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To Arthur Greeves, his oldest friend: On the book that baptized Lewis's imagination-see Surprised by Joy, 180-181. Anodos is the hero of the book Phantastes; Cosmo is the hero of a story Anodos tells in the book.
7 March 1916
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 a book so much-and indeed I think my new 'find' is quite as good as [Thomas] Malory or [William] 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 . . . 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 twopoems 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 Brontës.
To Arthur Greeves: On Lewis's religious views as a seventeen-year-old.
12 October 1916
As to the other question about religion, I was sad to read your letter. You ask me my religious views: you know, I think, that I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name are merely man's own invention-Christ as much as Loki. Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn't understand-thunder, pestilence, snakes et cetera: what more natural than to suppose that these were animated by evil spirits trying to torture him. These he kept off by cringing to them, singing songs and making sacrifices et cetera. Gradually from being mere nature-spirits these supposed being[s] were elevated into more elaborate ideas, such as the old gods: and when man became more refined he pretended that these spirits were good as well as powerful.
Thus religion, that is to say mythology grew up. Often, too, great men were regarded as gods after their death-such as Heracles or Odin: thus after the death of a Hebrew philosopher Yeshua (whose name we have corrupted into Jesus) he became regarded as a god, a cult sprang up, which was afterwards connected with the ancient Hebrew Jahweh-worship, and so Christianity came into being-one mythology among many, but the one that we happen to have been brought up in.
Now all this you must have heard before: it is the recognised scientific account of the growth of religions. Superstition of course in every age has held the common people, but in every age the educated and thinking ones have stood outside it, though usually outwardly conceding to it for convenience. I had thought that you were gradually being emancipated from the old beliefs, but if this is not so, I hope we are too sensible to quarrel about abstract ideas. I must only add that one's views on religious subjects don't make any difference in morals, of course. A good member of society must of course try to be honest, chaste, truthful, kindly et cetera: these are things we owe to our own manhood and dignity and not to any imagined god or gods.
Of course, mind you, I am not laying down as a certainty that there is nothing outside the material world: considering the discoveries that are always being made, this would be foolish. Anything may exist: but until we know that it does, we can't make any assumptions. The universe is an absolute mystery: man has made many guesses at it, but the answer is yet to seek. Whenever any new light can be got as to such matters, I will be glad to welcome it. In the meantime I am not going to go back to the bondage of believing in any old (and already decaying) superstition.
To Arthur Greeves: On Lewis's favorite short story by George MacDonald.
15 November 1916
And talking about books I am surprised that you don't say more of the 'Golden Key': to me it was absolute heaven from the moment when Tangle ran into the wood to the glorious end in those mysterious caves. What a lovely idea 'The country from which the shadows fall'!Yours, Jack. Copyright (c) by C. Lewis . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.