The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

First Edition Dustjacket
source Wikipedia

“In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape.”

The Last Battle is the final book in the Narnia Chronicles. With the last three books Lewis seemed to be moving further from the realm of children’s novels and into a more intellectual adult world of surprising complexities.

Esoteric in its make-up, The Last Battle begins with an ape named Shift, who, by dressing a donkey named Puzzle in a lion’s skin, tries to convince the Narnians that Aslan has returned to Narnia.  Prompted by Calormen treachery, they soon combine Aslan into Tashlan, a mixing of Aslan and the Calmoren god Tash, and force the Narnians to work, cutting down the Talking Trees of the forest for profit. Prince Tirian and his trusty unicorn, Jewel, discover the falsity of their enterprise, but are taken captive by the Calormens, only to be freed by Eustace and Jill  They discover the fraud of the false “Tashlan” while rescuing Jewel from the stables, but learn that Cair Paravel has fallen to the Calormens.  The Battle of the Stable is fought with the Calormens and their forces, whereupon Eustace, Jill and the one faithful dwarf, Poggin, find themselves inside the stable, followed by Tirian in his battle with Rishda Tarakan, the leader of the Calormens.  Instead of a stable, they find that they are in a beautiful and wondrous land, but then, to the surprised horror of all, Tash unexpectedly appears and snatches Rishda under his arm.  The Pevensie children appear (minus Susan) and Peter orders Tash to leave, whereupon Aslan comes and all the dead people and animals either file by on Aslan’s right and enter Aslan’s country or file by on his left and disappear. The old earthly “outside” Narnia begins to be devoured by dragons and giant lizards, and finally the sun is squeezed out by a giant, yet Aslan leads his people “further up and further in” to the real Narnia.  It may appear to be the end of the chronicles but, as Lewis says, “… it was only the beginning of the real story …… they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Emeth, the Calmoren warrior who is allowed into Aslan’s country, is a curious insertion by Lewis.  Emeth has followed another god with a sincere belief all his life, yet when he meets Aslan, the lion tells him, “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me …… if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he is truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.  And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.”  Lewis is not advocating universal salvation, only that anyone who is truly and openly seeking the truth about God, will surely find him.  In contrast, the Narnian dwarves are true cynics; while they have been raised in Narnia and told about Aslan, they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the truth and, though Aslan gives them a marvellous banquet, in their self-deception they are not able to even properly taste the good food set before them.  In spite of being raised in Narnia, their wilful refusal to entertain any ideas but their own will prevent them from seeing Aslan’s Country.

While this novel is written for children, Lewis has included concepts that would be beyond some adults.  Professor Digory’s comment near the end of the book, “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato ….” gives us a clue to one Platonic theme, although there are a few enmeshed in the chronicles.  In Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave, cave-dwellers believe images on the wall in front of them are real, but find they are only flickering shadows cast by more original objects held up against a fire which is behind them.  One of the cave-dwellers turns around to see what is behind his back and why the objects on the wall appear as they do, then he ascends out of the cave into the world above where he sees that the artificial copies on the wall of the cave and the fire itself were only themselves inferior copies of a much more original reality. Plato believed that every evident appearance in the material world is a communion with a higher, perfect spiritual reality.  For example, anything that attempts to capture beauty, will never capture the reality of beauty perfectly. An overworld of self-subsisting ideas exists beyond the world of material things, and these ideas, or forms, themselves participate in the one single highest reality, Plato called “the Good.”  Thus, in The Last Battle, the earthly Narnia is only a copy or a shadow of the Heavenly Narnia which is the form of the perfect reality.

And lastly, it would be appropriate to touch on the fate of Susan Pevensie. All the Pevensies appear in the real Narnia because they have recently died in a train crash, all except Susan, who has grown vain and self-absorbed, and has moved away from their adventures and beliefs of Narnia.  I am a little perplexed as to what to make of this revelation.  On one hand, I am bothered that Lewis treated her fate in a rather short, curt manner, after she had been such an important character in the other stories.  On the other hand, I am glad that Lewis did not make a perfectly “happily ever after situation.”  Given that Susan had replaced her faith with material desires, it was providential that she did not perish in the crash that killed her family; there is still hope that she can find the real Narnia in the end.  As Lewis wrote in a letter to a child:

“The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan.  She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman.  But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end ……. in her own way.”

Wow!  What a finale!  And now I can say that I’ve read all the Chronicles of Narnia and have a much better understanding of them.  I can hardly believe all the themes and ideas that Lewis wrote into them and though I know another reading will bring more enlightening details, there will always be more to discover!

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

 

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The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

“This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child.”

When Digory’s father is posted to India and his mother becomes ill, they must leave their country life and settle in London with Uncle Andrew and his sister, Aunt Letty. Fortunately Digory soon meets Polly, a girl who lives in one of the connecting row houses, and the adventure begins!

While trying to find a passage through the attics from Polly’s house to Digory’s, they inadvertently stumble into the workroom of Uncle Andrew.  To this point, Digory has not had much contact with his scientific uncle, but this experience proves without a doubt his uncle’s evil nature.  With a magic ring, he sends Polly into another world with no chance of returning, without Digory entering the world as well, with two magic rings that will bring them back.

 

Aslan in the process of creating Narnia’s animals
Pauline Baynes 1955

Lewis believed that each one of our actions in life either took us one step closer to Heaven, or one step closer to Hell.  Now, this didn’t mean that by doing something bad, you would go to Hell; Lewis wanted people to be aware that their actions matter.  Our actions are what form our character and each action works either towards forming a good, trustworthy, amiable character, or a bad, prideful, self-centred character.

Uncle Andrew is a fine example of a character gone rotten.  He is untrustworthy, lacks a conscience and is extraordinarily narcissistic, believing because of his perceived superior intellectual skills and his ability as a magician and scientist, that he is exempt from societal conventions and moral obligations.  His cultivated vanity is uncontainable, and in his selfishly aggrandized mind, the ends always justify the means.

At the beginning of the story, while being different from his uncle, Digory, however, shows some disturbingly similar traits.  He exhibits the same weakness as his uncle when, in The Wood Between Two Worlds, he suggests that instead of going directly back to the study, they explore another pool.  Curiosity overcomes his common sense and a stubborn prideful attitude closes his ears to Polly’s initial prudent advice. Fortunately he agrees to Polly’s insistent demand to test the rings to see if they are able to return easily; unconstrained curiosity can get one into unexpected perils and it is important that a thirst for knowledge is tempered with a respect for the nature of things.

Similarly in Charn, even though Digory senses that it is a “queer place,” he once again ignores Polly’s suggestion to leave, using words to deride and mortify her to make her abandon common sense.  Finally, he again allows his curiosity to override his good judgement, when he rings the bell in Charn, waking an evil that is beyond his imagination.  Curiously, just before this act, Polly remarks, “You look exactly like your uncle when you say that.”

Yet finally Digory starts to make wise choices.  In spite of being initially captivated by the evil Empress Jadis, his enchantment begins to dissipate after he hears of her ruthless destruction of Charn and of her plans to travel to their world.  He also has the integrity to make a full confession when Aslan asks him about the evil that he brought into Narnia, and his bravery and honesty serve him well, as Aslan trusts him with the quest of bringing back a magic apple to grow a tree to protect Narnia from the evil that lurks there.  Within the garden there is a replay of the temptation of Eve, this time with Jadis as the tempter and Digory the intended victim.  Yet Digory shows surprising resilience, faithfully resisting the witch’s manipulations and temptations, returning to fulfil his quest.  Through the characters of Uncle Andrew and Digory, we see the formation of a virtuous character who makes prudent choices (with mistakes along the way), and the result of a deceptive and corrupt character who makes the wrong choices .

The Mountains of Mourne
…. inspired Lewis to write the Chronicles of Narnia …
source Wikipedia

Ah, this post is already too long but there are so many other elements enmeshed in this fascinating tale. Lewis’ use of “supposition” to represent the creation of Narnia was just lovely. There are obvious parallels to Genesis and the creation of Earth, but also differences, that are as creative as they are compelling.  Aslan singing the entire world of Narnia into existence, evoking edenic and pastoral images, is a beautifully captivating scene.  The Deplorable Word is thought to be a reference to the atomic bomb; when Lewis began writing this book, the world was at war, and its annihilation would certainly have been foremost in his mind.  And there is also an example Plato’s theme of self-deception, which we see played out in the character of Uncle Andrew.  Plato believed that self-deception was a state of mind where irrational desires supersede natural reason as a guide for ethical behaviour, and while the person believes that their conduct will bring them happiness, in effect, it only brings them misery.  Socrates also levelled the charge against his countrymen that blindly pursuing knowledge through any means, with the goal being the resulting power attained, can only be realized at the expense of truth and morality.

The last book in the Chronicles of Narnia series is, of course, The Last Battle.  I can’t wait!

 

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

 

Other Narnia Books

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

First Edition Dust Jacket
source Wikipedia

“This is the story of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and his two sisters were King and Queens under him.”

The Horse and His Boy, the fifth Narnian adventure, is set outside of Narnia in a land far to the south called Calormen.  Appearing to be modeled after an eastern land, Calormen is inhabited by dark-skinned people who are traders, merchants and lords, all living under their ruler, the great Tisroc, a descendant of the god Tash.   Shasta, a fair-skinned boy lives with his “father”, a Calormen fisherman, but when a great lord arrives and attempts to purchase the boy, he escapes on the lord’s horse, a talking Narnian horse named Bree.  In their flight they are joined by Aravis, a young Calormen girl escaping on another Narnian horse, Hwin, as she attempts to avoid a distasteful arranged marriage.  Together they learn of the plans of Tisroc’s son, Rabadash to invade Archenland, a kingdom friendly to Narnia, and have to use all their skill and wits to avert a disaster and to find Shasta’s true heritage.

Elements of The Arabian Nights permeate this story.  Calormen is reminiscent of an Arabian city, and the people are perceptive, knowledgeable, wealthy and courteous, yet a ruthlessness runs through their ancient blood.  They are also respected storytellers, able to weave elaborately fabulous tales.

From another viewpoint, the storyline could be compared to a Shakespearean drama.  Lost or mistaken identity are favourite devices of the Bard, and Shasta’s situation fits just this scenario:  a boy who has been taken from his parents, discovers he does not belong within the culture where he lives, and sets out to find out his true heritage.

And finally, a prophecy is given at the beginning of Cor’s (Shasta’s) life, that he will one day save Archenland from a terrible catastrophe.  This prophecy is reminiscent of the Greek story of Oedipus told by Sophocles: a prophecy is given at his birth as well and, as in the case of Cor, every attempt to prevent the prophecy, only causes its fulfilment.

Tashbaan by Pauline Baynes (1953)

Instead of Aslan appearing outright to the children as in other stories and directly affecting the adventure, in The Horse and His Boy, he is presented as a shadowy presence that hovers at the edge of the adventure.  Finally he does intervene but the book makes it very clear that his actions are still behind the story not driving it.  When Aravis remarks that it is “luck” that she was not more seriously wounded by the Lion, the hermit replies, “…. I have never met any such thing as luck”; instead of fortune, it is Aslan or Providence that is helping them on.  As Shasta so wisely remarks, ” ……. Aslan (he seems to be at the back of all stories) …..”

I believe there is also some “reverse-theology” incorporated into the making of the characters of Shasta and Aravis.  Aravis is strong and courageous; she is adept on a horse, knows her mind, and often mocks or secretly despises some of the tentativeness or perceived weakness shown by Shasta.  Yet, at the climax of the story, it is Shasta who shows unexpected bravery and is ultimately trusted with the task of saving Archenland from the troops of Rabadash.  Aravis is forced to admit her pride, which she does most willingly:  “There’s something I’ve got to say at once.  I’m sorry I’ve been such a pig.  But I did change [her opinion of him] before you were a Prince, honestly I did: when you went back, and faced the Lion,” echoing the biblical maxim, “for those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Magician’s Nephew is up next.  It used to be my least favourite chronicle but we’ll see if the years have changed my mind!

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

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A Preface to Paradise Lost by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis does it again.  Not only does he supply enlightening commentary to accompany a reading of Paradise Lost, but he touches on a number of other books and subjects, conveying fascinating information in an extremely accessible narrative.

A Preface to Paradise Lost is a compilation of Lewis’ Ballard Matthews Lectures, which he gave in 1941 to students at the University College of Northern Wales. Lewis’ expertise was Medieval and Renaissance literature, and while reading this book, it is apparent that he is in his element, as he covers not only Paradise Lost but also gives the reader an introduction to the genre of epic and insights into how to read it.

Lewis’ initial chapters — more than one-third of the book — cover epic poetry, both primary and secondary, and he provides numerous examples contrasting the two, from The Odyssey, The Iliad, Beowulf, The Aeneid and, of course, Paradise Lost, to further the readers’ understanding.  Next, in a lecture titled, The Unchanging Human Heart, he deals with how to read a poem (or book), which is perhaps my favourite lecture of all.  How do we deal with the gulf between our era and the author’s?  Do we read only for what is relevant to us, or do we attempt to engage with the author?  Lewis deals with both approaches:

“A method often recommended may be called the method of The Unchanging Human Heart.  According to this method the things which separate one age from another are superficial ……. if we stripped [off the superficialities] …… we should find beneath … an anatomy identical with our own ….. we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate.   

I held this theory myself for many years, but I have now abandoned it.  I continue, of course, to admit that if you remove from people the things that make them different, what is left must be the same, and that the Human Heart will certainly appear as Unchanging if you ignore its changes ……. [thus] our whole study of the poem will then become a battle between us and the author in which we are trying to twist his work into a shape he never gave it, to make him use the loud pedal where he really used the soft, to force into false prominence what he took in his stride, and to slur over what he actually threw into prominence ……….. I do not say that even on these terms we shall not get some value out of our reading; but we must not imagine that we are appreciating the works the old writers actually wrote ……

Fortunately, there is a better way.  Instead of stripping the knight of his armour you can try to put his armour on yourself ………. I would much rather know what I should feel like if I adopted the beliefs of Lucretius than how Lucretius would have felt if he had never entertained them.  The possible Lucretius in myself interests me more than the possible C.S. Lewis in Lucretius …… 

To enjoy our full humanity we ought, so far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times, and on occasion to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed …….. Only thus will you be able to judge the work ‘in the same spirit that its author writ’ and to avoid chimerical criticism.  It is better to study the changes in which the being of the Human Heart largely consists than to amuse ourselves with fictions about its immutability ……….”


Finally Lewis delves into Paradise Lost, but instead of summarizing the chapters, Lewis concentrates on expounding on particular characters and certain themes.  He explores the poem’s theology, hierarchy, Satan, Satan’s followers, the angels, Adam and Eve, unfilled sexuality, and the Fall. Addressing some of the controversies over the poem, Lewis deals with the difficulties with his typical logical summations and a sprinkling of dry wit.  And while mostly praising Milton’s achievement, he does not hesitate to point out perceived flaws in the work, and while doing so, gives the reader a more profound comprehension of the challenges of Milton’s task.

While amazingly thorough, Lewis’ writing is simple, clear and understandable.  His lectures encourage the reader to read critically, and his explanation of Milton’s worldview is not only helpful, but necessary, to gain a good understanding of the poem.  While being very readable, this guide is the definitive “go-to” book for tackling Paradise Lost for readers who want to go in-depth with their study.

Paradise Lost Review

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

The Silver Chair
First Edition Dustjacket
source Wikipedia

“It was a dully autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym.”

Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole seek shelter from bullies in their Experiment House school and, after stumbling through a door, find themselves in Aslan’s country, not realizing that Aslan has called them there for a very special purpose.

Ten years ago after the death of his mother, Prince Caspian’s son, Rillian, disappeared into the North without a trace.  With Puddlegum, the pessimistic Marshwiggle as their guide and companion, Eustace and Jill set out to discover his fate.  However, Jill missed some of the four signs that Aslan had given her and the adventurers wonder if their quest has not been made more difficult because of her oversights.  Will they be able to save the heir of Narnia from the evil Emerald Witch, and even more importantly, what will they have learned by the end of their adventure?

Lewis makes me laugh with some of the symbolism he inserts into these tales for children.  In one scene, the Witch attempts to enchant the children, striving to convince them that their world is only a dream and that her world is, in fact, the real thing.  Bravely, Puddleglum, in desperation, stamps on the fire, hoping the resulting pain will break the spell.  He declares even if they have imagined all the wonderful things of their world, he prefers them to the cold, dark, menacing world of the Witch, and he pledges to live as a Narnian even if Narnia does not exist.  Puddleglum’s curious statement echoes Blaise Pascal’s famous wager that argues that even if God does not exist, to live by His precepts will ensure a better earthly life; what one would gain would be infinitely more valuable than what one would lose.

 

Puddleglum the Marshwiggle

This book is my least favourite of the Chronicles so far, but Lewis still manages to tell an engaging tale that keeps the reader interested and invested in the characters.  Next up is The Horse and His Boy!

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

Other Narnia Books

 

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

First Edition Dustjacket
source Wikipedia

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.”

Another year has passed.  Peter and Susan Pevensie are able to travel with their parents to America, while Edmund and Lucy are sent to live with their cousin, Eustace Scrubb.  Eustace is a spoiled pest, a child who has been raised by “very up-to-date and advanced” parents and who attends a “modern school.”  When the three children pass through a picture of a sailing ship and back into the land of Narnia, they are tossed into another wild adventure.

The Dawn Treader is the pride of the Narnian fleet and is carrying Prince Caspian on a journey to find the seven lost lords of Narnia, friends of his father who sailed east and went missing long ago.  As they explore both uncharted land and water, the children find themselves in situations of danger and moments of decision that will change their lives forever.

This book is the third book published of the Narnia chronicles and with each book, Lewis weaves more gems of wisdom into the story and does it with a genuineness that is particularly appealing.  Lucy once again has an encounter with Aslan: Lucy is instructed to look for a particular spell in a book of Magic but decides, against her conscience, to read a spell that will stroke her vanity and make her more beautiful than her sister.  Immediately she spies Aslan on the page, growling and showing his teeth, which stops her selfish action.  Instead she chooses to read a spell that allows her to eavesdrop on two girls from her school, and what she hears about herself is not pleasant, especially since she had viewed one of the girls as her friend.  Aslan gently admonishes her about listening to their conversation and says that her relationship with her friend will now never be the same.  When Lucy wishes to know what would have happened if she hadn’t eavesdropped, Aslan tells her, as he told her in Prince Caspian, “Child, did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?”  Actions have consequences and we need to weigh the repercussions before we act, instead of being guided by impulse.

Wikimedia Commons

Eustace Scrubb is certainly a wonderful character and Lewis’ development of him is extraordinary.  Going from a petulant, spoiled, impertient child, he is transformed by a frightening experience, yet Lewis does not make him perfect in his transformation.  As we see by his reactions, he still holds some of the same prejudices, assumptions, and, at times, behaviour as he originally did.  Eustace’s encounter with Aslan fundementally changed his soul, yet he is like an Everyman, struggling with life’s circumstances while trying to live a life of integrity, and still making mistakes along the way.

Lewis makes a point in this book of examining the views of an exclusively scientific mentality and what results from this kind of worldview.  Eustace is initially presented as boy who goes to a model, or progressive school, and is only exposed to factual experience.  Because of his sterile formation, he is unable to enjoy or even recognize, the magic and joy in Narnia.  He has straightforward knowledge, but when situations do not fit into his technical understanding, he is handicapped by his lack of wonder and curiosity, and is unable to accept, understand or cope with them.  What is particularly telling, is that he doesn’t recognize what lies right in front of his face:  in spite of being on the Dawn Treader and being able to see that it is a ship, he tries to tell Caspian what a real ship is like; when they land on Droon, it is reasonably obvious (and he has been told) that they are in another world, yet Eustace insists they should find the British consul; and even after Eustace’s transformation, when they land in the country of the Dufflepuds, he makes an impulsive judgement about the area and its people based on his first sight of technology: “Machinery!  I do believe we’ve come to a civilized country at last!”  By living solely by “the facts”, Eustace can recognize what makes us physically human, yet misses the wonder, enjoyment, and recognition, of what makes us spiritually human.

Detail of Dawn Treader port stern porthole
photo courtesy of David Jackmanson
Creative Commons License

Living during the Second World War and being exposed to the Nazi’s views of racial superiority and social-Darwinism,  Lewis’ was unavoidably confronted with certain aspects of science and was forced to ponder their eventual outcomes:

 

“Again, the oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim of knowledge …….  This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists …… Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects.  Let scientists tell us about science.  But government involves questions about the good of man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value …… On just the same ground I dread government in the name of science.  That is how tyrannies come in.  In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension, which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent.  They ‘cash in’.  It has been magic, it has been Christianity.  Now it will certainly be science.”

Lewis was not concerned about science itself, but the importance placed on it and for what means it could be used.

Once again, Lewis weaves a wonderful adventure for children, but leaves questions and ideas that relate to an adult world.

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

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Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

First Edition Dustjacket
Source Wikipedia

One year later, Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy return to Narnia (via a train station —- I’m curiously reminded of Harry Potter) only to find their castle at Cair Paravel in ruin, the talking animals in hiding and a despotic foreign ruler, a Telmarine, has assumed control of the kingdom.  The sacrifice of Aslan and the children’s reign has been forgotten, reduced to a mere myth in the minds of the Narnians.

Assisted by Trumpkin, a drawf, the children learn that they have been recalled by the blowing of Susan’s horn by Prince Caspian, and that they must aid him in battle against his uncle, Miraz, the man who slew his father, the rightful king.  Aslan appears to Lucy and, while she ignores his first summons under pressure from her siblings, she soon learns from a gentle remonstrance from Aslan, that she must always try to do what is right and not follow the crowd.  She also realizes that she will never know what would have happened if she had obeyed the first time, that choices have consequences; lessons learned to increase her wisdom.  The children finally reach Caspian’s hideout and, with the help of the animals, dwarves, Aslan and Bacchus and his merry men, they manage to defeat the forces of the evil Miraz and place Prince Caspian on the throne of Narnia.

My, my, what is Bacchus doing in a children’s book with Christian undertones?!  Some critics were astonished and perplexed at Lewis’ insertion of the Greek god of wine and merrymaking into this novel.  His inclusion of pagan deities, into a hodge-podge of talking animals and quasi-medieval culture was perhaps mystifying, but Lewis grew up devouring Norse and Greek mythology and had no issues with the pagan gods.  His essay, Myth Became Fact, can give the reader further clues as to his love of myth and the symbols related to it. Probably with this essay in mind, one Lewis scholar, Louis Markos, argues that he sees the Bacchus scenes as Lewis’ way of bringing all pagan myths together, that “when viewed from the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the pagan myths are not only tamed but come true ……… Christ … is all the myths come true …..”  The myths can assist us in a deeper understanding of spiritual realities.

 

Bacchus by Caravaggio
source Wikipedia

While Prince Caspian was published after World War II, in 1951, the consciousness of the country was still unsettled, and many people, Lewis included, were concerned with the direction England would take after the war. With setting the reign of the Pevensie children so far into Narnia’s past, Lewis brings a curious parallel to his own post-war England.  In Narnia, the people have forgotten Kings Peter and Edmund, Queens Susan and Lucy, the lion, Aslan, and the medieval pomp and joyous times of their reign.  So, in post-war Europe, if the traditional medieval Christian past disappeared from peoples’ thoughts and actions, so too would its values and morality.  It was important that, like in the case of Lucy first seeing Aslan, the correct choices were made.

“War creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.  Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.”  

All in all, another delightful story from Lewis, filled with adventure, suspense, and life themes that are not only pertinent in Narnia, but echo throughout all the ages and into our own.

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

 Other Narnia Books

 

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

“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.”

There is a wardrobe in an old room.  Picture yourself opening the wardrobe door.  You climb inside it, careful to leave the door cracked open slightly as you push your way back in amongst the antique coats, which smell of dampness and age and silent history.  But wait!  It is cold underneath you and, as you reach down, you grasp a wet, slushy substance that could only be snow!

What a wonderful way to begin The C.S. Lewis Project and the Classic Children’s Literature Event!  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is an enduring children’s classic that is magic, just pure magic!  Peter, Susan, Edmond & Lucy discover an old wardrobe and find that it can transport them to another world called Narnia, where the White Witch has cast a spell on the land and “everything is winter and never Christmas.”  However, all is not bleak and hopeless because Aslan the Lion is on the move.  He begins to bring spring to Narnia, but Edmund betrays his siblings with the result that Aslan willingly pays for Edmund’s transgression with his life.  With his resurrection, and after an enormous battle led by Peter and Edmund, Aslan is acknowledged King of Narnia.

Lewis rejected the assertion that this story was intended as an allegory and, being an expert in that area, Lewis was certainly qualified to judge:

“By an allegory I mean a composition (whether pictorial or literary) in which immaterial realities are represented by feigned physical objects, eg., a pictured Cupid allegorically represents erotic love (which in reality is an experience, not an object occupying a given area of space) or, in Bunyan, a giant represents Despair. 

If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents Despair, he would be an allegorical figure.  In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, “What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?”  This is not allegory at all ……. This …… works out a supposition.”

While this book contains references to Christianity, Lewis did not initially set out to write a Christian story:

“Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided to what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them.  This is all pure moonshine.  I couldn’t write in that way.  It all began with images: a faun with an umbrella, parcels, a lamppost, a snow-covered kingdom.  At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them.  That element pushed itself in of its own accord.”

Within the story, Lewis communicates aspects of Christian faith in way that is easy to understand and, through the death of Aslan, Lewis allows us to experience the agony and horror of Christ’s death and to experience the conflicting emotions of his friends and disciples, as well as their joy upon his resurrection.  His style is a simple straight-forward narrative that easily communicates emotions of joy, perseverance, loyalty, pride, envy, betrayal, and sadness.  A timeless story with timeless themes that can be read again and again.

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

Other Narnia Books

 

The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis

“I dreamed of a boy who was born in the land of Puritania and his name was John.”

In The Pilgrim’s Regress, John is a boy who lives in Puritania and is given a rather legalistic view of the Landlord of his country by the overseer or Steward.  When he sees a shimmering Island in a vision through a crack in a wall, he experiences such an intense longing that he leaves Puritania, setting out on a journey to discover its location.  With this incredible longing (Sehensucht) throbbing inside him, he tries to assuage it by a number of worldly means.  The basic gist of the story is that John starts out, running from something he doesn’t truly understand and running to something he doesn’t truly understand.  Through his numerous adventures, many with his friend Vertue, he discovers that he has run right back to where he had begun, Puritania, but thanks to the enlightenment he has received on his travels from Mr. Halfway & son, the Clevers, Mr. Mammon, the Giant, Reason, Mother Kirk, Three Pale Men, Mr. Savage, Mr. Broad, Wisdom, Contemplation, the Hermit, and Silkisteinsauga, he finds the answers to his questions and is able to pass over the brook and into the light.

One of the many strengths of this book lies in the fact that John didn’t simply learn from the “good” people he met along his journey.  Each of his encounters taught him something about life and his beliefs, which helped him to grow into the person he became at the end of the story.

This was one of the hardest reviews I have written so far.  You begin with what appears to be a simple allegory of C.S. Lewis’ own journey to faith, yet the reader is soon made aware that embedded in this simple story is a plethora of incredibly complex material and ideas.  Lewis incorporated numerous ideologies such as Romanticism, Neo-Romanticism, Communism, Freudianism, Facism, etc. along with imagery, metaphors, and a host of allusions and quotes that is mind-boggling.  The fact that he wrote this book while on vacation at his friend Arthur Greeves’ house in a mere two weeks, and was able to incorporate the wide-ranging scope of material that he did, is astounding!

In talking about his book years later, Lewis appeared almost embarrassed by it:  “On re-reading this book ten years after I wrote it, I find its chief faults to be those two which I myself least easily forgive in the books of other men: needless obscurity, and an uncharitable temper.”  He blames his youthful idealism on failing to give the reader the guidance to understand his personal journey.  I, for one, can forgive him this minor fault.  To mine The Pilgrim’s Regress of its treasures is a difficult task, but one that is well worth the effort.

30 DAY CHALLENGE – Day 13

Day 13 – Favourite author

 

This was an easy one for me.  C.S. Lewis.  I’ve read most of his books, I’ve watched documentaries about him and his life, I’ve read snippets of his biographies and letters, and I’ve taken a university course based on some of his works.  So perhaps he is my favourite author because I know, by far, more about him than any other author.

Lewis was the grandson of a Anglican priest but he abandoned his Christian faith as a teenager.   He hated school and when he was sixteen, his father finally agreed to hire a private tutor.  This tutor, whom Lewis called, The Great Knock, was “a hard, satirical atheist who taught me how to think.”  He was a great influence on Lewis’ journey into atheism but, surprisingly Lewis credits his tutor for teaching him how to reason, which therefore allowed him to be argued into Christianity.  Lewis called himself “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”

I dislike Christian books that attempt to manipulate the reader into a belief in God.  I perhaps have even more of an aversion to secular books which attack Christianity without an understanding of it.  What I love about Lewis is both his rational, direct opinions, yet his warmth and generosity towards the people with whom he disagrees.  With him, I never feel like I’m having some idea or precept forced down my throat.  He merely presents his beliefs in a very logical, matter-of-fact, reasonable way, but they are presented as his beliefs and the reader is only asked to consider them, almost as if you are joining him in conversation.

One of my favourite quotes of Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.  It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.  The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

I have a great amount of respect for C.S. Lewis.  A year doesn’t go by without a read of at least one of his books.