Think Adult Coloring Books Are “Childish” and “A Cry For Help”? Not According to CS Lewis

15881447631_587f81dd73_hWhether the subject is YA, romance, or what have you, snobbishly looking down one's nose at certain types of readers is a common past time in the book world. Now coloring book aficionados have been selected as the next target of disapproval.

Quartz published an article on Sunday which says that those who fill in coloring books are "growing down". While the text doesn't quite match with the title, it does contain a number of not-so-subtle digs at adult fans of coloring books:

We color to feel like children again, and to flex creative muscles, but as Jenefsky says, the truth is that children are actually so creative that coloring books slow them down. “For children a lot of times coloring books can inhibit their creativity,” she says. Their natural creativity, she says, lends itself better to creating art from scratch.

Burned out adults, on the other hand, can be overwhelmed by a blank page. For them, selecting colors to fill in the lines may be all the creativity they can muster. And that makes sense.

It’s precisely coloring’s noncommittal not-quite-therapy, not-quite-art qualities that make it compelling. The activity takes less energy than jogging or yoga, is easier than picking up knitting, and is more productive than watching House of Cards (or can be done alongside it). Easier than yoga or meditation, it offers low-stake quick-hit escapism wrapped in the faddish trappings of self-medication.

That piece is currently being discussed on The Passive Voice, and one commenter has rebutted Quartz with a quote from author C S Lewis.

You can click through and read the quote, but let's do one better. I went and found the original source of the quote.

In the essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children, Lewis discussed how he wrote for kids versus the wrong way to write for kids. If you write for kids, work with them, or create any type of content for kids, the essay is worth your time.

I won't share the quote that lead me to this essay. It loses something when taken out of context; while it sounds good and snarky, Lewis also acknowledges that it exhibits the Tu quoque logical fallacy.

Instead I would bring your attention to his second argument on what it really means to be an adult:

The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth. They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? I now like hock, which I am sure I should not have liked as a child. But I still like lemon-squash. I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two. But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change. I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth: if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed. A tree grows because it adds rings: a train doesn't grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next. In reality, the case is stronger and more complicated than this. ...

Coincidentally, while I was tracking down the source I also found that this same essay was frequently cited in 2014 after Slate announced that it was not appropriate for adults to read books marketed as YA.

Lewis' essay is just as true today in relation to coloring books as it was then on the topic of YA novels.

Labeling certain activities as childish, and concluding that adults must stop those activities, mistakes change for growth.

When someone makes this argument, they're not arguing that the subject of their ire should grow up. Instead, they want people to change and limit themselves to fit a judgmental snob's opinion of what constitutes adult behavior.

Forget that.

image by maximederuyck

About Nate Hoffelder (10610 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

7 Comments on Think Adult Coloring Books Are “Childish” and “A Cry For Help”? Not According to CS Lewis

  1. Yep, I’m one of those frequent citers. If that tu quoque quote you’re talking about is the zinger about “putting away childish things,” I did quote it myself, but with three paragraphs of context around it. 🙂

  2. When men grow up they are boring. Those who retain the little boy inside them have a happy life and can make others laugh with them. My all time favourite book is Alice in Wonderland. I’m 72 years young.

  3. Scott Richardson // 29 April, 2016 at 11:31 am // Reply

    My wife suffers from anxiety at times. She finds that adult coloring books are calming. I don’t care what other people have to say about it, the results speak for themselves.

  4. As someone who has skateboarded for almost 30 years now, I have frequently faced the same type of stigma. Lewis’s thinking on the subject has always helped, and it was nice to see him quoted in full, rather than the usual byte sized approach. He is right to say that the issue is simply more complex. In some situations, childishness is preferable and even healthy, but not always. It depends on the context. We have been running adult coloring programs at our library for a few months now and attendance has rocketed from month to month. It creates an opportunity for light socialization that book clubs don’t offer, but focused work at the same time. It seems cathartic and healthy.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your well though out argument. It affirmed me as an author.

    I am a coloring book author. Just saying those words makes me back up a bit in my mind, telling myself, “You aren’t an author if you design coloring books” I didn’t feel this way when my other books were published.
    C. S. Lewis is my favorite thinker. I love it that you used his reasoning in your post.

  6. I have had the opportunity to verify how coloring books help a lot to concentration and exploit the creativity of people. That great features opened my interest in them and made a fusion with my ancestral culture, because some of the ancient patterns have a meaning related to life. Definitely adult coloring book are not a fad, they are therapeutic instruments to open our minds to this real world. You can enjoy my book here:

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