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Why do we read literature and how do we judge it? C.S. Lewis’ classic An Experiment in Criticism springs from the conviction that literature exists for the joy of the reader and that books should be judged by the kind of reading they invite. He argues that “good reading,” like moral action or religious experience, involves surrender to the work in hand and a process of entering fully into the opinions of others: “in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.” Crucial to his notion of judging literature is a commitment to laying aside expectations and values extraneous to the work, in order to approach it with an open mind. Amid the complex welter of current critical theories, C.S. Lewis’ wisdom is valuably down–to–earth, refreshing, and stimulating in the questions it raises about the experience of reading.
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Professor Lewis’ motive is admirable, since he would like all books to have a chance, and he is right to oppose the kind of criticism which regards a work with the air of a suspicious frontier guard examining the passport of an unfriendly alien.
Lewis is provocative, tactful, biased, open–minded, old–fashioned, far–seeing, very annoying, and very wise. He believes that literature exists for the joy of the reader, and that all who come between the reader and his joy...may kill the very art which they seek to protect.
This is a plea for a resolutely low-church attitude to criticism...for those in favour of happiness but distrustful of politics and the elevated disapproving mind, and his book is a charter and a liberation.
Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a fellow and tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than 30 books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classic Mere Christianity.