The Four Loves Read-Along Week 4, Part 2, Charity

The Four Loves

 

As we reach the end of our The Four Loves Read-along, we have so far investigated Affection, Friendship and Romantic Love (the natural loves) but none of these loves are sufficient in and of themselves without another Love to support the feelings and keep them sweet.  Lewis now investigates Charity, or Agape (ἀγάπη).

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Narnian Suite by C.S. Lewis

For my second poem during National Poetry Month, I read C.S. Lewis’ Narnian Suite.

Narnian Suite
1
March for Strings, Kettledrums, and Sixty-three Dwarfs
With plucking pizzicato and the prattle of the kettledrum
We’re trotting into battle mid a clatter of accoutrement;
Our beards are big as periwigs and trickle with opopanax,
And trinketry and treasure twinkle out on every part of us –
          (Scrape! Tap! The fiddle and the kettledrum).
The chuckle-headed humans think we’re only petty puppetry
And all our battle-tackle nothing more than pretty bric-a–brac;
But a little shrub has prickles, and they’ll soon be in a pickle if
A scud of dwarfish archery has crippled all their cavalry –
          (Whizz! Twang! The quarrel and the javelin).
And when the tussle thickens we can writhe and wriggle under it;
Then dagger-point’ll tickle ‘em, and grab and grip’ll grapple ‘em,
And trap and trick’ll trouble ‘em and tackle ‘em and topple ‘em
Till they’re huddled, all be-diddled, in the middle of our caperings –
          (Dodge! Jump! The wriggle and the summersault).
When we’ve scattered ‘em and peppered ‘em with pebbles from our catapults
We’ll turn again in triumph and by crannies and by crevices
Go back to where the capitol and cradle of our people is,
Our forges and our furnaces, the caverns of the earth –
          (Gold! Fire! The anvil and the smithying).
2
March for Drum, Trumpet, and Twenty-one Giants
                  With strumping stride in pomp and pride
                  We come to thump and floor ye;
                  We’ll bump your lumpish heads to-day
                  And tramp your ramparts into clay,
                  And as we stamp and romp and play
                  Our trump’ll blow before us –
(crescendo)     Oh tramp it, tramp it, tramp it, trumpet, trumpet blow before us!
                  We’ll grind and break and bind and take
                  And plunder ye and pound ye!
                  With trundled rocks and bludgeon blow,
                  You dunderheads, we’ll dint ye so
                  You’ll blunder and run blind, as though
                  By thunder stunned, around us –
By thunder, thunder, thunder stunned around us!
                  Ho! Tremble town and tumble down
                  And crumble shield and sabre!
                  Your kings will mumble and look pale,
                  Your horses stumble or turn tail,
                  Your skimble-scamble counsels fail,
                  So rumble drum belaboured —
(Diminuendo)     Oh rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble drum belaboured!
C.S. Lewis 
Poems (1964)
The Giant Antaeus (1868)
Gustave Doré
source Wikiart

There is not much information on this poem to quench our curiosity as to how it ties to Narnia.  Tirian in The Last Battle sings a short “Narnian marching song”, very much like it:

“Ho, rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble
Rumble drum belaboured.”

The Last Battle was finished in the spring of 1953 but not published until 1956 and Narnian Suite was written in 1953.  Perhaps Lewis simply attempted to take the original marching song and expand it.  In any case, it’s all speculation at this point; I may come up with some reference to it as I read through Lewis’ letters (yes, three huge volumes with a fourth soon to be published).

Does anyone think that this poem sounds very much like Tolkien’s poems in The Lord of the Rings?  I do, but I am reading The Lord of the Rings presently, so perhaps I have that tone lingering in my head.

Spenser’s Images of Life by C.S. Lewis

Normally, I don’t read introductions or commentaries on books or poetry that I plan to read, until after I’ve finished the work.  I prefer to experience the art from a point of innocence (or perhaps, ignorance is a better word!), forming my own opinions without influence, even if I struggle with my first read through. However, this time I threw all my ideals to the winds and called for help.

In April I’m reading The Faerie Queene with OCirtnecce, JeanRuth, and Consoled Reader, and considering the length and complexity of this poem, I confess that it was wiser to admit my complete ineptitude and look for someone who was very familiar with this type of poem and era to give me a little boost.  Since C.S. Lewis’ expertise was in Medieval and Renaissance literature, I suspected that he would be a good place to start.  His book, Spenser’s Images of Life is a compilation of lectures notes, put together by Alastair Fowler, to give students a deeper insight into The Faerie Queene.

I’m not going to even pretend that I understood half of what Lewis was saying in these lectures/notes, but my lack of understanding emphasizes one of the many things that I respect about the man.  He is able to turn on his intellect and produce a brilliantly insightful and stimulating analysis of perhaps the most complex poem in the English language, yet he is also able to let his intellect “idle” and write children’s stories, sci-fi fiction or even a layman-type book such as Mere Christianity.  With Spenser’s Images of Life, I had to read it slowly and let it percolate.

A Beast (1456)
Paolo Uccello
source Wikimedia Commons

Lewis begins by stating that The Faerie Queene is the most difficult poem in the English language, a rather daunting claim for me, as I’m going to be reading it in just over a month.  He claims that the poem works on a number of levels and the mistake readers can make is reading it from only one perspective and thinking that is all it has to offer.  The simple aspect of the poem is that it’s a moral allegory, in that the story contains a moral, but the poem is more than a narrative, containing images that work on the mind.  We must not only read, but see the work.

Lewis believes that Spenser, like Botticelli, accepts “traditional images, he loads them with wisdom from the philosophers and disposes them in divine compositions ……… with a propensity of mingling the Christian and the pagan.”  Those of Spenser’s tradition would have regarded ancient poetry as a type of veiled theology, and the mixing of the worlds would not have seemed strange to them.  In fact, Lewis believes that “Spenser’s Nature is really an image of God himself.”

Lewis goes into detail about certain aspects of the poem, covering the following topics:

  1. The False Cupid
  2. Antitypes to the False Cupid
  3. Belphoebe, Amoret, and the Garden of Adonis
  4. The Image of Evil
  5. Mutability
  6. The Image of Good
  7. Britomart’s Dream
  8. Faceless Knights
  9. The Misery of Florimell
  10. The Story of Arthur

Heraldic Chivalry
Alphonse Mucha
source Wikiart

The last chapter is particularly interesting as Lewis examines Spenser’s letter to Raleigh about The Faerie Queene and, quite expertly, “prosecutes” his meaning, declaring that most of what he wrote is not supported by the poem itself.  Many of Lewis’ arguments make good sense.  He proposes that Spenser was not entirely aware of the depths of his own brooding and birth of the poem, that came from his experience with philosophers, poets and iconographers.  He also suspects that Spenser might have written the letter with someone at his elbow, massaging his words to make the poem fit classical (and possibly political) expectation.

In any case, this book was helpful as an introduction to the poem, but it will also be handy to read The Faerie Queene with it in hand.  Lewis’ points must be better understood in the context and framework of an already developing story, allegory or image.  As to what our expectations with regard to the poem should be, Lewis has a very straightforward answer:

“We should expect, then, from Spenser’s poem, a simply fairy-tale pleasure sophisticated by polyphonic technique, a simple ‘moral’ sophisticated by a learned iconography.  Moreover, we should expect to find all of these reacting on one another, to produce a work very different from what we are used to.  And now it is time to catch hold of one thread of the fabric, and pull…….”



On Reading ‘The Faerie Queene’ by C.S. Lewis


“Beyond all doubt it is best to have made one’s first acquaintance with Spenser in a very large — and, preferably, illustrated — edition of The Faerie Queene, on a wet day, between the ages of twelve and sixteen; and if, even at that age, certain of the names aroused unidentified memories of some still earlier, some almost prehistoric, commerce with a selection of ‘Stories from Spenser’, heard before we could read, so much the better.”

A number of us are going to be reading The Fairie Queene beginning sometime in April and, considering the difficulty of the poem, I decided to do some pre-reading investigation.

Although C.S. Lewis is known for his books on theology, his actual expertise was in Medieval and Renaissance literature.  He has a number of essays relating to The Fairie Queene, and when I stumbled on this one, I thought it a perfect beginning.

Lewis writes that the optimal experience with The Faire Queene is created if one reads it between the ages of 10 and 16, with a large illustrated edition and then grow with the work, starting with mere wonder at the story and advancing to a critical appreciation of it, cultivating a relationship with the work that will remain and flourish throughout life.  But while advocating this process, Lewis realizes many may come to The Faerie Queene later in life, and he is writing to give guidance to the mature reader with his first experience of this great work.

Una and the Lion (c. 1860)
William Bell Scott
source Wikimedia Commons

Lewis instructions begin very simply; as the child does, one must begin with The Faerie Queene.  Next, even if one does not have a large illustrated edition, one should imagine the book they do have to be a heavy volume that should be read at a table, “a massy, antique story with a blackletter flavour about it — a book for devout, prolonged, and leisurely perusal.”  The illustrations would be not only fantastic and beautiful, but also wicked and ugly.  While the book is new, it is also old, ancient yet original.

“All this new growth sprouts out of an old, gnarled wood, and, as in very early spring, mists it over in places without concealing it ………….  And it is best to begin with a taste for homespun, accepting the cloth of gold when it comes, but by no means depending on it for your pleasure, or you will be disappointed ….”

Lewis reveals that Spenser’s friends wanted him to conform to the Puritan perspective of the time, being only a “servile classicist”, yet his poetry appeared to naturally break out of this mould.  After being cautioned by a his friend on touching too closely on papist and medieval themes by his references to “Ladies of the Lake” and “friendly fairies” in his poetry, Spenser remained true to the natural appreciation he harboured for the Middle Ages, and taking “all his renaissance accomplishments with him”, produced The Faerie Queene.  In blending the two ages, Spenser in effect “became something between the last of the medieval poets and the first of the romantic medievalists.”

As a child one may have a uncomfortable feeling that one has met many of The Faerie Queene’s characters before, but as a mature reader one has the apprehension to discover the moral allegory within the work.  While critics aren’t in agreement as to how much emphasis should be placed on it, it is not necessary to analyze the poet’s exact meaning.  Instead we should simply have an impression of regions within the poem that are not always what they seem.

Lewis ends with William Butler Yeat’s quote on Spenser’s House of Busirane, saying that Spenser’s characters are “so visionary, so full of ghostly midnight animation, that one is persuaded tht they had some strange purpose and did truly appear in just that way.”

And so I can now step into Spenser’s world with a little more imagination and expectation.  I’ve already been exposed to the world of King Arthur and so I’m looking forward to some more fantastical adventures.  And honestly, a few fairies would be very welcome.

A Panegyric for Dorothy L. Sayers by C.S. Lewis

Dorothy L. Sayers is best known for her Peter Wimsey mysteries, but she was also a playwright, poet, essayist, and theologian, writing such books as The Man Born to Be King, Creed or Chaos?, The Mind of the Maker, and Are Women Human?  In her own eyes, her finest work was her translation of The Divine Comedy.

Both Lewis and Sayers completed their academic studies at Oxford University and their first meeting was through a fan letter that Sayers wrote to Lewis upon reading his The Screwtape Letters.

“She was the first person of importance who ever wrote me a fan letter ……..  I liked her, originally, because she liked me; later for the extraordinary zest and as edge of her conversation —- as I like high wind.  She was friend, not an ally.” (Lewis)

Dorothy L. Sayers
source The Dorothy L. Sayers Society

In this panegyric read at Sayers’ funeral, Lewis praises Sayers’ literary work. While he admits to not being a fan of detective fiction, he nevertheless respects their authors and explains that, contrary to rumours that Sayers was later ashamed of her “tekkies”, she had merely “felt she had done all that she could” with the genre.  He claims there is no “cleavage” between her detective work and her later theological works, citing Pascal’s quote, “One shows one’s greatness not by being at an extremity but by being simultaneously at two extremities.”  He discusses the writing of Christian works, the problems of the intrusion of self and the commonalities between detective fiction and religious writing.

With regard to the importance Sayers placed on the quality of writing, he quotes from her The Man Born to Be King, “Let me tell you, good Christian people, an honest writer would be ashamed to treat a nursery tale as you have treated the greatest drama in history: and this in virtue, not of his faith, but of his calling.”  The intention to behave piously was no excuse for a job poorly done.

Finally, he praises her work of the translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy and goes on to say of her independent character:

” For all she did and was, for delight and instruction, for her militant loyalty as a friend, for courage and honesty, for the richly feminine qualities which showed through a port and manner superficially masculine and even gleefully ogreish —- let us thank the Author who invented her.”

This essay can be found in:  


Deal Me In Challenge #14 – Five of Spades

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

“I never knew that grief felt so much like fear.”

In A Grief Observed Lewis shares his thoughts and emotions with regard to the death of his wife, Joy Davidson, and it is perhaps one of the most powerful books on suffering that I’ve ever read.  As a reader, you are drawn into his grief and, contrary to what the title suggests, you can feel and experience Lewis’ anguish right alongside him, at times almost against your will.  Lewis is pain personified, and it’s raw and it’s shocking.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, Lewis deals with suffering from an aspect of reason and pragmatism, but in A Grief Observed, he is a broken man, on one hand calling out for sense and understanding to apply to a situation that is beyond comprehension, and on the other, resisting examining his situation. Lewis’ faith was shaken but not broken.  He does not deny God, yet he does ask what kind of God is He?  What type of God would allow something like this to happen?  He asks hard questions, makes brutally honest statements, and you wonder if this man is on his way to losing his faith.

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

Yet why can’t we ask hard questions of our Maker?  Why can’t we storm and rage against the injustices of life?  Lewis kicked and stormed against the door of Heaven and instead he found an opening into his own soul.

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”

After long endeavouring to remember his wife’s countenance, it is only when he stops struggling to see Joy, that her face suddenly returns to his mind. Lewis finally realizes that we need to seek God for Himself — for who He is —- and not for what we can get from Him.

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

Madeleine L’Engle writes in her introduction to the book:  “I am grateful to Lewis for having the courage to yell, to doubt, to kick at God in angry violence. This is part of a healthy grief which is not often encouraged.  It is helpful indeed that C.S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed.  It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own anger and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.”

courtesy of Dawn Huczek
source Flickr
Creative Commons
———————————————————————————–

C.S. Lewis Project

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

“The last drops of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut tree into the middle of the road.”

During a hike in the English hills, Elwin Ransom stumbles across a boyhood acquaintance, Devine, and his friend Weston, a scientist.  Secretly these two men drug Ransom and take him in a spaceship to the planet, Malacandra, known in earth language as Mars.  When he revives, Ransom overhears that he is to be offered as a human sacrifice for an alien race called the Sorns, and he plans his escape.  Finding himself alone on this strange planet, he eventually encounters creatures called the Hrossa.  Initially very simple and traditional in their ways, Ransom begins to realize that they have an intelligence that may surpass earthly intelligence.  Quickly he learns their language and begins to value their ways, yet all too soon he is sent on a mission to the Oyarsa, the ruling being of Malacandra.  His adventures not only throw him once again into conflict with Devine and Weston, where blind scientific ardour and unconscionable greed clash with humanity’s better nature, but Ransom is finally able to discover why Earth is considered the “silent planet”.

Malacandra is presented as a rather simple society, with the Hross being like shepherds and poets, and the Sorns the intellectuals, imparting wisdom to the community.  Yet, in spite of the obvious higher intellect of the inhabitants, Devine and Weston perceive them as being primitive and unintelligent because they do not have the scientific advances of Earth.  Weston, in particular, grasps onto his pre-conceptions like a drowning man, refusing to believe that such primitive appearance could ever understand or grapple with his vision of a new type of man.  His ingrained perceptions, that have been formed by science, make him blind to the beauty and intricacies of Malacandrian culture, and even worse, his grandiose plans for the needs of man, allows him to view the Malacandrians as sub-human and therefore, expendable.

source Wikipedia

Lewis wrote Out of the Silent Planet as a deliberate critique of Evolutionism, in particular in response to two written works, one by Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men, and an essay by J.B. Haldane, published in a volume titled Possible Worlds.  Both saw men evolving into a divinity that could jump from planet to planet, a being stripped down to pure intelligence.  Lewis felt that each, while on one hand portrayed man as a fascinating and beautiful creature, nevertheless showed man’s littleness.  To him these views held a potential danger, opening the door to options of experiments on humans and animals. (Interestingly, Lewis was a firm anti-vivisectionist and he would never set traps for the mice who inhabited his rooms at Oxford.)  He stated that the trilogy was less a tribute to earlier science fiction than a kind of exorcism of some of its ideas.  At its heart, the trilogy is anti-Wellsian and to its conception, Lewis credited a one-of-a-kind novel, David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus.  To his friend, Ruth Pitter, he wrote:  “From Lindsay I learned what other planets in fiction are really good for: for spiritual adventures.  Only they can satisfy the craving which sends our imaginations off the earth.  Or putting it in another way, in him I first saw the terrific results produced by the union of two kinds of fiction hitherto kept apart: the Novalis, G. MacDonald, James Stephens sort and the H.G. Wells, Jules Verne sort.  My debt to him is very great.”  Lewis was trying something new!

A wonderful start to The Space Trilogy.  When I first read the trilogy, this book was my favourite, probably because it was the least complex.  Even so, Lewis weaves in views of how medievals saw the universe and angels, as well as sprinkling elements of classicism throughout.  The next book is Perelandra. Hang on to your seats because “you ain’t seen nothing yet”!

“The weakest of my people does not fear death.  It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end.  If you were subjects of Maledil you would have peace”

Dante’s Similes – In Preparation for a Visit to Hell

In preparation for starting my MOOCs course, Dante’s Journey to Freedom Part I, I thought it might be a good idea to do some pre-reading about Dante, his world and the poem itself, and it took me less than a second to decide who I wanted to take me there.  In spite of being known for his children’s and theological books, C.S. Lewis’ specialty was actually Medieval and Renaissance Literature.  In fact, his knowledge was so respected that Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge created a chair especially for him.

I’m not sure how interesting this post will be for people who aren’t interested in Dante, but I thought it would be a good reference for myself as Lewis’ lecture contains some very detailed information.  If anyone makes it to the end you win a prize of a virtual pat on the back and my enduring gratitude! 😉

Dante’s Simile’s

by C.S. Lewis

The simile is a poetic device that is used for illustration.  It can fall into three categories:

  1. Homeric type – the simile of Tennyson, Arnold, Wordsworth, Milton and Spenser which is derived through Virgil from Homer
  2. the unhappily named ‘metaphysical’ simile
  3. the Dantesque simile, which warrants a category of its own, being surprisingly almost confined to Dante

______________________________________________________________

Dante’s Similes

four classes

1.  Virgilian or Homeric Similes

         >  straight similes built on ancient principles
         >  a state or action in the story is compared to a state or action that can
                    be observed in external nature, whether animate or inanimate
        >  short by Virgilian standards

2.  Pictorial Simile

        >  illustrations of a traveler
        >  introduced in plain, business-like manner, simply in order to make the
                  meaning of the writer as clear to the reader as it is to himself
       >  a vividness that produces the maximum of illusion
       >  immediate impact on the senses
       >  connections purely pictorial
       >  eg.  ”  As frogs confronted by their enemy, 
                   the snake, will scatter underwater till
                   each hunches in a heap along the bottom.” 
                      Inferno IX, line 76 (Mandelbaum)

3.  Psychological Simile

       >  one emotion is compared with another
       >  Homer and Virgil rarely used this form (Homer only once)
       >  eg. #1  “so-and-so feels in this situation just like I would feel in that
                            situation in ordinary life”
       >  eg. #2  ”  At that he turned and took the filthy road
                        and did not speak to us, but had the look 
                        of one who is obsessed by other cares” 
                        Inferno IX, line 101-103 (Mandelbaum)
                   ** illustrates psychological and pictorial simile combined **

4.  Dantesque Metaphysical Simile

        >  things are linked together by a profound philosophical analogy or even
               identity
        >  “like” in these similes turn into “same”
        >  relation between things is one of response or correspondence, like that
               of a mirror image to a real object or, (as Dante says) of shadow to
               body
        >  “… in the greatest Dantesque similes, the longer you look the greater
                  the likeness becomes and the more fruitful in thoughts that are
                  interesting as long as you live.” p. 72
        >  eg.  In Paradiso, Beatrice gazes at the sun and Dante, who was gazing
                     at Beatrice, imitates her and also gazes at the sun.  The process
                     whereby Beatrice’s gaze produces Dante’s is compared to the
                     process of reflexion by which one beam begets a second.  And
                     this second beam is in its turn compared to a pilgrim desirous of
                     return.  Dante and Beatrice are literaliter [literal] to the sun (and
                     allegorice [allegorical] to God) what all reflected beams are to the
                     original source of light and what Dante is literaliter to Beatrice
                     and the human understanding allegorice to Wisdom and the
                     whole universe is to the Unmoved Mover.  The whole of
                     Christian-Aristotelian theology is brought together.  The image
                     reverberates from that one imagined moment over all space and
                     time, and further.

Other interesting notes:

  • Anglo-Saxon poetry uses no similes
  • popular song uses about the same amount of simile as ordinary conversation
  • Homer’s similes are not poetical, used more to convey or illustrate information than for an emotional response
  • Virgil at his best uses simile for purposes both good and new
  • Dante’s similes are “less poetical” than Virgil’s, because Virgil’s could not exist outside of poetry


Definitions:
   ectype – copy from an original

Quotes:

“There is so much besides poetry in Dante that anyone but a fool can enjoy him in some way or other ….” p. 75

“If bees were associated only with honey and not with stings, I should say that Dante every now and then wakes up a whole beehive, by giving us some image which seems to focus all the rays of his universe at a single point or touching some wire which sets the whole system vibrating in unison.” p.73


On the Virgilian simile:  “Clearly, when it has reached this stage, the original purpose of illustration has become a mere excuse, though an excuse still necessary to lull the logical faculty to sleep, and the real purpose of simile is to turn epic poetry from a solo to an orchestra in which any theme the poet chooses may be brought to bear on the reader at any moment and for any number of purposes” p. 66


“It is hard for a translator to ruin the great passages in Dante as every translation ruins Virgil.” p. 76


“I think Dante’s poetry, on the whole, the greatest of all the poetry I have read:  yet when it is at its highest pitch of excellence, I hardly feel that Dante has very much to do.  There is a curious feeling that the great poem is writing itself, or at most, that the tiny figure of the poet is merely giving the gentlest guiding touch, here and there, to energies which, for the most part, spontaneously group themselves and perform the delicate evolutions which make up the Comedy.” p. 76


” ….. I draw the conclusion that the highest reach of the whole poetic art turn out to be a kind of abdication, and is attained when the whole image of the world the poet sees has entered so deeply into his mind that henceforth he has only to get himself out of the way, to let the seas roll and the mountains shake their leaves or the light shine and the spheres revolve, and all this will be poetry, not thing you write poetry about ……….  We are made to dream while keeping awake at the same time.” p. 76-77

From:

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

“I was born in the winter of 1898 at Belfast, the son of a solicitor and of a clergyman’s daughter.”

And so begins the autobiography of one of the most prolific writer’s of his time, C.S. Lewis.  While Lewis gives an engaging description of his life as a boy, first in Ireland, and then later in England, his main goal is to give the reader little windows into the experience that he called “Joy”, which one can equate with the German word, “Sehensucht” translated into English as an “intense longing”.  During his childhood, Lewis experienced brief yet keen feelings of this profound yearning.  If one tried to manufacture this emotion or hold onto it, it would simply remain illusive or slip away; it came of its own volition, which indicated to Lewis that this desire pointed to something beyond himself.

In the Garden (1885)
William Merritt Chase
source Wikiart

Lewis’ first glimpse of “Joy” was when his brother Warnie showed him a garden that he had built of moss and twigs on top of a biscuit tin. Lewis said, “As long as I live my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother’s toy garden.” Other experiences of joy appeared as he grew and Lewis felt that because our own natural world could not supply what our souls longed for, there must be something supernatural that could fulfill this Sehensucht.  Eventually Joy brought him face-to-face with God.

Magdalen College Oxford
source Wikipedia

What was especially refreshing about this biography was that Lewis didn’t treat his conversion as coming out of the darkness into the light, so much as presenting it as a recovery of the delights of childhood that he felt were pointing him in the direction of Christ.  In many ways, this is an Augustinian-type experience, yet while Augustine was definitely searching for a meaning to life, the “meaning” seemed to be pursuing Lewis, and he describes his conversion in startling terms, “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.  That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me.  In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”  But he then goes on to say, “I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms …….  The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

Before I wrap up this review and somewhat off topic, Lewis made a curious reference to automobiles in this biography, which I found very insightful and profound.

“I number it among my blessings that my father had no car, while yet most of my friends had, and sometimes took me for a drive. This meant that all these distant objects could be visited just enough to clothe them with memories and not impossible desires, while yet they remained ordinarily as inaccessible as the Moon.  The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me.  I measured distances by the standard of man, man walking on his two feet, not by the standard of the internal combustion engine.  I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance; in return I possessed ‘infinite riches’ in what would have been to motorists ‘a little room’.  The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it ‘annihilates space.’  It does.  It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given.  It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.  Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter.  Why not creep into his coffin at once?  There is little enough space there.”

A very biting commentary but for me it rang with truth and made me wonder how much “Joy” has been robbed by modern conveniences.  Hmmm …….

In any case, this was a wonderful, uplifting biography that I fortunately get to read again for my WEM Project at some point in the future!

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

“I seemed to be standing in a busy queue by the side of a long, mean street.”

If you found yourself in Hell and then were offered a chance to leave and spend an eternity in Heaven, you’d jump at it, wouldn’t you? …….. Or would you …….??

The Great Divorce tells of a journey of souls from the grey town, which we soon see represents Hell, to a wide open space of meadows, rivers and mountains.  Yet when the people disembark they are dismayed.  They now appears as Ghosts and all the vegetation is dense and tough in a way that makes movement difficult and, at times, dangerous.  And who are these shining Solid People coming towards them, and what do they want?  Full of joy and laughter, it appears that they only wish for the “Ghosts” to shed their prejudices and grudges and self-absorption and “rights”, to accept help and rescue from their troubles.  ‘Come to the mountain’, they say, yet most are unable to, so firmly have these detrimental traits taken root within them, to the exclusion of anything good.

The Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini
shows three hierarchies and nine orders of angels
source Wikipedia

The Great Divorce is Lewis’ The Divine Comedy.  As Dante is the narrator of The Divine Comedy, so too, the narrator in The Great Divorce is Lewis himself. George MacDonald, the well-known author of The Princess and the Goblin, Phantastes, and At The Back of the North Wind, a man whose writings had a profound affect on Lewis, serves as his Virgil, a guide to bring him understanding of Heaven and similarly, the grey town of Hell.

Yet while analogous in structure, the Hell of The Great Divorce is very different than that of Dante’s Hell.  It is not a world of men trapped in flaming tombs, immersed in rivers of blood and fire, whipped by demons or eaten by foul creatures.  In The Great Divorce, Hell looks surprisingly like Earth, but a corruption of earth, holding only the negative components of greed, envy, self-worship, revenge, jealously, grudges, etc.  The setting mirrors the emotions, being bleak, desolate and lacking any human goodness.  Rain and dingy twilight permeate the town, and a perpetual feeling of hopelessness is ever-present.  Yet while the souls of this dreary place, recognize intellectually what they live in, and practically understand their actions, they have become drowned in them through excuses, trends, weakness of character, reliance on intellect only, and have become blind to their effects.  In life, they allowed their choices and actions to carry them in the wrong direction and now have little desire to escape.  They have chosen Hell and are unable to conceive of anything outside of it.  Similar to the dwarves in the The Last Battle, ignorance has overcome them and they cannot escape it.

A vision of Hell
from Dante’s Divine Comedy
source Wikipedia

Lewis’ presentation of Hell is not only easily understandable, it is quite fascinating.  Lewis’ Hell is not a Hell for people.  Each “person” there, is there of their own choice, and their descent into it has been a gradual process, and not because of one big sin.  Each of their choices has progressively dehumanized them; it is not that they are beyond salvation, rather that there is no shred of humanness left to save.  Lewis also emphasizes the smallness of Hell by having the bus, not actually travel but grow, sprouting from a small crack in the soil to emerge in Heaven.  Hell, to Lewis is a tiny place and anything that lives there is already withered away.

On the other hand, the Bright or Solid People of Heaven did not get there through moral perfection.  One had been a murderer and confessed to doing worse than that, while another was hardly known on Earth but the people and animals that came into her presence were enriched by her love and charity.  And again, we have another echo from The Last Battle, that Heaven is much more real than earth, exemplified by the tough grass, the hard rivers and terrain that the Ghosts experience and would only have a change of perception if they chose to accept the invitation to become more real.

While Lewis states in his preface that this book is an answer to William Blakes’ The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, he makes if very clear that it is not a story that is meant to be taken in a literal sense; like his Narnia Chronicles, it is a supposition.  More, it is a work that explores human biases, perceptions and attitudes that either allow us to or prevent us from getting closer to God.

C.S. Lewis Project 2014