Years ago, in something I wrote I described myself as a dinosaur–meaning, I felt like I was from a different time in my mind and spirit, an older time, a time now extinct. Today, I discovered someone else who saw himself as a dinosaur–my greatest literary hero, C.S. Lewis.
On November 29, 1954, some ten months before my birth, Lewis delivered his first lecture as a professor at Cambridge University. “The lecture was a brilliant performance acknowledged by an ovation rarely given to an academic, ” wrote George Sayer, a friend of Lewis’, in his book, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis. (p. 358)
Sayer says Lewis asserted that the “great divide in culture and civilization had taken place between the period of Jane Austen and the present day,” that being the mid-twentieth century. Lewis talked about the various changes during that period then “described himself as a member of the old order,” Sayer said. Then he quoted Lewis from the lecture. “… In order to read Old Western Literature aright you must suspend most of your responses and unlearn most of your habits you have acquired in reading modern literature,” Lewis said. More from Sayer:
“If his audience wanted to understand the past, specimens of old Western man should be useful to them, he [Lewis] said. ‘That way, where I fail as a critic, I may yet be useful as a specimen. I would even dare to go further. Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western Men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.’ One undergraduate commented to me, ‘We were overwhelmed by his vitality and enthusiasm. I had never heard a lecture anywhere near as exciting. We discussed it until far into the night. For weeks afterwards you heard people describing themselves as “dinos.”‘” (p. 359)
So, to those who feel like dinosaurs in their own time, you are not alone. I do not know if we are becoming extinct. I do know that the words of one dinosaur, Lewis, served to certainly delay extinct and possibly even make survival possible.
While we may be dinosaurs in some sense, we can hope to be filled with vitality and enthusiasm. And, as everyone knows, people love dinosaurs.