Nothing is more characteristically juvenile than contempt for juvenility. The eight-year-old despises the six-year-old and rejoices to be getting such a big boy; the schoolboy is very determined not to be a child, and the freshman not to be a schoolboy. If we are resolved to eradicate, without examining them on their merits, all the traits of our youth, we might begin with this–with youth’s characteristic chronological snobbery. And what then would become of the criticism which attaches so mch importance to being adult and instils a fear and shame of any enjoyment we can share with the very young?
–C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (1961), p. 73
Lewis is my earliest influence. I loved Narnia so much, was obsessed with it. And the closest I ever came to being a formal Christian was The Screwtape Letters, which actually David Foster Wallace recommended to me. I found it convincing. I think he found it convincing, too.
For me with Lewis, though—well, it goes back to something I said before, the idea that all these texts perhaps refer to an ultimate reality or gesture toward it. But the question of submitting to one particular cultural response to that ultimate reality? I never understood how I was meant to make that choice. With Lewis, it’s the commitment itself that’s important, the fact that he has made this choice. That is faith. And I suppose what I’m saying is I am a faithless person, who occasionally admires faith in others.
I think Lewis is also the most beautiful writer. The clarity is so fine. And the intimacy. If you’re suffering from grief, to read his book on grief—it’s so direct, so lacking in cant and pomposity and bluster. He’s very clear, and he also has that kind of writerly instinct for knowing your doubts or suspicions. He really has them covered. That’s what Screwtape is, basically; it’s just a series of pre-emptive descriptions of your objections, articulating them before you can yourself and in this manner neutralizing them.
But I guess even from the Narnia books, I always thought that—it sounds ridiculous—that to make good on the kind of belief expressed in them—not to be in bad faith—would be to be enormously lost to joy, so that you wouldn’t be able to go about your daily life. I think maybe that’s one of the frightening things about faith for me, that it would be an obstruction of my daily life, and I like my everyday sinful life.
–Zadie Smith interviewed by Jane Zwart, Only Connect