The purpose of fiction

Fiction can educate intellectually, but that is not its main purpose, which is to educate and regulate the sentiments. If you can wiggle it in, an argument that shows that courage is good is good, but first and foremost, what a work of fiction should do is show that courage is admirable.

Mary Catelli

C. S. L. on slavery

Fifty years and a couple of days after he departed from the Shadowlands.

Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

—C. S. Lewis, ‘Equality’ (collected in Present Concerns)

Sayers on Hell

If we refuse assent to reality: if we rebel against the nature of things and choose to think that what we at the moment want is the centre of the universe to which everything else ought to accommodate itself, the first effect on us will be that the whole universe will seem to be filled with an inexplicable hostility. We shall begin to feel that everything has a down on us, and that, being so badly treated, we have a just grievance against things in general. That is the knowledge of good and evil and the fall into illusion. If we cherish and fondle that grievance, and would rather wallow in it and vent our irritation in spite and malice than humbly admit we are in the wrong and try to amend our behaviour so as to get back to reality, that is, while it lasts, the deliberate choice, and a foretaste of the experience of Hell.

—Dorothy L. Sayers, Introductory Papers on Dante

T. S. Eliot on the motivation of evil

Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

—T. S. Eliot, ‘The Cocktail Party’

G. K. C. on ugliness

Man may behold what ugliness he likes if he is sure that he will not worship it; but there are some so weak that they will worship a thing only because it is ugly. These must be chained to the beautiful. It is not always wrong even to go, like Dante, to the brink of the lowest promontory and look down at hell. It is when you look up at hell that a serious miscalculation has probably been made.

—G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Nightmare’

Solzhenitsyn on evil

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

J. R. R. T. on the banality of evil

A small knowledge of human history depresses one with the sense of the everlasting mass and weight of human iniquity: old, old, dreary, endless repetitive unchanging incurable wickedness. All towns, all villages, all habitations of men — sinks! And at the same time one knows there is always good: much more hidden, much less clearly discerned, seldom breaking out into recognizable, visible, beauties of word or deed or face — not even when in fact sanctity, far greater than the visible advertised wickedness, is really there. But I fear that in the individual lives of all but a few, the balance is debit — we do so little that is positive good, even if we negatively avoid what is actively evil. It must be terrible to be a priest!

—J. R. R. Tolkien, Letters no. 69

John C. Wright on moral valence

John C. Wright is interviewed in Raygun Revival. Here, as a taste of the gig, is Mr. Wright on moral valence in popular fiction:

If you wish to argue that there is no such thing as clearly defined good and evil in real life, all I can say in reply is that your notion of real life is missing an essential dimension. This does not mean, of course, that our stalwart hero cannot be caught in a moral paradox, but it does mean that the moral paradox must be a real one, with white and black as sharply defined as squares on a chessboard. It does not mean that our characters need always to be Bishops, always ending on the same color where they began.

I heartily endorse this view of the matter, and I will add this on my own account:

People who extol the so-called virtues of moral ambivalence are, in my experience, generally lazy thinkers. They have not the patience to solve difficult problems (and most of the moral problems that actually engage our attention are difficult); so they pretend that the problems are insoluble and that one answer is no better than another.

If someone says there is no black or white in moral matters, you should carefully consider the possibility that he cannot see them because he is looking with his eyes tightly shut.

G. K. C. on ‘Thou shalt not’

‘Thou shalt not’ is only one of the necessary corollaries of ‘I will’. ‘I will go to the Lord Mayor’s Show, and thou shalt not stop me.’

Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.

—G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

G. K. C. on tolerance

But modern tolerance is deafer than intolerance. The old religious authorities, at least, defined a heresy before they condemned it, and read a book before they burned it. But we are always saying to a Mormon or a Moslem — ‘Never mind about your religion, come to my arms.’ To which he naturally replies — ‘But I do mind about my religion, and I advise you to mind your eye.’
. . . . .
Historians seem to have completely forgotten the two facts — first, that men act from ideas; and second, that it might, therefore, be as well to discover which ideas.

—G. K. Chesterton, ‘Mormonism