I spotted this on io9
when I was in Rome (who got it from Tiny Letter
who in turn got it from C.S. Lewis' Letters to Children
). I wanted to reprint it here, as it is just lovely. Lewis is writing to an American fan named Joan Lancaster in June of 1956 about the craft of writing. I infer from it that Joan must have included a picture of herself and her cat, named Aslan.
26 June 1956
Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well — but not the thing
itself — the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude
(you're bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don't try it now, or you'll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing
itself is described. If you become a writer you'll be trying to describe the thing
all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across.
About amn't I
, aren't I
and am I not
, of course there are no right or wrong answers about language in the sense in which there are right and wrong answers in Arithmetic. "Good English" is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another. Amn't I
was good 50 years ago in the North of Ireland where I was brought up, but bad in Southern England. Aren't I
would have been hideously bad in Ireland but very good in England. And of course I just don't know which (if either) is good in modern Florida. Don't take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say "more than one passenger was hurt," although more than one
equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were
not singular was
What really matters is:–
1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.
2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement
promises, but keep
3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean "More people died" don't say "Mortality rose."
4. In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel
about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us
say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, "Please will you do my job for me."
5. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really
Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you'll like your new home.
I really want to editorialize, but shall not. The thing speaks for itself and more eloquently than I ever could.
In other news, we're back, having lost one electronic device in our mad dash across French airports, but now safe, sound, and jet lagged. There was something oddly surreal about standing in the meat department of the local grocery store looking at ALL THOSE CHOICES and thinking that 24 hours ago, I was in Rome.
Ciao! And in an inside joke for econopodder
"Happy Cat Sacrifice Day!" For all others, enjoy your holiday of choice or none at all. It is a joyous and lovely weekend. Remixes should be posted soon, Big Bang starts on Sunday (thanks snacky
!!!) and I really wanted to get an AW update up before then. We'll see.