Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, Book One)

I read C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy my sophomore or junior year of high school and remember loving it. I just finished reading (again) the first book of the trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, and am certain I enjoyed it even more this time around. I cannot wait to start Perelandra. Makes me feel like a kid! It’s fun to read these books now that I have so much background info.

I don’t actually have a lot to report other than that this book expands on Lewis’ ideas of the anhilation of space, his distrust of scientific utopian thought as well as literalist Christian utopian thought.

I think I’ve probably held a certain amount of utopian idealism my entire life so it’s been interesting to come across all of these recent arguments against it – not against hoping for a utopia, necessarily, but rather believing that a utopian society can be created based upon a scientifically (or biblically) enlightened belief system.

I remember reading Thomas More’s Utopia at some stage of my life and thinking – who is this supposed to be a Utopia for? Maybe certain men. But certainly not women and the two slaves per household that come from other countries! It seems a man-made utopia would necessarily ostracize some group of people within society.

The Most Reluctant Convert by David C. Downing

I am extremely interested in C.S. Lewis because his fiction is universal, yet he is touted as a defender of the faith by Christians who claim Christianity is the only way to God.

Lewis went from a staunch atheist to a theist and the conversion fascinates me. Especially since the more I read of him and about him, the less he seems like somebody the fundamentalists would want to tout.

I greatly enjoyed The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S Lewis’s Journey to Faith by David G. Downing and highly recommend it. Browning also wrote Planets in Period: a Critical Study of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy which is considered to be one of the five best books yet published on Lewis on the C.S. Lewis and the Inklings homepage.

Fundamentalism is a product of the industrial revolution and Capitalism. It turned Christianity into a factual, mechanized religion to be marketed. Lewis was very concerned about what had occurred at the turn of the century. He did not believe in “progress” as progress – not even in the form it took during the Renaissance.

The philosophy of Materialism, the monistic view that only matter has reality, had taken hold of Christianity early on and gained new importance with the industrial revolution. (Consider the fact that many Christians are only capable of thinking of God as a physical reality). Lewis had been trained in Idealism, which is also a monistic view, but takes the opposite stance of materialism – that matter is really just the veil of appearances and there is an unknowable Absolute that lies behind this veil of appearances.

This belief was, in part ,a reaction to materialism. Likewise, Lewis’s atheism was a reaction to theism. He came to realize that to not believe in something requires that you believe that something exists at some level. It’s a trap of the mind. So he began to find Idealism wanting as he did his atheism. But it took him much longer to change his mind about atheism.

Downing accredits much of Lewis’s struggle to the fact that he lost his mother at 10 and had a distracted father.

There is the theory (based upon Freud’s teaching) that “Christians are among the psychologically needy who project a benevolent, all-protecting Father into the heavens, far more powerful and caring than their flawed earthly fathers.” But according to Paul Vitz (Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism), such analysis is “a double-edged sword that can also, indeed easily, be used to explain their unbelief….atheism of the strong or intense type is to a substantial degree generated by the peculiar psychological needs of its advocates”, usually associated with defective father figures. Downing goes on to say that, “it seems rather glib for either believers or unbelievers to presume that one’s own views are based on unflinching analysis while those who disagree are dominated by unconscious conflicts.” (Downing, p. 32-33) You can’t explain away matters of faith/belief based upon emotional needs. But as Downing says, you can discover obstacles to faith/belief that are rooted in childhood (both for and against whatever the belief happens to be.)

Lewis held a deep regard for Puritans, but claimed that most of the Puritans surrounding him were what he called “apostate Puritans” in that they had replaced a spiritual vigor for a legalistic vigor which he considered to be the “memory of Christianity”, not Christianity. Peace, love, wisdom and humility had been replaced by, as Downing puts it, “sectarian narrowness and a quickness to judge others.” In fact, Lewis was far more perturbed by what he called “blind guides” in the church after he had converted to Christianity than when he was agnostic.

George MacDonald, a Christian minister, was Lewis’s favorite writer, claiming that nothing came close to giving him the sense of spiritual cleansing and being washed as reading George MacDonald. Lewis discovered MacDonald when he was 17 years old and realized upon his conversion to Christianity that MacDonald had accompanied him all the way. He writes, “The quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying, and ecstatic reality in which we all live.” Utopian societies were not MacDonald’s or Lewis’s thing.

In Out of the Silent Planet, scientist Edward Weston has a sort of Utopian ideal. He’s willing to defend mass extermination in the name of the proposed benefits for coming generations. The Beyond for Weston is nothing more than the future of humanity for which he has no problem interfering in the free will of others. In The Great Divorce, Lewis writes, “There are only two kinds of people in the end. Those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell chose it.” Downing writes that Lewis believed that “one’s inner sense of glory and gratitude for all that is beautiful and sublime may be the first step on a road to faith.” If you do not have this sense of the beautiful and sublime, then you are much more likely to have a blind faith, not true faith.

According to Downing, Spirits in Bondage, written by Lewis in 1919 prior to converting to Christianity, is not about atheism as much as it is a sort of gnosticism. In it, Lewis writes about his belief that one shouldn’t let Matter, one’s body, dominate Spirit, one’s mind. Lewis writes, “I do believe that I have a spirit, a chip, shall we say, of universal spirit; and that since all good and joyful things are spiritual and non-material, I must be careful not to let matter (=nature=Satan, remember) get too great a hold on me and dull the one spark I have.” Lewis goes on to say that true beauty arises out of something spiritual, either the relationship between the tree and the observer, or perhaps “some indwelling spirit behind the matter of the tree.” At this agnostic point in his life, Downing writes, Lewis was “almost Manichean, insisting that Spirit and Matter existed in a state of perpetual opposition.”

After Lewis was wounded in World War I, he re-read MacDonald’s Phantastes. 1923, he wrote that it served as a sort of devotional book for him and it went counter to the dualistic philosophy of matter and spirit. “The call of spirit” was different. In reading MacDonald, he said he “saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged.” Glory did not dim ordinary things as he had thought previously, but rather were polished and smoothed by Glory. This was a shift in his philosophy of spirit.

After he had become a Christian, Lewis said that the most important distinction in the church was “not between high and low but between religion with real supernaturalism and salvationism on the one hand and all watered-down and modernist versions on the other.” One of the reasons Lewis decided to stick to a more orthodox view of Christianity was because of a friend (Doc Askins) who had a complete mental collapse. Lewis 2 weeks with him, trying to hold him down and soothe Askins who believed he was ascending into Hell. Lewis realized that there were likely physical causes for what had happened to Askins, but he also believed that Askins’ years of being attracted to the occult (the magical side of spirituality) sped his demise. He believed that he and his friend Author were both candidates for neuroses and offered this advice to Arthur:

Keep clear of introspection, of brooding, of spiritualism, of everything eccentric. Keep to work and sanity and open air – to the cheerful & the matter of fact side of things… Above all beware of excessive day dreaming, of seeing yourself in the centre of a drama, of self-pity, and, as far as possible, of fears.

The mental collapse of this man (Doc Askins) had a profound effect on Lewis. According to Downing, “from 1923 onward, Lewis would associate magic with a particularly sinister kind of escapism and a possible route to diabolism or dementia.”

In Perelandra, the portrait of evil in the “Un-man” was likely taken from Jack’s experience with Doc Askins. The Un-man is the possessed body of Weston who makes the comment that spiritualism contains more truths than people realize, but that they are hideous truths. For Lewis, the problem with the magic and magicians of the occult is not that they are dabbling in forbidden arts, but rather that they have succumbed to the temptation to “be as gods”.

Downing writes that Lewis later begins to explore Idealism which is not to be his final destination, but one Lewis considers a step in the right direction. Lewis describes his progress this way: “On the intellectual side, my own progress had been from ‘popular realism’ [the belief that only that which is experienced through the senses is reality] to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity.” I think it is interesting here that he is differentiating Theism from Christianity.

Lewis writes in “De Futilitate” that the “only two serious philosophical options for an adult mind” are Hinduism and Christianity. Downing believes that by Hinduism, what Lewis is referring to is not the complex religious traditions of India, but rather the philosophies of F.H. Bradley who had a huge influence on Lewis. According to Downing, Bradley held “that the atman, individual soul, of all living things comprise the Brahma, or Universal Soul. This “Oversoul” cannot be known directly because the physical of world is Maya, a veil of deceptive appearances.” This belief is a form of pantheism. As Downing writes, we tend to think of pantheism as new age but it is an age-old religion found in aboriginal societies around the world. Lewis writes of pantheism, “far from being the final religious refinement, Pantheism is in fact the permanent natural bent of the human mind.” If human beings are both body and spirit (the inner world of consciousness) then certainly animals, plants and even the whole cosmos itself would have a Universal Soul.

But what happens to Lewis’s Pantheism, as he writes about the process in The Pilgrim’s Regress: “As soon as he attempts seriously to live by Philosophy, it turns into Religion” and “From Pantheism to Theism. The transcendental I becomes Thou.”

In 1924, Lewis first reads Samuel Alexander’s Space, Time and Deity and writes in his diary that he was “greatly impressed by the author’s truthful antithesis of enjoyment and contemplation.” What also struck Lewis was the differentiation Alexander makes between experiencing something directly and unself-consciously (“enjoyment”) versus thinking about the experience. Lewis realizes that one cannot be both unself-conscious and self-conscious at the same time.

By Lewis’s mid-twenties, be begins to think that the Absolute might be personal. In 1926 he read G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man and found himself quite attracted to the beliefs within it. Lewis began to feel that “Christianity itself was sensible ‘apart from its Christianity’.” Most of the authors that Lewis was attracted to (Spenser, Milton, Johnson and MacDonald) took Christian mythology seriously while those who “did not suffer from religion” (Voltaire, Gibbon, Mill, Wells, Shaw) seemed to Lewis “tinny” in comparison. Downing writes that “more and more it seemed to him [Lewis] that the profound writers were profoundly deluded by their faith, but the clear-seeing unbelievers did not see very far.”

The word conversion is not really accurate for what Lewis experiences. There was no radical, sudden transformation. Instead, it happened in stages. Lewis depicts himself as a “dejected and reluctant convert” the first time around and explains what he underwent, best interpreted in terms of the medieval model of human personality, in The Screwtape Letters. Downing explains it this way:

“In this view the inner self can be envisioned as three concentric circles, with one’s will at the center, intellect in the second circle and imagination in the outer circle. First an idea or image enters into the mind’s eye, then one grasps it intellectually and finally one acts on it. Lewis’s long, drawn-out conversion process illustrates the [medieval] model perfectly. His imagination was baptized back in 1916, when he first read MacDonald and was entranced by “the beauty of holiness.” His intellect had shown him by 1929 that the Absolute must indeed by God, but it was not until 1931 that he recognized the claims of Christ and surrendered his will.”

In 1930, Lewis read George MacDonald’s, Diary of an Old Soul, writing that he would like to find other books of this sort and adding “that is another of the beauties of coming, I won’t say, to religion but to an attempt at religion – one finds oneself on the main road with all humanity and can compare notes with an endless succession of previous travelers. It is emphatically coming home.”

In 1931, he has a long midnight talk with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. According to Downing, “they [Tolkien and Dyson] argued that one of the great and universal myths, that of the dying God who sacrifices himself for the people, shows an innate awareness of the need for redemption not by one’s own works, but as a gift from some higher realm. For them, the incarnation was the pivotal point at which myth became history. The life, death and resurrection of Christ not only fulfilled Old Testament types but also embodied – literally – central motifs found in all the world’s mythologies.”

For Lewis, this understanding was sort of a return to a childhood sense of wonder and glory – quite the opposite of the mundanities and insanities of the adult modern world. So it isn’t surprising that Lewis’s books have so many metaphors of looking back or going back. In The Great Divorce, Lewis says that good comes only by undoing evil, not by trying to wed the two: “I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A wrong sum can be put right; but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it.”

He uses the example of walking a dog in a letter to Arthur Greeves. Imagine walking your dog and the dog goes around the wrong side of a post and gets caught by his leash. The owner can see that he is caught so tries to pull the dog back but the dog thinks the only way is forward. If he is obedient, he will reluctantly go backwards before he is able to go forwards again. If this dog were a theologian, he would label the attempts at going forward without first going back, temptation to sin. The dog has to learn to surrender his will in order to resume his true progress forward.

Downing writes of Lewis progress forward that “as a materialist he had tried to deny the reality of in immaterial realm altogether. As a dualist he had viewed the human spirit at war with the material world. As an Idealist he had pondered a Universal Spirit immanent in nature. Finally, as a Christian he would view God as Spirit – the supreme Spirit – not in nature or against it, but above it – its Creator. In this view humans need not spurn nature as evil or worship it as divine, but rather to value nature as part of creation as we ourselves are.”

Lewis writes: “God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: he invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”

Becoming a Christian, for Lewis, was setting aside introspection as self-therapy and taking it up as a philosophy. Downing writes, “the practical purpose for self-examination was to study how the working of his own mind shed light on the nature of reality.” Of writing, Lewis wrote that the longing of writers to get thoughts and feelings down on paper cannot be helped, but that writing to seek acclaim was unworthy.

Lilith by George MacDonald

I have been trying to gain an understanding of C.S. Lewis’ theological perspective. One of the writers who most influenced his conversion from atheism to theism was George MacDonald. The book that especially influenced Lewis was Phantastes, which happily I just found on-line tonight.

Lewis said this of MacDonald: “I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself!” He also put together an anthology of MacDonald’s writing.

My library had a copy of Lilith with a forward by Lewis as well as recommendations on the back of the book from W.H. Auden, G.K. Chesterton, and Madeleine L’Engle which I couldn’t resist checking out. I really liked Lilith and would love to read Phantastes and am really glad to know it is available on -line!

I definitely have a better understanding of Lewis after having read Lilith. The Christianity that MacDonald and Lewis believed in is not at all like the Christianity I typically think of when I think of Christianity. It’s much less factual – much more imaginative.

According to legend, Lilith was the first wife of Adam who would not be faithful to Adam. Legend has it she also killed boys. In MacDonald’s tale, she confiscates every child that is born – an attempt to destroy childhood, basically, which is closer to God than is adulthood.

The main character, Mr. Vane, has inherited an estate and discovers that there is a ghost wandering around in the library. This ghost turns out to be a raven who helps Mr. Vane navigate the underworld, similar to Dante’s Virgil but MacDonald’s underworld is far less sinister. It is full, however, of motherless children and children who have escaped Lilith but never grow up. Stupid giants. Dancing skeletons. Riddles.

I love this exchange between Mr. Vane (the narrator) and the Raven.

“What does it all mean?” I said.

“A good question!” he rejoined: “nobody knows what anything is, a man can learn only what a thing means! Whether he do, depends on the use he is making of it.”

“I have made no use of anything yet!”

“Not much, but you know the fact, and that is something. Most people take more than a lifetime to learn that they have learned nothing, and done less…”

I also like this statement made by the raven when Mr. Vane claims he had wanted to keep the children from having to deal with hardship : “No doubt you would – the aim of all stupid philanthropists! Why, Mr. Vane, but for the weeping in it, your world would not have been worth saving!.”

Mr. Vane travels the underworld, discovering that he really does know nothing and that everything he ever feared was not worth fearing. In order to realize this, he has to come to the point of being willing to die to the life he knows.

It was a marvelous tale of death and resurrection. I don’t want to say too much more about it, but I do have to mention that I was literally sobbing by the end of the book.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful novel. Not sure I’ve enjoyed a book so much in quite some time.

Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis

I’ve made it through the history of Christianity and am going to take a bit of a break from it before I look into the resurrection. I’ll go back to C.S. Lewis today.

I’ve been going through The Essential C.S. Lewis which gives snippets of Lewis’ work (with a few entire fictional works included). My library had Surprised by Joy so I went ahead and read all of it rather than just the snippet and am very glad I did. It was extremely helpful to me in understanding Lewis’ relationship between Paganism and Christianity.

As I’ve mentioned several times previously, Lewis was a staunch atheist. He claims the decision to become Christian was closest to being a perfectly free act of anything he had ever done. He wrote: “Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom, and perhaps a man is most free when, instead of producing motives, he could only say, “I am what I do.” On the imaginative level, he imagined himself as a man of snow beginning to melt and he didn’t like the feeling.

He had long held a theoretical Idealistic “ethic” that “finite and half-unreal souls were meant to “multiply the consciousness of Spirit by seeing the world from different positions while yet remaining qualitatively the same as Spirit; to be tied to a particular time and place and set of circumstances, yet there to will and think as Spirit itself does.” But because of competitive interests, this was difficult. “To prefer my own happiness to my neighbor’s was like thinking that the nearest telegraph post was the largest. The way to recover, and act upon, this universal and objective vision was daily and hourly to remember our true nature, to reascend or return into that Spirit which, in so far as we really were at all, we still were.” What happened when he decided he was a Christian was that now he must not just think about this, but actually do it.” That was the shift.

His most ferverent wish before becoming a Christian was to not be “interfered with”. He wanted to “call my soul my own”. He claims to have been “far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight.”

Lewis’ first awakening to something beyond himself was through Norse Mythology – which, of course, is paganism. It awakened something in him even though he knew the stories were fiction. He became a Christian because he came to realize that unlike the myths of paganism, the myth of Christianity was a true myth. That’s not to say it was “factual” but rather that the story was based upon a living being and actual occurrences (someone who did something) rather than the figment of someone’s imagination.

But, he continued to hold much regard for the imagination. He said that when he was young and read Homer, he was a romantic. But “this slight error saved me from that far deeper error of “classicism” with which the Humanists have hoodwinked half the world”. When he matured, he continued to enjoy Homer every bit as much without the romantic leanings. In fact, it had even more meaning for him than it did when he was more romantically inclined.

He began to view paganism as a prophetic dream of religion and claimed to be too experienced in literary criticism to view the Gospels as myths. “They had not the mythical tasste. And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion – those narrow, unattractive Jews, too blind to the mythical wealth of the Pagan world around them – was precisely the matter of the great myths. If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. And nothing else in all literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato’s Socrates or Boswell’s Johnson… yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god – we are no longer polytheists – then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not “a religion,” nor “a philosophy.” It is the summing up and actuality of them all.

Lewis had started out with an idea of the Absolute which, by reading Norse Mythology, moved to Spirit. And later, to “God”. With each step, he claims there was less chance to call one’s soul one’s own.

Of friendship, Lewis said that every man’s First friend is the “alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights….But the Second Friend is the man who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the antiself. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle…. When you set out to correct his heresies, you find that he forsooth has decided to correct yours!”

I found this to be particularly interesting… In 1913, when C.S. Lewis was 14 years old, he entered a school called Wyvern College (Coll). The kids in the school were 13-19 years old. All boys. “The Bloods” are the older students who have earned a certain amount of authority and prestige (aristocracy within the school) and “the Tarts” are “the pretty, effeminate” boys who become “mistresses of the Bloods”. Lewis deals with this arrangement quite casually.

From the book:

The Tarts had an important function to play in making school (what it was advertised to be) a preparation for public life. They were not like slaves, for their favours were (nearly always) solicited, not compelled. Nor were they exactly like prostitutes, for the liason often had some permanence and, far from being merely sensual, was highly sentimentalised. Nor were they paid (in hard cash, I mean) for their services; though of course they had all the flattery, unofficial influence, favour, and privileges which the mistresses of the great have always enjoyed in adult society. That was where the Preparation for Public Life came in. It would appear from Mr. Arnold Lunn’s Harrovians that the Tarts at his school acted as informers. None of ours did. I ought to know, for one of my friends shared a study with a minor Tart; and except that he was sometimes turned out of the study when one of the Tart’s lovers came in (and that, after all, was only natural) he had nothing to complain of. I was not shocked by these things. For me, at that age, the chief drawback to the whole system was that it bored me considerably…

And that is why I cannot give pederasty anything like a first place among the evils of the Coll. There is much hypocricy on this theme. People commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this. But why? Because those of us who do not share the vice feel for it a certain nausea, as we do, say, for necrophily? I think that of very little relevance to moral judgement. Because it produces permanent perversion? But there is very little evidence that it does. The Bloods would have preferred girls to boys if they could have come by them; when, at a later age, girls were obtainable, they probably took them. Is it then on Christian grounds? But how many of those who fulminate on the matter are in fact Christians? And what Christian, in a society so worldly and cruel as that of Wyvern, would pick out the carnal sins for special reprobation? Cruelty is surely more evil than lust and the World at least as dangerous as the Flesh. The real reason for all the pother is, in my opinion, neither Christian nor ethical. We attack this vice not because it is the worst but because it is, by adult standards, the most disreputable and unmentionable, and happens also to be a crime in English law. The World will lead you only to Hell; but sodomy may lead you to jail and create a scandal, and lose you your job. The World, to do it justice, seldom does that.

If those of us who have known a school like Wyvern dared to speak the truth, we should have to say that pederasty, however great an evil in itself, was, in that time and place, the only foothold or cranny left for certain good things. It was the only counterpoise to the social struggle; the one oasis (though green only with weeds and moist only with foetid water) in the burning desert of competitive ambition. In his unnatural love-affairs, and perhaps only there, the Blood went a little out of himself, forgot for a few hours that he was One of the Most Important People There Are. It softens the picture. A perversion was the only chink left through which something spontaneous and uncalculating could creep in. Plato was right after all. Eros, turned upside down, blackened, distorted, and filthy, still bore the traces of his divinity.

C.S. Lewis & The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)

With the exception of two DVD’s that Netflix says are currently unavailable, I have now watched everything they have to offer on Lewis.

C.S. Lewis & The Chronicles of Narnia was a short little 1 hour historical documentary of Lewis’ life. No new information but it was well-presented. My favorite documentary continues to be The Magic Never Ends (2002).

Madcapmum asked why I’ve been so interested in C.S. Lewis lately. I’m not entirely sure. I originally started blogging as a way to work through my issues with Christianity. We’ve been about to join a Unitarian Universalist Church for quite some time, but neither my husband nor I can quite seem to bring ourselves to do it because there is so much hatred toward Christianity within Unitarian Universalism even though there are UU Christians. On the other hand, my husband and I both feel quite comfortable at the little Buddhist Sangha based upon Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings. We discovered the Sangha through a retreat for Christian-Buddhist dialogue.

For six years I’ve felt as though I’m in somewhat of a no-man’s land – not knowing where I fit religiously. It wouldn’t be all that difficult to follow the path of fellow UUers and treat Christianity as though it is a “less than” religion. I definitely have issues with it. Especially with fundamentalism.

That C.S. Lewis comes at it through mythology intrigues me because so many Christians do not associate their faith with mythology at all. They think Adam and Eve really existed, Jonah was literally swallowed by a whale, and Noah put all of the animals on the ark 2×2. Clearly, Lewis does not believe in the literalism of the Bible. Yet, he claims the story of Jesus is a true myth. In modern terms, to say something is a “true myth” is a negation. I want to understand, to the the best of my ability, what this meant to Lewis.

While science must deal in literalism (something is either true or not) the arts need not take this approach. Sometimes I think our culture is so caught up in a scientific approach that we forget there are any other possible ways to understand ourselves and our place in the world. What I’ve been realizing more and more is how caught up I am in the literal approach. I thought I left it far behind years ago, but I still notice bits and pieces trailing behind me every now and then. I’m not sure, of course, but I get the feeling that by digging into C.S. Lewis’ understanding of Christianity, I may discover more of my own baggage.

Shadowlands (1985)

I’m still on the C.S. Lewis kick. For whatever reason, I’ve been unable to obtain the 1993 version of Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. No Blockbuster in our area carries it and Netflix claims it can’t tell me when it will be available.

However, the 1985 version was quite good. It stars Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom. And just possibly, Ackland makes C.S. Lewis out to be just a tad more jovial than Hopkins did in the 1993 version (which I saw eons ago).

Lewis’ tale is plain bizarre. His mother dies when he is ten which makes him hate God. But he realizes, nevertheless, that there is joy in nature. So he writes Surprised By Joy which describes his conversion to Christianity (which, of course, I’ve checked out from the library and intend to read soon.)

Strange that the woman he would end up marrying in order to help get her British citizenship would be called Joy. He falls in love with her only after she contracts cancer. Surprised by Joy again, I suppose. After her death, he writes Grief Observed under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk.

According to Lewis – this world is just a Shadowland. The real world is awaiting us.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

My daughter and I finished The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe on Saturday night. Quite enjoyable – even after having watched Disney’s portrayal of it twice recently prior to reading it. I read the Narnia series when I was young. I’ve read it to my son, and now I’m reading it to my daughter. It’s wonderful.

My son, however, was not as enchanted with it as my daughter is. I think the difference may be that my son has read the Harry Potter books over and over again and my daughter never took any interest in reading Harry Potter. The action in Harry Pottery is quite a bit more intense than it is in Narnia and so may hold the interst of some better than does Narnia.

Many critics say that Lewis had a definite heirarchy in mind for Narnia: First comes man, then talking animals, and then non-talking animals. But if this is the case, then where does Aslan fit in? Clearly he is above man – yet he is a talking animal. If Lewis was dead set on this heirarchy, why didn’t he make Aslan something else?

It seems almost as though Lewis intentionally uses a lot of pagan metaphors and symbols that Christianity rejected. For instance, the Egyptians worshipped cats and thought them divine. The Pharoahs often compared their roles to that of lions in the wild. They revered them so much that they often mummified their cats and were buried with them. In Norse Mythology, cats were associated with Freyja, the mistress of magic (closely associated with Shamanism and for whom we have the day Friday). In many cultures cats are associated with shamanism and also with fertility. They are almost always revered.

But, when Christianity came along and sought to demonize Paganism, the cat became evil and associated with evil witches. Yet, Lewis chose a cat to represent the Christian God. That’s actually extremely cool!

Speaking of cool, I like that Lewis uses “ice” as a symbol for what is evil rather than fire. There are all of these Christian images of the devil existing in some extremely hot place full of fire. Yet the much more common symbol of evil has always been the absence of heat. The fear that spring will never return. In paganism, fire was considered a divine gift from the Gods. Passion is associated with fire. The fiery sun is what the Egyptians believed to be the creator God. And really – the Holy Spirit is widely associated with fire. That Satan exists in a fiery pit never made much sense to me. It seems much more appropriate to think of evil’s dwelling place being ice cold. Cold like apathy. Not hot like passion. (Although I can appreciate Dante’s use of an inferno in that passion has a way of consuming people in the same way fire does.)

Other things I learned this go-round is some of what I’ve already mentioned. The difference between allegory and supposition. Allegory is a higher spiritual order being described by a lower order of circumstances. There is a 1 to 1 comparison. Dante’s Divine Comedy is an allegory. Aesop’s Fables are allegory. But Narnia is not allegory. Narnia is supposition. Rather than having Aslan do exactly what Jesus did do, Lewis supposed what Jesus would do if Jesus were Lord of Narnia and created Aslan based upon that supposition. So, many of the elements of Aslan’s death and resurrection do not at all match those of the story of Jesus. There is no direct 1:1 comparison.

In reading the intro. to Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales, I also discovered that Narnia is not a fairy tale. Fairy tales always take place in our world. Tales that take place in other worlds are fantasy.

If you haven’t read the book, then beware. The following is a SPOILER:

I very much like how Aslan’s sacrifice is handled by Lewis. There is an order to things that has to be followed. Even Aslan can’t change the order of natural law. He must obey it. But, he knows what the witch does not because the witch is trapped within her perceptions of the natural law. Death does not only mean death, it also means the rebirth of what has always been and always will be. Does this not support panentheism? There is a ground of being that supports the natural order and cannot be destroyed. It can only seem to be destroyed.

I’m reading this so differently the third time around. That’s what I love about good fiction! You get something different from it every time you read it. (And often, it’s not at all what the author intended you to get.)