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Peter T Chattaway

C.S. Lewis vs. Lists of Great Books (and Films?)

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Not directly film-related, but I couldn't help thinking about our Top 100 list when I came across this the other day.

This is from a letter that C.S. Lewis wrote to someone in 1959, as posted recently by Fred Sanders @ Scriptorium Daily:

I don’t feel at all qualified to contribute to a ‘master’ list of writings. The languages I don’t know are of course very much more numerous than those I know; and even in the languages I do know there are a great many books I have not read. And I rather doubt whether a list of masterpieces picked from all over the world –mostly, I presume to be read in translations?- is a v. useful thing.

I would rather see young men beginning from where they are and being led on from one thing to another: e.g. that Milton shd. lead them either to Virgil and Homer (and therefore to a really serious study of Latin or Greek) or to Dante (and therefore to a whole course of Medieval and Italian studies). That, after all, is how every educated person’s development has actually come about.

The sort of culture one can get from the 100 or 1000 Best Books read in isolation from the societies and literatures that begot them seems to me like the sort of knowledge of Europe I shd. get from staying at big hotels in Paris, Berlin, Rome, etc. It wd. be far better to know intimately one little district, going from village to village, getting to know the local politics, jokes, wines, and cheeses. Or so it seems to me.

Make of that what you will. But as for me and my house, I'm glad that A&F is a place where we sometimes get to know little districts a little more intimately than we might have otherwise.

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