy story, a genre criticized a lot at the time. He says: “Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”
And he also says that, through this kind of stories, we can see our own world from the perspective of a different world. So I think that if Tolkien had been alive, he would have approved of us reading fantasy books( as long as they are well written!) 🙂
I’ve never read The Velveteen Rabbit but of course I saw it mentioned on Gabriel’s Inferno..I’m going to read it as soon as possible! Williams must have been really wise..I really like her observations about love.
Thank you again for your beautiful “lessons”, SR! Waiting for your next one !
PS: A friend of mine and I would like to read GI
as a book club later in the summer..Since I have neither twitter nor facebook, what is the best way to contact you and let you know? Thank you!
This is why Sylvain Reynard ranks up with the best authors in history and I am not saying this out of bias or gratefulness but because it is true. He is my favotie author in the 21st century! Thanks for sharing these gold nuggets Sylvain.
So much of what adults construe as “reality” is are layers of dynamic fiction, and the great bene of YA/children’s lit is that it doesn’t allow us to continue the use of those artificial constructs. I have often thought Tolkein would have enjoyed the works of Rowling, as well as Ursula K. Le Guin. Thanks for this post.
I love “The Velveteen Rabbit,” but it always made me feel so sad that the rabbit couldn’t become truly Real until he left the boy. (Should I have put a spoiler alert there?) It’s true that he was Real to the boy once the child kept him close, but Rabbit’s complete transformation couldn’t happen until they were separated.
I think that may be part of the lesson, as far as the story’s relationship to “Gabriel’s Inferno.”
Also, when Rabbit first came to the nursery, the other toys thought him inferior because he was plain and outdated, and didn’t have fancy gadgets. I can see the connection to Julia’s situation when she started graduate school.
I agree with your thoughts on how love can transform a person, a pet, or even an inanimate object. “Once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I want to say more on this post for sure…later, but SR, have you heard of this? Autography- You had been looking for a way to sign e-readers/PDFs. this might work. 😀
Thank you, Ladies, for these great comments. Lots of material here for discussion.
I think you all make excellent points.
Killian, Im afraid I haven’t read Ursula Le Guin. I need to add her to my reading list.
All the best everyone and thanks,
“With Rachel’s departure, Julia and Gabriel were forced to part company with their solid and secure St. Lucy. But in true saint-like fashion, she had accomplished all of her tasks before she returned home, and she had planted seeds that would soon blossom, in unexpected ways.” (Reynard, p.120)
“In thinking about Grace, Julia wondered if a small prayer to Grace for both herself and Gabriel would be efficacious, for Grace was a true saint, a heavenly mother, and one that would no doubt send help to her children. So while St. Lucy went on vacation with her beloved Aaron, Julia turned her attention upward and begged for her heavenly mother’s intercession in all of their lives, lighting a candle in the window of her small studio on a lonely Friday night in Grace’s memory. And before she crawled into her single bed with her velveteen rabbit, she resolved to accept Aaron’s gift graciously, as evidence of her own newfound openness to charity and her ability to swallow her pride when appropriate. Which meant, not surprisingly, that her deadly sin was not so deadly.” (Reynard, p.153)
Rachel is Julia and Gabriel’s Saint Lucy.
Thank you for such a beautiful post! I love C.S. Lewis and I love your books. (I do remember The Velvetten Rabbit reference and I thought it was perfect! 🙂