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.
If youd like to be on or off, please FR mail me.
Susan wasn’t “expelled” from Narnia. She freely chose her preferred world.
Are you claiming that indulging in any fiction is sinful?
Out of curiousity, I'd like to ask if your condemnation of "fables" includes Pilgrim's Progress. It was one of Lewis' favorites.
Do you ONLY read the Bible? No other Christian literature?
Williams became a devout Christian, but in his youth had actual experience with the occult; such practices were common in Britain in the early 20th Century. Arthur Connan Doyle also dabbled in the occult.
I find Williams' All Hallows Eve the scariest book I ever read. The scene where the magician creates a body for two spirits to inhabit is terrifying and it is written in such a way that I wonder whether Williams experienced something like it.
To be clear, Williams is certainly NOT endorsing such practices. He warns against them.
or Paradise Lost...
One vote here for imagination, for fantasy, for creativity, for Nature, for symbols, for Magi, for Melchizadech, for Mars Hill -— and for Jack.
Anyone ever read George Macdonald? His ‘Phantastes’ is supposedly a huge influence on Lewis.
Started with his Princess and the Goblin, then read the short stories, At the Back of the North Wind, Sir Gibbie (a very odd book) and Phantastes.
He does a cameo in The Great Divorce.
You want to call it godly fiction, that's as good a description as any.
What do you think of John Bunyan?
I wonder if he knew that nasty old man Aleister Crowley.
“What do you think of John Bunyan?”
I found that my life is too short to learn all I can about it and entertain myself with fiction, too. So I opted for the non-fiction, because I profit from it.
"Eustace Clarence . . . liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools."
John Bunyan has almost stopped being fiction and started being history, btw.
I’ve found some terrific books that relate: Gail Riplinger’s “In Awe Of Thy Word”, E.H. Broadbent’s “The Pilgrim Church”, J.A. Wylie’s “History Of Protestantism”. Truth really is stranger than fiction, and I’ve found the record of history that hasn’t been monkeyed with for ulterior motives to be fascinating.
Parables are not fables.
Have any of you read “That Hideous Strength”?
I read it a long time ago, and think it has a message for today. It is an adult novel by C.S. Lewis, and if you haven’t read it, you might enjoy it.
I hope that is meant as sarcasm. If not it is an astonishingly stupid comment.
posted just after I read post#5, and I see that some of you appreciate “That Hideous Strength” as much as I do.
Another of my favorites, which I read yearly to remind myself of how sneaky the Devil can be, is The Screwtape Letters”.
“Real Christians dont read C.S. Lewis.
I hope that is meant as sarcasm. If not it is an astonishingly stupid comment.”
How much time do you spend in the Bible?
Ive read it regularly for the past 50 years, why?
There are good reasons for Christians to part company. This is not one of them. Real Christians do not divide over trivial reasons.
Seriously, who declared you the arbiter of what Christians may or may not read?
You sound exactly like Job's friends.
Yes, I have indeed read Charles Williams.
The seven novels are:
War in Heaven
War in Heaven is in some ways my favorite, and it contains some incredible passages, e.g. the contrasting effects on the villain and one of the victims of the anointing with the occult ointment, e.g. "...But here the ointment gave the body helpless to the driving energy of the Adversary, and only through the screaming mouth a memory that was not yet conquered cried out to her lover and to her God." And the chapter Conversations of a Young Man in Grey (IIRC) contains a nice Dantean reference.
Many Dimensions is the most approachable for those who haven't read Williams, but it contains (in effect) a spoiler for the other novels. It is also fascinating in the respect it pays to Islam -- though Williams was no dhimmi. And the concept of the prayer of silence -- referred to in C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters is touched on as well; emphasis is place on the Jewish Tetragrammaton, the JHWH of the Old Testament. A large plot theme is the emphasis on the scientific utilitarianism prevalent in our age.
The Place of the Lion
The Place of the Lion is one I lost years ago, so I can't remember it as well -- one of the characters, Damaris Tighe, reminds me of an ex-girlfriend, and the book itself was the inspiration for Bruce Cockburn's Wondering Where the Lions Are.
The Greater Trumps
The Greater Trumps has to do with the efforts of some gypsies to reclaim a pack of Tarot Cards which have the power to create as well as foretell. The novel again includes an elderly sainted Christian counseling unconditional love, and The Fool from the pack of cards materializing / incarnating briefly as a "Christotype".
Shadows of Ecstasy
Shadows of Ecstasy refers to the plots of a master magician (occult, not Penn & Teller). The part that struck me about this book was the display of the meme that the spoken word itself is imbued with spiritual power (cf "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord Thy God in Vain") -- in one scene, the magician stumbles and utters a few (spiritual) obscenities, which are briefly embodied before dissipating.
Descent into Hell
Descent into Hell is my favorite of his books, if I *had* to choose; it is a story of the descent (by repeated choices and hardening of the heart) of a historian, intertwined with the spiritual life-journey of two of his acquaintances: a Christian terrified of her doppelganger, and a grasping, manipulative nonbeliever. A large theme in the book is "The Doctrine of Substituted Love" which takes literally (not merely figuratively) the admonition to "bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Very heavy reading -- one well-versed Christian I lent it to returned it saying he couldn't make much headway with it, and he was swearing off reading Williams as a result. Sigh.
All Hallows' Eve
I don't remember this one very well, except that I recall one scene in which it is attempted by the villain to inflict (almost like an "endorcism") the decaying spirit of one person onto another.
One other point, FWIW. As mentioned, Williams was a member of the Inklings; I believe I read once that Lewis based That Hideous Strength on the Williams genre -- the appearance of the great spiritual champion (Merlin) and the destruction/repentance of the enemies (Banquet at Belbury) follow the pattern of the Williams novels to a "T".
Williams wrote other works (The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church) which I wanted for *YEARS*, but was disappointed when I read it, and I regret I don't remember well enough to comment on.
Alamo, Betty, Dallas -- don't know if you're interested, or if you've been on the thread. But just in case...
Oh, and Happy Good Friday, and Happy Easter (Sarcalogos est orior oriri ortus, if the online translator worked correctly.)
Mercat: Youre kidding, right?
Aruanan: Well, yeah. You really don't think there are folks who believe the KJV was around ab initio, do you?
cf. P.J. O'Rourke in Holidays in Hell on Heritageville, USA (Jim and Tammy Bakker):
"We went into the bookstore...[t]he Bibles themselves had names like A Bible Even You Can Read and The Bible in English Just Like Jesus Talked(emphasis mine)...Then we went into the music store...No album was actually titled I found God and Lost My Talent, but I'm sure that was an oversight."
But he went on to say later in the piece
"I almost don't have the heart to make fun of these folks. It's like hunting dairy cows with a high-powered rifle and scope.".
...and Happy Good Friday.
I love blue russians but the owls eat them. I had a very blessed day. Love it.
Thanks for the ping!
“Yet you find time to sit on your duff “educating” the little ones at freerepublic. Maybe you should go back to your non-fiction. “
What has your knickers in such a knot? Are you afraid you’ll lose some disciples for the Devil?