From Harper Lee to a young fan requesting that she send him a signed photo:
I don’t have a picture of myself, so please accept these few lines:
As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, “I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.”
(Signed, ‘Harper Lee’)
[See the handwritten letter at Letters of Note]
From Roald Dahl to Amy, a 7-year-old fan who sent him one of her dreams (oil, glitter, and colored water) in a bottle:
10th February 1989
I must write a special letter and thank you for the dream in the bottle. You are the first person in the world who has sent me one of these and it intrigued me very much. I also liked the dream. Tonight I shall go down to the village and blow it through the bedroom window of some sleeping child and see if it works.
With love from,
[Read more at Letters of Note]
Though we’ll never see this drawing and note from Maurice Sendak to a young fan, it must have been especially good:
“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, ‘Dear Jim: I loved your card.’ Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
Writing advice from C.S. Lewis to a young American fan named Joan Lancaster:
The Kilns, Headington Quarry, Oxford 26 June 1956
Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well — but not the thing itself — the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude (you’re bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don’t try it now, or you’ll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing itself is described. If you become a writer you’ll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across.
About amn’t I, aren’t I and am I not, of course there are no right or wrong answers about language in the sense in which there are right and wrong answers in Arithmetic. “Good English” is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another. Amn’t I was good 50 years ago in the North of Ireland where I was brought up, but bad in Southern England. Aren’t I would have been hideously bad in Ireland but very good in England. And of course I just don’t know which (if either) is good in modern Florida. Don’t take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say “more than one passenger was hurt,” although more than one equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were not singular was!
What really matters is:–
1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’timplement promises, but keep them.
3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”
5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you’ll like your new home.
With love yours C.S. Lewis
[via Letters of Note]
Part of a letter from Beatrix Potter to a young fan who had written to request that Potter write her pet rabbit Fluffy into a story:
My Dear Phyllis,
You have written me such a dear little letter about Fluffy, I feel quite sad to disappoint you – I have begun another book about the fox! If I can do another book that Fluffy can come into – I promise to… You don’t know what heaps of letters I get from all over the world, and so many of them want a book about some special animal. There was a letter lately from a child in Wales who wants a book about a crocodile called Amelia! That I cannot stand! Then there is a small boy in Ireland who wants to know if Jeremy Fisher ever got married, and two want moles, & another wants a donkey named Salome, & another wants a horse book, and another wants hens, & another wants elephants – poor Miss Potter! Fluffy is a very reasonable request by comparison….”
[via The Daily Mail]
From J.K. Rowling to 16-year-old Sacia Flowers, who had lost both her parents and wrote to Rowling about how much she identified with Harry:
19th September 2006
Dear Sacia (beautiful name, I’ve never heard it before),
Thank you for your incredible letter; incredible, because you do indeed sound phenomenally like Harry Potter, in your physical resemblance and in your life experience. I cannot tell you how moved I was by what you wrote, nor how sorry I am to hear about your parents. What a terrible loss.
I know what it is like to be picked on, as it happened to me, too, throughout my adolescence. I can only wish that you have the same experience that I did, and become happier and more secure the older you get. Being a teenager can be completely horrible, and many of the most successful people I know felt the same way. I think the problem is that adolescence, though often misrepresented as a time of rebellion and unconventionality, actually requires everybody to conform if they aspire to popularity – or at least to ‘rebel’ while wearing the ‘right’ clothes! You’re now standing on the threshold of a very different phase in your life, one where you are much more likely to find kindred spirits, and much less likely to be subject to the pressures of your teenage years.
It is an honour to me to know that somebody like you loves Harry as much as you do. Thank you very much for writing to me, I will treasure your letter (which entitles you to boast about this response as much as you like!)
With lots of love
(Jo to you!)
[Read Sacia’s original letter and see Rowling’s full response at Letters of Note]
We couldn’t resist. Here’s another letter from Roald Dahl, a response to a group of students who sent him a few questions about his short story collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More:
Hello handsome Mr. Johnson and all the clever children who wrote me such lovely letters. I am afraid I am not allowed to answer your questions about Henry Sugar.
There is an old woman in our village with a beard. It’s quite long and black. I asked her why she didn’t shave it off. She said, “If I did, nobody would notice me.”
There is a farmer near here who breeds white mice. He fries them in butter for his supper. “They’re very tasty,” he says.
With lots of love from
Harold Pinter’s response to a list of questions about his 1960 play The Caretaker sent to him by a group of high-school students:
7 HANOVER TERRACE REGENTS PARK LONDON N.W.1 AMBASSADOR 9393
4 November 1966.
Dear Master Seaman,
I’m glad to know of the interest of Form 5A in THE CARETAKER. I will answer your questions quite frankly.
i) Davies’ papers are at Sidcup because that’s where they are. ii) His name is assumed because he assumed it. iii) The two brothers see little of each other because they rarely meet. iv) Aston fiddles with his plugs because he likes doing it. v) When he goes out to walk, he walks. vi) The monk swears at Davies because he doesn’t like him. vii) Davies doesn’t like coloured people. viii) He refuses to believe that he makes noises during the night. ix) The Buddha is a Buddha. x) The shed is a shed.
I assure you that these answers to your questions are not intended to be funny.
My best wishes to you all.
(Signed, ‘Harold Pinter’)
[via Letters of Note]