This review will contain spoilers!
In many sentences:
I absolutely loved this little book. How could I not? One of my favorite authors, and one of the greatest minds of the 20th century takes the time to show what makes children's stories and science fiction worthwhile. I've always been confident in my reading tastes, so struggling over whether or not I should be reading juvenile fiction or science fiction has never been a huge problem. Nevertheless, Lewis does a fantastic job of reinforcing and clarifying my own outlook on the subject.
I think one of the things that makes Lewis so convincing in each of this essays is his humility. At no point does he claim that everyone should like science fiction, or children's stories, or that there's some deficiency in those that don't enjoy them. Instead, he simply affirms the reasons they are worthwhile, both for readers and for critics.
I've read Lewis before, so this isn't anything new, but if you aren't familiar with his writing, it's amazing how approachable and personable he is. I wish I had had the opportunity to hear him give a lecture, because I can't imagine it would have been anything less than inspiring.
Speaking of inspiration, this short collection has inspired me to do several things. First, I've requested several books from the library so I can continue reading literary and philosophical essays composed by Lewis. Second, I will be reading many of the essays and books that he references in these essays. Third, I want to start writing my own short stories based on his discussion of images as a spark of inspiration. We'll see how that goes.
"On Criticism" was, not surprisingly, particularly interesting for me. Not that I am a critic at the level of Lewis or any other literary critic, but I do spend a good amount of time thinking and writing about the books I read. I hope that in the future, the humility and reasonableness that Lewis espouses in this essay can improve the criticism I write.
Finally, I loved how just after reading The Well at the World's End I read this essay (On Stories) and find Lewis referencing it multiple times. In fact, Lewis goes so far as to say Morris composes a nearly perfect example of true Story. It was great because all the thing I thought about Well, but was unable to express seem to be captured by Lewis's description of Story.
The short stories themselves were entertaining as well. I particularly enjoyed the humor in "Ministering Angels", and the imagery of "Shoddy Lands". "Forms of Things Unknown" struck me as having a traditional "gotcha!" sci-fi short story ending, but it didn't frustrate me too much. While it begs for a second reading, I think the idea was that our shadows (or what we try to leave behind) is never really gone. If we let it, it will consume us, just as the image of an ex-girlfriend consumed the main character of this story.
I think this book is a must read for anyone who is a fan of science fiction or children's stories. This is especially true for anyone who feels embarrassed or shameful over enjoying this type of literature. Lewis, through humility and wit, will help you overcome any such fears. And for those who hate this type of literature, you should read it as well. Not to be convinced that you should start liking it (Lewis makes no attempts at anything so brazen), but just to get an idea why others may find it all so fascinating.