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C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton: Reading, Fairy Tales, and ‘Mental Health’

My previous post on the lack of footnotes in a certain biography was actually meant to lead to the following quotes. I want to record them here because I will be referring back to them in the near future (Edit: Future post is now a thing of the past. Read it HERE). In these quotes, C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton share a common idea that certain types of stories reflect and/or encourage mental health:

In the first quote, C.S. Lewis is referring to the writing of Edmund Spenser (poet, author of The Faerie Queene):

His work is one, like a growing thing, a tree…with branches reaching to heaven and roots to hell…And between these two extremes comes all the multiplicity of human life…To read him is to grow in mental health (C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, pp. 358-359).

In the second, G.K. Chesterton is challenging the statement of a Duchess of his day that ‘fairy-tales’ were ‘nonsense’ and the possibility of schools removing ‘fairy-tales’ from the curriculum:

It seems that the Duchess of Somerset has been going into some Board School somewhere where the children were taught fairy-tales, and then going into some Board of Guardians somewhere else and saying that fairy-tales were full of ‘nonsense,’ and that it would be much better to teach them about Julius Caesar ‘or other great men.’ Here we have a complete incapacity to distinguish between the normal and eternal and the abnormal or accidental. Boards of Guardians are accidental and abnormal; they shall be consumed ultimately in the wrath of God. Board Schools are abnormal; we shall find, I hope, at last some sounder kind of democratic education. Duchesses are abnormal; they are a peculiar product of the combination of the old aristocrat and the new woman. But fairy-tales are as normal as milk or bread. Civilisation changes; but fairy-tales never change. Some of the details of the fairy-tale may seem odd to us; but its spirit is the spirit of folk-lore; and folk-lore is, in strict translation, the German for common-sense. Fiction and modern fantasy and all that wild world in which the Duchess of Somerset lives can be described in one phrase. Their philosophy means ordinary things as seen by extraordinary people. The fairy-tale means extraordinary things as seen by ordinary people. The fairy-tale is full of mental health.

For all this fairy-tale business is simply the ancient and enduring system of human education. A seven-headed dragon is, perhaps, a very terrifying monster. But a child who has never heard about him is a much more terrifying monster than he is. The maddest griffin and chimera is not so wild a supposition as a school without fairy-tales….Fairy-tales are the oldest and gravest and most universal kind of human literature. It is the  School Board that is fantastic (The Illustrated London News, Dec 2, 1905).

Another related Chesterton quote where he (somewhat) explains what he means in the previous:

Fairy-tales do not give a child his first idea of bogy. What fairy-tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogy. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy-tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy-tale does is this: it accustoms him by a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors have a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies, that these infinite enemies of man have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear...fairy-tales restored my mental health (from Tremendous Trifles).

Now I want to isolate the comparable statements:

To read him is to grow in mental health (Lewis).


The fairy-tale is full of mental health (Chesterton).

I do not have the time presently to analyze these statements, but only to agree with them. I cite them here because I will be referring to them in a future post on a book I recently read.


  1. Austin says:

    When they say ” the fairy book” ( I mean G.K Chesterton and C.s. Lewis) do they mean the faerie queen by Edmund Spenser or just an fairy tale restores mental health? Because as its used above, the fairy book is sounding singular to me

  2. Austin says:

    Never mind, I read this wrong…. the blot is using ” the fairy tale ” as a general view meaning all fairy tales and the faerie queens just happens to be one of the best

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