Skip to comments.Surprised by Jack (C.S. Lewis critics bump into the back of the wardrobe)
Posted on 03/22/2009 4:27:02 AM PDT by rhema
Nearly every Christian with a liking toward fantasy has their favorite Narnia book, Narnia scene, or Narnia character. But so do many non-Christians. C.S. Lewis' classic children's books are a milestone of literary consciousness for young readers of every background and persuasion: for some, a passport through the wardrobe into the real, living Kingdom of Christ. For others, a painful journey from delight to dismay.
That was the experience of Laura Miller, columnist for Salon.com and regular contributor to The New York Times. In her early teens, Miller was stunned to realize that the stories that enchanted her childhood were really thinly veiled allegories for Christianityi.e., dreary, guilt-mongering stuff pandered by the Catholic church she was forced to attend. Appalled, she thrust Narnia aside and moved on with her growth and eventual emancipation.
Only much later was she able to reread the series and discern the many influences that had appealed first to the author, then to his disillusioned reader: "treasures collected from Dante, from Spencer, from Malory, from Austen, from old romances and ballads and fairy tales and pagan epics." Her relief was so great she wrote The Magician's Book, recently published by Little, Brown, about her journey from Narnia and back again.
If the subject isn't relevant to general readers, it struck a chord with reviewers. One such is Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked (which casts the green-hued villainess of Oz as the good guy). In his review, Maguire shares his own voyage from Narnia: not a sudden shock but a growing awareness of the "bullying in Lewis' tales," the "classism, racism, sexism, and its depiction of a godhead whose mercy extends only to those pure enough to deserve it (known in some circles as the Problem of Susan, after the Pevensie sister who is expelled from Narnia for her interest in 'nylons and lipstick and invitations' . . .)."
Gregory Maguire also moved on, even while looking back with affection. Another reviewer, Elizabeth Ward in The Washington Post, rejoices that "Miller largely succeeds in rescuing the Narnia series from the narrow Christian box into which it has been crammed." The unconsciously ironic title of Ward's review, "Saving C.S. Lewis," betrays a certain cluelessness.
For Lewis traveled his own spiritual odyssey, with striking similarities to Laura Miller's. Like her, he found the church of his childhood to be stultifying and stale, while his imagination was fired by fantasy and myth. In his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he charts his progress through skepticism, atheism, and materialism in search of the fleeting moments of transcendence he'd experienced as a boy. Literature urged him on, and he gradually came to perceive that the writers who most influenced him had some belief in God. "Perhaps (Oh joy!) there was, after all, 'something else', and (Oh reassurance!) it had nothing to do with Christian Theology." A vain hope: When two ChristiansG.K. Chesterton and George MacDonaldturned out to be his favorite authors, he could not fool himself much longer. Returning to the church and the word, he found them glowing with the light that had first appeared to lead him away.
"[I]n your light do we first see light" (Psalm 36:9). Once we understand Christ all things point to Him. But if we don't understand, we pluck those "other treasures" (such as literature, nature, relationships) from their source and allow them to wither. God's mercy is not for those "pure enough to deserve it" (mercy is never that!) but humble enough to desire itand Him. Susan Pevensie's real "problem" was not lipstick and invitations but separating those things from the One who gave them.
Lewis himself wouldn't mind readers such as Laura Miller delighting in his stories, even while rejecting the "Christian" in them; he didn't set out to write theology. But his imagination had been thoroughly baptized, and Christ was the only hero who could emerge. If light dawns on the reader, she is doubly blessed.
It’s because he drank beer and stole Owen Barfield’s football and ran with it.
As you mentioned, there is that passge in That Hideous Strength:
Would have attracted him once......Suddenly, like a thing that leaped to him across infinite distances with the speed of light, desire (salt, black, ravenous, unanswerable desire) took him by the throat. The merest hint will convey to those who have felt it the quality of the emotion which now shook him, like a dog shaking a rat; for others, no description perhaps will avail. Many writers speak of it in terms of lust: a description admirably illuminating from within, totally misleading from without. It has nothing to do with the body. But it is in two respects like lust as lust shows itself to be in the deepest and darkest vault of its labryinthine house. For like lust, it disenchants the whole universe. Everything else that Mark had ever felt -- love, ambition, hunger, lust itself -- appeared to have been mere milk and water, toys for children, not worth one throb of the nerves. The infinite attraction of this dark thing sucked all other passions into itself: the rest of the world appeared blenched, etiolated, insipid, a world of white marriages and white masses, dishes without salt, gambling for counters. He could not now think of Jane except in terms of appetite: and appetite here made no appeal. That serpent, faced with the true dragon, became a fangless worm. But it was like lust in another respect also. It is idle to point out to the perverted man the horror of his perversion: while the fierce fit is on, that horror is the very spice of his craving. It is ugliness itself that becomes, in the end, the goal of his lechery: beauty has long since grown too weak a stimulant. And so it was here. These creatures of which Frost had spoken -- and he did not doubt now that they were locally present with him in the cell -- breathed death on the human race and on all joy. Not despite this but because of this, the terrible gravitation sucked and tugged and fascinated him towards them. Never before had he known the fruitful strength of the movement opposite to Nature which now had him in its grip; the impulse to reverse all reluctances and to draw every circle anti-clockwise. The meaning of certain pictures, of Frost's talk about "objectivity," of the things done by witches in old times, became clear to him. The image of Wither's face rose to his memory; and this time he did not merely loathe it. He noted, with shuddering satisfaction, the signs it bore of a shared experience between them. Wither also knew; Wither understood...
Somewhere Lewis wrote that "I will not engage in futile phillipics against enemies I have not met in battle. ('...this means then, that all the other vices you have written about...') Well, yes it does, and more's the pity; but it's not to our point at the moment."
His description of the temptation to the occult sounds very much like it was written out of experience: he was remembering, not describing.
So you suspect Lewis was a devil worshipper because he wrote about the occult, rejecting it, but he wrote well? Seriously. If he wrote poorly or without understanding we wouldn’t be discussing him at all . . . so it seems to me that you may be rejecting him because he was an interesting novelist.
You forgot to add the 1611 version too. </sarcasm>
My quote from That Hideous Strength was a confirmation of your post, not blaming Lewis.
Lewis is one of my top two or three favorite authors. (Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Tolkien, Dave Barry.)
If you think I'm anti-Lewis, you are mistaken.
Real Christians try to eschew the hauteur described in Isaiah 65:5.
And don’t forget.. it was Tolkien who helped bring him in from atheism to the Light..
And the "Stupidest Post of the Year (so far) Award" goes to....RoadTest!
Gotcha. Chesterton wrote that he was attracted to the occult as well. I’ve always been frightened of the occult and thought it was wierd and ridiculous, so I don’t understand the attraction. My view is that artists will always step into very serious areas with symbolism, allegory and metaphor etc. if they touch Christ and Christianity. If you look at the works of Michaelangelo or many of the Christian painters and sculptors you will see serious treatments of very controversial theological matters in symbolic terms. Lewis had the courage to take those on in a way that wasn’t wooden or dried out, without a great deal of wishy-washy explanation, but just letting a symbol be a symbol. He was intelligent but not a church leader or a theologian. He was a fiction writer and evangelist of a sort. Good at it imo.
Care to back that up?
I am most certainly a real Christian and CS Lewis is one of my favorite authors. While I don’t agree with everything he said,I agree with most. His insight and wit along with his literary talent make him a rare talent. His writings have enriched me and I can’t wait to share him with others.
Mere Christianity is the book I recommend most to unbelievers.
I’m going through Mere Christianity for about the third or fourth time. I say “going through” because I listening to the audio version. I highly recommend it. Unabridged of course.
“The KJV, if it was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me.”
You’re kidding, right?
Referring to the internecine warfare within your thread-—not you or your post.
Who is identified as the Accuser of the Brethren? I don't think he needs our help.
C’mon guys. Lighten up on them hammers.
Save the rancor for the Enemy and his ways.
“Bless me! What DO they teach them at these schools?”
- Ma Ferguson ("Me for Ma, and I ain't got a derned thing against Pa.")