Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday with Words: Lewis, nature and the imagination

Check out what others are reading at the link up at Ordo Amoris.  

This week I started a compilation of essays called The Riddle of Joy.  The essays are from a conference that focused on the lives and works of G. K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis.   I just read my first Chesterton work, Orthodoxy (I had the free kindle edition), earlier this summer and really enjoyed it. I have only read essays by C.S. Lewis (and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when I was in 3rd grade). I have checked The Abolition of Man out from the library though.   The essay called "Some Personal Angles on Chesterton and Lewis" by Christopher Derrick, is his reflections about both men, you see, he knew both of them, in fact, he was a student of Lewis's.  This is one comparison he makes about them. 

Both were prolific and best selling writers, in prose and in verse, equally at home in dialectic and in fantasy; each combined a powerful rationalism of the intellect with an equally powerful creative imagination, a visual imagination in particular.  In Lewis, this seems to have been related to his lifelong passion for countryside and walking, and it operated realistically, even when he had invented the landscapes in question.  (bold mine)

From there the essayist discusses the sense of place in Lewis's science fiction trilogy and the Great Divorce.  He then asserts that Chesterton's imagination of place comes from a different source because "it's entirely absurd to imagine him striding off across the hills and fields and valleys, after the style of Lewis and his friends or of Belloc."

Wait, Lewis didn't become a great writer by cranking out descriptions of his bedroom and the street where he lives?  My introduction to descriptive writing was in preparation for the 4th grade state test. We described all kinds of mundane things and learned how to point the reader around the scene and other such techniques.  My teacher literally let out a yelp of excitement when she saw that our essay topic was a description - we all knew how to do that well.  Maybe my view of descriptive writing would have been better informed by Charlotte Mason's methods.

Today my oldest turns 7 and I have been thinking about CM's list of attainments for a child of age 6. She includes "to be able to describe 3 walks and 3 views."  Honestly, I couldn't think of one view that I could describe; were you supposed to know a place that well?  In her first book, Ms. Mason directs parents in helping children to observe when they are outside.  She wants them to take mental pictures and focus on learning to see.

The same set of skills are called upon in Mason's approach to picture study.  Here, students take time to study a piece of artwork and then describe it in their own words.  Again, this teaches description, but as a way of appreciation and learning the piece of artwork.  It is not just another "writing format" to be learned.

Although I have not been diligent in asking my children to describe views on our walks (the last walk ended with my middle child presenting a full body rash that lasted two days), this quote provides me with great encouragement.  So, although CM does not provide a check box that says "teach descriptive writing" her method apparently worked in forming Lewis's imagination.  That is enough of an endorsement for me.


  1. Wonderful. It took me several times through each of the essays in Abolition to understand a little. Fantastic and worth the effort. Enjoy.

    I must consider doing more walks and views more :) We Geocache, but walking with a purpose isn't the same I suppose ...

  2. More walks. That is one of my resolutions for this year.

    I should have walked today because it was 89 and the high tomorrow is back near 100. :(

  3. We haven't walked for a while. Thanks for sharing this; very encouraging.

  4. I think we all need encouragement to get outside. I know I do. Often, we think of a nature walk as part of the science curriculum and maybe art if we bring our sketch materials. Here, he seems to encourage us to see the bigger picture and the CM approach provides a language experience that helps capture the memory of a place. Much like you narrate to remember what you have read - here you are training a visual imagination by remembering what you have seen. This is something I would NEVER have considered on my own. This idea is almost lost to us but seemed to be a regular part of life just two or three generations ago.